Raising Our Voices Against Anti-Semitism
February 4, 2014
Dear Friends of The Fellowship,
Recently I received an urgent email from a rabbi who runs several Fellowship projects in Ukraine. As you likely know, Ukraine is teetering on the brink of chaos, with anti-government protestors rioting in the streets. Tragically, some of this violence has targeted Ukraine’s Jewish population. Ukrainian Jews have been beaten and stabbed on the way home from synagogue, prompting the rabbi who wrote me to increase security measures at the Fellowship-sponsored school buildings and center for the elderly.
This violence toward Jews would be disturbing enough if it was an isolated occurrence. But, tragically, these kinds of anti-Semitic attacks are happening all across Europe – not just in places where civil unrest has taken the lid off ages-old hatreds. It is sobering to see that, in a part of the world where just a little less than 70 years ago Jews were being slaughtered in concentration camps, what one writer called “the longest and deepest hatred of human history” is again gaining a foothold.
The evidence is too obvious to ignore: The quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute that originated in France, has been gaining popularity throughout Europe. The leader of a rising political party in Hungary has made public comments against his country’s Jews. In Warsaw, Poland, 44 percent of high school students polled said they would not like to have a Jewish neighbour. In Rome, a pig’s head was sent to the main synagogue, and similar packages were addressed to the Israeli embassy in Rome and a museum in the city hosting an exhibit on the Holocaust.
These events have put Jews in Europe and the former Soviet Union on alert. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights recently released the results of a survey conducted in eight of the major European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and Great Britain. Of those surveyed, 23 percent don’t attend Jewish institutions or events for fear they will be attacked en route, 38 percent don’t wear distinctly Jewish symbols such as a Star of David or a kippah due to fear of discrimination or hate, and 66 percent view anti-Semitism as a problem that constantly and significantly affects their lives.
I have heard far too many stories from people The Fellowship has helped make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) who say they are leaving their country of origin not just for their spiritual connection to their biblical homeland, but also to escape the anti-Semitic slurs they regularly heard from neighbours, coworkers, or classmates. We are grateful to relocate these people to Israel, where they can finally live freely and openly as Jews. But until this kind of freedom is a reality for all Jews wherever they may live, we also must continue to raise our voice against anti-Semitism in its many forms.
The writer Walter Russell Mead recently observed, while commenting on the precarious situation in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East after the “Arab Spring”: “Rabid anti-Semitism coupled with an addiction to implausible conspiracy theories is a very strong predictor of national doom; Nazi Germany isn’t the only country to have followed these dark stars to the graveyard of history.” He is right; anti-Semitism is a poison that destroys everything it touches. It threatens not just Jews, but entire societies. My friends, let us pray that this disturbing rise of anti-Semitism will quickly, and finally, subside, and let us recommit ourselves, both in our personal and public lives, to confronting this insidious hatred wherever and whenever it occurs.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Canada