28 May 2021
Earlier this spring, the ADL released their 2020 audit of antisemitic incidents in the United States. The report found last year’s numbers to be the third highest on record since 1979. Though total incidents—including harassment, vandalism, and assault—were down 4% from 2019, the report also found incidents in the Washington, DC area increased slightly.
This year, antisemitic attacks are breaking records following the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas. In the past two weeks, angry protesters assaulted Jewish diners in L.A., a mob beat up a young Jewish man in midtown Manhattan, and synagogues in Arizona, Illinois, New York, and Utah were vandalized, among more than 200 incidents across the country. Political leaders and the American public, meanwhile, had been relatively timid in calling out hate and discrimination against Jews until these past few days.
While it was encouraging to see political leaders come together to denounce antisemitism in unison this week, it comes as no surprise that a majority of American Jews feel less safe than they did five years ago. The question now is – how do we continue to respond?
To me, the answer is as simple as it is difficult: we must use our voices to speak up, educate people, and condemn expressions of hatred, prejudice, and antisemitism no matter the source. And we must expect others to do the same. As a community, we have the tools and expertise to draw a consistent line in the sand and speak up whenever we witness antisemitism in our midst.
We must do this for the nearly one in three American Jews who are going out of their way to avoid certain situations, places, or events out of concern for their safety and comfort as Jews. And we must do this on behalf of all current and future generations of Jews who deserve to live their lives free from the threat of violence.
Of course, we also know antisemitism to be an expression of something much larger. As former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power describes, “Rising antisemitism is rarely the lone or the last expression of intolerance in a society.” We have a responsibility to stand up against hate not only for ourselves but on behalf of all those who face hatred and discrimination. To stand strong against antisemitism, even when it is uncomfortable, is to shape healthier, more peaceful, and more tolerant communities.
And in these hyper-partisan times, it will most likely be uncomfortable. We have become accustomed to directing our condemnation almost exclusively to the other side of the aisle while possibly turning a blind eye to the overt and subtle presence of hateful ideology in our own circles. After all, it is easy to call out the behavior of people with whom we disagree, it is much harder to label and decry antisemitism from otherwise “friendly” sources.
But as I look around at the rising tide of hate, I can tell that this is the type of conviction and clarity of purpose the world needs from us right now. We must hold others accountable, and we must hold ourselves accountable to fighting antisemitism even before we address our partisan differences. Indeed, in this next chapter of history, I believe that two of the most effective measures we can take in combatting antisemitism is to lower our tolerance for prejudice and raise our expectations of each other, our community, and our country.
P.S. I am honored to be traveling to Israel next week with eight local rabbis from across our community, as one of the first missions to Israel since the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to reflecting on our experience and the conversations we share.