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Why does anti-Semitism exist?
At the first Passover seder this year, this very question was posed. There were a number of different responses, but the one that struck me as the best explanation came from one of my daughters, “Because we’re different.”
In the vast majority of places and times, Jews have been different from those around us. We practice religion differently. Our traditions can be mystifying to those who don’t understand. We often dress differently than others.
For some those differences lead to curiosity. They want to know. They ask questions.
For others, there is a fear of anything out of the ordinary. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to understand. They want things with which they’re familiar and nothing else. Anything outside their experience isn’t simply different, it’s wrong.
In various times and places, anti-Semites, rather than asking and trying to understand, have created horrible stories to explain what they don’t understand, blaming the Jews for all sorts of perceived offenses.
Blood libel has been charged through generations. Although consuming blood is strictly forbidden (part of the process for kosher meat involves salting it to remove all blood), Jews are accused of all sorts of murders so that we may use blood for various rituals. One popular one is that Jews use the blood of Christian children in matzah. This is not nor has it ever been true. Yet it persists. People do not understand various Passover traditions and obviously know little to nothing about Judaism, so they lash out against that which they do not understand.
Ritual hand washing lead to blaming Jews for the bubonic plague. Traditional Jews wash their hands several times a day including before all meals. This was uncommon in the 14th century. So fewer Jews died of the bubonic plague in Europe than their non-Jewish neighbors. When Christian neighbors noticed this, they blamed the illness on the Jews. Some said they were sorcerers causing the illness. Others accused Jews of poisoning the water. There were riots and murders as a result.
Nazi propaganda played up those differences. Images contrasted the dark big-nosed Jew in stereotypical garb against the tall blonde German and blamed the Jews for everything from creating disease to Germany’s downfall to plotting to take over the world.
From religious beliefs, to ethnicity, to language, to clothing, Jews are different. For many, this just is. We can co-exist peacefully side-by-side. For others, this is seen as wrong and threatening. Baseless hatred festers because we are different and anti-Semites don’t want to understand.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories and someone who’s best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.