Mitch Albom: Holy Day Brings Sad Reminder: Anti-Semitism Is Still Out There

Last week, Jews around the world commemorated their holiest day, Yom Kippur, on which they asked God and their fellow men for forgiveness.

They might also have asked for protection.

That same day, plastic bags filled with rocks and anti-Semitic messages were left in driveways across Southern California. Anti-Semitic graffiti has been discovered on a Florida sidewalk. A synagogue in Germany had its windows smashed.

The holiest day in the Jewish calendar has become a magnet for anti-Jewish acts. Three years ago, also on Yom Kippur, a 27-year-old neo-Nazi, loaded with explosives, shot at the door of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, trying to force entry. He then killed two people.

And four years ago this month, a Pittsburgh synagogue was shot down by a gunman in the deadliest attack yet on an American Jewish community. This horror, which killed 11 people and injured six, took place during Sabbath services.

It is no exaggeration to say that today many Jews pray with bated breath.

But while holiday hatred is marked red on the calendar, it is everyday anti-Semitism that poses greater long-term danger. Like the slow boiling water that eventually kills the unsuspecting lobster, a growing tolerance for hatred makes the world more dangerous for Jews every day.

Anti-Semitic acts are at record levels. The Anti-Defamation League said 2021 saw an average of seven incidents a day assault, harassment or vandalism against Jews.

Yet outside of the Jewish community there is little outrage or even concern – despite America becoming a nation where the slightest insult inspires policy change.

A double standard exists

Instead, what we see are policies that encourage anti-Jewish sentiment. Recently, at Cal Berkeley Law School, nine separate student organizations voted to no longer invite speakers who “hold views in favor of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine”.

Be careful, they do not refer to speakers who would talk about Israel. Just people who believe Israel should exist. Refuse. Not welcome. The dean of the law school, who is Jewish, had to point out that under such a sectarian policy, he himself would not be allowed to speak to his own students!

But the groups did not back down. This led to media references that Berkeley was creating “Jew-free” zones. While not technically accurate, even the echo of such a phrase sent shivers down the spine of the Jewish community, some of whom are old enough to painfully remember when such zones were a reality in this world.

Can you imagine if similar policies prohibited other groups from speaking on campus? How about a policy that reverses the equation: no authorized speakers who have ever supported Palestinian causes? How long do you think this would be tolerated?

But anti-Israel and anti-Zionist venom (which is often associated with anti-Semitism, no matter how many people deny it) is not only tolerated today, but endemic, especially on college campuses, where opinions of future leaders.

Consider the recent case of a USC engineering graduate student who served as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Senator for the school’s student body. She tweeted that she wanted to “kill every mother (expletive) Zionist” and “Death to Israel and its (expletive) the United States”. She also tweeted a phrase in Arabic that translates to “curse the Jews” and celebrated a video in which she claimed “a Jew’s head was set on fire.”

Not the head of an Israeli. A head of a Jew.

USC’s response? He said he “condemns hate in all its forms”.

Wow. It is to take a stand.

Not a new problem

Disturbingly, the USC hate monger was a DEI delegate of some sort. It is equally troubling that the rush to include DEI in so many aspects of university life does not seem to include advocacy for Jews.

A 2022 report by the group StopAntisemitism surveyed 25 top universities. He revealed that 55% of students said they had experienced anti-Semitism on their campuses, but only three schools even included Jews in DEI initiatives.

How can you be for equity and inclusion if you don’t include the oldest and most historically maligned minority group on Earth? Jews have been persecuted since biblical times. As I already said once in this column space:

“The ancient Jews were hated because they remained true to their faith and did not bow down to worshiped idols. They were hated because they ate differently. To pray differently. According to the Old Testament, they were enslaved in Egypt for generations because of their beliefs. …

“In the centuries that followed, they were ostracized, marginalized and deprived of their basic rights. … They were forbidden to intermarry, forbidden to hold governmental office, accused of having hidden horns and tails. They were raped and massacred throughout the crusades. Falsely accused of spreading the bubonic plague and burned alive because of it. Continually persecuted and murdered as “Christ killers”. …

“They were stereotyped as dirty, money-seeking, hook-nosed. Their deaths have been called more times than you can count.

“And lest it be dismissed as ancient history, less than 85 years ago Jews were rounded up from all over Europe and systematically exterminated in the Nazi death camps. Yellow stars were stitched on their clothes. Numbers were tattooed on their arms. Body by body, Jew by Jew, they were shot in the head, experimented on like rats and gassed in fake “showers”, their lifeless bodies thrown into giant pits…

“This horror didn’t end until 1945. There are still people who live with tattooed numbers on their arms and nightmares of hollow-eyed corpses in their dreams. Yet anti-Semitism is on the rise again, like a shark that keeps coming back.

I wrote this two years ago, after football player DeSean Jackson made hateful remarks about Jews and received a simple slap on the hand.

Yet here I am, again having to refer to history.

How can this still happen in this country?

You would think that a country as enlightened as America in 2022 would witness the final erasure of such hatred – especially in universities, where sensitivity is at its highest.

Instead, the ADL noted that anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses rose 21% in the last year alone. A Torah scroll was destroyed at a George Washington University fraternity. A Jewish student at the University of Central Florida was beaten up by neo-Nazis. Swastikas appear on campuses across the country. Anti-Israel statements – like Cal Berkeley’s – are embraced by countless student groups, often calling the Jewish homeland “apartheid”, “terrorist”, “colonialist” and “evil”.

Taken individually, none of these incidents should seriously threaten a religious group in a free and democratic society. But collectively, they erode the bottom of the boat. And when the bottom erodes, holes form, bad things get in there and everything can sink.

The water rises.

It’s the oldest form of Jew-hating vitriol on Earth that apparently never goes away. Perhaps that’s why, in a nation so focused on eliminating any kind of offense, it barely registers a glance.

But it should. That should make us scream. When a group of citizens, on the holiest day of the year, have to return home with hateful flyers, swastikas or shattered windows in their shrines, something is wrong. Something is seriously wrong.

Contact Mitch Albom: [email protected] Find the latest updates with his charities, books and events on MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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