Sally Abrams
Here's How I See It

Not the Anti-Semitism of My Parents Day

In the mid-1940’s my father and his two brothers changed their family name. Life became easier in Minneapolis, a city known for it’s anti-Semitism, when the ethnically loaded “Goldstein” became the ethnically blurry “Gale”.

My parents told me stories of those years, of neighborhood covenants that prevented home sales to Jews, schoolyard beatings, and all manner of both subtle and overt discrimination. Mt. Sinai Hospital was established by the Jewish community in 1948 because Jewish physicians were excluded from practicing at the city’s other hospitals. Jews founded their own country clubs when existing clubs refused to admit them.

My parents memories seemed to me like relics of a long gone era. Almost unbelievable.

I was born more than a decade after World War II ended. As I grew up, the anti-Semitism of my parents youth gradually faded away. With the passage of time, the revelations of the horrors of the Holocaust, and, according to Daniel Gordis, the existential change in Jewish status brought about by the establishment of the State of Israel, attitudes toward Jews changed.

And this. Minneapolis overcame its history of anti-Semitism and racism with the concerted efforts of the Jewish, African-American, and Japanese-American communities. They worked in tandem with Mayor Hubert Humphrey, pressing the Minneapolis City Council to pass one of the nations first ordinances against discrimination in housing and employment.

My childhood was so different from my parents. Lots of Jewish kids attended school with me but we were simply part of the crowd. Maybe I lived in a bubble, but I do not recall experiencing a single instance of anti-Semitism growing up. In fact, Jews were so well accepted that intermarriage became a real parental concern as I came of age.

Even venerable Mt. Sinai Hospital closed in 1990, due in part to consolidation of local hospitals and in part because it’s raison d’être no longer existed. Jewish doctors were able to practice at all the local hospitals.

It was not easy for people who grew up in the earlier era to believe that changes had taken place. One of my favorite rabbis told the story of an older congregant who observed sourly, “Scratch a gentile, you’ll find an anti-Semite.”  To which the wise rabbi said, “So stop scratching.” I loved that story and still do. If you are constantly looking for anti-Semitism, you will find something, no matter how trivial, that “proves” that it is still there.

And yet.

Despite living in America at a time of unprecedented freedom and acceptance for Jews, despite having never felt the sting of anti-Semitism in a personal encounter, I know perfectly well that anti-Semitism is still thriving all over the world.

Anti-Semitism is a hatred that adapts to the moment, always fresh, lethal, shocking, beyond rational explanation.

Hating Jews for being “Christ-killers” and for rejecting Jesus, the theological anti-Semitism of my parents day, has morphed into something else.

Todays anti-Semitism means denying the Jewish people a home in the world.

Delegitimizing Israel, boycotting Israel, sanctioning Israel. Holding Israel to an impossible standard while holding her enemies to no standards whatsoever. And all the while, self-important activists assure us that they are not anti- Semitic, that they have no ill will toward the Jewish people. It’s just the Jewish state that vexes them so.

Look, and look hard, at today’s anti-Semitism and who is peddling it. The Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement is comprehensive in its efforts, including cultural boycotts, boycotts of Israeli products, athletic boycotts, academic boycotts, travel/diplomatic boycotts, and divestment from companies that do business with Israel.

Filled with odious comparisons to apartheid South Africa, the movement is more than just a way to pressure Israel to leave the West Bank and allow the Palestinians autonomy- a goal that most Israelis share, if it could be safely achieved.

Roger Cohen of the NY Times summarizes the real BDS agenda:

“I do not trust the B.D.S. movement. Its stated aim is to end the occupation, secure “full equality” for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fight for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The first objective is essential to Israel’s future. The second is laudable. The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of B.D.S., its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.”

Two fine websites, MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) and Palestinian Media Watch offer comprehensive and depressing catalogues of Jew hatred in Arab media, schools, and more.

If that were not enough, the current war between Israel and Hamas has brought Jew-hatred to levels not seen since World War II.

This is a war in which a cynical enemy rains rockets down on Israel, rockets that it purposely stores in Gaza’s neighborhoods. Then, using human shields to “protect” its rockets from Israel’s retaliation, Hamas rains death and suffering on its own people, neatly transferring  blame for both cause and effect to Israel. A supine media willingly plays along.

Look at the anti-Israel riots in European capitals, carried out by Muslim mobs and their intellectual fellow travelers. Anti-semitic attacks are on the rise worldwide. This piece, written by remarkable Syrian ex-pat Aboud Dandachi sounds the warning for Europe. “This summer is going to define Europe for years to come,” he says.

While protests in the US against Israel have been peaceful-so far- the language often crosses into hatred of Jews, Nazi comparisons, and accusations that Israelis are committing genocide. Says Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League:

“Comparisons between Israel and the Nazis at these demonstrations are picking up steam. We know that the message is getting uglier when protesters against Israel twist and pervert the most traumatic event in history against the Jewish people – the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust – into a rallying cry against the State of Israel, the only nation-state of Jewish people. It is ugly, it is in your face, and it is often anti-Semitic.”

Last, social media offers endless platforms for spewing hatred.

When I was a little girl, trolls were funny-face dolls with colorful hair that we collected and traded. Now a troll is an anti-Semite “trolling” the pro-Israel channels on Facebook and Twitter, in order to post the latest unhinged anti-Semitic rantings.

Says veteran journalist Jeffrey Goldberg:

“I am legitimately shocked (not “shocked, shocked” but actually shocked) by the level of grotesque anti-Jewish invective seemingly (though not actually) prompted by the war, particularly in Europe. I’ve been getting mail like this for a long time, so it is the intensity and volume, rather than the content, that is so surprising.”

All of this leaves me thinking about anti-Semitism a lot these days. And wishing that the remedy was as simple as just changing a name.

About the Author
Sally Abrams is Director of Judaism and Israel Education at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has taught thousands about Israel and/or Judaism in churches, classrooms, civic groups, and Jewish communal settings.