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The TBE Blog

“The Jews run all the banks,” my friend from work said. “What?” he asked at my look of consternation. “That’s a good thing—I admire them!”

I had just told him that I was taking a couple of days off to attend the Anti-Defamation League’s “Never Is Now” conference on antisemitism at the Javitz Center in NYC to try to figure out what I personally could do to combat the surge of antisemitic activity in this country in recent months. I didn’t quite have the tools yet to explain why his view was problematic, even though it was well-intentioned and even, in his mind, complimentary.

At the conference, Dr. Dara Horn, award-winning author spoke about the two kinds of antisemitism: “Purim” antisemitism, where groups like Hamas simply want to wipe Jews off the map, and “Hanukkah” antisemitism, where, like the Greeks did before they defiled the Temple, the local society pressures Jews to shed their practices and markers of Jewish identity and eventually erase themselves. At this moment, Jews are currently subject to both.

Purim antisemitism is clear: Hamas’ stated aim is to eliminate Jews. Whether or not they realize it, those who chant “from the river to the sea” are advocating for the same end for Jews living in Israel, which constitute half of all the Jews in the world. Many may not, however, realize that Hanukkah antisemitism is at work, too. I know people who have taken off the stars of David they used to wear around their necks, hidden their kippot under baseball caps on the NYC subway, and removed the mezuzot from the frames of their front doors.

As I listened to speaker after speaker, I became more convinced than ever that we cannot hide and wait for this to pass. Education is critical to strengthening relationships with our current allies, building bridges to new ones, and giving courage to our own people to stand up to hate. It’s crucial that we do not allow ourselves to internalize the negative things that others say about us, whether they are saying them out of hate or out of ignorance. We must lead with who we are as a Jewish people and what the values are that we live by.

I had the great honor of hearing Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker, the rabbi who was held hostage along with 3 of his congregants in Colleyville, TX, in early 2022, speak about his experience that day, along with Rabbi Angela Buchdal, senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in NYC. You may recall that part of that story included the gunman forcing Rabbi Citron-Walker to call Rabbi Buchdal because he was absolutely convinced that Rabbi Buchdal could call the President of the United States and get his “sister,” who was in federal prison for trying to kill US troops in Afghanistan, released. Listening to the rabbis tell their story, the connection between the themes of that day in Texas and my conversation at work became clear: the belief that Jews control many of our American institutions can start out as benign but can metastasize into something that results in loss of life, even if that’s not what the perpetrator intends.

As Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, pointed out, these types of conspiracy theories are also dangerous in another way: If a person can believe that the Jews can influence our most powerful leaders to get what they want outside of the rules all citizens must follow, then faith in democracy is undermined. If people start to believe that democracy can’t protect them, it leaves cracks in the foundation for bad actors to sneak in and exploit our weaknesses.

As Dr. Horn told us, this is our “Queen Esther moment.” Just as Queen Esther overcame her fear and took her plea to the king despite the potential negative consequences of her actions, we must find the courage to speak out against antisemitism wherever we see it, educating others about who we are and what we stand for. We must not go underground at this critical moment. This effort to educate will strengthen the connections with our allies in our communities and will strengthen our own resolve. Advances are being made at the federal level, such as the comprehensive National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released in May 2023, and the follow-up federal clarification in writing in September 2023 that religion is a prohibited discrimination category under Title 6 protections of the Civil Rights Act. As Merrick Garland, US Attorney General, declared in his address to the conference, ensuring the protection of law for all of our country’s citizens is the responsibility of every American, and we must protect each other. Working together with our government and our allies on these and other ongoing efforts to fight antisemitism, we can make the world a safer place for all Jews and a more just and welcoming place for everyone.

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