Last week it occurred to me that the Jewish community made a mistake focusing education so heavily on the Holocaust. Now before you freak out with that assertion, let me clarify that I believe that Holocaust education is extremely important. There have been studies which show that not enough people know about the Holocaust. So it’s not that I don’t believe that we need to educate the world about the Shoah. Indeed, we do! With the way celebrities keep sharing quotes from Louis Farrakhan (who praised Hitler!), it is clear that not enough people understand the magnitude and history of this catastrophic event.
Nevertheless, I made a horrifying discovery last week, which led me to believe that the way we have educated recent generations about the Holocaust was not big picture enough. After I published an article about how many Jews feel uneasy about our safety and security in the world today, despite living in historically comfortable times, I was met with a backlash from commenters telling me that I was exaggerating the issue.
“Jews were only targets in the past,” one wrote. “You’re fanning the flames of history to get sympathy,” said another. “Jewish oppression and trauma is mostly historical at this point,” explained yet another. Some commenters came right out to tell me that antisemitism hasn’t been a big deal since the Holocaust. Yikes!
As if this feedback isn’t shocking enough, the most upsetting part is that nearly all the people sharing these ideas were Jewish! How could it be that there are Jews alive today, who have access to the news, but believe that antisemitism isn’t such a big deal? How could they think that our problems mostly ended 70 years ago in Europe? I have a couple theories for how this has happened.
In our Passover hagaddah, the parents and elders explain to the children, “In every generation our enemies rise up against us to kill us…” But according to one of the people commenting on my article, “many Jews today make intentional choices at the Passover seder to take out or skip over the, ‘In every generation they rose up against’ parts.”
So parents chose to sanitize history, because it was uncomfortable, thereby sanitizing their children’s understanding of the present and the future. With so much education on the Holocaust as THE event, without understanding that this was one of the most atrocious acts in history, and yet only one piece of a very long and painful story of the Jewish people that started long before the Holocaust and will continue for as long as we’re in exile, we seem to have a sizable portion of young adults who aren’t aware of the state of the Jewish world today.
Which leads me to the second part of my theory. Today’s antisemitic attacks mostly focus on the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, and there is a false sense of security not walking around looking so Jewish. Yes, The Tree of Life Synagogue attack – the most deadly antisemitic attack on American soil – was not an Orthodox synagogue. There have been smaller attacks and swastiskas graffitied on JCC’s and non-Orthodox synagogues in recent years as well.
But by and large, the majority of violent attacks on Jews in the world today, both in the U.S. and in Europe, are on the Jews that dress visibly Jewish, in fact, even as I type this, I discovered that there was a third attack in just over a week on Orthodox Jews, bringing the total number of victims to six in ten days. And because the attacks are on Orthodox Jews, most news outlets cover the stories far less than if another minority was attacked, just as the outrage from the world is far less when a celebrity says something antisemitic than when he speaks out against another group.
So what do we do? How do we respond? We need to broaden the narrative and talk about the facts on the ground. Antisemitism didn’t end in Germany in 1945. In fact, last year Germany said the number of violent antisemitic attacks had grown by more than 60% from the previous year. France reported a 74% increase in the number of offenses against Jews from the year before.
According to the ADL, the U.S. Jewish community experienced the highest level of antisemitic incidents in 2019 since they began tracking such events 40 years ago. There were more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment reported across the United States, as well as five murders. The number of assaults increased by 56% from the previous year. 91 individuals (nearly all Orthodox Jews) were physically attacked.
Let’s share these statistics as well as our personal stories of feeling unsafe, insecure, and alone. When Jews were murdered in cold blood in the Jersey City shooting, more than one major news outlet tried to explain away the motivation for the killing by describing how tensions were running high as more Hasidic Jews had been moving to the area. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, conspiracy theories and blame against Hasidic Jews spread with it. We may have too many young adults who don’t understand that the Holocaust, in all of its heinousness, was only one chapter in Jewish history. Let’s do our part to tell them the rest of the story.