Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate, hate breeds violence

I cannot remember a time before when I was anything but proud to be Jewish. As a little girl, I often “competed” to be more Jewish than my Jewish friends, wanting to know Hebrew better, to keep Shabbat more, etc.

For the first time in my life, being Jewish is making me uncomfortable. My uneasiness has nothing to do with faith and more to do with a little razor edge of fear that creeps up now and then inside me, shaving away at my Jewish confidence.

This has become more acute since I started working in a large, non-Jewish company – the first secular environment at which I have been employed in the last decade. The company cares little about my religion so long as it does not interfere with my performance. But it can be confusing. Our largest event of the year ends on the first day of Sukkot. Try explaining that you cannot write (that’s my job!) at an event that takes place on a Saturday – even if you are staying at the location of the event – to a boss that knows nothing about Shabbat.

“Can you just explain those restrictions to me again?” he asked during a recent call, clearly trying to process the absurdity of not being able to plug in a projector on a Saturday.

But conversations and conferences like these highlight that I am different and they make me nervous to speak up about other “little things,” such as company lunches at non-kosher restaurants. I just go and either order a Diet Coke or push around a plate of salad. I don’t want to get into the whole kashrut thing – even though I worry some of my colleagues are going to begin to think I am anorexic.

I never bring up Israel. Never.

I work at an awesome place and the staff probably would and could be very supportive. But I don’t want to give them the chance. Why?

There is a chance later this month that I will have to send my son on an airplane by himself, while I continue onto another destination for business. I told my son that if we let him do it, I want him to tuck in his tzitzit and wear a baseball hat on the plane.

“Why?” he asked, looking at me like I was an alien. “I’m proud to be Jewish.”

I don’t want to strip him of that Jewish pride, but I am admittedly afraid. I am scared of the random swastikas being painted on U.S. Jewish establishments. I’m terrified of the shootings – we had one happen at our own JCC last April. I cringe from the hateful anti-Jewish and anti-Israel posts I see on Facebook, and I am discomforted by the fear of taunts, stares, even questions.

On the weekend, when I go shopping in my tichel with my obviously Jewish children, I often feel like people are staring at me. I beg my children to display exemplar behavior, repeating over and over again as we push the shopping cart, “Please be a Kiddush Hashem.”

I am sure I am imagining anyone cares or that if my sweetest 2 year old drops her shopping treat or my 4 year old starts to cry that passerby will judge all the Jewish people, but nonetheless I admit these tapes often play and replay.

Though Israel’s war against Hamas has cooled (sort of), it has left the cold reality that anti-Semitism is alive and well.

Last week, I published an article on about an incredible Jewish camp in Hungary that is serving as the foundation for Jewish community revitalization in Central and Eastern Europe. While my interviewees touted the incredible work of Camp Szarvas and the growing strength of communities once totally decimated by the Nazis and then communism, they also attested to the growing anti-Semitism in the region.

One source told me he is not worried because anti-Semitism is “simply rooted in ignorance.” But this worries me more; ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate, hate breeds violence.

In the States, the lopsided media coverage of the recent (or it seems ongoing) war between Israel and Hamas only serves to feed the fire of ignorance and hate in America. A less-than-supportive president fuels that fire. Anti-Semitic attacks have increased across the U.S. If people don’t notice, it is because they don’t want to. If the media doesn’t report it, it is because it thinks no one cares.

Anti-Semitism is real. And I am afraid because no one wants to talk about the fact that anti-Semitism, which we think belongs to the past, has somehow survived. And while it was covert in America, it is becoming increasingly overt.

Maybe I am writing this because I angry at myself — angry because I know that telling my son to wear a baseball hat doesn’t solve the problem, but rather makes me a part of it.

When the Pew Survey of American Jews was published, one obvious revelation (if you could call it that) was that young Jews are increasingly trying to integrate and assimilate into American culture. I believe that the more we do that, the more we try to be liked, the more we forget who we are or hide who we are, then the more likely we will be targets of anti-Semitism.

I am intellectually aware, physically unable to take action.

No problem is solved by ignoring it.

The safeness of America has fooled us into believing that a Holocaust couldn’t happen again, and from that, I am scared. I don’t think admitting that fear makes me reactionary or alarmist. …

I think it makes me praying for peace.

I think it makes me a mother. It think it makes me human.

About the Author
Maayan Hoffman is director of international communications for a leading Israeli think tank and an American-Israeli journalist since 1995. She raises her large, blended family a bus ride from the Western Wall.
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