I got a whiff of it as soon as I got to Europe—the anti-Semitism that is still so prevalent throughout the continent. It takes the form of swastikas graffitied along my daily walk to class. It takes the form of students at bars or pubs abruptly ending conversation upon learning of my religion. It takes the form of having to think twice about traveling to certain countries because of my dark hair and brown eyes.
While these experiences have been undeniably disturbing and disheartening, they also are the least bit surprising. I was well aware of the persistence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe prior to traveling overseas. Like a foul stench, anti-Semitism has crept its way into twenty-first century France, while still lingering throughout parts of Germany. Other parts of the continent are not immune, either. For the most part I have viewed these incidents as a European symptom—something that would not follow me back to the States. Not anymore.
The events of this past week have fortified what many American Jews have already long recognized—the winds of anti-Semitism have infiltrated our own nation.
Over the course of the past few years, America has seen anti-Semitism rear its head in the ugliest of ways. The chants of “the Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville still ring, left unanswered by a President whose response was to embolden rather than to condemn. The now notorious “good people on both sides” line, offered up by the supposed leader of the free world, is perhaps the highest profile item on the laundry list of anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred under the current administration’s watch.
A study released in February by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that anti-Semitic incidents surged 57 percent in 2017. This number represents the largest single year increase on record since the ADL began tracking data in the 1970s. These incidents, understandably, do not obtain the same media coverage as Charlottesville. However, the rising reports of anti-Semitism can be seen in bomb threats, vandalized cemeteries and cases of public harassment occurring across the country. Like gusts of wind, these incidents accumulate. This past week, the head winds converged with full force upon the city of Pittsburgh.
To many, it is unfathomable that the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States could occur today. And yet, in so many ways, the massacre in Pittsburgh was both as shocking and it was foreseeable.
Anti-Semitic sentiments have been bubbling on the surface for far too long. When those in positions of power and influence fail to condemn these sentiments in the strongest possible terms, it is nothing short of an implicit endorsement. In explaining the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in 2017, ADL CEO JonathanGreenblatt emphasized that these incidents coincided with the “rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.” As bigoted individuals continue to be emboldened, the stench of anti-Semitism in America doesn’t just linger—it grows exponentially.
It is hard to view the massacre in Pittsburgh as anything but the horrifying culmination of a much larger symptom. It is past time that we identify anti-Semitism in America as what it truly is—a growing national emergency, no longer existing solely at the fringe. If it was not apparent before, let us learn from Pittsburgh: anti-Semitism is alive, potently hanging in the air of which we all breathe. We must unite against the contaminants.
May the memory of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger be a blessing. May we fight to stamp out the winds of anti-Semitism in their names.
Contact Eli Cousin at [email protected]