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Spencer Pensoneau, Ron Klump and Philip Weiss (L-R), of Weiss and Rosenbloom Monument company, work to right toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

What Can You Do About Anti-Semitism?

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By Hyphen Parent

Jewish tombstone photo by Hyphen Parent

Just within the past few days, there were more bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers (JCC) and a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized. The latest count is that 54 JCCs have received 69 bomb threats. According to Chesed Shel Emeth Society, 154 headstones were toppled in St. Louis.

We cry, “Never again,” yet this is happening here and now.

If you want to help, here are some things you can do.

I’ll direct you to a piece I wrote a few years ago after Temple Beth Shalom was defaced with Nazi vandalism.   I’ve found there’s much my non-Jewish friends don’t fully understand about anti-Semitism. It’s useful to understand where we’re coming from and how this terrorism affects us.

I’m writing specifically about the Jewish experience, but please know these are helpful for all kinds of hatred. Anti-Semitism, Racism, Islamophobia—all of them rely on others outside the specific community to help fight hatred and keep people safe.

The first thing you can do is pay attention. Watch the news. Listen to your friends. Be aware.

For a few weeks at the end of last year, I kept a running list on Facebook of the reports of anti-Semitic incidents. Every day I added more as I found them. Many of my friends initially responded in horror.  Some argued over the intent or source or tried to deflect by replying with other unrelated events. Within days, many people simply stopped paying attention. Ignoring anti-Semitism is not a luxury Jews can afford.  If you want to help us fight it, you’ll pay attention too.  If it’s overwhelming to you, imagine how we feel.

Please just listen and pay attention. This is about anti-Semitism. Please don’t try to make this about anything else. Please don’t try to deflect. This is not the time for, “Not all (insert group).”  Please don’t get defensive.  Use President Trump as an example of what not to do. Twice he was asked about anti-Semitism. Once he refused to address the question and instead countered with his voting numbers.  The next time he lashed out against a Jewish reporter (and one who went above and beyond to make it very clear the reporter was not accusing him of anti-Semitism).  Don’t do that. Listen to what your Jewish friends are telling you. If, after they have told you about experiences, you feel as though you or your beliefs are being attacked, maybe it’s time to pause and reflect.

The next step is to believe us. There have always been Holocaust deniers, but I’ve been surprised by how many people go so far as to insist there is no rise in anti-Semitism. They believe it’s all an “inside job,” and that Jews are pulling a Rachel Dolezal and doing it for attention.  I’ve been even more surprised (and heartbroken) to see the same sentiment expressed by people I considered friends.  Those who see and hear the evidence and refuse to believe it are part of the problem.

Offer to help. There are so many ways to do this. Reach out to your Jewish friends. Even if they’re not directly involved in the attacks, call or message them to ask how they’re doing and to let them know you’re aware and you care. First off, we’re shaken by this even if we don’t live in an area with a JCC or our cemeteries are still standing. Second of all, there’s a funny little thing commonly referred to as “Six degrees of Jewish separation,” or “It’s a small Jewish world after all,” (for those of us who like to randomly burst out in annoying songs likely to get stuck in your head). Jews tend to know other Jews everywhere. So even if we don’t live in one of the areas affected, there’s a good chance we have friends or relatives who do.

If you’re reading this, you know someone affected by the recent bomb threats. Both of the JCCs we frequent were included in the first round of bomb threats.  Please don’t assume your Jewish friends aren’t touched by anti-Semitism and therefore don’t need you.

You can help. There are real and solid things you can do even beyond just offering a sympathetic ear to your Jewish friends. American Muslim activists helped raise enough funds to cover the cost of repairs to the vandalized cemetery. “What can I do,” should be a rallying cry, not a dismissive comment.  This problem is not bigger than us.  We need you and you can absolutely make a difference. There are any number of ways you can show support and in many cases, there are specific actions needed.  When Temple Beth Shalom was vandalized, there were non-Jews who reached out and offered to help clean up the graffiti.  Recently, New Yorkers worked together to remove Nazi graffiti on a subway car.  We need you. Contact the organizations or people involved and ask them what you can do to help.

Anti-Semitism: Know It. Name It. Shame It,” by Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation is an excellent resource. He discusses what he considers the three essential steps we need to take to combat anti-Semitism.

We need you. Anti-Semitism is real and it’s terrifying, but you can absolutely help.

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  • Neal Schindler

    Thanks for this article, and for naming Trump’s failure of leadership. I know it’s a dicey time to bring up politics, but the president sets the tone for the country. After tacit approval of anti-semitism the whole way through, he has a duty to speak out more clearly and more often than any other recent president. As for community actions, I do have hope that spokane and other communities will band together to fight this scourge as well as rampant islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia.

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