Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

What do we tell kids about anti-Semitism?

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Buffalo Springfield sang those words exactly fifty years ago. They have never seemed more relevant than now.

For something is happening here. I am talking about the current virus of anti-Semitism that is spreading throughout our country.

In total, more than 100 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have received bomb threats since the beginning of the year.

Over the last few weeks, there has been vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Rochester, New York.

A gunshot was fired through a Hebrew school classroom window at an Evansville, Indiana synagogue.

Jewish reporters have been targeted – their faces photoshopped onto the bodies of Holocaust victims.

How do we talk to our young people about what is going on in this country?

First, let’s stop using the term “anti-semitism.” It’s too complicated. (A sixth grader asked me: “What is Semitism?”)

Call it what it is: Jew hatred

Or, even better: the crazy belief that there’s something about the Jews.

Then, try this — a transcript of a session I did with sixth graders and their parents.

We know all about Jew hatred. We have holidays about it. 

  • Starting with the holiday that we will celebrate later this week — Purim.
  • Passover is about the liberation from a Pharaoh who hated Jews.
  • Tisha b’Av, a mid summer fast day, is about how two Jew-hating governments — the Babylonians and then, centuries later, the Romans — destroyed the Temples in Jerusalem.
  • Hanukkah is about a tyrant who hated Jews and Judaism and tried to get rid of it.
  • Yom Ha-Shoah is about the ultimate Jew-hatred — the Holocaust.

We even tell a little joke about it. Definition of a Jewish holiday: “they hated us; they tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat.”

So, we Jews know all about this. It’s old news. Which doesn’t make it any easier.

So, why do they hate us? Because Jews have always been different.

  • We had only one God. Every other people had gods for all sorts of things.
  • And our one god is invisible! No pictures, no statues.
  • Shabbat! Some Romans said that only crazy people would spend 1/7 of their lives resting! A total waste of time!
  • We didn’t eat what other people ate — like pork and shellfish.
  • We knew that Jesus wasn’t the messiah, because the world was the same as it always was.
  • And then, they said that we killed Jesus. No. It was the Romans. (In fact, most modern Christians no longer believe this lie about the Jews.
  • Then, they said evil things about Jews — like we were in league with the Devil.
  • Sometimes, they made us convert to Christianity or Islam.
  • Sometimes, they killed us.
  • Sometimes, they kicked us out of our countries — like England, France, and Spain.
  • Then, they said that we were part of a vast international conspiracy to control the world.
  • And then, the Nazis said that we weren’t really human at all. They wanted to exterminate us — a word that you would use with an insect or a rodent.
  • And then, when we created the state of Israel, they said that we didn’t deserve it.

So, you might ask: if being different is so difficult, what’s the point?

One of the great Jewish teachers of our time — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks — teaches that Jews should be different — because it teaches everyone that it is OK to be different.

Yes, jokes can hurt. Especially about the Holocaust. If someone tells you to “get back in the oven” (a reference to the Holocaust), or if someone throws pennies at you because they imagine that Jews are cheap — you don’t have to tolerate it. Tell a teacher, your principal, your parents. Fight back.

Fight back by teaching others a little bit about Judaism. When someone makes a hateful remark, try this: “I’m surprised to hear you say that. I thought that you were smarter than that. Did you know that Jews….or Judaism…?”

Fight back by not letting your fear win. The haters who are threatening Jewish institutions think that if they scare us, then we will stop going to those places. That would be an easy way to hurt Judaism.

Prove them wrong. Keep doing Jewish stuff, and going to Jewish places — especially your synagogue and the JCC. Go now, more than ever. The best response to hatred is love: love of other Jews, love of God, love of Judaism, and love of humanity.

Which brings me to….

People who hate Jews usually hate other people as well. It’s like one of those “twofer” deals. Someone hates Jews; they probably hate blacks, and/or Muslims, and/or LGBT people. Hatred is like eating potato chips; you can’t stop with just one.

Which means….

Fight Jew-hatred by reaching out to other groups. Jews are not the only ones who are threatened now. There are immigrants, and Muslims, and Latinos, and LGBT people.

When Jews reach out to those groups, sometimes those groups reach right back. When those cemeteries were ruined, Muslims raised over $100,000 to clean them up. Some

Muslim veterans are offering to guard those Jewish cemeteries. One veteran tweeted: “I’m a #MuslimMarine in Chicagoland area. If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it…”

This is amazing, and we should celebrate it.

