The America to Me series has prompted us to think about our own ignorance and unconscious racism. I’m writing in the hope that the recent incident at West Suburban Temple and the hateful graffiti at OPRF High School will motivate similar soul-searching regarding your own ignorance and anti-Semitism/Judaism. Such attitudes do exist here, along with the good intentions that prompted many of you to attend recent synagogue services in much-appreciated solidarity with us.
Ignorance and anti-Semitism here? Really? Consider the following examples involving gentile Oak Parkers:
Under a different village administration, Jewish employees couldn’t take time off for high holiday services without negative consequences. Important meetings were scheduled during Jewish high holidays as well. (I don’t know if this is still the case.)
Every year we receive lots of unthinkingly sent religious Christmas cards.
I’ve seen someone shudder in disgust when asked if she were Jewish and someone else make a face and complain that she had to celebrate a Jewish holiday.
Out of the blue, a Dooper looked at me and said: “Maybe you’re Jewish and maybe you’re not.”
As members of a racist society, we’ve absorbed racist attitudes. Racism is a much more serious problem than anti-Semitism/Judaism in the U.S., but it’s absorbed similarly. Was it part of your religious education? The New Testament and the Koran contain considerable anti-Jewish polemic (though there are also statements of respect for Jews and Judaism in both texts).
Is/was anti-Semitism part of your social landscape? For example, did family members belong to private clubs that excluded Jews?
Is implied anti-Semitism part of your liberal politics? We rightfully blame Trump for emboldening neo-Nazis to commit acts of violence like the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. But Jewish-Americans are also being attacked from the left. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli government can all too easily morph into anti-Semitism. That is apparently why Charles Daux threatened West Suburban Temple recently. He allegedly ranted about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before calling temple members murderers and screaming: “Your sons are going to die; I am going to kill your sons.” Has your advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians veered into anti-Semitism, emboldening Mr. Daux and others? Please ask yourself:
Do you condemn violent attacks against Palestinian civilians and ignore violent attacks on Israeli civilians?
Do you equate Zionism with racism? Zionism is a form of nationalism, supporting the existence of a Jewish state. Jews of all races live in Israel and world-wide.
Do you assume the Israeli government speaks for all Jews? Most Jewish-Americans are liberals who favor a two-state solution and oppose oppression of the Palestinian people.
Do you tend to see Jews as extremely powerful, wielding outsize influence over world events? Most of us aren’t especially wealthy or powerful. Hard work and education have enabled many of us to succeed, not some nefarious conspiracy. Most wealthy and powerful people are not Jewish.
Anti-Semitism/Judaism is like a herpes virus, relatively dormant for years before flaring up during periods of stress like this one. You can be part of the solution by confronting it in the world around you and in your own heart.
Judith Alexander has lived in Oak Park for decades. She treasures her relationships with both Jews and non-Jews.