By: Moshe Wolff  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: Fight or Flight- Confronting Anti-Semitism

“It’s time to move.”

These four life-changing words cut through the air, as a wife told her husband how they should respond to the recently planned antisemitism. In advance of this past Shabbos, February 25, Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups planned to organize a National Day of Hate. Shabbos, a day designated for rest and tranquility where we gather for worship, was targeted to become a day where we would be in fear to freely practice our religious obligations. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted over 200 years ago, declares that American citizens have the right to freely practice their religion. And yet, we are at a point in time where there are extremist groups in this country that are so blinded by hatred that they are willing to uproot the bedrock principles of a country that is supposed to lead the world on how a democracy should operate.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where parents are pressured into uprooting their entire lives and making Aliyah, even if they don’t believe that it is the right time for them, because of the fear of being a Jew in America. This is not, chas v’shalom [heaven forbid], to discredit any efforts to move to Israel, but rather to point out the antisemitism that is rampant throughout the United States and the urgent need to be part of a solution for tolerance.

As of the 2020 Census in the United States, Jews make up 2.4% percent of the U.S. population. Nonetheless, according to the FBI-released 2021 Hate Crime Statistics, anti-Jewish incidents represented 31.9% of the total religious incidents. Despite antisemitic incidents reaching an all-time high in 2021, an Axios article, released on December 17, 2022, warned that antisemitic hate crimes in 2022 may have surpassed the numbers from 2021.

This rise may have, in part, been due to antisemitic comments made by celebrities over the past year. On October 8th, Kanye West, who currently has over 30 million Twitter followers and 18 million Instagram followers, tweeted that he is going to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” Twitter removed the tweet and locked West’s account the following day, however, the damage had already been done. Shockingly, West’s follower count increased significantly on both platforms as his hateful remarks only continued to grow over the coming weeks. On October 22, an antisemitic hate group held banners over a busy Los Angeles freeway, with one banner saying “Kanye is right about the Jews,” with some group members raising their arms in a Nazi salute.

On October 27, NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to a film filled with antisemitic conspiracies. On November 3, the Brooklyn Nets suspended Irving for a  minimum of five games, and the following day, Nike terminated its relationship with Irving. Shortly after being suspended, Irving apologized in an Instagram post to the Jewish families and communities that he hurt. Irving’s former teammate Richard Jefferson said in regards to Irving while broadcasting a Nets game: “You have to understand that how you use your social media has effects and affects people.” This is especially true for someone like Irving, who has over 18 million Instagram followers and 4.5 million Twitter followers.

The current hostility towards Jews in the United States needs to be addressed immediately. A legitimate response to the alarming increase in antisemitism is to move to Israel. Ultimately, we should strive to put ourselves in the best position to effectively work on our Avodas Hashem and not live in fear of being persecuted because of our religious beliefs. This response may have been reflected in Israel’s 2021 immigration statistics, as approximately 4,000 U.S. citizens made aliyah, the highest total since 1973. Although this solution will not help the current crisis in the United States, it is still a brave and commendable decision nonetheless.

For those that are currently living in the United States, even if it is just until they complete university, it is imperative to no longer stand on the sidelines, but rather be part of the solution for religious tolerance. 

The Anti Defamation League lists seven ways to fight antisemitism. I believe that one of those ways, “Educate against antisemitism,” needs to be doubled down on in our efforts to combat antisemitism. A 2020, a 50 state survey in the United States revealed a concerning lack of Holocaust knowledge among Millenials and Gen Z. Astonishingly, 63% of respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and 19% of respondents from New York believed that Jews caused the Holocaust.

A lack of a proper education results in little to no sensitivity to the potential harm of antisemitic remarks. Both Irving and West, who presumably have not been properly educated on this topic, immediately resorted back to their previous ways as soon as they were given the opportunity. After West’s access to his Twitter account was restored, on Dec. 1, he tweeted an image combining the Jewish Star of David with a swastika, resulting in his account’s suspension. After Irving was traded from the Nets to the Dallas Mavericks, he deleted his apology post from his Instagram, but claimed that there was no hidden message behind this cryptic move.

“Never forget” is not just a call for us to gather on Yom Hashoah [Holocaust Memorial Day] for an assembly, but a duty for us to make sure that all of those around us are also aware of the destruction that hatred can cause. This begins in the classroom; Teaching school children about the Holocaust will hopefully make them more aware of the antisemitism that occurs daily in society and stand against it. An encouraging result of the survey revealed that 80% of all respondents believe that it is important to continue teaching about the Holocaust so that it never happens again. This past August, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that will help improve Holocaust education in classrooms. Our role in strengthening Holocaust education throughout the United States can be done by lobbying our state and local government leaders and supporting candidates who value incorporating this education into school curriculums. 

Educating others does not just end in the classroom. As we interact with people outside of our own communities, we need to engage with people of other faiths regarding their experiences and thoughts towards antisemitism. Although this may seem awkward and uncomfortable, and personally I can attest that I have yet mustered the courage to try this, I believe that it is a crucial step towards allowing us to practice our religion in harmony among neighbors of different faiths. 

Most importantly, whether in front of people of other religions or even our own, it is imperative that we constantly go out of our way to make a Kiddush Hashem. Oftentimes, we are easily identified as Jews due to our different way of dress and religious practices; it is very easy to view this obligation of constantly scrutinizing our actions so as not to paint a bad image of Jews as a burden. However, I think that in reality, it is an opportunity that we have to show everyone else, including other Jews, the beauty of how the Torah tells us we are supposed to interact with others as well as with ourselves.

Sadly, as history has repeatedly told us, we as Jews can never get too comfortable in a specific land. There is a legitimate threat to the core of what America stands for; the extremism and hate that divide this country can uproot the exact ideals upon which this country was founded originally. As Jews, this is a threat to our ability to freely practice our religion and poses an imminent danger to our safety and well-being. We must stand up for ourselves and educate others on the dangers of antisemitism.

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Photo Caption: Education is critical to ending antisemitism

Photo Credit: Jarmoluk via Pizabay