The tolerance of intolerance

The Jewish people must focus on remaining Jews despite the antisemites on campus and in the streets.

Anti-Israel extremists set up a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
Anti-Israel extremists set up a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 22, 2024. Credit: Lev Radin/Shutterstock
Rabbi David Fox. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Dr. David Fox
Rabbi Dr. David Fox, a forensic and clinical psychologist, is the director of Chai Lifeline’s Crisis Services.

As campuses roil with activists on the offense, with commencement ceremonies canceled or pockmarked with confrontational jeering, disruptions and chaos; as protests become militant on the streets; Jews everywhere are being herded into a single big Zionist boxcar.

The diatribes and chants of protesters do not differentiate Israeli from Semite. There are boycotts and booing of Jewish speakers at commencement addresses. Ceremonies are disrupted by calls for divestment and destruction, as well as threats of annihilation impugning the Jews’ right to exist regardless of their proximity to or involvement with the State of Israel.

Listening to the voices and reading the placards of this occupation of college quads and halls, town squares and public places; watching the dismay and letdown of graduates unwelcome and unsafe at their erstwhile celebration, and commuters and pedestrians blocked by throngs of activists and their tagalongs, the message being sent is painfully clear: Get rid of the Jewish people. It’s not just about Israel.

In working with persons who are targeted and victimized, we often demarcate a crisis from a trauma by noting that a crisis is any event that catches one off-guard, while trauma is when the victim has never before encountered such an event and thus has no immediate tools for coping or adapting.

This is why trauma, more than crisis, damages deeply. For individual students and their families who have never faced discrimination or persecution, the campus frenzy is trauma.

Until now, the majority of students who claim Judaism as their faith and identity have been spared, in their lifetimes, the confrontations and threats associated with Jew-hatred. This new and abrupt trauma is impactful and does deep damage to students’ sense of safety and self.

The rapid souring of school spirit and subverting graduations from a rite of passage into a veritable trial by fire has demolished for many the illusion of melting-pot pluralism and cultural fairness on our campuses.

This is personal trauma for Jewish individuals, perhaps unparalleled in earlier times in our United States. However, for the Jewish people as a whole, it is nothing new. It is a familiar enough crisis, harkening back to the collective consciousness or tribal memory of past pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, massacres, libels, crematoria and the 20th century’s near annihilation of a race and religion as much of the world looked away.

In that sense, the campus strife is a crisis but not a pure trauma for the Jews of history. It is a crisis because such efforts to assassinate the character of an entire religion and culture have happened in the past.

Students suddenly feeling unprotected and unwanted in many universities, thanks to the louder voices and belligerent tactics of those who hate, will be contemplating their next move. In a crisis, the brain characteristically veers in one of five directions: Some feel fright. Some flee. Some freeze. Some fight. Some fawn or try to make nice with the enemy.

Today, many are in fear. Some do plan to flee and are even registering at safer schools. Some have become stricken with panic, frozen. Some are standing up to the oppression, although mercilessly outnumbered and outshouted. Some attempt to appease those joining in the protests, upholding the protesters’ right to freedom of expression and deploring any affront to the civil rights of the mobs.

While these all begin as reactions to trauma, are they solutions or mere defense mechanisms?

Despite the neurophysiological truth that there is that set of five response variations that people experience in reacting to trauma, there may be one other path to consider. For the sake of style, I will add another “f” to fright, flight, freeze, fight and fawn.

Let’s look at focus. Focus on the statistics. Israelis are a resilient people. They are a blend of individuals hailing from diverse backgrounds who have cultivated a wholesome society while facing massive adversity and existential threats. The rise in mental health conditions there since Oct. 7 is very significant and projected to linger for years to come. The murderous incursion into Israeli villages and towns was unprecedented in its grotesque brutality and enduring aftershocks. Israelis, no strangers to crisis, experience trauma too.

Diaspora Jews are also reeling from Oct. 7. Whether one feels an affinity to Israel as a homeland or is unaffiliated with the land but branded “Israeli by Association” because of a Judenrein charter, world Jewry is very focused on tending to the rising needs of its people who are under attack both from those who use violence and terrorism, and those who dehumanize Jews through hate and invective.

Jews need to focus on their history of survival through their faith and devotion to the Torah, and the well-established very Jewish virtues that have made us undeniable champions of freedom and justice. We must focus on our values that promote healthcare, charity, altruism and being a light unto the nations throughout the world, even when some of those nations are trying to extinguish that light.

Jewish students will continue to value and attain education and still contribute greatly to the world’s wisdom and knowledge, undeterred by those whose abuse of students is manipulative, exploitative and deleterious to the wholesome goals of worthy institutions. 

What is the world focused on at this time of mayhem and the submerging of reason? Apparently, each group projects whatever supports its agenda or has simply lost focus.

The Jewish people must focus on remaining Jews. Our unity, kinship and dedication to our religion and our faith traditions are our coping tools. And coping will remain our focus.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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