Jewish fear is American Neo-Nazis chanting “Blood and Soil” on American soil. In living memory, that chant (“Blut und Boden”), and the fascist ideology that birthed it, organized mass movements of German Nazis, and Polish, Lithuanian, Greek, and other European Christian collaborators to murder a third of our people. In living memory.
Jewish fear is googling “Blut und Boden” and knowing that some of the top hits will be contemporary calls for the extermination of my people. It is clicking on a Bustle article entitled, “What Does ‘Blood & Soil’ Mean? Charlottesville Protesters Heard This Disturbing Chant,” and not seeing the words “antisemitism” or “Jews” mentioned once. It is the Charlottesville police declining to defend Charlottesville’s synagogue from armed neo-Nazis.
Jewish fear is receiving death threats targeting me as a Jew who writes publicly. It is how terrifyingly common that is, all the more so for those who, unlike me, are multiply targeted for being female, gender-queer, and/or Jews of color.
Jewish fear is the casual ease with which people compare Trump’s America to Nazi Germany, without imagining those comparisons to be triggering to Jews, because they think antisemitism is over and unrelated to other systems of oppression. It is also Trump egging neo-Nazis on.
Jewish fear is not the same for every Jew. My own experience is shaped by being white, cis-male, traditionally observant, and of Ashkenazi heritage. Some of us descend from generations of Jews who have suffered from long centuries of European Christian violence; some of us descend from generations of Jews who for centuries on end received comparatively better treatment from their North African or Middle Eastern Muslim neighbors and rulers, only to have those relationships shattered by European Christian colonialism and imported antisemitism; others of us may have non-Jewish ancestors of various heritages in the recent or distant past. Some Jews, like me, are light-skinned, with whiteness that largely protects us from American state violence; some are Jews of color, multiply targeted by the intersections of racism and antisemitism, and if they descend from Middle Eastern or North African countries, Anti-Arab racism and/or Islamophobia. Some Jews are increasingly afraid to walk the streets in Trump’s America if they are women, or visibly gender-or-sexuality queer.
Jewish fear is antisemitic conspiracy theories alive and well in 2017: Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanting “Jew will not replace us,” holding up signs about overthrowing the “Jewish media,” called to action by the Daily Stormer to “Unite the Right…[and] End Jewish Influence in America.” In America, where ruling-class, white Christian Henry Ford popularized the fraudulent antisemitic conspiracy theory book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an adapted version of which could still be found on Walmart’s shelves in 2004. In America, which used racist immigration quotas in 1939 to turn away the S.S. St. Louis and its 900 German (overwhelmingly Jewish) refugees, back to Europe and the Nazis, who used antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish wealth and control to justify their acts of genocide.
Jewish fear is all the well-meaning and ill-meaning friends, coworkers, and acquaintances who talk about how Jews are good with money. It is the way that Jewish wealth gets highlighted as Jewish/Jewish poverty gets invisibilized, while the overwhelming Christianity of the ruling class in this country goes unmarked. It is Jews structurally set up to be urban landlords to working-class tenants people of color, with all of the on-the-surface exploitation that entails; while white Christians ruling class members own the luxury towers, the banks, the suburbs, whose operation runs smoothly and goes unmarked as exploitative.
Jewish fear is if we bring up our struggle to non-Jewish comrades, we will be gaslighted and shamed into silence, because structural antisemitism functions by portraying us as conspiratorially, greedily powerful despite our repeated vulnerability to structural, white Christian male violence.
Jewish fear is I ask a dear friend of mine, a white man of Christian heritage, to learn about antisemitism, and he ignores me; I ask him a second time, and he evades; I ask him a third time, pained and confused, and our relationship badly falters. (He later apologizes, reads up, and reopens the conversation, for which I am sincerely grateful.)
Jewish fear is time and again when white Christian male violence has come for us, we have stood alone.
Jewish fear is we are still alone.
Jewish love is we are never alone.
Jewish love is we have others, too. We live in an unprecedented time of possibility for close connection between Jews and non-Jews.
Jewish love is that Hashem chose us with love (הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה). Jewish love is connecting those words to my heart, spirit, and flesh with the utterance of my lips and with my tefillin.
Jewish love is our foremothers/aunties composing tkhines and other prayers to say in times of joy and plenty as well as prayers to say in times of fear and hardship, as well as love songs, and play songs, and songs of loss, and songs to pass the time. They bequeathed them to us in Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish, Hebrew, and other Jewish languages. Jewish love is learning those languages so we can honor their gift and resilience.
