In 2019, the American Jewish community saw the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking it in 1979. The total number of anti-Semitic incidents increased 12%, with a disturbing 56% increase in assaults. There were as many as six anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. for each day in the calendar year. But anti-Semitism is a many-headed monster. It can present itself as more than violence. It seeps into media, it corrupts friendships and pollutes career opportunities. Some of Baltimore’s Jewish elders shared how anti-Semitism has morphed throughout their own lives.
Holocaust survivor Edith Cord, 92, of Columbia, admits she’s developed a pessimistic perspective of anti-Semitism.
“It will always exist,” she said.
When she was in France, Cord’s close friend told her that being Jewish was a blemish. “She said when people find out I’m Jewish they will step back. And this from a good friend,” Cord said. When she was living in Pennsylvania, people accused her of being at fault for the Lebanon War and massacre. Another time, when she was a young mother living in Columbia, a woman asked which youth group her son was in. When Cord replied, “a Jewish group,” this woman gave her the cold shoulder.
“It’s a subtle, but very real, uncomfortable feeling,” Cord said.
When her 1 year old ran into the neighbor’s yard, the next day they built a barrier of shrubbery. “It was clear: Don’t you come into my yard. But we never exchanged two words.”
And in her career as a teacher, she said, she felt there was some unspoken discrimination. “I was teaching German, and one of my text books said ‘they took away this man’s honorary doctorate degree,’ and another passage would say ‘Einstein had to leave,’ with no explanation. But, now, I wasn’t allowed to teach [what Nazis are].” She did so anyway. There was also a social element, at work. “For example, someone brought a plate of cookies [to the faculty] and never said hello to me.”
Today, Cord said, she sees anti-Semitism present itself as anti-Israel sentiments.
“One of the first things the Nazis did was to dismiss Jews from their jobs. If you want to destroy people, you take away their livelihood. That’s what the BDS movement is; it’s targeting Israel,” Cord said.
She also sees it in other social movements. “I don’t think people think very much. I think they’re afraid by the progressive movement. They’re afraid by emotion. If they looked at Black Lives Matter rationally they would react differently. They have too much compassion for the underdog,” Cord said.
So when looking at anti-Semitism today, Cord feels resigned. “I thought surely anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. But it doesn’t matter what we do. We can be doctors. We can give the world technology. We can be philosophers. It is who we are. I don’t have to prove a damn thing.”
She does think there is one thing that could end the hatred: the truth. “Education could help,” she said.
Sheila Mentz, president of Kappa Guild, Inc., 71, is a little more optimistic.
“I grew up in an all-Jewish neighborhood and the schools I went to, like Pimlico Junior High, were primarily Jewish,” Mentz said. “I did not really see [anti-Semitism] that much because the Jewish crowd stuck together.”
However, she did have some encounters in her career. For example, as a teacher in the county, “A parent said to me that I don’t have horns. The non-Jews picture Jews with horns because of this painting of Moses with horns by Michaelangelo,” Mentz said. She doesn’t believe it was anti-Semitic so much as ignorant.
Mentz took up the role of educating the school on Judaism. She would bring in Jewish objects, such as a menorah, and even initiated Hebrew classes there.
However, Mentz does agree that there is an increase in violent acts in the news Jews. “Absolutely,” she agreed, “Everything is more. The neo-Nazis, the hate crimes.”
Judy Stone, 68, of Cumberland, notes that it’d be difficult for a person to separate the difference in anti-Semitism between places one has lived, versus time periods. Stone, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, feels like she has always had to be acutely aware of her minority status. About 20 years ago, there was a swastika painted on their water tower. “The rabbi didn’t even believe it at first,” Stone said. “The next incident was when my daughter was in high school. They did oral history, so she did her presentation on her grandmother. Well, one kid wrote that there was nothing wrong with killing Jews. And nothing happened to him.”
While these early anti-Semitic experiences were in social settings, she said she sees anti-Semitism manifest more in violent acts in the news now. “I haven’t seen anything overtly in Cumberland, which is good and reassuring, but we know the KKK is active around here. There was an effigy of a black person being lynched in Garrett County. Trump fuels that divisiveness and othering. It is overt anti-Semitism.”
She disagrees that anti-Zionism is a new anti-Semitism. “I think many people conflate the two. I personally hate what Netanyahu does but I separate Israeli politics from the people. You can’t hate all the Jewish people. If you hate the people of Israel you are anti-Semitic. But I think we have to stand up for everyone’s rights and we’re not doing that in Israel.”
Like all the women, Stone agreed on only one solution to anti-Semitism: education.