Last week, two gunmen killed four people, including two Chasidic Jews, at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, continuing the onslaught of horrific anti-Semitic events that have victimized and traumatized our community. Shortly after that targeted shooting, The Atlantic published a piece titled “American Jews Are Terrified.” That’s true. And mounting anti-Semitism has quickly become the most serious issue facing our community.
From the carving of the word “Jew” and the painting of swastikas on Jewish-affiliated buildings, to frequent physical attacks on Jews in the streets of our cities, Jew-hatred appears to be closing in from all sides.
Partisans on the left and the right are quick to point to the other side as the cause for the surge of hatred. They are both right. As observed by Emma Green in The Atlantic: “This is the pernicious nature of anti-Semitism: It emerges in many different forms, from all sides of the political spectrum … Jew hatred easily shape-shifts to fit the purposes of many ideologies.” But what is driving these events, and why is this ugly form of hatred finding such currency in so many places?
There are no clear answers. But there are indicators that even an understanding of some of the motivations behind the hatred don’t provide useful information for addressing it. What the perpetrators have in common, observed Green, “is a brand of conspiratorial thinking that blames Jews for all manner of political and social ills.” And so it has been — with shooters and hate mongers espousing a range of anger and blame for any number of societal ills supposedly brought about by Jews, ranging from outrage over support for immigration to the twisted notion that associates Jews with the very white supremacists who hate them.
This is the anti-Semitism that most of us thought the shock of the Holocaust had buried. But it didn’t. And every week we are shaken by another reminder that Jews are at risk. Talk alone isn’t going to solve our problems. Nor will well-meaning legislation. So what will?
“What American Jews need right now is clear and concrete action that protects them from anyone who wishes them harm,” Liel Leibovitz wrote in Tablet. That means we need to focus on protecting ourselves by increasing security at Jewish institutions and being more vigilant in everything we do — particularly in openly identified Jewish spaces.
It can happen here — just as it has happened everywhere. And while legislative solutions and governmental protections are unquestionably welcome, we all need to be thinking about Jewish safety and security in ways that we never imagined a few short years ago.
Fortunately, a number of organizations and foundations are heavily focused on this issue. We need to support them and one another as we struggle to regain the sense of well-being and confidence that our community has traditionally enjoyed.