Jewish love is the unshakable dignity with which my my severely disabled brother is treated by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization which cares for him. They have inherited a worldview from their ancestors that recognizes that my brother’s innate worth does not depend on his ability to produce.
Jewish love is true ahavas yisroel, building an accessible, beloved Jewish community that centers the experiences and leadership of Jews of color, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews, and honor our diverse array of diasporic Jewish traditions, which are resources and options for Jewish life today.
Jewish solidarity is solidarity of non-Jews to Jewish people.
Jewish solidarity is also solidarity of Jews to other targeted peoples.
Jewish solidarity is non-Jews checking in with the Jewish people in their lives right now to see how they’re doing, to see if they can provide some harm reduction by offering to lend an ear, bring over some homemade soup, or take a shift at work. It is also white Jews checking in with the people of color, Jewish and non-Jewish, in their lives to offer the same.
Jewish solidarity is white Jews organizing our communities to support Black, Brown, and Indigenous-led organizing, recognizing that this country was founded on and continues to organize itself around anti-Blackness and indigenous genocide.
Jewish solidarity is Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) in NYC showing up effectively for decades in feminist, anti-racist, anti-Islamophobic coalitions, building long-term relationships with sister organizations led by people of color, immigrants, and Muslims; and those organizations now stepping up with JFREJ’s guidance to study and resist antisemitism.
Jewish solidarity is Jewish rabbis and rabbinical students laying their bodies on the line and “Standing Against White Supremacy in Charlottesville.”
Jewish solidarity is naming the way that contemporary American neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and KKK feature a range of antisemitic language and behaviors that draw directly from German WWII Nazi ideology and goals, while also moving carefully because articulating this connection is terrifying and triggering to many American Jews. It’s acknowledging that Jews are responding to this difficult balance in a variety of ways.
Jewish solidarity is the Jewish self-defense clubs that Jews formed in Poland to protect our communities from fascists and the police who actively abetted them. It is German Christian accomplices like the White Rose who resisted the Nazi regime. It is Goodman and Schwerner going down South with Cheney to break Jim Crow.
Jewish solidarity is naming the ways patriarchy underpins anti-Jewish violence and all other forms of structural violence, and committing to feminist transformations of our communities.
Jewish solidarity is solidarity for Palestine that follows the lead of Palestinian civil rights leaders and includes Jews in our vision of collective liberation. It actively resists Christian Western imperialism and structural antisemitism. It centers the voices of Palestinians and Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews.
Jewish solidarity is non-Jewish organizers of the March for Racial Justice scheduling their action for the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre, learning that they had excluded many Jews because this date falls on Yom Kippur this year, and modeling open-hearted, creative accountability in response. It is non-Black Jews learning about the history of anti-Black violence in this country, including the Elaine Massacre.
Jewish solidarity is non-Jews taking responsibility for educating and organizing their people. It’s anti-racist community organizing that studies antisemitism and Christian hegemony and integrates that analysis into all of our people’s movements. The more our movements do that, the more we will effectively resist systems of white supremacy and capitalism, which are interdependent with structural antisemitism.
Jewish solidarity is part of collective liberation.
Acknowledgment: I extend my heartfelt thanks to Nadav David, Elana Baurer, Jessica Rosenberg, Rebecca Ennen, Helen Bennett, and other dear comrades who encouraged me and helped shape this piece.
JFREJ invites you to a pre-Shabbat/Shabbes online space for community, learning, and reflection: on Friday, August 18th at 12 pm Eastern. Register HERE for our Virtual Lunch Conversation on “Anti-Semitism, White Supremacy, & Confronting the Far Right.”
- “We Need To Talk About The Anti-Semitism At The Charlottesville Protest” by Lily Herman
- “White Supremacy Is Bad for the Jews. Let’s Be Bad for White Supremacy.” by Julie Margulies
- “Skin In The Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism” by Eric K. Ward
- “White Jews Left the Movement for Racial Justice. But It’s Not Too Late to Return” by Leo Ferguson
- “Alt-Right Antisemitism is Structural — Here’s Where It Comes From” by Jonah S. Boyarin
- “Statement Regarding Yom Kippur” by The March for Racial Justice
- “Things you can do re: Charlottesville” [crowd-sourced Google Doc]
- “the past didn’t go anywhere: making resistance to antisemitism part of all of our movements”, zine by April Rosenblum
- “Understanding Alt-Right Antisemitism”, by Ben Lorber