A man went to the store the other day to pick up challah for the Sabbath. Challah is the traditional bread Jews eat for the Sabbath, and pretty much any other time you can get away with it because the stuff is delicious. Families cut up the braided bread and share it together as part of the end of the week Sabbath and holidays. Mothers make it with their children, a tradition passed down for generations. Or else if you don’t make it in your kitchen, which is (as my mother would say in Yiddish) a lot of potchka (annoying planning and trouble), you go and buy it from a store.
So a guy was running to a store to get his Friday groceries. He got everything he needed and rushed out of the store, and got to his car before he realized he forgot his challah. He ran back to the store only to find a woman shuttering up the windows and locking the door. He begged her to let him back in to get his challah, but she warned him away. Then from inside, a voice ordered the man into the store. That’s where the man was confronted by a hostage taker, who took him into the store and shot him dead on the spot. Because he was looking to pick up his challah for the Sabbath.
This is a story I read online after the tragic events that took place at the Hyper Casher kosher supermarket two weeks ago. The article did not attribute which of the hostage taker’s four victims was the origin of this story. Was it 22-year-old Yohan Cohen? No, he was reported to have tried to stop the hostage taker by trying to get the man’s gun away from him and was shot in the process. So, it couldn’t have been him. Maybe it was Yoav Hattab, 21, the son of the chief rabbi of Tunnis. Or perhaps it was Philippe Braham, 40, or Françoise-Michel Saada, a man in his 60’s. Whichever of the four men were killed for leaving behind their challah, they were all killed for another reason they had in common.
They could all say #JeSuisJuif – “I am a Jew.”
Except saying that, identifying as a Jew in Europe, has never been more dangerous. The attack on the kosher supermarket is being reported as just as deadly as the 2012 Otzar HaTorah school in Toulouse, which killed 4. Amazing how it is that we have statistics now of which attacks are more deadly, they happen so often. We have one horror to compare another horror to, as if this was some kind of competition. It’s no wonder that out of the 600,000 French Jews, 7,000 left France to live in Israel with another 50,000 having made inquiries as to how to make aliya (immigrating to Israel). That number is staggering when you think about it. 50,000 people are willing to uproot their lives in France to get out and head for Israel, a place they see as safer for Jews. And they’re not alone.
The Anti Defamation League claims that of those surveyed in 100 countries between July 2013 and February 2014, 26% indicated anti-semitic leanings. (Their findings can be found at ADL Global 100). And while they are the leading research group on Anti-Semitism, their conflation of numbers (listing more than 1 Billion people being extrapolated as Anti-Semetic based on their small sample survey? Er, not sure I’m behind THAT) makes me suspect to take their word for it. So how about this FBI chart that tracked anti-Semitic attacks from 2002-2012 (source: BBC). They indicate that in certain places, attacks are in the thousands while elsewhere (Sweden) we’re talking lower numbers every year.
Still, thousands of attacks? Can’t really wrap your head around it? Neither could I. I grew up and live in New York, where being Jewish is sort of a badge of pride. Everyone knows New York is the largest enclave of Jews living anywhere outside of Israel. And even in New York I’ve run across people who were anti-Semitic. You run into preachers on the subway, jerks on the street, and even folks at your college who want to tell you to convert, who want to tell you that you need saving, that you have no soul, that they’d beat you to death if they could. I’ve run afoul of each one of those anti-Semitic asshole examples myself. But I’ve never been on the receiving end of a beating, a stabbing, a bullet. I’m lucky. Other people, elsewhere in the world, are not. Now thousands of Jews are considering fleeing their home country to go to Israel, a place rife with political strife, because in the end it’s better there where Jews are accepted than in a place where you wonder if you’re going to get knifed-
Oh wait. People get knifed in Israel for being Jews all the time. Or blown up. Or shot.
Hang on, and that happens in the US too.
Attacks in the past year have been reported in Belgium, Russia, Canada, the United States, England, and Germany to name just a few. In other countries, community centers and synagogues have been attacked or shot at, and individuals have been harassed with nazi graffiti and slurs. It seems it’s not a great time to be Jewish anywhere. But then honestly, when has that NOT been the case.
I grew up an Orthodox Jewish girl and then woman in a religious household. My family was rife on my mother’s side with people who fled the Holocaust, and the ghosts of those who did not escape the genocide of Europe followed them to Brooklyn. There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t aware that my grandmother’s family had lost so many, that she herself escaped Auschwitz to marry my grandfather, who had lost two children and a wife to the gas chambers. My grandmother would not speak of the Holocaust to me much until the end of her life, even though she practically raised me after school while my parents both worked. I grew up in her house not knowing why she’d hide money away everywhere, or why she convinced me that it was important that I stay in good health. I one day plucked up all my courage to ask. She looked at me with this haunted, serious face and said, “Because you never know when you’re going to have to run.” When she passed away, there were hundreds of dollars in rolled up bills found all over the house. She was ready, in case someone came for her again.
