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Why Stopping Jew Hatred is Not Enough

I felt like a visitor from Mars: “Are you people on Earth out of your freaking minds? These Jews here are the LAST people you want to hate, and the FIRST you want to admire and even emulate.”
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March 31, 2024
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Have you noticed a tendency to take antisemitism for granted? It’s become so ubiquitous that many of us have simply internalized the fact that people have always hated Jews and always will.

We fight it, yes, we condemn it, yes, we expose it, yes, but are we ever shocked by it? Not really.

By now, every news item about another incident of antisemitism is a case of “here we go again.”

This “here we go again” attitude, however, is a mistake. It can make us cynical. It makes us lose the ability to see Jew hatred in a fresh way as if for the first time, to see it for what it really is: a stunningly vapid and absurd phenomenon.

That thought came to me while reading a book about the amazing Jewish contributions to humanity. “Between the middle of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a handful of men and women changed the way we see the world,” Norman Lebrecht writes in “Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847—1947.”

The list of Jewish contributors in all fields is endless. We all know that. But against the backdrop of the recent rise in antisemitism, these Jewish accomplishments have made Jew hatred even more absurd.

Consider just a small list from Lebrecht:

“Without Karl Landsteiner, there would be no blood transfusions or major surgery; without Paul Ehrlich, no chemotherapy; without Siegfried Marcus, no motor car; without Rosalind Franklin, no model of DNA; without Fritz Haber, not enough food to sustain life on earth; without Genevieve Halevy, no grand opera.”

We’ve heard such good news about Jews for so long, it’s no wonder we’ve become blasé about even that positive side of the ledger.

Think about that: We’re blasé about the bad, and we’re blasé about the good. They’re both ubiquitous.

That attitude was wrenched out of me by Lebrecht’s book. Suddenly, I felt like a visitor from Mars who was hearing all this stuff about Jews for the first time, and thinking: “Are you people on Earth out of your freaking minds? These Jews here are the LAST people you want to hate, and the FIRST you want to admire and even emulate.”

My reaction felt overwrought, almost naive. But there was a kernel of truth to it. At the very least, it reminded me that we should never lose the ability to be shocked by the absurdity of Jew hatred.

Of course, one of the reasons we’ve lost that shock factor is that we’ve invested enormous intellectual capital trying to rationally understand the irrationality of the world’s oldest hatred.

If we start way back, they hated us when we challenged paganism and introduced the idea of one God; then they hated us when they accused us of killing their god (Jesus). From these two earthquakes, it was off to the races: two thousand years of using Jews as ultimate scapegoats and as symbols for anything a society hated.

As Rabbi David Wolpe wrote recently, “People hate Jews because they are communists, capitalists, foreigners, residents, immigrants, elitists, have strange ways, are unassimilated, too assimilated, bankroll the left or bankroll the right. People hate Jews because they are weak and stateless, or because they are Zionists and defend Israel.”

We’ve become so good at rationally dissecting the disease it has made us numb to its craziness. Nothing can shock us anymore. After all, why should we be shocked when we see how useful and convenient Jew hatred can be?

This is exactly the reaction the haters want. They want us to be cynical, to accept that Jew hatred is a permanent and resilient part of the human condition. But that attitude weakens us; we lose the edge of fresh outrage.

Jew hatred is not just wrong and stupid and irrational and convenient and unjust and sickening. It’s also an upside-down idea that diminishes the world.

Jews have so much to offer the world, from culture to social justice to science to timeless wisdom to education to the great ideals of community and personal responsibility. Maybe that has been a source of envy among the haters, but it’s also a source of pride among Jews.

Yes, let’s continue our fight against hate, but let’s also remember that we’re not only here to protect ourselves. We’re also here to make the world a better place. In so many ways, our actions and contributions are worth admiring and even emulating. Let’s teach that long tradition to our children, so they can continue it and never take it for granted.

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