This month alone, Nick Cannon has loudly spread abhorrent anti-Semitic stereotypes, rapper Wiley has posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, there’s been a graffiti attack on Jewish businesses in Ohio, swastikas have been painted on synagogues in Florida, and fast fashion brand Shein has tried to sell swastika necklaces. And that’s only from a quick Google search.
The response has been pretty much the same: a swift condemnation from a small portion of the public and then everyone moves on. It’s a brief moment that is quickly forgotten.
I can see it in the way that people write about anti-Semitism (or rather, don’t write about it). Anti-Semitism doesn’t pose a true threat in your mind. It’s words, nothing more.
In school, you were taught about the Holocaust and the six million nameless, faceless Jews who were murdered. Maybe you even read Anne Frank’s Diary for class. Such a long time ago that was, wasn’t it? And in such a far away place, nonetheless.
Today, you see the success that Jews have enjoyed in America. You see Steven Spielberg, Michael Bloomberg, Adam Sandler, and Mark Zuckerberg. They’re easily raking in millions. How much trouble could Jews really be in?
But most American Jews live with a dual understanding of reality. We’re taught about the thousands of years of persecution we’ve had to endure just to get to this point in time. We’re well aware that we were the scapegoats of the Bubonic plague in the 14th century, that we were burned alive on the belief that we were using the blood of Christian boys to make our Matzoh starting in the 11th century, and that our villages were regularly destroyed in pogroms in Russia in the 19th century. We quite literally eat the bitter tears of our ancestors every year on Passover to remember the Jewish slaves in Egypt, and there’s always that small nugget of knowing that another Holocaust could happen again gnawing at the back of our minds.
We can never let ourselves forget. Because we know what happens when we do. We know what happens when we let our guards down. The persecution of Jews happens like clockwork — repeatedly and reliably. We know how precarious our position is in this world, how temporary our success is.
Jews make up just 0.2% of the world population. Anti-Semites love to spread the conspiracy theory that Jews run the world — that we run Hollywood, the banks, the media, everything. Wouldn’t that be an impressive feat for not even a full percentage of the population?
I know there are a lot of things going on in the world, not the least of which is the incredibly important Black Lives Matter movement, which seems to finally be getting a fraction of the attention it deserves. It’s the main reason why I put off writing this article — I couldn’t risk taking away any attention from the horrible systematic racism that this country was built on. I know how small our attention spans are.
But I see people like Nick Cannon, Wiley, and more saying these vile things. And I can’t stay silent just because you think their words won’t, and don’t, have consequences.
Words lead to actions. And they already have. Physical attacks on Jews happen all the time — on the street, on the bus, in our place of worship. In 2019 alone, there were 2,100 hate crimes against Jews in America that included incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism. This accounts for a 56% increase in physical assaults against Jews over the previous year, an all-time high since the ADL started tracking the data in 1979.
Many Jews will never truly feel safe in our place in this country. We will always look over our shoulders, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I don’t know what the future holds for Jews in America. But I know the present doesn’t always feel so great. So, I simply ask that you try to open your eyes to the constant pattern of anti-Semitism in this country. Maybe then, you’ll see what’s been here all along.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, and Tiger Beat. Her favorite Housewife is Bethenny Frankel and when she’s not watching RHONY, you can probably find her obsessing over her tuxedo cat Tom or hoarding drugstore lipsticks.