Finally, most people don’t hate Jews. Quite the opposite. According to a recent Pew research study, Jews are the most popular religious group in America. Jews are, by and large, quite comfortable in America.

Which must make Jew-haters go nuts.

Yes, we are living in tough times. But we can do this. We have lived through worse. We just have to stick together, keep cool, and remember to keep being who we are.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

20 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • When I was growing up my Hebrew School decided to teach about the Holocaust by showing a very graphic movie about Auschwitz. It showed the gas chambers and the naked dead bodies been shoveled into crematorium . I was in third grade at the time. There was no preparation before or discussion afterward. I assume they do a much better job of teaching about the Holocaust now.

    I knew people still hated Jews, because I had heard Jews being called “Christ Killers” and “dirty Jews.” A store that was the local equivalent of a Kmart was called Two Guys, but a lot of people called it “Two Jews.” One person apologized for using that expression by saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were Jewish.”

    A lot has changed since then. Although, there is still antisemitism on the right and the left. My father who died a week before his 90th birthday, believed that people have always hated Jews and they always will. I’m beginning to think that maybe true, but it is now a very small, but vocal minority. Much of the change is due to the Catholic Church. Although, it can taken a while for changes to reach the average Catholic. America is different from the rest of the world. There is still a lot of antisemitism in Europe and in the Arab and Muslim world. There is even antisemitism in countries where Jews have never lived.

  • I agree that describing hatred of Jews in simpler terms than “anti-Semitism” would be a benefit to the very young; and after utilizing the simpler format, emphasizing that hatred of Jews on any pretext is morally and spiritually wrong whether from the perspective of religion or rationalism.

    But I have a few quibbles with some of Mr. Salkin’s comments. With respect to the Jewish Holidays cited, and the impetus behind them, I challenge his interpretation of one of them: Passover. Whether the pharaoh who initially enslaved the Jewish people and the one who refused to let them go were one and the same I’m not certain, though in the interest of best information I ought to be more completely informed. I think however in the case of pharaoh, his actions were not based on hatred, but uneasiness and practicality. It seems evident from the text of Exodus that pharaoh feared the fertility of the Jewish people and the possibility that they would outpace the Egyptians in child bearing and from the practical point of view slaves were much cheaper than a paid labor force and their departure would and did, presumably, have a negative economic impact on Egypt. My argument is not framed to lessen the value of Passover in comparison to the other holidays, which of course would be absurd, but rather to suggest that hatred in its case does not rise to the level of Haman as recorded in Esther, or the other examples listed.

    As to Jesus being the Messiah, interpretively, we will have to agree to disagree.

    There is no question about who killed Jesus; clearly it was the Roman government in Judea who executed Him, and any anti-Semitism that arose in the Christian world in the aftermath not only missed that fact, but from the Christian point of view, if Jesus had not died there would have been no final sacrifice for sin. It was absolutely necessary that He die for our salvation. I add one caveat, according to the Gospels, the Jewish leaders (not the people/nation) conspired with Rome in His arrest and death.

    Finally, Christians too are threatened in this unstable, psychotic, and unbalanced world; if not in the West, elsewhere.

  • There is a joke that the message of Jewish holidays is, “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” . Of course Passover has a deeper spiritual meaning as well. Mitzraim, the Hebrew word for Egypt means the narrow place. Jews see God saving us from Egypt the ultimate proof that God loves us. It could also be understood as the birth of the Jewish people.
    Christians for most of Christian history were not willing to agree to disagree. They say Jews rejection of Jesus as ultimate proof of their blindness and perfidiousness. The Jewish leaders were Sadducees, the Temple priests. Most Jews at the time saw them a Romanized Jews who were collaborators.

  • This article makes no mention of teaching children how to defend themselves. Also this Anti Semitic environment has always existed it’s only coming to light now because media wants to tie it to President Trump.

  • “And then, when we created the state of Israel, they said that we didn’t deserve it” WT……no you didn’t created anything, the British after the Balfour Declaration let you steal land from the Palestinians.
    Zionists with their military might backed by the US occupied Palestine and called it Israel

  • At that time Palestine was a designation of territory, the Palestine Mandate. The 1947 UN plan was to create an Arab state and Jewish state. Your view is a bit biased.

  • Nobody is born a bigot. You learn that crap. Usually from your parents. Neo Nazis are ridiculous.

