Target of Hate
Jews know all about Jew hatred. They revisit it each year during the holidays.
There’s Purim - Haman’s thwarted plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the Book of Esther. Passover celebrates liberation from an Egyptian Pharaoh who hated Jews and made them slaves. Tisha B’av commemorates the Babylonians, followed centuries later by the Romans, who destroyed the first and then the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah celebrates the victory over a Syrian Greek tyrant who sought to wipe them out. Then there’s the Holocaust – not a holiday – but the ultimate Jew hatred and a genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime that succeeded in murdering nearly half of the Jewish nation.
Anti-Semitism is perhaps history’s oldest hatred. Jews for centuries were the target of pogroms – violent riots launched against Jewish villages usually at the urging of government authorities. Most countries forced the Jews to live apart from the rest of society, work menial jobs, and prohibited them from owning land.
Jews however are accustomed to this status. They even recite a joke at festive holiday meals: They hated us. They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!
Jewish humor is known for turning lament into laughter. As Mel Brooks put it, “If they’re laughing, how can they bludgeon us to death?”
It’s a form of relief. But the reality is no joke.
October 27, 2018 saw the deadliest assault on Jews in U.S. history. An admitted white supremacist gunned down eleven people and injured several more as they prayed in Temple on the Jewish Sabbath. This follows a 2017 Anti-Defamation League report citing a 57% increase in attacks on Jews in the U.S. Anti-Semitism is on the rise globally as well.
Jewish persecution may have subsided after the Holocaust - enabling Jews to make inroads, as well as substantial and unprecedented contributions, to societies around the world. But that hasn’t stopped the virus of anti-Semitism from re-engaging.
Allison Padilla-Goodman is the Southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). She says that anti-Semitism, throughout history, spikes during times of unrest and economic and social crisis. Political and social leaders use fear mongering and hatred during these times to enlist support. Padilla-Goodman blames social media for fanning the flames.
“This move toward a more hostile public discourse plays out in anti-Semitic acts,” says Padilla-Goodman. “When we see anti-Semitism kind of moving from the margins to the mainstream, we get really concerned. It’s been underground for so long, and now it’s kind of erupting.”
But there’s nothing new here. The Jews are hated, time and again. You can almost set your watch by it, and it’s irrational.
Communists blame them for capitalism; capitalists blame them for communism. They’re accused by Christians of killing Jesus and by French philosopher Francois Voltaire of creating Christianity. They’ve been blamed for controlling the media to suit their needs, dominating the slave trade, organ harvesting, and the spread of AIDS. They’re deemed racists, miserly, elitists, cowards, warmongers – the list is endless and contradictory. Jew haters blame Jews for all the ills of the world.
If that’s so, then it shouldn’t it logically follow that Jews must also be responsible for curing those ills. That’s a tall order but continuing with this line of thinking – if they cause it and don’t fix it, they should be blamed for that as well. It’s a no win scenario which only points to the fact that as long as there are massive problems in the world, there will be massive hatred of Jews. The more anguish, the more anger the Jews will face.
If the reasons for hating Jews can be attributed to any group of people – why nominate the Jews? Why have they survived, leaving their enemies in the dust? What does it mean to be the chosen people and the people of the Book and what are the responsibilities that come with that special assignment?
In Fiddler on the Roof, the main character, Tevye, opines, “We are the light unto the nations. Light illuminates; light disturbs. I know we’re the chosen people, but can you choose someone else?” (There goes that Jewish humor again.) Being chosen is not easy and it comes with great responsibility.
Mark Twain, in his essay “Concerning the Jews,” ponders hatred for the Jews on the one hand and their survival on the other. “The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies… All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
For Thomas Newton, the Bishop of Bristol from 1761-1782, the answer was divine: “What but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth hath been preserved.”
Russian author Leo Tolstoy surmised that the Jew exists for a unique purpose. “What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish? The Jew is the symbol of eternity. He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear.”
Jews will always be judged by different standards; and both admired and hated more than any other nation on the face of the planet. Rationalizations do not, however, explain the relentless and diverse nature of Jew hatred. There must be something deeper to this dilemma.
Historian Paul Johnson, in his book History of the Jews, concludes that, “No people has ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a purpose and humanity a destiny. At a very early stage in their collective existence they believed they had a divine scheme for the human race, of which their own society was to be the pilot.”
Johnson concludes that the capacity to end Jew hatred and ring in the dawn of world peace and unity lies, as a spark, within every Jew. That spark, he suggests, currently lies dormant or is buried under layers of assimilation and disconnect. It depends on the desire of the Jews to awaken it and thus to work together to set an example of solidarity for the rest of the world to admire and follow.
If the musings of the great thinkers and philosophers hold merit, then just maybe, when the Jewish people collectively begin to unite as one heart, one soul, and one mind in the name of Torah - and lead by example as they were allegedly chosen to do - the world will understand and appreciate the Jew, and Holocausts will be no more.
Implausible? No more, and likely less, than any other reason offered for the hatred of a people with an indomitable spirit in the face of atrocity; a people with a passion for education, family, community, culture, and humor; whose percentage of achievements and contributions are exceedingly greater than their small numbers would suggest, especially when compared against other religions, ethnicities, or cultures; and who strive to live by traditions and the laws given to them in the Book – the Torah – which include justice, giving, kindness, and repairing the world.
A perfect people? No such thing. But “implausible” seems best attributed to the actions of those who continue to blame and hope to destroy a G-d fearing and extraordinary people by any standard or measure.