Jews throughout the world brought the light of Chanukah into their homes, synagogues, and public squares during the last eight nights. For Jews here in the United States, and those in New York in particular, this Chanukah has been challenging. December alone brought news of American Jews targeted for wearing religious symbols, shopping at a kosher supermarket, or gathering in a rabbi’s home to celebrate the holiday. A recent survey from the American Jewish Committee found that nearly nine out of 10 American Jews say anti-Semitism is a problem in the United States today, and 31% are afraid to publicly show their Judaism.
Here at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, we have become uncomfortably accustomed to our action plans when we receive news that Jews have once again been attacked. We reach out to our friends in local and national law enforcement, we connect with our Jewish and non-Jewish community partners and elected officials, we update our security plans, and we redouble our efforts to promote safety and understanding. While we have lit candles on the menorah each day to drive out the darkness, we have to admit that today, some of the darkness has lingered.
We are working hard to combat the rise of anti-Semitism and there is more work to be done. But we can’t do it alone anymore. We need help, we need support, and we need everyone to be doing their part to speak out and take meaningful action.
As we’ve seen anti-Semitism spiral out of control worldwide, so have we seen all manner of obscene public responses from those in leadership positions. In these cases, there is no longer any shame. In response to the ugly and tragic attack against Jews in Jersey City, a member of the Jersey City school board insinuated that Jews deserved blame and called them "brutes.” Attacks and conspiracy theories about Jewish individuals circulate without impunity in our political discourse and in the halls of Congress.
These are but a few out of the dozens of incidents that show anti-Semitism is inching into the mainstream, and that any public figure who has an anti-Semitic history or continues to spout hate speech will likely find supporters as readily as they will detractors. While we in the organized Jewish community continue to highlight these instances and speak out against this brazen hatred and ignorance, we are all too often met with apathy and silence.
Jews in New York, particularly Chasidic and Orthodox Jews whose appearances easily reveal themselves, are now living the horrors of this indifference. For every night of Chanukah, multiple instances of Jews being cursed at, threatened, and physically assaulted mark each night.
The stories include: On the first day, a 65-year-old man was punched and kicked, his assailant yelling, “F— you, Jew.” On the fourth day, a Jewish woman was verbally assaulted and hit with a bag in front of her child. The next day, a man walked into the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters and threatened to shoot and kill people there. And then last Saturday, after Shabbat came to a close, multiple people were stabbed in the private home of a rabbi in Monsey, N.Y.
Outright anti-Semitism and bigotry spewed by white nationalists and Nazis have long been a troubling trend. But as we’ve seen, hatred and prejudice are now pervasive across all manners of ideology and political beliefs. This brand of anti-Semitism is not new, and as it has in the past, it threatens lives and erodes our democracy.
Apathy and ignorance can no longer be accepted. We call on every community leader to publicly stand with our entire local Jewish community, to raise their voice and take concrete action in partnership with us in order to stop this deep-rooted hatred and ignorance in its tracks. Together, we must do our part to ensure that Philadelphia remains a safe place for all people, and that everyone is able to celebrate their religion and live their truths in peace.
After each of these attacks, the Jewish Federation here in Philadelphia joins in the mourning, comforts each other, and gets back to work. We will continue to build bridges across our interfaith and our ethnic communities. We will continue to stand strong, to educate, and to make friends.
But we need more to join us, Jews and non-Jews alike. Until our entire community, and our nation, speaks in one voice against the simmering evil in our midst, we will never all truly be safe. In doing so, we have the opportunity to rewrite the legacy of this year’s Chanukah story and rekindle our light for ourselves and for the world.