October 22, 2019

Anti-Semitism Is Also the Internal War of the Jews

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The struggle against anti-Semitism—everywhere, at any time— is an external struggle: to enlist support circles, to identify trends, to neutralize dangers.

The struggle against anti-Semitism—everywhere, at any time— is also an internal struggle: to crystallize consciousness, to formulate a correct response.

The external struggle is easy to form, even if it is not easy to win. Once anti-Semitism raises its head, the Jews react. They cry out, they protest, they do what they can. And, of course, anti-Semites have their own tools. They also know how to organize and enlist support. But the contours of the battlefield are relatively clear. Anti-Semites and their supporters on the one hand, Jews and their allies on the other.

The internal struggle is more complicated. This is the struggle for the souls and minds of the Jewish people, or, to be more dramatic, for their sanity. anti-Semitism harms Jews from the outside. It makes it difficult for them to operate in general society, sometimes damaging their property, sometimes inflicting wounds on their bodies. But it must be noted that it also harms them from the inside. It undermines their confidence, turns them – turns us—into anxiety-ridden, restless survivors. It is hard to think about the Holocaust without becoming all of these things.

This is the internal war of the Jews. The war to remain happy and calm even in an anti-Semitic environment. The war to be human when humanity is eroded. The war to respond proportionally to danger, using the right means and the correct rhetoric. It is a war that prompts a constant tension between the need to be alert to a sly and determined enemy without overreacting or becoming excessively fearful.

In recent months, as it becomes clear that anti-Semitism is raising its head in different places, in different communities, Jews are being forced to fight back. They must think about the proper ways to do it. They must ensure the safety of synagogues and butcher shops and schools in France, in America, in Argentina, in Britain. They must attempt to neutralize the power of anti-Semitic groups to harm the vital interests of the Jewish people.

At the same time, one must not forget or neglect the inner preparation for a new era. The Jews of this generation, especially Israeli Jews, are not accustomed to life in the shadow of anti-Semitism. Some of us thought that the problem of anti-Semitism would be solved when Israel was established. Some of us believed that the world had become enlightened enough not to allow more anti-Semitism. Some of us aptly suspected that anti-Semitism was still alive, but they did not really feel it. For most Jews in Israel, anti-Semitism is a distant rumor, rather than a daily reality. It was something to learn about and remember, not to forget. It was not something whose constant presence made it impossible to forget.

If anti-Semitism comes back to play a significant role in Jewish life, after a fairly short respite, Jews will have to get used to it again.

What!? This is out of the question!

In fact, learning to live with anti-Semitism is the only option. Not in the sense of consenting to it, or in the sense of accepting and surrendering to it. Rather by way of being realistic, and understanding that we can’t control everything. There are things – and anti-Semitism is one of them – that you just have to learn to live with. There are sickness and sorrow, there are floods and earthquakes, there are hurricanes and fatal accidents, and there is also anti-Semitism. We fight back, we adapt.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Israel marks today, is a time to stop and think about the grave consequences of hatred for Jews. It is an important day when it starts, and it is an important day when it is over. It is important when it allows us to stop and remember. It is important when it passes and allows us to go back to normal.

But what is normal? It is quite possible that anti-Semitism is back to being part of Jewish normalcy.