Judaism - Torah

Antisemitism is not one thing

Friends, casual Facebook acquaintances, rabbis I trust, journalists I trust, journalists I trust less… it seems that everyone in my orbit (or, more accurately, everyone in whose orbit I am) has something heartfelt or smart or critical to say about the abominable scourge of violent antisemitic attacks that is beating down on us.

Which is really to say that, at least from my perspective, it’s not actually everyone, since said orbit is mostly Jewish. And it’s not actually everyone, since we are also growing weary at how this news frequently falls on ears not willing to listen.

A month ago, after Sixth & I was hit by a swastika daubing, we wrote that at least we don’t have to worry about silence anymore in the wake of these attacks. But after this past month, I’m not so sure that’s the silver lining to look for. And I’m not so sure it’s actually true.

It’s true, there are articles in the New York Times and The Washington Post. It’s true that there are message of deeply felt sympathy and support. So it’s not that there’s a technical silence that follows these attacks. But it seems to me that much of the noise we’re hearing seems to be more talking at (or reporting on) the problem, than talking about ending it. Or listening directly to the voices of those being hit again and again.

Who are the actual voices we should be listening to in this bitter conversation that none of us even asked or wanted to be having in the first place?

  • Is it the mainstream media news reports?
  • Is it the Jewish chattering class?
  • Is it the blogosphere?
  • Is it the Twitter-verse? (God forbid)

I’m wondering, because  those trusted and smart friends and rabbis and journalists – they all already seem to have this figured out. They have captured the fear, sadness, terror, and pain of this moment in their articulate words – using letters and mental-capacity they certainly would surely have preferred to devote to topics less macabre.

I’m reading most of this commentary from ground-zero in New York City, where I’m in the midst of attending a four-night run of Phish concerts. Which is to say that it can be disorienting to be in the middle of listening to a lengthy jam, when all of a sudden a reminder of what’s going on slips into your mind and you have to ask yourself: “is it okay that I’m just grooving here in Madison Square Garden, while mere minutes away in Brooklyn, people wonder if it’s safe to walk the streets of their neighbourhoods?” News of the machete-attack in Monsey reached me right before the encore of a blistering first-night. My mind raced back and forth: “Is it okay that I’m revelling at a concert, while others are quite literally cowering in fear?”

So what I can offer is only this, from my own perspective at this very specific moment in time and space. Please forgive the digression into a (not-so) separate conversation:

Many people (some of those same friends, rabbis, and journalists) write-off Phish as a bizarre, hippie, campy cult group. This write-off comes from the fact that Phish – musically speaking – are so hard to pin-down. We humans like simplicity. We like to be able to name and label things, so that we can better understand them. Phish – the music and their fans – are very hard to label. You think they’re one thing, but then they go and do something that’s not that singular thing (which invariably, and by-definition, happens at every single show). So you get disoriented and confused. Hence the stereotyping and playful hatred. But if you think that Phish is just one thing, you’re not paying attention.

Now while ignorance of Phish’s depth is an excusable and forgivable mistake, it strikes me this is the same kind of phenomenon that is happening right now in many of the responses to these antisemitic attacks. And that is a place where ignorance is not excusable.

  • If you think these attacks are just about the rise of white supremacy, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just about the other side of intersectionality, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of the left’s nurturing of and intransigence on antisemitism, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of the right’s nurturing of and intransigence on antisemitism, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of the current occupant of the White House, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of a lack of security, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of too much policing, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of mental illness, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of the media for not talking about antisemitism enough, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of the media for talking too much about and sensationalizing antisemitism, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of anti-Zionists, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks are just the fault of Zionists, you’re not paying attention.

And..

  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied with intellectual or academic discourse, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied with more inward-spirituality and focus on light and hope, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied with more security, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied with less policing, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied via intersectionality, you’re not paying attention.
  • If you think these attacks can just be remedied by hunkering down and building walls, you’re not paying attention.

Which is all to say…

Antisemitism is not one thing. It is a hydra. And like all hydras, we want to pin it down – confine it to one thing, to make it easier to understand and blame and kill.

But that act of reducing it actually makes it harder to eradicate.

So much of the writing and commentary in this moment is trying to fit this new (but really, same-old) antisemitism into a single narrative. Because that makes it easier to understand. It’s all Trump’s responsibility. It’s all Israel’s responsibility. It’s all the American Jewish Establishment’s responsibility.

This just misses the wider tapestry.

Antisemitism is not one thing.

I wish it wasn’t a thing at all, but while it is a thing, I want to remember that it’s more than one thing.

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