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Anti-Semitism Is Alive

By Josh Franklin

I still recall the pleasant surprise of reading the 2009 report from the Anti-Defamation League, which cited an all-time low of anti-Semitic attitudes. I believed that we were headed into a new era, and I believed that the trend of dropping anti-Semitic feelings would continue over the course of the next decade. 

I painfully admit that I was wrong. The state of affairs in 2019 is not the same as it was in 2009, and the world seems scarier for Jews now than it has in my lifetime. The same annual Anti-Defamation League report that had once related drops in anti-Semitism reported a 60-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017. And so, I worry.

I consider myself the eternal optimist, far from a peddler in fear-mongering. But the data is hard to stare in the face. These aren’t just numbers, they are acts of violence perpetrated against Jews and Jewish communities. 

Last month, we witnessed a shooting at the Chabad community center in Poway, Calif. Only six months earlier, another 11 Jews were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. These events stand at the forefront of the Jewish consciousness, and they are certainly the most horrific, but they are only two among thousands of anti-Semitic incidents that happen each year. 

Surprisingly, New York State had the second most incidents in 2018 (340), just short of California (341). According to the Anti-Defamation League, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in physical assaults, a wave of anti-Semitic robocalls, and a significant number of disturbing attacks on college campuses. We are not immune from hatred against us even out in the comforts of the East End. 

We were all shocked by the violence against Jewish communities, yet perhaps not surprised. But then The New York Times published a cartoon last month so deeply anti-Semitic that, I must admit, I was astonished. At first, when I saw the cartoon that the international edition of The Times put out, I thought I was seeing a fake-news hoax. It showed a blind President Trump with a kippah (a Jewish head covering) being led by a dog with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wearing a Star of David collar to boot.

This image wasn’t implicitly anti-Semitic, it was overtly anti-Semitic, and it was coming from the most popular newspaper in the United States (the third most widely distributed in the world). Plenty of columns, including in The Times itself, have spent time dissecting the anti-Semitic messages within the image. This wasn’t simply an error of judgment, it was an indication that anti-Semitism has become so ingrained in the American mind that editors can no longer recognize Jewish bigotry when it’s plainly in their sight.

So where do we go from here? I don’t think hatred magically disappears when we bury our heads in the sand. To the contrary, past generations of insular Jewish communities only experienced further discrimination and bigotry. I don’t pretend to have the panacea for anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, but I think there are two important steps we can take moving forward. 

First, I encourage all of you to speak up when you see hatred, and not retreat to the shadows. In addition to reporting incidents of anti-Semitism and hate crimes to your local law enforcement agency, don’t be afraid to contact the Anti-Defamation League. 

And second, the relationships we form with our neighbors are the best investment we can make to turn the tides of all bigotry and hatred. 

To that end, we at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons will continue to embrace and partner with other faith communities and organizations that share our values on the East End, and we will continue to be a center not just for Judaism, but also for tolerance, acts of love, and charity.

Josh Franklin is the rabbi at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton.

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