Growing intolerance fertile ground for antisemitism
One of the themes that has emerged as a pressing issue for the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, our community as a whole and society more broadly is the resurgence of antisemitic speech and horrific acts of violence. Historic tropes and slurs, knowingly or unknowingly, are repeated by politicians both from the left and from the right.
The rhetoric around U.S.-Israel relations and Jewish voters has deepened. Many of us feel distressed and angry as we watch the politicization and weaponization of Israel and the American Jewish community by politicians in both countries. Students of Jewish history fear that this kind of conversation does not usually end well for us and that this is a lose-lose scenario for the Jewish community.
Knowledge of antisemitism and the atrocities of genocide have been a part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember. I was raised by a community of Holocaust survivors. My father, uncles and brothers were all given middle names that could serve as innocuous last names if necessary. I was told repeatedly as a child that I should never make the mistake of feeling too comfortable as a Jew. As an idealistic youth I rejected this notion; these words now sit like a weight on my heart.
In “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” famed historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote, “Antisemitism flourishes in a society that is intolerant of others, be they immigrants or racial and religious minorities. When expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups.”
We again are living in an era when political leaders question long-standing, simple facts in favor of ideas and rhetoric that are politically expedient and opportunistic. According to the ADL, antisemitism rose 57% in 2017 across the United States and Europe. Close to 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded, the highest number of antisemitic incidents since 1994.
In 2018, the most severe acts of Jewish hate recorded were in the United States. “Blood and Soil,” a nationalist slogan expressing Nazi Germany's ideal of a "racially" defined national body ("blood") united with a settlement area ("soil"), was chanted in Charlottesville, Virginia as neo-Nazis took to the streets. Since Charlottesville, 12 Jews were murdered in their houses of worship and locally there were two attempted arsons at synagogues.
The “dox”-ing (public outing on social media) of Jewish communal professionals, schoolteachers, and journalists, and repeated antisemitic tweets by political leaders from both major parties have created a climate where antisemitism and its public expression has become normative.
The Jewish people are no strangers to hatred and the horror of violence directed at us because of who we are. But history tells us that nothing is horrible once you get used to it. It is precisely because of our history that we offer our comfort and assistance as well as our outrage and determination to change the course of the future.
Our answer is not only to stand and speak, but to continue to advance community, because that’s the essential role of a Jewish Federation. When I am able, I want to lift up the voices of our community, Jews and non-Jews alike, helping to clarify and motivate each other to take responsibility for our collective future. Helping others is the path to healing and comfort. And it is an end unto itself.
Next weekend we begin the Jewish month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar that leads into the High Holidays. It marks the beginning of a 40-day period of reflection and introspection in preparation for the holiest day of the year in Judaism, Yom Kippur.
Just this past weekend, the outside walls of Adath Israel Synagogue in Newtown were spray painted with swastikas. This hateful desecration of yet another Jewish house of worship reminds us that another part of our normal High Holiday preparation includes providing armed security to ensure we can pray in peace and without fear.
Both as a Jew and an American, I feel this is the perfect time for much-needed soul searching, because only when we are a part of a productive and inclusive community can people fully realize the sacred potential in each individual. While we may not agree on every issue, we are resolute in our task of repairing the broken fragments of our world and restoring the peace of our community.
Carin Savel is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.
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