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Rabbi's Blog: The Rise of Antisemitism - April 2024

“People love dead Jews.  Living Jews, not so much.”  So says Dara Horn, author and professor. She wrote those words before October 7th.  Antisemitism has been on the rise for years now.  Before October 7th, there was Kanye West, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Charlottesville.  And antisemitism on the news isn’t always the antisemitism that was felt by individuals – there were neo-Nazi flyers distributed to neighborhoods in and around Roswell.  There were neo-Nazis demonstrating outside of Chabad of East Cobb and a Reform synagogue in Macon last year. 

 

Since October 7th, antisemitism has skyrocketed.  Our members – particularly kids in middle and high school – report experiencing it either in school or online.  TKC, like hundreds of other synagogues, received a bomb threat a few months ago.  Professor Eitan Hirsch of Tufts University conducts an annual survey measuring antisemitism on college campuses.  According to his research, in 2022 about 15-20% of Jews hid their identities on campus.  In 2024, it doubled from that already high number.  He said, “[Antisemitism is] quite widespread.  You can’t get a result like this if the phenomenon was affecting just the 10 kids on campus who are the gung-ho Israel advocates…a high number of them are experiencing the social tension...I don’t think anyone believes that a new statement from a university president or a new program from Hillel will address the problem once and for all.  The problem is what is socially acceptable or not acceptable, what is praised and not praised, at a social level.” 

 

Personally, I’m shocked although, perhaps I shouldn’t be.  I grew up at a time when antisemitism was perhaps at an all-time low.  Antisemitism was a subject for historians, not experienced by many American Jews.  But antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred and it never goes away for long.  Jews sacrificed their lives for Germany in World War I only to be butchered by that same country during World War II.  The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry didn’t mean the Age without Jew-Hatred.  Even at the height of that Golden Age, Jews were victims of pogroms such as the Granada massacre of 1066 when a Muslim mob killed approximately 4,000 Jews.  Yet, comparatively, Jews were even worse off most of the time in Christian Europe. 

 

America is supposed to be different, though.  George Washington famously wrote to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island that, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”  Of course, America hasn’t always been perfect, even for Jews.  Even into the twentieth century, American Jews faced quotas at universities, xenophobic bigotry from the likes of Father Coughlin, and more.  Yet, for most Jews, America as a place where Jews don’t feel safe as Jews seems unheard of.

 

So is there hope?  Of course.  Antisemitism waxes and wanes over time.  I hope that we’re at the worst of it now, but there will come a time when it lessens.  Moreover, while we are experiencing more antisemitism now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is an antisemite.  We know this isn’t true from our own experiences.  The very next Shabbat after TKC was received a bomb threat, our building was full with visitors and friends who wanted to show their support.  Christian clergy and their congregants, city councilmembers and the mayor, police officers and firefighters – the message was loud and clear – The Jewish community of Roswell is a welcome part of the whole community of Roswell.  And one final silver lining – Jews are finding solace within the Jewish community.  Synagogues and Jewish institutions everywhere – us included – are seeing greater attendance and participation.  I agree with those who say that it’s better to come together for joy rather than oy, but we’re here for all occasions.  It’s important to me that we support anyone and everyone impacted by the rise in antisemitism, and may the future hold much more joy and much less oy!

 

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