December 05, 2022
Is Today’s Antisemitism Different?
A Personal Commentary on the Rise of Antisemitism
As Mark Jacobs recently described in the on-line magazine, Nu? Detroit (https://www.nu-detroit.com/wheres-the-outrage/):
This has been a rough year for American Jews, to put it mildly. Jews make up about 2.4% of the population and are the victims of more than 60% of all religious hate crimes. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reports that antisemitic incidents — defacing synagogues and cemeteries, harassment and physical assaults against Jews — happen multiple times a day and are now at an all-time high. Hateful actions against Jews are certainly nothing new, but things feel differently these days. For many Jews, antisemitism in America now seems overlooked, tolerated and, even worse, mainstreamed.
Mark’s statements are simultaneously sobering and insightful. It does feel different. Since reading his op-ed, I have given much thought to the “how” and “why” of it. These are the personal reflections of a 66-year-old Jewish male, born and raised in Greater Detroit. My memories from the early 1960s include my parents teaching me about the civil rights movement and how, as Jews, it is commanded that we protect the stranger and pursue justice. I do not remember antisemitism being a dinner table conversation, even though it existed in our community, and even though I personally experienced it. I attended Southfield High, which, at the time, I believe, was probably about 30% Jewish. Yes, the bathroom stalls always had swastikas etched into the walls, and the “Greasers,” with their Jew-baiting comments and German Iron Cross pendants were ever-present. I even remember walking into Dearborn high school gym in 1973 as a member of the varsity basketball team and hearing, “Gimme a ‘K’, Gimme an ‘I,’ Gimme a ‘K’ . . .” I was angry, yes, but not shocked and, importantly, I wasn’t fearful.
So how is today different? Well, for one, a mere three years ago, we had a president acknowledging that within the ranks of white supremacists are “good people.” I saw scores of neo-Nazis in Charleston march past a synagogue with lit torches, unimpeded, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” I witnessed the carnage at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I continue to read about seemingly daily assaults against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. I observe progressive Jewish activists and students barred from participating in progressive associations and student groups because these Jewish activists and students voice support for an historic, national Jewish homeland. Just this past month, 26% of hiring managers responding to a survey by ResumeBuilder.com say they are “less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants” for, among other reasons, one or more of the following: “Jews have too much power and control,” Jews claim to be the ‘chosen people’,” “Jews are greedy” and “Jews killed Jesus.”
These antisemitic actions and statements have real and dangerous repercussions. They are not the equivalent of Sharpie-scrawled, stupid attempts at antisemitic humor marring a middle school lavatory mirror. And, unlike my and others’ responses to these decades-old, “lesser” instances of antisemitism (a sharp retort or the occasional schoolyard fight, but, mostly, doing nothing), what I am experiencing today is evidence of a greater amount of true fear stemming from the Jewish community. As my highly thoughtful, intelligent and reasoned brother-in-law has stated, “I am not waiting around for the Fourth Reich.”
Or, how about these statements? “Portugal seems like a pretty good place for Jews.” and “Have you looked into Costa Rica?” These are not being posited in France, where one-third of all French Jews who have immigrated to Israel since its establishment in 1948 have done so in the last 13 years, fleeing virulent, life-threatening and ever-present antisemitism. No, these comments emanate from our own community and reflect that palpable fear has caused some Jews to consider leaving America. These are the comments of our Jewish neighbors and friends who contemplate an international move in order to escape escalating antisemitism in the United States of America, a response at one time unthinkable.
This is not the only expression of such fear. How about the many Jews who have confided in me that they or others they know have signed up for and/or taken gun safety classes. These include many, like me, who have always been strongly anti-handguns and automatic weapons, but who now sense that given the current climate, it is irresponsible to lack the basics in the handling of firearms. In the spirit of full disclosure, I took a private gun safety class with my colleague, the Director of Security, at the company I work for. Perhaps, history will show that an international move or purchase of a firearm is all a gross overreaction. I, for one, am not presently considering either. Still, it is undeniable that today, for many Jews in our community, the fear is real.
Finally, I offer my deepest gratitude to my IFLC brothers and sisters for their courageous stance in support of the Jewish community as set forth in their November 17, 2022 “Statement on the Rise of Antisemitism in America”, and for allowing me to share these thoughts.
May we all experience and share a joyful and safe holiday season.
Bryant M. Frank, Board of Directors, IFLC