A Neo Nazi rally takes place on a city street. PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR
A group of Neo Nazis hung a banner on a Los Angeles freeway with the words “Kanye was right” after rapper Kanye West defended Hitler and blamed the Jewish people for society’s problems.
Residents throughout Pennsylvania, from Pittsburgh to Scranton to the suburbs of Philadelphia, wash swastikas and slurs off of school buildings, fearing for the lives of their children and neighbors.
Jewish communities mourn as the fifth anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, the deadliest attack against their people in the country, briskly approaches.
The Anti-Defamation League, which documents hate groups, estimates antisemitic incidents increased by 34% in 2021, the highest on record with nearly 3,000 incidents. These numbers climbed even higher in the past year, with incidents at Jewish community centers and schools increasing by 61% and a staggering 106% respectively. As more Jewish people face seemingly random acts of hate, any sensible person would ask why.
Antisemitism is one of the oldest forms of oppression to exist, dating back over a millennium. Ranging from slavery to exile to genocide, the Jewish people never seem to get a break from constant backlash over simply living their lives and practicing their beliefs.
While Judaism is a religion, the concept of being Jewish is also an ethnic and cultural identity. Due to centuries of isolation and exile, many Jewish people coped by uniting as a culture and group of people with their own beliefs that go beyond faith. Some Jews may be religiously Jewish, meaning they practice Judaism, or they may be culturally Jewish, as in they identify with the cultural practices of a Jewish ethnicity, but may or may not practice Judaism. Nonetheless, they are all valid in their identity as part of a unique and special group often referred to as an ethnoreligion.
Even though such a dynamic gives the Jewish people their strength, being part of an ethnoreligion also became a point of discrimination and even hate. Many antisemitic groups, most notably the Nazis, who are responsible for the Holocaust, claimed that “the Jews” were a race inferior to Aryan Europeans that had to be eradicated. The Holocaust, as many may know, is one of the most horrid acts of mass genocide and oppression faced by the Jewish people in modern history. Its impacts persist today, as the Nazi regime forced many Jews into a diaspora, fleeing to the Americas, the Middle East, and other parts of Europe. Despite ample evidence and the echoes of the darkest decade of the last century remaining in our world, people continue to deny the Holocaust and perpetuate hateful beliefs through Neo-Nazi factions.
Many people, including younger generations, may dismiss antisemitism because such discrimination is seen as justified due to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Although the Israel-Palestine conflict resulted in horrible acts of violence from both sides, this by no means justifies hate against the Jewish people. Not all Jewish people are Zionists, and most in the United States in particular have no involvement and even condemn the actions in Israel and Palestine. This, however, could be an essay of its own.
People may also put the issue of addressing antisemitism in the backburner because it is “just white people oppressing other white people.” However, this should not make antisemitism any less awful or worth tackling. Hate against anyone, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs, should be condemned because we are all human beings. This should go without saying but, as statistics and news headlines show, that unfortunately is not the case.
Those aware of antisemitism may be curious as to how they can combat such hate and promote a society that is more informed and accepting of Jewish people. Student-run organizations intended to support Jewish people, such as Hillel at Millersville, are a great starting point for members of the college community. Other excellent education resources include The Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, Jewish Agency for Israel, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which all provide detailed information regarding Jewish history and culture.
People can also combat antisemitism by practicing sensitivity and awareness of Jewish culture and issues. Having open dialogues about struggles faced by the Jewish people, thinking critically about portrayals of Jews in literature and media, and calling out derogatory comments and actions are all ways people can fight against discrimination at the individual level. Addressing hate of any kind is a heavy topic to tackle, but it is worth it if we maintain a culture of open-mindedness and inclusion of others different from us.