‘Go Away Jews!!’ I heard a man shouting at me from a moving vehicle while I was standing outside my work place at the end of a work day. The young man was speeding through the streets, probably trying to impress his friends by making a ‘Jew joke’. I did not laugh, nor will I ever. How can I, knowing my people’s history? Being persecuted for thousands of years, never belonging, always discriminated against? How is my experience in the United States different than my grandparents’ in Europe hearing people shouting ‘Juden raus’ at them?
While the outcome of the events in Europe are clearly different, there are similarities in human behavior and prejudice which sadly have not changed. In my 3 years living in the United States and working on college campuses in the State of Michigan, I was exposed and made aware of more anti-Semitic incidents than I would like to admit. These incidents did not occur in small designated communities. They did not happen to anonymous strangers. They happened to my students. They happened to my closest friends. They happened to me.
‘Wait, you’re Jewish? Where are your horns?’ While one can read this line and think it’s impossible anyone actually believes this, students I worked with were asked this question on a college campus. In case there was any doubt, the person asking did not try to joke or insult, but honestly believed Jews have horns. A human being living in the United States in the 21st century.
According to the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League, Jews, who make a bit more than 2% of the general population in the US, are exposed to more than 50% of all hate crimes due to religious bias in the United States. How can anyone read this fact and not be consumed by anger, confusion or start raising questions? How many more anti-Semitic crimes are happening and are not being reported? How many Jews don’t put a Mezuzah on their door post or think twice before wearing their Star of David necklaces because of fear? How did we accept the current situation and are willing to live with this reality?
Neo-Nazis are marching through the streets, swastikas are often being painted outside of houses, on trains, buses, bunches in public parks, outside of synagogues. Anti-Semitic comments are being posted online by the thousands, Holocaust memorial monuments are being vandalized, Jewish institutes are receiving bomb threats. Just this month, two Orthodox Jews were beaten on two different incidents in broad daylight in the city of New York.
This past weekend, a man in Kentucky decided to celebrate Halloween by dressing up as an SS officer and dressing his five-year-old son as Hitler. To deal with the criticism he faced, he claimed their costumes are ‘historical figures’. Students on a college campus, who on valentine’s day discovered someone thought it’s funny to print a card reading ‘My love for you burns like 6,000 Jews’ with a picture of Hitler.
Erin Schrode, who ran for US congress in 2016, is a victim to anti-Semitic attacks daily ever since, including death threats and very graphic images of her with a yellow Star of David covered in blood. Sadly, there are many more incidents than I can count and mention.
When events like these and many others occur all across the United States every day for years, why are we surprised an individual is willing to take the next step and massacre innocent people just because of their faith? What did we think the outcome would be? Did our history not teach us that those calling for our demise and destruction will act accordingly?
While we discuss gun violence and the need for regulation, this should not be the sole outcome of the Tree of Life Congregation shooting. As long as hate controls people’s thoughts, they will always find a way to hurt us, because you don’t need a gun to hurt a human soul.
Even in a perfect world with gun laws, we wouldn’t be safe unless we start to educate, battle ignorance, hate and promote acceptance. We cannot allow this crime to be forgotten and go back to accepting the reality of microaggressions with no physical casualties. Every hate crime in the US should shake the core of the American society and the Jewish communities. When I grew up, the phrase I heard the most describing our painful history was ‘Never Again’, now it’s time to mean it and act accordingly.
In early 2017, I was invited to a public school to talk about my story as a Jewish Israeli. That day, I spoke to hundreds of Middle School students, only one of them was Jewish. I told them the story of my grandparents, what they had to go through to reach a safe haven in the State of Israel, how anti-Semitism affected their lives, how it’s still alive and relevant today, how a Jew feels when he sees a Swastika. I would like to believe none of these students in their life time will tell a ‘Jew joke’ or will dress up as an SS officer for Halloween. One of my many life missions is to raise awareness to anti-Semitism and its outcomes. Join me, Jews and non-Jews alike in this important fight.
Let us educate, build bridges, condemn all crimes, demand our leaders to act, speak up and stop dividing us. Let us not accept the microaggressions and the unbelievable number of over 50%. Let us remind the world the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”
May the memories of the victims forever be a blessing. ברוך דיין האמת.