“She drove me to Hebrew day 6-8th grade almost every day. Lives down the street from me”
This was the text I received after Shabbat from a close childhood friend about Lori Gilbert Kaye, the woman who was mercilessly killed by a White Nationalist just one week ago in Chabad of Poway.
Sadly, after a weekend of rockets falling on Israel, killing and wounding dozens of people, this is a text that many Israelis have probably received in some form or other as well.
This is a troubling and precarious time for the Jewish community worldwide as we come face to face with ideologies and worldviews with anti-semitism at their fundament.
But perhaps nothing better personifies the modern Jewish predicament than the Dahan family whose 8 year old daughter was injured last Shabbat in the shooting in Poway.
A few years ago they moved from Sderot, Israel to escape the constant bombardments of rockets sent by the international terrorist group Hamas. The same rockets that we have just seen falling on Israel throughout the weekend.
Hamas, is a group that openly states its goal of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Jewish people as they attempt to “push the Jews into the sea” or “force them back to Europe where they belong”. A group that is often touted as freedom fighters by radical anti-Israelists throughout the world with hordes of others refusing to condemn their terrorist acts.
The Dahan family moved to America to allow their children a normal upbringing free from the anti-Jewish terror rampant through Israel.
Then, as we all know, they were targeted by a White Nationalist.
White Nationalism, is an ideology that openly states that Jews are racially inferior and a menace to society as they are responsible for major societal problems. A group that wants “All the Jews out of Europe (and by extension the west)”. A group that wants to make it clear that Jews are unwelcome and despised simply because of their racial makeup.
So what do we do?
Some anti-semites are bent on telling us that Jews will never be safe within civil society, shooting up synagogues, painting swastikas and spreading anti-semitic conspiracies throughout internet messaging boards – only hoping to exacerbate the cycle.
For these racial anti-semites and White Nationalists, the type that Israel was created to protect against, the Jews are a race (not a religion) and there is something within their blood or essence that renders them deficient. For this reason they will never fit in with mainstream society.
Other anti-semites such as Hamas and their fervent anti-Zionist ilk, claim the Jews who founded Israel are really just white Europeans who have come over to colonize Israel. The idea of Jewish nationhood is a fiction. There is no Jewish “nation” only a religion with no shared history amongst its adherents. And a religion, they teach, doesn’t need its own country! On the contrary, Jews are deserving of attack, slander, and opposition because they dared to achieve self-determination to protect themselves.
Today, without oversimplifying things too much, the different types of anti-semitism along with the fight over the modern definition of Judaism underpins much of the discourse surrounding Jews. We have religious anti-semites supporting Israel because they believe that it is only when Jews return to the Holy Land, that the rapture can occur and Jews be rightfully punished. Ditto for racial anti-semites (mostly on the far-Right) supporting Israel because they specifically want the Jews “out of the West.” On the other hand, it is not rare for anti-Zionists to tell Jews things like “get out of Israel and go back to Europe!”
But many anti-Zionists will stick by Jews when religious or racial anti-semitism strikes. So long as Jews are being maligned because of their religion or race, they will help. But the second the Jews as a nation or national movement comes into question they often become the anti-semites.
It seems that no matter what we can’t win. Whatever Judaism is (a social group, religion, race, culture, or nation), people won’t like it.
The way to combat this is to be proud. Whether in Israel or America we need to be proud of our identity – whether you see it as ethnic, national, religious, racial or somewhere in between. Wear a kippah, a Jewish star, or a visible symbol of the country of Israel. Read Jewish literature, go to more Jewish events, follow the news in Israel, and invite people from all walks of life to ask you about what Judaism/Israel means to you.
The 2,500 year old Jewish answer to anti-semitism is more Jewishness. The rest is commentary. Go out and envelope yourself in it.
Daniel Levine is a UCLA and Ha’Am alumni and is currently the Senior Jewish Educator at OC Hillel.