Modern anti-Semitism provokes questions of Jewish identity

“If, heaven forbid, someone walked in here this moment and began to shoot, it’s logical to assume that the shooter would be a male white supremacist,” Bari Weiss declared, much to the surprise of an audience gathered at Yeshiva University. “But that does not mean this is the only kind of anti-Semite who’s out there today.”

Weiss, 32-years-old and a staff editor at the New York Times, is promoting her new book whose title, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” is a subject with which American Jewry, in particular, has been tumultuously pre-occupied lately.

Almost every day, there is a report of a new anti-Semitic incident in the United States. Over the past few days, a member of the Chabad community in Brooklyn was the victim of a bloody attack and more than 100 car tires were slashed in a Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey.

Weiss is a native of Pittsburgh, where the recent murders at the “Tree of Life” community occurred.  This attack brought home to her an unfamiliar danger: “I always search for my friends whenever there is an attack in Israel and send them SMS messages,” Weiss remarked. “’Is everything alright?  Are you alright?’ I want to know. But now, suddenly, a flood of messages arrived from Israel. ‘Are you alright?  Is everything okay?’ It was hard for me to absorb that everything that was happening over there was now happening here, too.

“For me, anti-Semitism was supposed to be something that belonged to Europe, to France, but that could not possibly belong to us. I remember the chills that ran down my spine the moment I heard the words that the Pittsburgh murderer shouted when he began to shoot: ‘All Jews must die.’”

Weiss represents a well-established and successful generation that simply does not believe that this is happening. “Our grandparents called this country the ‘golden medina’. We are the most successful and secure Jewish population in the Diaspora. We were certain that this could not happen here. Did we deceive ourselves? Can the most ancient hatred appear here too?”.

I met Weiss at Yeshiva University campus. Prof. Liel Leibovitz  from Tablet Magazine interviewed us both. She tried to map out the new danger: “We have Muslim anti-Semitism. There is anti-Semitism on the right and anti-Semitism on the left. This is not always the physical danger of a shooter who carries out a massacre. There are anti-Israel and other poisonous opinions — of lecturers and professors on college campuses – that are anti-Semitic, too. This type of anti-Semitism is more sophisticated and refined, but still dangerous.”

Weiss distinguishes between “Purim anti-Semitism” and “Hannukah anti-Semitism.” She says that “Purim anti-Semitism is the desire to physically annihilate us, as described in the Purim story. It started with Amalek, continued through Hitler, and is still with us today – the desire to kill, to murder, to exterminate.

“But Hannukah anti-Semitism is also troublesome.  On Hannukah they told us: ‘Be Jews, but quietly.’  Today, as well, they say: ‘Don’t walk around with a kippa, don’t identify openly as a Jew, we will not kill you, but we will change you.’ We are unlikely to pay attention to this kind of anti-Semitism.”

But the solution is not only to enforce the laws against anti-Semites, punish them, and spread the word regarding the “new anti-Semitism”: “The fact that they persecute us should cause us to ask deeper questions,” Weiss says. “Why do they hate us? What do we symbolize?  What is our mission? It’s not enough to go around with a Magen David hanging from a chain, which is nice, but what is Judaism’s message? What connects Jews in America with Jews in Israel? What do we have to say to the world?”

About the Author
Sivan Rahav Meir is an Israeli television and print journalist, author and radio and TV host.
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