While antisemitism is at record levels in 2023, it’s nothing new for the American Jewish community.
I am 37 years old and want to take you on a trip down memory lane to share parts of my childhood when I experienced antisemitism.
In many ways, I and other American Jews grew up with it on a daily basis. Fast forward to 2023 and we continue to see it every day, from the growth of the antisemitic group the Goyim Defense League to the halls of Congress, where members traffic in antisemitism on a regular basis.
Let’s start when I was a young boy. When I was around seven or eight years old, I started attending Hebrew school at Temple Emanuel. My shul was located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey—a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—a town of 70,000 people. I would venture to guess that at least 50-70% of the town was Jewish.
In addition to my public schooling from Monday to Friday, I attended Hebrew school twice a week and over the weekend as well.
The fixtures I distinctly remember during my time at Hebrew school were a sense of community, an American and Israeli flag in every classroom, starting every class by singing the U.S. national anthem and the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah,” frozen apple juice and pretzel rods for snacks and learning about the Torah, Judaism and the history of the Jewish people.
In addition to all those positive memories, I also recall that there was always a Cherry Hill police car parked outside of our building and an officer inside the shul. Over the years, we had many “false alarms” in which our shul had to go into lockdown after receiving bomb threats. From a security perspective, during our high holiday services for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, when the entire membership of our shul would come together—some 400 families—our shul felt more like the White House than anything else.
Returning to present times, just last month, on June 19, the FBI thwarted another attack on a synagogue in East Lansing, Mich.
In my early teenage years, I had the honor of being part of the Cherry Hill Katz JCC delegation to the Maccabi Games. I was the third baseman for our baseball team. We played other delegations from around the country such as Houston, New York and Miami.
For those who don’t know, the JCC Maccabi Youth Games is an Olympic-style event held annually for Jewish youth between the ages of 13-16. The games were first held in 1982 in Memphis, Tennessee, sponsored by the Memphis Jewish Community Center. More than 120,000 athletes have participated worldwide.
The Maccabi Games’ aim is to foster Jewish identity while developing national interest in Olympic sport through the Jewish Community Center’s affiliation with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
I recall enormous security at the games, but none more than during our opening ceremonies in Cherry Hill. In this predominantly Jewish town, there were helicopter gunships circling us at all times, local police and FBI vehicles everywhere and snipers on the roofs.
There we were, a bunch of 13-16-year-olds having a good time with our fellow Jews and we see snipers and flashing police lights everywhere. I even remember seeing snipers on the roof during our baseball games.
I would go on to play in similar Maccabi Games as a 14, 15 and 16-year-old representing the Cherry Hill delegation in Florida, Virginia and Montreal. I experienced an abundant amount of Jewish pride, comradery and community—and armed guards everywhere.
The truth is, we grew up with armed security present anytime we gathered in our shuls or mass events.
Antisemitism is rightly referred to as the world’s oldest hatred. While I’ve experienced antisemitism throughout my entire life, the Jewish people have been facing it for centuries all over the world. We’ve survived pogroms, deportations and the Holocaust. We are still here and we aren’t going anywhere.
I don’t profess to have all the answers to fix the situation that has followed our people for centuries, but I will suggest that we as Jews must have more Jewish pride and do more to support each other.
We must not allow politics to divide us. That might sound interesting coming from me, who is very political, but I have always championed the idea that Jews should work together to support our faith, Israel and Zionism regardless of our political inclinations.
I also recognize that this might be a pipe dream, because many Jews who identify as progressives are far more interested in championing non-Jewish issues and could care less about being Jewish and supporting Israel. Sorry if that offends people, but it’s the truth.
Groups such as J Street who represent Jewish progressives like to pretend that they support Zionism and Israel, but their CEO kisses the ring and cheek of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has the blood of Jews on his hands. J Street routinely partners with groups that support the BDS movement.
So, while hatred of American Jews is nothing new to us, it has now become mainstream. The Jewish community must start playing offense and leading with Jewish pride. We can no longer play defense and sing “Kumbaya” with those who seek to destroy the world’s only Jewish state.