The Only Thing We Need to Know
In our neighborhood, just about every kid came from either a Jewish or an Italian family.
Readers who have been following my posts know that antisemitism has been on my mind lately.
Many of us Jews in my college town have been stunned by the antisemitism that has sprung up on campus. Among the incidents that have troubled us are: a course on the Israeli-Arab conflict that demonizes Jews and places all blame for the conflict on Israelis; harassment of students at an on-campus Jewish fraternity house; a demand by a student advocacy group to provide lesser funding to all student clubs with a “Zionist ideology”; a vote by the entire faculty of the Department of Ethnic Studies to support that antisemitic demand; and sponsorship by the university Diversity Office of a panel presentation that demonized Israel and taught antisemitic canards against Jews, e.g., that Jews believe they are superior to others.
In response to these antisemitic events, members of the Jewish community met with the university’s Diversity Office and an upper level administrator. In order to address the issues, the university, following the guidance of the Director of Hillel, agreed to antisemitism training for campus administrators. The training was based on Hillel’s Campus Climate Initiative, with content developed by both Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League. Attendees learned about the history of the Jewish people, including centuries of anti-Jewish persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. Also included were content on the state of antisemitism worldwide, as well as antisemitism on US college campuses. Attendees also learned about the intimate connection of the Jewish people to the State of Israel.
Members of the local Jewish community generally greeted news of this training with satisfaction. I found myself less enthusiastic than others. Why?
I was glad to learn that university administrators were finally going to address the antisemitism problem on campus. At the same time, I felt discomfort. To my mind, it was as if we Jews were saying to campus administrators: “Yes, you have been ignoring anti-Jewish activities on campus, sometimes facilitating them, and turning a blind eye to the feelings of Jewish students. But we know the only reason you did this, is that you know little about us Jews. If only you knew us better, you would treat us with respect.”
But is that true?
Do university administers and students need to know a lot of stuff about Jews in order to treat us fairly?
Growing Up Ethnic
This question led me to think about my childhood experiences of growing up Jewish. My parents were Holocaust survivors. My mother’s tearful accounts of “the war”—-the terror, the anguish of losing every one of her family members save one, the constant buzz of fear that filled our lives; feeling set apart, unsafe; and my father’s refusal to speak about what had happened to him. All of these things made me hyper-aware: Being Jewish was a hazard. That is what antisemitism meant to me.
So, I do think antisemitism is a problem. But here is the thing.
In our neighborhood, just about every kid came from either a Jewish or an Italian family. Somehow we all got along. I don’t remember ever feeling the sting of people not liking me because I was Jewish. I don’t think any of us Jewish and Italian kids thought about our differences.
I knew almost nothing about Italian culture, Catholicism, why my Italian friends ate fish on Fridays, the Pope, rosary beads, the Virgin Mary, the Italian “code of silence” or anything else about my friends other than the superficial stuff like their last names and their Sundays at church rather than my Saturdays at synagogue.
Just as I was clueless about Italian culture, my Italian friends knew nothing about Jewish culture. They knew nothing about God’s covenant with the Jewish people, the Torah, why we boys celebrated a Bar Mitzvah, what the funny looking mezuzah on the door frame meant, why we lit candles on Friday night, kept the meat and dairy separate, and didn’t have a Christmas tree during the holiday season.
Back then we didn’t have to know much about each other in order to treat each other decently.
So why do gentiles today have to know about Jews and antisemitism in order to treat us fairly? If we know nothing about others can’t we still treat them decently?
The Only Thing We Need to Know
My fear is that antisemitism training will give Diversity administrators another reason for being and another “success story” to buttress their legitimacy. This is not a good outcome. The Diversity Project teaches people of color that they are pawns on a Victim Carousel, and teaches others that they are perpetrators, responsible for the poor outcomes of the victim groups. In the Diversity advocate’s world, Jews like me are perpetrators. Ultimately, Diversity Training undermines the very goals it claims to promote: social cohesion and a society that is fair to all.
An alternative would be training that teaches everyone to treat others with decency and fairness regardless of who they are.
Here is one idea for fairness training. If we believe that all people are creations of God, made in his image, then if we are true to God, we must treat every one of God’s creations with respect, fairness and kindness.
That is all we need to know.