Elkana Bar Eitan

The surge in antisemitism

After completing 4.5 months of intense service with my IDF reserves unit, I hoped to relax and enjoy a short, peaceful visit to Zurich. However, I arrived in Zurich just a few days after a 15-year-old boy brutally stabbed an Orthodox Jew.

While on the tram, we passed through the Jewish neighborhood in Zurich, where the attack took place. My mind started thinking of different scenarios. What should I do if a Jew is attacked? Do I get off the tram and try to help? What should I do if I witnessed someone calling antisemitic chants? Do I interfere or keep to myself, enjoying the fact that I am not recognized as a Jew? For the first time in my life, I found myself wondering if I looked like a Jew.

These were my thoughts on my way to meet members of the local Jewish community to discuss the Kol Ami Mechina Gap Year program I’ve been involved with since its founding in 2012. When starting Kol Ami 12 years ago, our goal was to create a gap-year program that brings together high school alumni from Israel and their Jewish peers worldwide. Today, it’s amazing to look at the world map and see that we have alumni from 32 countries!

When arriving at the synagogue where the meeting took place, the familiar prayers and friendly faces made me feel like I belonged. After the evening prayer services, the community read a few chapters from the book of Palms for the release of the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza. When looking at the small group of mostly older men, it dawned on me how small and fragile the Jewish people are. Even in 2024, it seems like the Jewish people’s most powerful weapons are community and prayer.

For many years, antisemites accused the Jews of having a secret network that controlled the world. And yes, there are many Jewish communities around the world. Some are wealthy, and some are not. But are these communities a threat to anyone? In the past few months, since Oct 7, I have realized some things I didn’t realize before. One of my new understandings is that it’s not easy to be part of a small minority group. Jews are hated for being successful at the same time that Jews are hated for being weak and fragile.  For the first time in my life, I am not only exposed to antisemitism but actually experiencing it myself.

Antisemitism is literally everywhere.

While speaking with one of the Kol Ami alumni in Zurich, she shared some very concerning stories. Just yesterday, one of her colleagues at work accused her of spreading lies when she spoke about the recent antisemitic attack in Zurich. Her colleague said there was “no evidence” pointing that the Jewish man was attacked because he was a Jew. The fact that the attacker pleaded guilty and shared his Jihadi antisemitic motives didn’t seem to make a difference. She also shared with me that she lost many childhood friends since Oct. 7 as she was accused of supporting genocide.

Can you imagine blaming a 19-year-old Swiss Jewish girl for the terrible atrocities done by Palestinians? How wrong can you get it? Why do so many people hate the Jews?

Unfortunately, I don’t have answers to these questions. But I leave this short visit to the Zurich Jewish community feeling proud to be part of this ancient people who manage to keep on going despite the many challenges throughout our history. Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Elkana is an entrepreneur and business manager with a deep passion for education. Since 2007, Elkana has been in the field of experiential education and social entrepreneurship, focusing on community building, social awareness, humanities, and Jewish identity. Elkana currently resides in Eshhar, together with his wife, two daughters, and son.
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