  • Anti semitism is tied to Trump because no mainstream political figure has appealed to that crowd so openly and obviously. Trump was the first president endorsed by white supremacist groups since Woodrow Wilson. The media ties it to Trump because common sense does so. Steve Bannon alone makes the link explicit.

  • Why does anything about Jews get high-Jacked to a discussion of what an awful state Israel is and how horrible Zionism is? That is not the topic here. Zionsts were outnumberered and outgunned by the Arabs. They did not have superior military forces. then. The Arabs didn’t accept Israel’s existence because they had superior military forces and they thought that Jews couldn’t fight. Israel received military aid from France and not the US in the beginning.

  • The point is not what Palestine was at the time, the point is what is has now become because of that, the way it was all done was absolutely wrong, it was a deceitful plan, which has put the very peace and harmony of middle east in particular and the world in general at stake, the sooner we can realize this the better. So much blood has been spilt just in the name of religion. At the very least we need to start accepting each other as equal human beings, and shed the racist mindset of being superior than the rest.

    Peace.

  • That has nothing to do with America supporting Israel or anything else you said. It has nothing to do with Israel’s founding. It only has to do with Netanyahu and his government. It doesn’t change the fact that this is not an appropriate place for this discussion. Jeffrey Salkin left out that they hate us because of Zionism and use classic antisemitic tropes against Zionists and then say they don’t hate Jews. They only hate Zionists. Well, it doesn’t work.

  • Modern Zionism is a secular movement. Theodore Hertzel was a secular assimilated Jewish reporter who covered the Dreyfus trial. The crowd outside the court yelled “Death to the Jews.” Hertzel was traumatized and he went home and wrote The Jewish State. That is the start of modern Zionism. It is not based on racism or being superior to anyone else. The idea that the Jewish religion is racist is antisemitic and ant-Jewish at the same time. Read David Nirenberg’s Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition or Anti-Judaism and the New Testament. Jews needed and still need one tiny state where they can control their own destiny. If you don’t have a state you get screwed by everyone as the Jews were in the past. America turned back a ship full of Jewish children during WWII. The wife to the Secretary of State said, “They’re cute now because they’re children, but they will grow up to be ugly Jews. Everyone still needs their own state. You may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean that you are not affected by the Christian anti-Judaism that permeates our culture.

  • The Canaanites are Greeks and thanks to the curse of canaan, all conspiracies are the same conspiracy, if debt is money that can only be paid off with more debt money, someone will own everything and everyone…….Judaism is a Talmudic crime cabal.

  • You have no knowledge of Judaism or Jewish history or Jewish law. You are not worth the effort of trying to explain it to you, because you don’t respond to rational evidence.

  • Sebastian Gorka is a Trump aide and he has ties ties to antisemitic groups in Hungary. He also wore a Hungarian Nazi collaborator medal at Trump events. Go to The Forward and you will find the article. The State Department has taken down the pages on their website that chronicle and monitor antisemitism. It’s not just about the Arab oil countries, it’s also about Russia and the countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.

  • The crowd outside the court yelled “Death to the Jews.”
    This reminded me of the crowd outside the roman court yelling “crucify him, crucify him”

    Modern Zionism is basically a group of hard line atheists and nothing more, they’ve also hijacked the religion like some Muslim elements have hijacked Islam today for their own ulterior motives.
    The things you’ve mentioned were not done by Muslims but Christians. Why occupying, displacing and killing Muslims?
    Historically, Muslims have always protected the Jews. Muslims and Jews have more in common than anyone else.

    Peace.

  • Some people like to rock. Some people like to roll
    But me, I like to sit around to satisfy my soul
    I like my women short. I like my women tall
    And that’s about the only thing I really dig at all

    I belong to the bernie generation
    I don’t let anything boggle my mind
    I belong to the bernie generation
    And everything’s goin’ just fine

    Some people say I’m lazy and my life’s a wreck
    But that stuff doesn’t faze me, I get unemployment checks
    I run around in boots, drugs and booze I crave
    And that’s the way I wanna be when someone digs my grave

    I belong to the bernie generation, yeah
    I don’t let anything boggle my mind
    I belong to the bernie generation
    When everything’s goin’ just fine

    I once knew a man who worked from nine to five
    Just to pay his monthly bills was why he stayed alive
    So keep your country cottage, your house and lawn so green
    I just want a one-room pad where I can make the scene

    I belong to the bernie generation
    I don’t let anything boggle my mind
    Like-a, I belong to the bernie generation
    Bernie dropped out just ducky

ADVERTISEMENTs