NEWS: CHAI LIGHTS

Into the light

Only once do I recall someone saying something anti-Semitic in my presence.

At a high school summer program away from home, a new acquaintance was speaking casually about shopping when she mentioned someone "Jew-ing" down the price. Her words stunned and stung me. I knew the word "Jew" has often been used as a verb in reference to being cheap, but the derogatory term had never been used around me. 

Except for that moment, my only experience with anti-Semitism was learned from history and stories told to me by my elders.

For older generations of Jews, these sorts of encounters were par for the course. But for younger American Jews, many of us have experienced little to no anti-Semitism, especially in metropolises with large Jewish populations. 

I thought we were moving past a lot of other "-isms" too. We have a black president, a woman has all but announced her candidacy to take his place, and we've witnessed one of the fastest shifts ever in the public embrace for same-sex couples.

On the whole, we seem to be morphing into a more open, tolerant society. 

Until now.

As the war in Gaza exploded this summer, we've seen a surge in anti-Semitism and it's one of the first times many people of my generation and younger have faced this demon head on.

Anti-Zionism today is anti-Semitism dressed up in sheep's clothing--the two are one and the same in my book. People who want the Jewish state wiped off the map don't, as they claim, merely hate Israeli policy--they hate us and they hate that there is a place in the world where every Jew is able to become a citizen.

At the same time as the war in Gaza, we've seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism on the streets of Paris, Brussels, Berlin, London, and around the world--images that my contemporaries and I had seen before only in black and white film footage and in history books on Nazi Germany.

And anti-Semitism has reemerged in America too. While the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement has poisoned our college campuses from sea to shining sea for more than a decade, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment is stretching beyond campus walls these days.

For instance, in a Chicago cab recently, when my friend's driver got lost, and she asked him not to charge her for the extra minutes, he called her a "Jew" for being cheap.

Now, ugly episodes like that are becoming more commonplace. And, it's hipper than ever to speak out against Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment in Hollywood and on social media has reached a fever pitch.

There's no doubt, here and abroad, the year 5774 is ending in an anxious time to be Jewish. All the more, we should be grateful to ring in a fresh start in 5775, praying for peace and blessings as we prep for a new Jewish year.

In dark times, let's be mindful that despite thousands of years combatting hatred, persecution, and tsuris, most of us wouldn't trade our Jewish identity for anything. 

After all, we're a people who know it's how we treat others that's core. We're a people who belong to a country that is a gift, whose defense forces are first responders on the scene worldwide, bringing their expertise when disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis hit. And we're a people who value family, community, education, deed, good noodle kugel, and laughter.

We've been through worse and we know that, ultimately, we will make our way out of the dark and into the light.

Wishing you and your family a new year filled with joy, good health, and peace.

Posted: 8/26/2014 12:05:00 PM
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