Throughout my seven years at a small, warm Jewish elementary school in Los Angeles, I was taught to love being Jewish and to love the state of Israel. The culture, food, language, history and people have always fascinated me. Further, when I met Holocaust survivors, and heard their powerful stories first-hand, I understood that Israel is a special place for Jews. It never occurred to me that much of the world did not see this aspect of my religion and culture in the same way that I did.
Looking back on it, it makes sense to me now. Police cars were often stationed outside of my Jewish school days after attacks in Israel. Yes, we had security guards armed in bulletproof booths. However, I was young and did not realize the reasoning behind all of this. I grew up believing this was normal.
Now, tragedies like the Tree of Life shooting have caused me to become fearful. I am fearful because my mom grew up in a similar synagogue in the same state of Pennsylvania. Swastikas are anonymously drawn on our synoguages and our streets. My friends have started tucking their Jewish star necklaces under their sweaters in public. I am fearful we could become victims at any time solely based on our faith.
The most significant way that we can combat this fear is to take the issue of anti-Semitism seriously, both inside our government and our schools. Within progressive activism movements and organizations, I have found the issue of anti-Semitism is too often swept aside. Many activists I have met believe that Jews are defined primarily on privilege, which leads to the idea that Jews do not need support or allies to the extent that other minority groups do.
We need communities across the political spectrum to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is an issue, and to pledge to stand with Jews. We need to make clear that this stance does not necessarily mean wholeheartedly supporting the Israeli government or the occupation. Further, anti-Semitism can not be justified through opposition to the existence of Israel. We don’t need to equate or compare racism, homophobia, sexism, and all other “-isms” to anti-Semitism, but I do believe that it deserves significant attention.
The Anti-Defamation League found that “the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.” Ignoring statistics like this clearly points to underlying, even subconscious, anti-Semitism in our country. We can’t forget that Jews still only make up 0.2 percent of the population, so disregarding rampant and rising anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world is a dangerous decision.
Gabi Becher is a teen fellow with the Jewish Center for Justice and junior at Marlborough School.