One Person’s Truth is Another Person’s Hate: Grappling with Anti-Semitism while Pursuing Liberty and Justice for All

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In the wake of last weekend’s Pittsburgh massacre of elderly Jews at prayer in their synagogue, it’s not surprising to see a Be Strong Families blog about anti-Semitism. But we wrote this last week and what we said then is still true now. It’s just easier to surface.

We can blame Trump for energizing a climate of hate, but when it comes to Jews and anti-Semitism, his rhetoric is not the problem. The Pittsburgh shooter posted on social media that Trump was not his president because Trump surrounded himself with "kikes." This hate-filled violent criminal was, apparently, angry about, and threatened by, Jewish sympathies for refugees — at least last Shabbat. The van-driving, bomb-sender was the more straight-up White Supremacist and proud Nazi-sympathizing Jew-hater.

As Jews committed to social justice, while we struggle with Trump’s leadership, the rise of casual anti-Semitism on the Left as well as on the Right makes us feel that there is no place where we fit. More than this, that increasingly, there is no place where we — or our children — are safe. 

We get that appearing to be white might give us the expectation that we should or can feel safe in America. We don’t want to compete for victim status with other groups, arguably more oppressed, more disenfranchised, less economically well off than ours. We do want to acknowledge and productively use our privilege in the service of peace and justice. And we want everybody to recognize the anti-Semitism that suffuses American society.

The most difficult time to disrupt bias is when the people espousing it believe themselves to be speaking truth — and cannot or will not be convinced otherwise. What are we talking about? Some examples: We don’t understand why it’s okay for Louis Farrakhan to call Jews termites, satanic, responsible for the slave trade (debunked by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1992) and still have a place at the social justice table. We don’t know what to do when the person in charge of ensuring equal opportunity for a large city agency casually explains at an educational seminar for 500 people that “Jewish lightening” — arson by landlords — is a real thing. Landlords who burn their buildings are criminals. Are all of them Jewish? Are all Jewish landlords criminals? Nobody asked. Imagine any other group’s name in place of Jewish and you’d have clear consensus that this was derogatory and not accurate.

When someone says their pastor told them the Jews killed Jesus and that Jews practice incest…when someone else says that they learned in college that Jews were the biggest supporters of Hitler and put him into power. When someone says that the holocaust never occurred, that Jews control Hollywood or have more money than any other religious group-- that Jews are rich… [Fact-check: 15-20% of American Jews are poor; 350,000 in New York City and state live close to or below the poverty line; one in every three people in New York Jewish households are in economic distress; 120,000 children in Jewish households live in poverty.]

When Linda Sarsour says publicly that Zionism is racism and Israelis don’t deserve to be recognized as human beings and Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez routinely say that Farrakhan is a great man (both are organizers of the Women’s March) calling him GOAT — Greatest of All Time — excusing his homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism with "there are no perfect leaders." When facts are that the largest percent of hate crime in the US against people because of religion is directed against Jews. When the ADL, which has an impeccable track record of protecting civil liberties (not only for Jews), is seen and “spun” as a hate group. When overt casual anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world.

We struggle to reconcile that even as we try hard to be good allies in social justice struggles intersecting with and impacting families (e.g., with Native Americans and African Americans who are currently being disenfranchised, with migrant children who are being separated from their parents, with victims of who sexual violence and hate crimes, with African American sons and daughters brutalized and killed by police) we feel that we often cannot safely bring our whole selves to the table. In short, we observe a much higher tolerance for anti-Semitism than for any other -ism among people with whom we want to ally. We experience much less concern from our allies for the wellbeing and safety of our families than for the well being of others.

Sure, we have Protective Factors. We have strengths. We have resources. We can navigate and teach our children to navigate society, we are aware of landmines of hate that make their journeys sometimes treacherous. But, the question for us as board members of Be Strong Families is how can we create a more perfect union?

That starts with assuming the humanity of and preserving the dignity of and assuring the safety of all of us committed to peaceful cooperation, to collaboration, as a society. None of us should only feel safe if there’s a high wall between others and ourselves. 

Peace occurs when we realize that we all need to be part of “us”: that we are one human family. As Jews and as Americans and as mothers, we are committed to liberty and justice for all — and we ask that you include our families and us in your prayers.

Article by Naomi Mark, BSF Board Member and Director of Educational Programs for the Office of Workforce Development at NYC’s Department of Social Services, and Katthe Wolf, Board President and CEO of Be Strong Families.

Jessie SchrantzComment