Temple Beth El

November 2015: Anti-Semitism Teaches Constant Vigilance

Why do some people hate?

Why have we, Jews, been the traditional target of such hatred?

What can we do in our lives to respond to these attacks?  In response to why some people hate us, I can only say two things:

The first is that to find a rational explanation that can help us explain and understand this irrational feeling is difficult, if not impossible.  Whether we like it or not, anti-Semitism is here, as are many other irrational expressions of human emotion.  It will not go away as quickly as we would want.

Secondly, anti-Semitism is not caused by Jewish misbehavior, and as such it will not be eliminated by changing the way we behave.

I think that anti-Semitism, like all racial and religious prejudice attitudes, is a sign that something is wrong with the hater, not with the victim.

And what can be wrong with the hater?

If we look inside ourselves, we can see that we hate people that remind us of something we hate about ourselves.

People fabricate stereotypes that have nothing to do with reality, but have to do with their bad feelings about themselves.  They can be wildly unrealistic and self-contradictory, seeing the other as being oversexed and impotent, weak and dangerously powerful, pushy and timid, at the same time.

People hate because among other things, people need to be convinced themselves that other people are even worse.  “I am better, I am O.K., because you are worse.”

Fear and envy also play a role in anti-Semitism.  The ideal in this country is that anything is possible if one works hard enough at it.  However, reality teaches that when people different from us start to work hard, we panic at the competition.  This is an attitude that we find ourselves to have regarding other minorities and of which we must be aware.

Some historians who have studied anti-Semitism see the Jew as the source of world conscience, and see the world as resenting Jews for that.  “Nobody loves the alarm clock”, an author says.  We Jews seem very often to play that role.  It was to us that God first proclaimed what is wrong and what is right, and this reality is difficult to assimilate for the non-Jew.  Difficult as it is, anti-Semitism can be fought by concentrating on changing people’s attitudes.  How do we do that?  How can we teach haters not to hate?  We do not do it by changing our behavior.  Nothing is going to change by trying to show anti-Semites what nice people or good citizens we are.  There are reasons why we should be good people inside and outside our homes, but diminishing anti-Semitism should not be one of them.

Hatred seems to come from self-hatred and insecurity.  What some of them really want is to gain acceptance in society.

Experience and experiments show that we reduce prejudice best by fostering a climate in which it is socially unacceptable and politically incorrect to express prejudiced feelings about another group.

We need to learn to accept the world we live in as it is, cruel and unfair.  But as Jews we have a rich heritage.  We have tools to make this world a safer place for us and the rest of humanity.

We must know about the past not because we need to come to terms with it, that is impossible.  The person that closes his/her eyes to the past is blind to the present, because the one who refuses to remember is prone to new risks of anti-Semitism.

We are not a race but a people shaped by a history of exile, dispersion and unity.

Over the centuries, we have adopted many cultures, many languages and many colors.

We are as different from one another as we are from those who are not Jewish.

The world is in danger of ignoring this truth, of holding to ancient anti-Semitic slogans and stereotypes.  These stereotypes demean and dehumanize not just the victims, but also those who use them.

Anti-Semitism has an astonishing longevity and persistence.  It is a complicated human phenomenon that demands only one thing from Jews and the non-Jews alike that is to remain in constant vigilance.  That is the secret to fighting anti-Semitism if we are going to overcome it.