An ever-present underbelly of fear and hate is nothing new for America. A look back on any generation will show citizens targeting their neighbors based on skin color, country of origin or desired position in society.
These days, people have a lot of fear for “the other,” with those who fear refugees terrorizing our country and illegal immigrants taking our jobs, pitted against those who fear President Donald Trump’s attempts to keep them from our borders. Some fear the existence of minority groups in America (and warn them with desecrated cemeteries and vandalized mosques), while the members of those groups fear for our safety each time we enter such a place.
We now fear members of our own inner circles, as well. When police arrested an Israeli-American for threatening Jewish institutions in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, we realized that any individual acting against us could also be … well … us.
I called my husband to share the news shortly after it broke.
“I wonder why,” he pondered, once I filled him in on the details.
He is not the only one. We all seem to be wondering why. It is frightening when we do not have the answers.
It is frightening to think that reports of anti-Semitism may now seem invalid. Following the arrest, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted, “Thousands of articles were written claiming Jewish victim status while the money poured in. Happy now?”
It’s true. The media covered many of the bomb threats directed at Jewish community centers and other institutions, and in response, concerned readers donated to organizations dedicated to promoting tolerance.
But no, I am not happy. I know that anti-Semitism still exists, despite the probable culprit behind these crimes. The Jewish young man in custody did not personally enter American cemeteries and destroy headstones of individuals who are no longer alive to defend themselves. He did not draw a swastika on a sign belonging to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, shortly after opening a Holocaust-themed exhibit earlier this month. He did not twist an Arizona family’s seven-foot-tall menorah into a swastika on the sixth night of Hanukkah.
Now, I fear that it will be harder than ever to secure the support needed to fight these cowardly acts and the sentiments behind them.
I am also frightened that this arrest will cause distrust within the Jewish community. Letting my mind wander, I ponder whether security officers stationed at synagogue doors should pay as much attention to congregants they know as visitors they do not. I wonder who is responsible for executing security protocols at local houses of worship, community centers and museums, and whether they could be compromised by individuals plotting heinous crimes.
Of course, I’m being paranoid, right? Right?
Oh, this isn’t good. Now I’m scared of being scared. This is probably the most consequential fear of all, as hate thrives in a climate of fear.
None of us are sure how to handle the hate that we read about in the papers or witness firsthand. None of us have even fully processed the fact that a Jew is in custody for phoning in threats to JCCs. Still, I can assure you of one thing: hate knows no borders, and does not come and go as a passing trend. Only a united citizenry dedicated to modeling tolerance can have any hope of turning the tide.
Maybe, on a certain level, it does not matter that the JCC bomb threats allegedly originated from a Jew himself. Maybe all that matters are the people who confronted these threats with demands for investigation and action. Maybe the most dangerous threats to our society are those who did not speak out against these crimes, and therefore, may not speak out against the next.
While we do not know who will be responsible for any future incidents, we must make personal commitments, right now, to do everything possible to make our voices heard if and when this time comes.
We must agree to engage in open discourse and not shy away from those who disagree, no matter how frustrating or painful it feels at the time. These conversations are vehicles for promoting seeds of tolerance. We must support organizations dedicated to putting this message into action, and if it is difficult to do so monetarily, the donation of one’s time is the most valuable of all. We must seek out members of our clergy to build unity, both within our own houses of worship and among others across our communities.
It takes a village to combat hate. In fact, it takes a whole world.
But we must start as individuals.