Last summer, I traveled through Europe with a group of classmates.
While at dinner one night, my classmate — a devout Christian woman — began asking me questions about my boyfriend, who is Jewish.
When I said this, my classmate automatically voiced concern — because, according to her, my boyfriend would go to hell one day if he did not turn his life over to Jesus Christ.
My immediate reaction was dismay. How does one react to being told something like that?
As unnecessary as I may have found her comment at the time, it was nothing compared to the deliberate, anti-Semitic shift that has occurred in the U.S. in recent years.
Last Wednesday, for instance, a Columbia University professor was greeted by two swastikas outside her office door. Only a day later, two swastikas were spray-painted across black history murals along Crenshaw Avenue in Los Angeles. The symbol was also recently been sprayed on Goucher College’s Maryland campus.
The Anti-Defamation League reported 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 — a 57 percent increase from the year before.
The sad truth is the commonality of anti-Semites in the U.S. and around the world. At one point, an estimated 1.09 billion people harbored anti-Semitic thoughts, according to 2014 data from the ADL.
Why, in 2018, does this continue to be such a large problem?
For one, many people do not have a clue about Jewish history. More than half of those surveyed had never heard of the Holocaust; out of those who did, two in three people did not believe historical accounts of the tragedy, according to ADL polling data.
But how often do you hear people referring to anti-Semitism as a “problem”? Or offering to create a safe space for Jews, as is offered to other minority groups?
Today’s society is complex. On one hand, there has been a rise in progressive Democrats who are intent on encouraging tolerance across the country. At the same time, however, passionate groups of white supremacists have pushed for the exact opposite.
And while white supremacists have placed a target on their backs, the support Jews have needed from the rest of the U.S. has been largely absent.
For example, Twitter did not shut down an account belonging to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter in which he said he would not allow the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to “bring invaders” into the U.S. or “watch our people get slaughtered,” according to a column in The Washington Post. This behavior alone points to a lack of knowledge or care about the Jewish community.
A common trend in Americans is a prioritization of discrimination. “This” group or “that” group needs our attention. We must not tolerate THAT behavior.
Some who do not speak up do not have proper knowledge of the Jews’ centuries of mistreatment. But some of the people who condemn these acts — including Christians and Muslims — also look down upon Jews, albeit on a smaller scale, because of their own religious beliefs.
The behavior by my classmate last summer was not surprising then or now. Choosing to condemn Jews because of your religion, however, is breeding the very intolerance that white supremacists feed on.
Unless Americans begin to educate themselves on Judaism, harmful stereotypes and behavior, I do not find it far from the realm of possibility that another large-scale anti-Semitic act could one day occur in our own backyard.