Sounds paranoid, right? But does it sound any more paranoid then thinking you’ll go shopping in your neighborhood grocery store and have a man bust in with a gun to shoot you dead for being a Jew? It’s scary to think what the mindset of Jews must be like living under that kind of threat. In New York, you might get spat at every once in a while, called a kike, or a dirty Jew, but at least you’re usually safe. Right?
Y’know, until someone busts into your synagogue where you’re minding your own business and stabs you while you’re just trying to study Torah. That happened in Brooklyn, at 770 Eastern Parkway, the seat of Chabad-Lubavitch Judiasm around the world. If you’re not familiar with the Chabad organization or the Lubavitch sect, I’ll just say that they’re all about helping people out and celebrating God in joy and happiness. No joke. They’re a religious sect who are all about helping Jews by opening up kosher kitchens and accommodations around the world so that Jews can have food and housing along their travels. They’re fucking harmless.
Dude walked in and tried to stab ’em to death, tossing around anti-Semitic slurs. Cops shot that guy dead.
But hey, synagogues are going to attract the worst attacks. How about this one, at Temple University? Where there have been reports of anti-semitic issues for ages, and a kid was attacked. I got a few more but I think you’re getting my point.
Can I ask a simple question?
What the HELL is going on here?
The world has been rough on everyone for the last few years. We look around and for every victory, there seems to be another hardship, another war, another economic depression, no jobs, no upturn, and less hope than there ever was. And yet so many spend their time fighting for safer spaces, safer words, more equality, better times ahead. So I wonder now: when do our better times begin? When can Jews stop being afraid? Will we only be safe when we’ve hidden away our Judaism, made ourselves the same as everyone else, homogenized into popular culture so as to be inoffensive, indistinguishable? Will Jews then be safe from hatred lurking out there?
Hate to tell you. It ain’t lurking. It’s out there for all the world to see.
It sounds paranoid. People say “anti-Semitism isn’t still a problem, you’re making a big deal out of nothing.” But only one look at the statistics, at the events going on around the world, and you can tell that it is ignorance to minimize the affect anti-semitism has had on Jews the world over. And just because it’s not comfortable to talk about hatred against Jews doesn’t mean that it’s going away. Just the opposite in fact. Just because it’s not politic to talk about anti-Semitism at cocktail parties doesn’t mean it’s going to go away by itself.
My grandmother used to tell me that nothing would change in this world for Jews. That Israel was the only place where Jews would be able to live in safety. Of course we know that the situation there is complex, that safety there is not assured for Jews at all and never has been. But I used to tell my grandmother that I didn’t believe that the world was such a dangerous place for Jews. I believed that as we got older, we would strive as a world to combat the bigotries and hatreds we had to build a future where we could all be safe. And she’d look at me with that same haunted, dark look that said she knew better. I never wanted to believe her. I still don’t entirely believe her. And yet. And yet. Let’s look at the last few years and say, ‘and yet.’
The politics of Israel have been sited as a reason for the rise in anti-Semitism around the world. Driven by the rage at what has happened to the people of Gaza and the West Bank, rallies around the world have spoken up for the Palestinian cause and in solidarity for the civilians whose lives have been so horribly harmed by the violence in Israel. Yet often those very discussions are couched in language that holds anti-Semitism side by side with Palestinian freedom, that blames Jews overall for what has happened and not a political regime in Israel in an unbelievably complex situation. It’s unfathomable to me how people could blame all Jews the world over for the actions of a political party in command of a country where most of us do not live, whether we support Israel or no. It boggles me how we can all be tossed in the same pot, ready to be boiled alive by the hate flowing around in the name of people who have been maimed and hurt and disenfranchised. People marry the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the identity of Jews everywhere and, in doing so, erase all nuance to the conversation and link anti-Semitic hatred to the battle for national identity for two warring groups.
Jews are not combatants. We are people living our lives the world over, with as much right as anyone to our freedoms. We are not ‘Christ killers’ or people whose souls need to be saved. We are not second class or less than. We are not part of some ridiculous secret plan to control the dollar, or Hollywood, or the world economy. We are not the heart of your conspiracy theories or your political gripes. We’re people going to work, trying to create lives for ourselves.
We’re a guy going to the store on a Friday to get challah for the Sabbath. We are people who want to be able to say #JeSuisJuif and not be afraid for our lives, like our ancestors had to be in countless countries and countless eras.
I am a Jew. I say that proudly. And I watched my grandmother be afraid all her life that someone was going to come and kill her family. And suddenly, today, I don’t think it’s that paranoid after all. And how fucking sad is that?
UPDATE: The article was adjusted after more research into the ADL Global website survey indicated that the more than 1 Billion people number indicated on their page is an extrapolation based on their actual survey data. In other words, it’s not actual hard data and very misleading. The problem is bad enough, we don’t need to make it seem THAT much worse.