True Social Justice Cares About Jews

Does a JCC actually need to be bombed for people to notice that anti-Semitism is alive and well?

I used to spend hours in the JCC as a child. I took swimming lessons there. Sometimes, I would go to holiday parties, too. It smelled like old people and chlorine. There were black-and-white photos of donors all over the walls. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they had names like Irving, Edna, and Morris. My ten-year-old brother goes there now, and I eventually hope to send my children there, too. It is at JCCs all across the country that young children engage with their Jewish identity in a multitude of ways. However, it is these very same JCCs that they have to evacuate for fear of being bombed and burned alive.

On February 20th, eleven JCCs received bomb threats. That black day is only part of a greater wave of 68 incidents at 53 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province. This week, the Anti-Defamation League, a group that “combat[s] anti-Semitism and hate against people of all races and religions,” in the words of its president Jonathan Greenblatt, received a bomb threat. Suddenly, Jewish institutions are targeted, and many people, myself included, are scared for our children, siblings and parents. Each time we think of the JCC, we smell the elderly and the chlorine. But is that changing — are we beginning to smell shrapnel and fear?

I wish that anti-Semitism were indeed such a surprise. All of the slow sudden, people are waking up to Jew hatred. But for the past year, I’ve been watching as sly moments of anti-Semitism creep into everyday life: swastikas are drawn on Jewish students’ property, hundreds of Jewish tombstones are desecrated in a St. Louis cemetery, and a Texas preschool teacher advocates for the killing of Jews. Sadly, none of this surprises me anymore. I am aware that 53% of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2015 were anti-Semitic — more than against any other religious group. Most people don’t know that, though, and are generally shocked when I tell them. Somehow, anti-Semitism is always swept under the rug.

This may be because Jews generally “have it good” in North America — and for that, I am endlessly thankful. We are no longer openly discriminated against. That is not to say, however that anti-Semitism has been eradicated in our time and space. The statistics prove the contrary. Jew hatred is ubiquitous — to the point where I often wish I weren’t obviously Jewish so that I could hear what people really think once I leave the room. But, on the occasions when I’ve been unlucky enough to hear anti-Semitism either live or on television, I find it both on the right and the left. While on the right, it takes the more easily recognizable form of alt-right ideology, on the left, it is often masked as a refusal to acknowledge Jewish suffering because it is “not inclusive enough.” Take, for example, the British students in the NUS (National Union of Students) who argued against commemorating Holocaust Day because it “prioritizes other lives” — while ignoring the memory of the six million Jews who were systematically targeted for annihilation.

And every time, I only see my Jewish friends caring. I see my social-justice-involved friends rightfully fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+, Muslim and immigrant communities, but I rarely, if ever, see them stand up against anti-Semitism. I haven’t seen a single rally; I haven’t haven’t gone to a single protest. Is the struggle of my people not worth their time? Is our pain not “inclusive enough?” Does a JCC actually need to be bombed for people to notice that anti-Semitism is alive and well? I can assure you that the children in our JCCs can smell the putrid stench of hate each time they need to evacuate the building.

Advocates for social justice often use the following Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But if they ignore rampant anti-Semitism, isn’t their concern for justice selective? I like to assume the best of those who fight for peace and justice — but are the peace and justice of my people, the Jewish People, irrelevant? Isn’t injustice to Jews a threat to you, too?