Hate and antisemitism

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

It’s the alt-right’s fault. No, it’s antisemitism from the left wing. Wait, the problem is that people with mental illness have not received appropriate treatment. No, the cause is that this religion is antisemitic or that ethic group is or... or.... Then words begin to fail us. We so want to find an easy answer – one that explains all the recent antisemitic attacks. Only one thing ties all these attacks together and it has nothing to do with politics, religion or culture. What is the one common denominator? Hatred. 
Yes, hatred underlies all the attacks, whether the attacker claims it’s because we control the media, or are communists or capitalists, or because we refuse to assimilate or we assimilate too easily. I could fill pages with different conspiracy theories and still not list all of them. What we forget is that this hatred is not new. In one form or another, antisemitism has existed for centuries. Attacks on Jews for being Jewish is not something that started in the 20th or 21st centuries. Not only have Jews been used as scapegoats by leaders so the population of their country will have someone to blame for their troubles, we’ve been expelled from our homes because we no longer prove useful or because it’s an easy way to take all our possessions. Or maybe someone decided their land would be better off if it were religiously or ethnically pure. Or maybe the reason doesn’t really matter. In fact, hatred doesn’t need a real reason; when hatred lives that close to the surface, it doesn’t take much to make it flare and burn. 
Sometimes antisemitism is benign: we aren’t invited to join country clubs or we are excluded from social gatherings because we just don’t fit in. Sometimes people break us into groups: these are the acceptable Jews, these are the ones that feel too Jewish. This latter group just doesn’t belong, they feel odd or don’t know how to behave. People can make this sound reasonable, suggesting that everyone is better off under this system since they don’t want to make us feel uncomfortable. 
We tend to forget this because, in the United States, it became inappropriate to speak this way. We passed laws to prevent exclusion or prejudice. Religion or race was not a reason to preclude someone from attending a particular school or being hired by a particular company. That doesn’t mean that people necessarily liked us more. It just means they had to tolerate us for legal reasons. But tolerance is not enough because tolerance is not the same as acceptance. The feelings underneath that tolerance may not have changed. That means hatred still exists. 
And in the 21st century, there are people who believe they can and should express the hate they feel for us and other minorities not only verbally, but in physical attacks. We are on the opposite side of political correctness. For all the problems with that movement, people had to look carefully at their speech and actions because they knew they could be penalized for them. That’s no longer true, at least in speech: just look at Twitter and the comments posted on websites. The statements are harsh and the hatred is so palpable it practically throbs off the computer screen. And far too many feel that they can express that hatred through physical actions.
I don’t know how to end this centuries-old hatred. There are many suggestions, but no one true answer. What we can do, though, is stand together: we can remind each other that we are stronger as a community – that all members of the Jewish community matter. Then we can work with other minorities – with other stigmatized people – and join our strengths together so love and justice can prevail. To do otherwise is to let hatred win.