David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Stream of Anxious Consciousness XV

There is a curious case of dissonance when it comes to antisemitism in the Western world.

Much of today’s Stream of Anxious Consciousness is assembled from a few different sermons I delivered or posts shared over the years that address this strange place in time for us and for the ‘not-us’ of the world.

There is no question. Antisemitism and Jew hatred is out and about. Lurking in many suspecting and unsuspecting corners. Masks have come off and some friends are not really friends and other acquaintances are closer aligned than we knew.

One meme said, “I now know which of my friends would hide me in the Holocaust.” It was a bit twisted, but I totally understood it. You did too.

So why do so many people not understand our victimhood or sense of fear and fright? It is more than our history. There are legitimate issues that could confuse a well-educated, thoughtful person.

These three statements are ALL true.
• Antisemitic crimes in America reached a record level during the past 2 years.
• Jews are the target of 58% of all hate crimes in past 33 months.
• Jews have ranked highest in the past decade and are viewed most positively by Pew Research.

To add to this confusion, Time Magazine did research with Pew and found Jews ranked as the most positive religion in our country.

Robert Putnam, the famed Harvard Sociologist who penned American Grace and Bowling Alone concluded his sociological research with this gem:

The religion that most people in America felt least intimidated by was Judaism. And 80% of Americans said they would have no problem voting for a Jewish president if he or she were the best candidate.

They did not say the same about Muslims, Mormons, Quakers or non-believers.

Those facts probably did not knock us off our chair. In fact, we know that Congress, the Senate, Fortune 500 countries, University Presidents and other industries have plenty of Jewish representation. For our small representation of the US population, 2%, our strength is the real meaning of the word, disproportionate.

Yet the hatred numbers and rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist incidents are skyrocketing. How do we square the circle of being a group that has off the charts numbers of being respected and off the charts proof of being hated at the same time?

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are like a Havdalah candle. The wicks are twisted to and from. They meld together, and it is virtually impossible to dissect them. As they burn, they are a single flame.

To complicate things more, before October 7, there was a large group of people in America who were proud of Jews and Judaism and ashamed of Israel. At the very same time, there was another large group of people in America who despised Jews and loved Israel. (If you are struggling with who fits into these categories, think INN — If Not Now – and Steve Bannon as examples).

Those groups tried to dissect the Havdalah candle.

The former group were big proponents of the BDS movement, which attracted Jew haters from oversees and helped their cause. What I had noticed about many BDS supporters is that they were as much anti-Israel and barely, if at all, pro-Palestinian. Meanwhile, the latter group falsely thought that by being pro-Israel, true Jewish Zionists would turn a blind eye to their xenophobia and moral cloudiness. They were dead wrong.

There is one relatively decent thing about BDS. It is not violent. Considering October 7th, I appreciate the BDS form of warfare much more. However, the biggest flaw with BDS is it presumes with the stroke of the pen, the 75-year conflict is over. BDS refuses to take into effect 6 overtures throughout time that serious gestures for peace were rejected.

This generation of Palestinian youth has inherited a crappy fortune from the choices of their ancestors. That does not need to be Israel’s fault. By what I am hearing and reading, that seems to be a choice Israel will divorce themselves from in Gaza. Declaring that they will have NOTHING to do with Gazans welfare or well-being or survival, as part of the end game of the Hamas dismantling and this war. I will bet you, dollars to donuts as my dad would say, that somehow the international community and the Palestinian people will still come to blame Israel for any misfortune and mistreatment they are subject.

What I think I am really trying to get at is, anti-Zionism IS antisemitism. They are the very same. It is impossible to love the Jewish people and despise the Jewish state. And I do not want the love of the Jewish State from anyone who cannot love the Jewish people.

Now let’s get to the issue of dissonance. Many have trouble seeing you and me as victims, persecuted or as ‘other’. That stems primarily from Jews being white (mostly), successful, well educated, affluent, influential and with access. None of those traits fit the classic characteristics of ‘other.’ Yet we are.

In our home, we have an additional member of our family. Our nanny. She has been with us for 8 years and she helps with everything. She cooks meals, tidies the house, helps with laundry, and walking the dogs. When the kids were little, she was a built-in babysitter too. We all love and adore her, and she is included as a full member of our household. She is a black woman, originally from the Caribbean.

We eat most of our meals together in our home. All five of us.

