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Day of Hate – February 25, 2023 (Terumah – 02/25/23)

Day of Hate – February 25, 2023

Upon entering the synagogue this Shabbat evening and morning, my first act was to take hold of my “panic button.” If someone threateningly entered the building, one press would immediately sound our alarm. This is not my regular modus operandi, but this Shabbat was not your typical Friday night; it was the beginning of a “Day of Hate.” This “National Day of Hate” was initially proposed by a tiny Eastern Iowa-based neo-Nazi group in early January. Over the past few weeks, other white supremacist groups: Goyim Defense League, Active Clubs, and the National Socialist Movement indicated they would participate. Since 2021, white supremacist networks such as White Lives Matter have popularized designated “days of action” to unite fellow white supremacists and draw attention to their cause. Therefore, I grabbed that button immediately upon entering the synagogue and didn’t put it down until I left.

Thankfully, the Day of Hate ended without incident. Nonetheless, the threat alone reminded us that antisemitism is real and growing in the United States.

A few months ago, I received a book by the CEO of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, titled “It Could Happen Here.” Initially, I did not want to pick up this book. Its title perturbed me, and I preferred to ignore its message. However, after receiving word of the national hate day, I started reading it.

I saw Greenblatt in person this past November at the ADL Convention at the Jacob Javits Center. I was greatly impressed by his intelligence, discernment, and passion. These qualities are well represented in his book, and I’d like to share with you some of the more salient points:

“Hate is on the rise everywhere, much more than many people realize. Between 2015 and 2018, the United States saw a doubling of antisemitic incidents. In 2019, the United States saw more antisemitic incidents than it had in any year in the past four decades.

The sad fact is that hatred of all kinds—including racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and more—has exploded in recent years. In 2019, the United States saw a reported 7,314 hate crimes—over twenty each day. In 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans skyrocketed by almost 150 percent in large urban areas. The problem is especially bad online. A 2021 ADL survey found that 44 percent of Americans had experienced online harassment and that members of marginalized communities reported increased harassment.

Why are we seeing so much bigotry? There are a number of reasons. Hate has always been with us and arguably is a latent psychological impulse. Social change and instability—political unrest, mass unemployment, the influx of refugees, pandemics, wars, and the like—can awaken and intensify this phenomenon. When humans feel desperate and uncertain, and when dominant institutions and systems fail to deliver solutions, we become more vulnerable to insidious scapegoating and the leaders who peddle these theories. Seeking stability and a way to vent our emotions, we look to blame someone or something for our hardships.”

While it’s easy to see the hate from the far right, antisemitism is also reaching us from the left. “In recent years, so-called activists hostile to the State of Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause held rallies that unapologetically banned “cops and Zionists.” Although banning Zionists might not sound like antisemitism to some, it most certainly is. Since a strong majority of American Jews regard the State of Israel in favorable terms and most American Jews feel a bond with the State of Israel as part of their Jewish identities, banning Zionists from a rally is tantamount to saying Jews don’t belong here. Moreover, while impassioned criticism of Israeli policies is reasonable, a seething and obsessive hostility toward the world’s only Jewish state and its supporters becomes almost indistinguishable from outright hostility toward the Jewish people.”

Greenblatt carefully noted the distinction between the reactions to attacks on Asian Americans as compared to Jews. “When Asian Americans in the United States suffered a wave of violent, ugly assaults starting in 2020, political leaders didn’t condemn the attacks while also arguing that China should change its foreign policy or that Uighur rights should be preserved. Such double standards left American Jews feeling wounded at best, alone at worst.

The good news is that decent, upstanding Americans far outnumber the haters and insurgents. We can dial back even deeply entrenched hate if we mobilize a combination of education and public advocacy and courageously call out those who perpetuate intolerance, regardless of their political affiliation or supposed moral position.

During the 1930s and 1940s, antisemitism was rampant in the United States, with about 40 percent of the U.S. population subscribing to hateful beliefs, according to one survey. In 1964, ADL research found 29 percent held strong antisemitic beliefs, defined as subscribing to “six or more common stereotypes about Jews, out of a total of 11 such stereotypes.” As of 2020, only 11 percent of the population was antisemitic by this definition.

This positive change was due to a number of factors, including increased Jewish representation in the media and participation in public life, but a combination of advocacy and education on the part of ADL and other community-based organizations also proved pivotal. Although antisemitism is again on the rise across the political spectrum and hateful acts are exploding, we can push back and help a new generation become more respectful, not just of Jews but of all minority and marginalized groups. I’m particularly hopeful that we can beat back hate because I’ve seen how societal beliefs in general, can and do change for the better.”[1]

Along these lines, Greenblatt contacted the CEO of Adidas North America last November when Kanye West, aka Ye, starting spewing antisemitic venom. Greenblatt called the CEO and told him, “If you drop Ye (from his fashion line), we will support you, but if you don’t, we’ll dog you until you do.” Even though Adidas had to write off a loss of more than one billion dollars, Adidas took a stand against racism by dropping Ye. What impressed me about Greenblatt was that he walked his talk. While dressed in an expensive suit, he sported a shiny new pair of Adidas sneakers!

Ninety years ago, no one believed it could happen in Germany, and we certainly don’t want to consider the possibility of it happening here as well. Yet most of us would never have believed that we’d witness an armed insurrection on Congress either. We are at a tipping point in our country. Just like we can’t allow our union to divide into “Red and Blue States,” we can’t let the poison of antisemitism and general hatred to spread. We need to be proactive.

This Shabbat night, March 3rd, we’re having a program on antisemitism at the synagogue. It starts with socializing and hors d’oeuvres at 6:00 PM, followed by presentations from the Jewish Community Relations Council, the police department, and our Chamber of Commerce at 6:45 p.m. In addition to this great program, I’d also recommend reading Greenblatt’s book. It may be time to take to the streets to rally when needed. Mostly, we’ll need to speak out against all forms of hate while putting our best foot forward as Jews.

Greenblatt notes that rises in antisemitism are the canary in the coal mine. When anti-Jewish hate rises, it spawns other forms of hate and division. Now is the time to learn what to do and act.

Looking forward to seeing you Shabbat Evening.

Wishing us all a peaceful week,

R’ Neil

[1] Greenblatt, Jonathan (2022-01-03T22:58:59.000). It Could Happen Here. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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