Anti-Semitism is strong, but the Jewish community is stronger

Image By: Morgan Winston and Morgan Winston

Anti-Semitism is not an issue that only bothers me. It shakes me to my core. Anti-Semitism is real and often lacks recognition of its severity in the United States, but it pervades throughout society into our daily lives. It varies from derogatory messages in memes to swastikas drawn on synagogues to violent atrocities like the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Congregation shooting that left 11 peaceful synagogue-goers dead.

Anti-semitic rhetoric has unfortunately increased in the last two years. The Anti-Defamation League found a rise in anti-Semitic acts in the United States by 57 percent, a huge jump from 2016 to 2017.

Anti-Semitism, as defined by the Anti-Defamation League, is, “The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress, or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.”

Ethnically hateful prejudice has been present in our nation (and internationally) for centuries. Jews faced vehement discrimination throughout the early 20th century -- to the point at which they were barred from clubs, subjected to interviews implemented by elite universities devised to limit the number of Jews they admitted, and unable to find many housing or work opportunities. Pre-Hollywood movies prejudicially depicted Jews as cowardly, callous and having huge noses. Yet, we overcame such adversity. We even continued to advocate for minorities and spearheaded social reform programs during the New Deal, a time in which anti-Semitism was growing internationally.

I am not going to act as if I was forced to hide my Judaic faith growing up. I was fortunately raised in a highly Jewish populated area outside of Washington D.C. in Maryland. I grew up privileged.

Others have not been so lucky. Several of my peers today at UW have informed me of their personal internalized distress from feeling isolated as a Jewish person in their neighborhoods back home. I say that now, about three weeks after Jewish people just like me were peacefully living their lives as they see fit — only to be murdered in a matter of seconds.

Anti-Semitism, nevertheless, hurts me inside. As a reform Jew, I never truly classified myself as religious. This partly stems from the truth, but also from my reconciliation with the fact we often associate being religious with a negative connotation. This must change. People should not fear how others may judge them, particularly Jews. However, this by no means is any justification for those who use their religion as a platform for voicing racist, ethnically prejudicial, or hateful views.

As my heart aches for those in the Pittsburgh community and the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Congregation, I am reminded of the words of M. Jay Rosenberg, “most important, I am a Jew. In a very real sense, I am a child of the Holocaust. The Six Million dead is an incubus that hangs over.”

Everyone defines their Jewish identity through their own interpretation. That is what makes Judaism so unique: we have communal values, but everyone may act in accordance with their faith in different ways as they see fit. There is no right way to be Jewish. Some people are more dedicated to studying the Torah than others.

For me, being Jewish means many things. It means acknowledging and having pride in my heritage, being part of a caring community and giving back to others in the hopes of a better world amongst other aspects. Although I am a reform Jew and do not go to synagogue often, I enjoy myself when I do and identifying with a peoplehood. Regardless of Judaism’s various effects on people’s lives in varying ways, it is part of our identities.

Throughout my childhood, I designated my Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Sundays to Hebrew School. This was the time I felt most “religious” as an American Jew. I learned Hebrew, participated in cultural activities like challah baking, and over time painfully learned about the Holocaust. Although I did not enjoy waking up early on Sunday mornings and soon grew bored with the many bar and bat mitzvahs I attended, my religion provided me with a strong sense of community. This feeling of belonging outweighed all of my trivial complaints.

Every shooting, though different in nature, all draw back to one conclusion: guns have proliferated American society. Each shooting has also targeted different communities. What these disgusting shooters fail to foresee, however, is just how strong and resilient those communities are.

Though I try to learn about every shooting and its victims, this shooting in Pittsburgh particularly resonated with me as an American Jewish person. It has taught me that more than ever now, I need to embrace my Judaic faith and show my pride. Although several people ironically use religion as a platform for disseminating their hateful views, religion has also served as a faith in upholding ideals and love.

And so when I went to UW’s Chabad House here on campus a few Friday nights ago for Shabbat, and looked around at about 50 kids surrounding me, an even higher number than weeks prior, I ironically felt safer than ever before. I felt palpable comfort and strength in the fact that the people of whom are part of a larger community I have bounced back on for years would persist. I feel lucky that there is such a strong Jewish community at UW Madison.

But I also feel blessed to be a part of a community, that despite being oppressed and suffering from anti-Semitism for years, strives to continue acting with kindness. Acting with kindness, a notion quite foreign to us in this currently divided country, is something Jewish people will always believe in. It never ceases to amaze me that year after year the Jewish people can come together to see the light in our lives and only to hope to give back more. I know that despite our years of hardship, we will stand firm in our beliefs and love for one another as a community.

Let’s not forget this horrific shooting. Let’s not forget that this man who unjustly took away others’ lives claimed he wanted to kill all Jews. But let’s remember that prejudicial views do more than just harm: they create a perpetual cycle of internalized, hegemonic hate that incites fear. We shall not be indifferent to this. We cannot let this shooting dissipate from the news like so many others unfortunately have. However, we also cannot passively stand by when other less publicized anti-Semitic acts occur. Stand up for your beliefs, but recognize that your words have more power than you may realize. Be kind to people. Listen to others. And in this time of tragic mourning, let’s continue to spread hope and love. 

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