One dinner, we started talking about attacks on Jews and I said something along the lines of ‘we are hated and discriminated against. It is just a fact.’

Our nanny, this devout Christian, black woman from the Caribbean said nothing. She did not need to. Her face said it all.

Her expression said to me, ‘You live in this house, your tribe is not denied jobs anywhere, your kids have access to fantastic education, they can apply to any college, not once does your religion interfere with your acceptance at ANY college except maybe Brigham Young. You drive a nice car, live in an affluent neighborhood and have some shekels in the bank, and you are claiming victimhood? Really? I can tell you and your kids something about victimhood and being the subject or racism and hate.’

She is right.
And she is wrong.

She is right because – heads of industry in retail, food, aerospace, and finance are proudly Jewish. Elected officials are Jewish. 2% of America is comprised of Jews and 10% of Congress identifies as Jewish. No other group is represented that disproportionately.

She is right because every major city in America has a Holocaust Museum. More than 200 universities have a Jewish Studies program that students can major or minor in. What are we denied as Jewish people? Putnam was right. Jews have arrived and are respected.

And she is wrong. When you walk into any evangelical church in North America, visit any Catholic cathedral in the northeast, can she tell me how many security officers are there? How much are they spending on safety? Did they have police with machine guns out when congress people who are vocal in support of Jews are visiting a synagogue? Do bomb sniffing dogs come to Catholic or Mormon day schools when tensions are high in Israel? Why does our temple spend 15% of our budget on security? Why do we have to lobby congress for homeland security grants? Why are all synagogues, thankfully, crawling with police on the holidays and during these tense days?

Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the czar against antisemitism in America, lasers in on this dissonance.

She says, the radical left refracts their views through two lenses: ethnicity and class. In that image they see Jews overall as white and privileged. How could someone white and privileged be the victim of hate?

And those that sling hatred towards Israel with tools like BDS or make rude comments about ‘the Benjamins’ or compare moments in society to wearing Yellow Stars, they defend themselves with the shield of it being impossible for them to be prejudice. They claim, ‘Look at my record! My life has been shaped by fighting for justice for the persecuted.’ It is a great forcefield to sling accusations and be protected from accusations.

Meanwhile, the radical right does not see Jews as white at all. They see Jews in evil cartoonish depictions thirsty for money and willing to do anything to advance their cause with no care for what it does to others.

The one place where the radical right and the radical left agree is in dislike of the Jewish and Zionist soul.

Part of this challenge comes in the uniqueness that is us.

We are a religion. We are a people. We are a culture.

As a religion, we are open to any soul who seeks to join us in faith and prayer and belief. We are comprised of men and women, straight and gay, people of color, born to and by choice, Jewish. We are open to all.

We are a people that are connected to a sacred land that is ours – called Boca Raton. And another land – like Boca, 5000 miles away called Israel, which has historical connections. Our people, indigenous to both places love to bargain, always assume they know best, and fight for their survival!

And we are a culture. We fight for the oppressed in South Africa and help refugees from Ukraine and march in Washington for freedom of Soviet dissidents and put-up lawn signs declaring Black Lives Matter. We are a tribe that is connected to a calendar, whether we pray three times a day or three times a year. We are bound by whitefish, hummus, herring and babka and all speak a shared language of kvetch, shalom, shlep, nachas and shule.

But because our identity is tied to any one of these things, a religion, a culture and a land, we are not necessarily all those things but are some, and that connects us to the greater whole. I hope that made sense?!

In this moment of increased tension and concern, and growing unity and solidarity, some would rather assume they are hated and build up walls and be on defense. I think that is that fatalist and an imprudent pathway forward.

Some would like to believe that hate is pointed elsewhere and enjoy the fruits of happiness and prospects for peace. I think that is naïve and a careless pathway forward.

I am not sure of the best way forward. But I am pretty sure, it is not in either extreme.

This is indeed a rambling rant – a stream of anxious consciousness that validates the notion that if you and I struggle with who we are and how we are, I imagine others are struggling too.

The one thing that HAS happened because of this horrid attack on Israel is it has inched us all a little closer to one another. Some moved from the right and others from the left.

I am sickened that tragedy is Judaism’s greatest glue and yet, I am heartened each time we draw closer. What a warped reality and itself, a strange dissonance.

Stay Safe. Pray for our soldiers. Pray for the end of Hamas. Pray for innocent civilians. Pray for peace.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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