A few weeks ago, I took my girls on a crosstown bus heading for a museum on a weekend day. They began singing loudly, and at first, it merely annoyed and embarrassed me. They began with “There’s a dinosaur knocking at my door, and he wants to have Shabbat with me.” This went on for some time. Then, they turned to the “Chicken Soup Song,” in which one lists whatever ingredients one wishes into a pot, which is then stirred up “nice and hot” to “get it ready for Shabbat…For Shabbat.” I will neither confirm nor deny that they repeatedly added “boogers” to the pot.
Apart from now being embarrassed and grossed out, all their public singing about Shabbat began to make me afraid. And, I’d like to tell you this fear was entirely irrational but I cannot do that.
At the end of last summer, I wrote about my fears that my children will be subject to discrimination and hatred based on the fact of their Jewishness. In particular, I observed the world’s hatred of the Jews revealed by the war in Gaza, as well as the media’s poor and biased coverage of the war. I also noted a number of assaults and hate incidents suffered by Jews in the U.S., including an incident in Manhattan where I live. However, I expressed relief that my daughters do not wear religiously identifiable clothing or jewelry, do not have “shtetl names,” and practiced their Judaism and Jewish traditions in private.
Now it has come to pass that my children, in their innocence and with pure joy, have begun to celebrate their Jewishness whenever the mood strikes them, wherever we may be. It is beautiful. It is concerning. How can I tell them not to sing certain songs outside our home? How can I tell them to hide their heritage?
We all seem to forget that according to the latest FBI statistics, the number one target for religion based hate crimes in the United States were Jews, and Jews are the third-most common victim of hate crimes overall in America, behind African-Americans and gay men. But, I am reminded of this reality every day that I drop my younger daughter off at her Jewish preschool, which like other Jewish preschools makes security a top priority. It is the same when we attend services at synagogue, especially around the High Holy Days, and I see police officers stationed outside.
But, there is something else feeding my fear. As I’ve noted before, many of my allies on the Left express no empathy when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Indeed, when discussing anti-Semitism, and especially the topic of Israel, the same people I stand with on all social justice and progressive issues are silent when it is Jews who are being persecuted. Worse yet, they often justify and attempt to rationalize Jew hatred.
So, while we join our voices on the deaths of black men by police officers, the war on women’s bodies, the oppression of LGBT people, and the fear and hatred of Mexican immigrants and Syrian Refugees, it seems others are silent when Jews are killed in Jerusalem or France or Denmark, or when the European masses chant for Jews to go “to the gas,” or when millions repeat the blood libel that Israel committed genocide in Gaza last summer. This is not to compare oppression, but to note that Jewish people are not given equal empathy.
I am not alone in this assessment. After the amazing outpouring of empathy and solidarity with the French people following the Paris terror attacks, Kveller’s own Jordana Horn asked why there is no Facebook solidarity with Israeli victims of terror, who for two months now, have been facing knife, gun, firebombing, and car ramming attacks. In a similar vein, Sarah Tuttle-Singer asked the world to tell Israelis they are aren’t alone after five people were killed in Israel on November 19th.
This kind of selective grief and selective solidarity continues even as Jews in Israel are targeted daily, even as a Jewish teacher was stabbed in Marseilles, and back to back attacks on Orthodox Jewish men took place in Brooklyn in early November. And others have noted the disparity in the world’s reactions to terror in Israel–including when American Ezra Schwartz was killed by terror–and terror everywhere else.
The state of things is so dire that I was compelled to tell my Facebook friends that their silence on Jewish and Israeli victims of terror and hate is terrifying, that it is painful and heartbreaking to never see any non-Jews speak out against Jew hatred and terrorism directed at Jews, all while they are clearly capable of empathy for other groups of people they do not necessarily belong to.
There seems to be a mistaken belief that the Jews are “all right,” that we are past anti-Semitism, and that Jews don’t need allies or defenders. We need to dispel our non-Jewish friends of these beliefs now. Because I am certain that, as with other wrongs against humanity, all it takes for evil to triumph is silence.
I do not know how I will react the next time my daughters are loudly Jewish in public. Perhaps I will do nothing despite my discomfort. Perhaps, as they get older, I will begin to have conversations with them about my fears. Maybe they will even show me the way.
We need to ask all in the world to raise their voices, because silence about Jewish deaths in Israel is acceptance of Jewish deaths anywhere. And justification or acceptance of anti-Semitism anywhere allows for its acceptance everywhere, even on a bus in Manhattan.