One of the reasons I experienced some antisemitism in high school was because I was very publicly Jewish. No, I didn’t wear a Star of David or a kippah, but I never hid my religion. In fact, I had an English teacher ask me to take her college-prep writing class because she was Jewish and had never taught a Jewish student in our school.
I later learned outward Jewish pride could disturb some people. For example, when I visited a non-Jewish college friend during her internship in Washington, DC, we went to the B’nai B’rith Museum. She was upset with the museum’s emphasis on how events in the U.S. affected its Jewish population. This was in the days when minority studies – black and Jewish history, for example – were just beginning. My friend and many others were unable to grasp that historical events could be looked at from different sides. After all, in public school, they were only taught one version that clearly labeled who were the good guys and who were the bad ones.
I think Bari Weiss, the author of “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” would have approved of my being publicly Jewish and my interest in American Jewish history. Her chapter on “How to Fight” is one that any proud Jew should find bracing. She believes we need to call out individuals on all sides – left, right and anywhere in-between – if they say something antisemitic. No one gets a pass and no one should get a pass. Just because a person faces oppression doesn’t mean that they can’t be prejudiced against others. We also shouldn’t let people make us feel that it’s our own or Israel’s fault if people are prejudiced against Jews.
I see Israel as one of the biggest problems when it comes to Jewish self-blame. No one who dislikes the policies of President Donald Trump says that the United States has no right to exist. But that’s how some Jews feel about Israel. Because they oppose the settlements or dislike the Israeli rabbinate or think the prime minister is a terrible person, they think the whole country should disappear. If you think there aren’t Jews who feel this way, then you’re wrong. I’ve read their writings and they are serious. The idea that if Israel or Israelis aren’t perfect, then the country has no right to exist strikes me as absurd, but it makes sense to some people. What is strange is these people don’t say the same thing about Germany or Russia or Syria. Only Jews have to be perfect or we don’t have a right to exist.
When I began reading “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” I was also reading a novel about the kindertransport (the German Jewish children who were sent to safety in England before World War II began). There were so many echoes to modern day times it was scary. But, as Weiss and others have noticed, we are not living in those days. When the Tree of Life Synagogue murders took place, there were not people outside the synagogue cheering the killer. Instead, people of all religions, races and ethnicities stood up for American values and condemned the attack. They supported their fellow citizens because they know that an attack on one American is an attack on all Americans.
So, while I don’t have the crystal ball I mentioned in the beginning of part one of this column last week, I do have hope. That’s what Weiss offers in her book: hope and a way to fight against those who would oppress us. Together, we can help our country recognize the sanctity of life of all its citizens.