In My Own Words: Hate crimes

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Most Jewish newspapers have been focusing on the current wave of antisemitic attacks on Jews. That coverage is extremely important since if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who else is going to come to our aid? But we will never be truly safe in this country until everyone is safe, meaning all American citizens regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Unfortunately, I’ve been so focused on new issues that I didn’t realize one problem has continued and, in the past weeks, seems to have increased in number: attacks on Asian Americans.

While there has always been discrimination against Asian Americans, physical violence against them increased after former President Donald Trump referred to the COVID virus as the “Chinese virus.” That tweet led to thousands of attacks on those whose ancestry was any country on the Asian continent. Rather than fighting the virus, which has killed 967,000 people in our country (as of this writing), these attackers chose to hurt fellow Americans. However, I thought the attacks had grown less frequent because reports of attacks didn’t appear on the news. 

On a recent TV news ticker, though, I read that a 67-year-old Asian woman had been punched more than 125 times in the head and face, and stomped on seven times while being called an “Asian [word I cannot use in this paper].” I decided to do this research partly because of a conversation I had with someone recently who was distressed about a string of seven attacks on Asians. Checking out these incidents online led me to a CNN article that noted, “From March 19, 2020, to December 31, 2021, [there were] a total of 10,905 hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islander people.” 

Why isn’t more attention being paid to these attacks? It’s partly due to the fact it’s difficult to focus when there are so many different problems occurring in the U.S. and across the world. For example, the reason for the conversation I mentioned was what was occurring in Ukraine. We wondered if it was possible for groups to focus on a wide variety of issues or were they better off focusing on a few immediate ones? I can understand the desire to help Ukraine. What is happening in that war is horrific. Even if the fighting were to stop today, it will take years, if not, decades, for the country to recover.

Yet, we can’t ignore the discrimination and violence happening in our country. We need to stand by those being attacked and help them as best we can. Our political and religious leaders must let their followers know that this is not acceptable. That’s all our leaders – those of all parties and all religious denominations. 

Protecting everyone living in our country is not and should never be dependent on whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent. Condemning these attacks should not depend on which religious practice you support or refuse to support. Hate is simply not acceptable.