All my life I have heard “Never Again”. “Never Again” will we let another Holocaust happen. “Never Again” will Jews be powerless to protect themselves. “Never Again” will people hate with abandon. This week alone, I have felt that “Never Again”, is happening now.
In the week of Chanukah, throughout the world, and very personally, here in the metro New York area, antisemitism reared its ugly head with a vengeance. Obvious Jews were attacked daily on the streets of Brooklyn. By obvious, I mean Jews who dress in orthodox attire: black hats, beards, women with their heads covered, long sleeves, modest dress. Then on Saturday night, a horrific attack occurred during a Chanukah celebration in Monsey, NY. A machete wielding man, broke into Hasidic rabbi’s home/shul, hacking as many people as possible with his machete, until someone threw a table at him and he fled. He attempted to get into the synagogue next door but was prevented, since the Jews inside blocked the door.
What has happened to our society? Why are there so many new incidents of antisemitism? According to the ADL, there have been more hate crimes against Jews than any other ethnic group in the year 2019. We need more education, so that people understand what it means and how to prevent it.
Our government officials need to immediately recognize a hate crime for what it is. When two hate filled people targeted the kosher supermarket in Jersey City, the mayor, Stephen Fulop, didn’t hesitate to call that murderous attack a hate crime. However, the attorney general of NJ wanted to wait for more evidence to be sure. What more is needed than the security video of the street which showed the two murderers stopping their truck across from the store, calmly walking out of the their vehicle, pointing their guns at the kosher market, ignoring the people in street, and going in to shoot as many people as possible. That was not a random incident.
How is it possible that we are living with this, almost 75 years since the end of the Holocaust? It reminds me of what was happening in Germany in the 1930’s. Jews attacked daily. Then it was sanctioned, today, it is not sanctioned, but it doesn’t seem to be preventable. Unless someone is seriously injured in an attack, the consequences are rare. The perpetrators are called “mentally unstable” and they are often released on their own recognizance.
What can we do? We can’t sit around and let this continue. We need action. We MUST write to our local politicians. We MUST tell our mayors, governors, congresspeople, and president that this must end. No more thoughts and prayers for the victims. We need action.
Action means education. Did you know that one third of all Americans don’t believe that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust? Did you know that two thirds of millennials do not know what Auschwitz was? We need better education and interaction among all faith and racial communities.
The Never Again Education Act of 2019 has not yet been passed by Congress. It is still in committee in the Senate. The Never Again Education act will provide funds for training educators in middle schools and high schools to provide Holocaust education to our children. We need to get this legislation passed. There are fewer and fewer survivors to give their own personal testimony. When they are gone, we will need the second and third generation of the survivors’ families to give their testimony to others. Many states have mandated Holocaust education. New Jersey, my state, has had mandatory Holocaust education since 1991.
The Antisemitism Act of 2019 intends to set out what antisemitism looks like and how to address it. This act is also still in committee in the Senate. The importance of this act cannot be minimized. It states certain aspects of hate must be addressed. President Trump recently signed an executive order including Jews as an ethnic group who should be protected on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Some people felt that the president’s intent was not actually meant to protect Jewish students, but instead meant to identify Jews and further isolate and alienate Jewish students. The recognition of Judaism as not just a religion, but also a people, is not new. It must be noted that on September 13, 2004, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter regarding the obligations of schools (including colleges) under title VI to address incidents involving religious discrimination. Antisemitism exists on the Right and on the Left. Both extremes exhibit hatred against Jews. Education and deterrence are the best answer to meet these ideologies.
My soul aches every day when I look at my phone and see another attack has occurred against Jews. I wonder when it will happen directly to me, or to someone I know and love. I shop in a kosher supermarket. I teach at a Jewish Day School. I pray weekly in my synagogue. I dedicate most of my volunteer work to Jewish causes. I am immersed in the Jewish community. When will it happen to me? I can’t let it. I will speak out and do whatever I can to make a difference and help change whatever I can for the better. It’s my obligation as a Jew and as a citizen of the United States of America. Let us not stand idly by as this wave of hate rises. We must subdue the momentum and bring it under control.
Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. As Chanukah draws to a close, we must bring light to others and educate as many people as possible to enable them to understand what antisemitism is, what antisemitism looks like, and why we must all join together to combat it. As Hillel said, “If not now, when?” There is no better time. We must make “Never Again” a reality.