Holy day brings a sad reminder: Antisemitism is always around

by | Oct 9, 2022 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This past week, Jews across the world commemorated their most holy day, Yom Kippur, in which they asked for forgiveness from God and their fellow human beings.

They might have asked for protection, too.

On that same day, plastic bags filled with rocks and antisemitic messages were left in driveways in Southern California. Antisemitic graffiti was found on a Florida sidewalk. A synagogue in Germany had its windows shattered.

The holiest day on the Jewish calendar has become a magnet for anti-Jewish acts. Three years ago, again on Yom Kippur, a 27 year-old neo-Nazi, loaded with explosives, shot at a synagogue door in Halle, Germany, trying to force his way in. He later killed two people.

And four years ago this month, a synagogue in Pittsburgh was shot up by a gunman in the deadliest attack yet on a U.S. Jewish community. That horror, which killed 11 and wounded six, took place during Sabbath services.

It is not an exaggeration to say that these days, many Jews pray while holding their breath.

But while high holiday hatred gets red lettered on the calendar, it is the everyday antisemitism that is a greater long-term danger. Like the slow boiling water that eventually kills the unsuspecting lobster, a rising tolerance of hatred is making the world more dangerous to Jews every day.

Antisemitic acts are at record level highs. The Anti Defamation League said 2021 saw an average of seven incidents per day of assault, harassment or vandalism against Jews.

Yet outside of the Jewish community, there is little outrage or even concern — despite America becoming a nation where even the slightest insult inspires a policy change.

A double standard exists

Instead, what we see are policies that actually encourage anti-Jewish sentiment. Recently, at Cal Berkeley’s Law School, nine separate student organizations voted to no longer invite speakers who “hold views in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.”

Mind you, they’re not referring to speakers who would talk about Israel. Just people who believe Israel should exist. Denied. Not welcome. The law school’s dean, who is Jewish, had to point out that under such a bigoted policy, he himself would not be allowed to speak to his own students!

But the groups did not back down. This led to media references that Berkeley was creating “Jew-Free” zones. While that is not technically accurate, even the echo of such a phrase sent shivers through the Jewish community, some of whom are old enough to painfully remember when such zones were a reality in this world.

Can you imagine if similar policies were made banning other groups from speaking on campus? How about a policy that reversed the equation: No speakers allowed who ever supported Palestinian causes? How long do you think that would be tolerated?

But anti-Israel and anti-Zionism venom (which is often conjoined with antisemitism, no matter how much people deny it) is not only tolerated now but rampant, particularly on college campuses, where opinions of future leaders are formed.

Take the recent case of a USC graduate engineering student, who was a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion senator for the school’s student association. She tweeted that she wanted to “kill every mother(expletive) Zionist” and “Death to Israel and its (expletive) the US.” She also tweeted out in Arabic a phrase that translates to “curse the Jews” and celebrated a video in which she claimed “a Jew’s head was set ablaze.”

Not an Israeli’s head. A Jew’s head.

USC’s response? It said it “condemns hatred in all forms.”

Wow. That’s taking a stand.

Not a new problem

It’s disturbing to note that the USC hatemonger was a DEI delegate of any kind. It’s equally disturbing that the rush to include DEI in so many aspects of college life does not seem to include defending Jews.

A 2022 report from the group StopAntisemitism surveyed 25 top universities. It found that 55% of students reported experiencing antisemitism on their campuses, yet only three schools even included Jews in DEI initiatives.

How can you be for equity and inclusion if you don’t include the oldest and most historically disparaged minority group on Earth? Jews have been persecuted since Biblical days. As I said once before in this column space:

“Ancient Jews were hated for sticking to their faith and not bowing to whatever idols were being worshipped. They were hated for eating differently. For praying differently. According to the Old Testament, they were enslaved in Egypt for generations because of their beliefs. …

“In the centuries that followed, they were ostracized, marginalized and denied basic rights. … They were forbidden to intermarry, forbidden from holding government jobs, accused of having hidden horns and tails. They were raped and massacred throughout the Crusades. Falsely accused of spreading bubonic plague and burned alive because of it. Continually persecuted and murdered as ‘Christ killers.’ …

“They have been stereotyped as dirty, money-grubbing, hook-nosed. Their deaths have been called for more times than you can count.

“And lest this be dismissed as ancient history, it was less than 85 years ago that Jews were rounded up all throughout Europe and systematically exterminated in Nazi death camps. Yellow stars were stitched to their clothes. Numbers were tattooed on their arms. Body by body, Jew by Jew, they were shot in the head, experimented upon like rats and gassed in phony “showers,” their lifeless bodies tossed in giant pits. …

“This horror ended only in 1945. There are still people living with tattooed numbers on their arms, and nightmares of hollow-eyed corpses in their dreams. Yet anti-Semitism is again on the rise, like a shark that keeps coming back.” 

I wrote that two years ago, after the football player DeSean Jackson made hateful remarks about Jews and got a mere slap on the wrist.

Yet here I am, having to point to history again.

How can this still happen in this country?

You would think such an enlightened country as America in 2022 would witness the final erasure of such hatred — especially at universities, where sensitivity is at its highest.

Instead, the ADL noted antisemitic incidents on college campuses were up 21% last year alone. A Torah scroll was destroyed in a George Washington University fraternity. A Jewish student at University of Central Florida was beaten by neo-Nazis. Swastikas appear on campuses across the country. Anti-Israel declarations — like the ones at Cal Berkeley — are adopted by countless student groups, often labeling the Jewish homeland “apartheid,” “terrorist,” “colonialist” and “evil.”

Taken individually, not one of these incidents should seriously threaten a religious group in a free and democratic society. But collectively, they erode the bottom of the boat. And when the bottom erodes, holes develop, bad stuff gets in, and everything can sink.

The water is rising.

It’s the oldest form of vitriol on Earth, hating the Jews, and one that apparently never goes away. Maybe that’s why, in a nation so focused on eliminating any type of offense, it barely registers a peep.

But it should. It should have us screaming. When any group of citizens, on their holiest day of the year, has to come home to hateful flyers, swastikas, or shattered windows in their sanctuaries, something is wrong. Something is ominously wrong.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!