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rabbi kahn's guest editorial on remaining vigilent in the face of anti-semitism 

08/19/2020 02:56:12 PM


Rabbi Samantha Kahn

We had been driving for hours when I found a mix CD a friend had made me nearly two decades ago. Amused, we started listening, and my husband and I laughed and reminisced with each song. That is, until my husband suddenly skipped a song.

“We can’t listen to Ice Cube anymore,” he declared.

Like many Jewish Americans of my general age and stage, I’ve been confounded by the surging use and defense of anti-Semitism by musicians, athletes, and actors. As a rabbi, I’ve studied, taught, and preached about anti-Semitism. I’ve been known to quote Deborah Lipstadt’s metaphor, accepting anti-Semitism as a virus that can never be truly eradicated. Once someone is infected the virus is always there, lying beneath the surface, dormant, waiting to cause an outbreak.

I blamed the spread of this virus on a lack of education and exposure. While I understood it might never disappear completely, I longed for a vaccine to this particular virus, believing that with the right precautions we could flatten the curve in America. I relegated it to a disease of idiots and extremists, never considering there were rational or educated people purposefully infecting one another.

That recently changed.

A few weeks ago our congregation and another local congregation were both vandalized with disturbing anti-Semitic images and accusations. Our congregation is still dealing with a lot of fear, but I believe we can’t be paralyzed by one sick individual. Rather, we must continue to reach out to others, have important conversations, learn how to be their allies, and teach them how to be ours. So many in our community are now worried and wondering about the seeming outbreak we are facing — hoping we have seen the worst of it, but fearful this is just the beginning.

I decided I would include in a recent sermon the idea that real conversation can be a good antidote to ignorance, and lift up the comedian Nick Cannon, who apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks. I watched Cannon’s full interview with Rabbi Abraham Cooper. Then YouTube immediately began to play the video of his original interview with Professor Griff of Public Enemy. It was like driving by a car accident on the side of the road — I wanted to look away but I couldn’t.

I listened to them discuss and reference “facts” and “truths” that were ridiculous conspiracy theories. They portrayed the Jew as a perpetrator of inexplicable horrors with a secret ultimate plan of trying to eradicate “melanated people” out of fear for our own survival. What?! 

How could they believe this nonsense to be true in any way? How can you demonize a group and not realize your words are the hateful and problematic ones? How could any person of faith, especially one who claims that their mission is to spread love, promulgate theories that diminish the value of any person?

While the Jewish community has become scapegoats for outlandish things throughout history, I truly believed it was limited in modern America. I felt that educated people no longer believed such ridiculous conspiracy theories, and people who speak about love and justice wouldn’t allow hate and blame to be perpetrated against others.

I was wrong.

Intellectually, I know there exists hatred and bigotry towards our Jewish community from the far left, from the far right and from jihadists. Though it’s easier to point out when your political enemy is anti-Semitic than when your friend is, we as Jews are fully aware that we need to call out all forms of anti-Semitism simultaneously. We all need to realize that this virus is continuing to spread rapidly in our times. This doesn’t mean we need to live in fear, but it does mean we are no longer able to ignore that it is on the rise.

If we want to contain and limit the current and coming flare-ups, we need to do something. We need to stop believing our own mythology that this can’t happen in America. We need to realize we’re not living in a place where anti-Semitism has stopped, but rather where it has been slowed and temporarily hidden. We need to face the reality that truth and time are not a vaccine.

While we shouldn’t let fear overrun us and allow us to start viewing every individual we meet as a potential carrier of the virus, we must continue to search for a real vaccine — maybe even multiple vaccines, one for each unique strand of this virus. I don’t know what magic formula will be able to make a dent, to stop the spread, to rehabilitate the infected.

All I know is that we must continue to actively search for something that can help, even if we know we will never find a complete cure.

Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on August 20, 2020. 


Wed, December 8 2021 4 Tevet 5782