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When Anti-Semitism Is Inconvenient

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So it turns out that non-white supremacist anti-Semitism could be deadly in America. Who would have thought?
 
It couldn’t have been the growing number of Jews and Jewish leaders sounding the alarm on the increase of far left-wing anti-Semitism and that people other than white guys could hate Jews. It also couldn’t have been the growing array of classical anti-Semitic canards being spread throughout public discourse from anti-Zionists on one side and neo-Nazis on the other - basically blaming the Jews for all that is wrong in our country and beyond. And, it certainly couldn’t have been the Hasidic community in New York that has spent the last year telling us about the proliferation of hate crimes against them - scores of people literally getting punched, assaulted, and beat on the streets of New York, all while both us and the media barely listened.
 
The tragic shooting in New Jersey is a case study in what happens when anti-Semitism is inconvenient. What happens when anti-Semitism doesn’t fit the neat policial and social agenda presupposed by large swaths of the country and subsequently cannot be used or weaponized for easy political points. And, why there is currently more alarm for Jews throughout the country since the only common denominator of anti-Semites, aside from hating Jews of course, seems to be having a heartbeat and breathing.
 
I am utterly distraught by the lack of attention over this recent Jew killing from both within the Jewish world and the national community (when compared to, say, the Poway shooting) - but I can’t say I’m surprised. When news first broke on Tuesday that a Jewish supermarket was at the heart of a gunfight - the initial assessment is that it was purely incidental. Sad yes, call for national alarm and announcement, no. I can only assume that the reason for the assessment is that the perpetrators don’t fit the white supremacist mold that we have been constantly told are the only real anti-Semites in this country.
 
No, it was only Wednesday morning that we discovered that the attack was perpetuated by the “Black Israelites” (not to be confused with Ethiopian or other types of black Jews), a group that claims to be descended from one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and are known for their anti-Semitic activity. Along with thinking that Jews are imposters, this group spreads anti-Jewish and anti-white sentiment throughout their communicative channels - making an attack like the one in New Jersey seem all but inevitable.
 
And are Hasidim really even Jews? Aren’t they a group of people stuck in the past while we the good Jews, the modernized Jews, the progressive Jews are the true and only representation of Jewry while these antiquated people only exist to make us look bad? Perhaps these Haredi Jews bring attacks upon themselves because of their explicit distancing from the rest of society?!
 
Many have noted that Orthodox Jews are often treated as the Jews of the Jews. Stereotypes, the attribution of ill intent, the fundamental lack of understanding of the community, victim blaming - all things that Jews have had to deal with from the gentiles throughout history - are also found in the mainstream American Jewish community's view of the Orthodox. Yet unlike external anti-Semitism, most of us somehow find this internal anti-Semitism palatable. I can all but guarantee that if a reform Jewish organizational office was attacked instead of a hasidic supermarket there would be twice the coverage. We need to do some serious soul searching and step up our attention and care for our Orthodox brothers and sisters.
 
The next two Jewish holidays in our calendar, Hanukkah and Purim, also happen to be the two major holidays added in by the Rabbis after the codification of the Hebrew Bible. This means that in classical Jewish thinking while most holidays were commanded by God, these holidays were enacted by the Jewish community itself.
 
The fascinating thing about our two rabbinic holidays is that they each deal with an attack on the Jewish community but these attacks could not be more different. In the Purim narrative Jews are hated for their fundamental difference. They will always be Jews and therefore will also exhibit dual loyalty even as they reside within the Persian Empire, therefore they need to be wiped out. With Hanukkah the story is very different as Jews are only hated for their spiritual dissent - not their fundamental makeup. It is the spiritual home and life of the Jews that is attacked while, as long as they were willing to subordinate their religious practices and selves, they could keep themselves out of harm’s way.
 
One of the prime lessons that I believe that Rabbis are attempting to teach us with these two different, yet eerily familiar, holidays is that anti-Semitism has historically been and will continue to show up in a variety of different forms. Much to the chagrin of people representing one strong political orientation or another, there is truly no stereotypical anti-Semite. While this is certainly a call for alarm and subsequent fear, it is also a necessary call for Jewish unity. The idea that Jews can forget the other half of the community, and only rely on their own political or social groups for protection - be it progressives, conservatives, etc - seems to be a complete delusion.
 
As anti-Semitism in its myriad of forms doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, we need an increased call for unity. Not attempting to push a right or left wing political or social agenda with our focus or lack thereof of Jew hatred - but a recognition that we are all one community and people and if we want things to get better, we better start acting like it.
 
 
 Moshe Daniel Levine is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. His blog entries were selected as one of the three best for the third and fourth quarters of 5779. You can find them on the Jewish Values Online website at the top left.
 
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