October 7 was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Antisemitism is on the rise across the United States and hundreds of hostages have been captured by Hamas and are still missing. The war in Israel is affecting all of us.
A march for Israel was held on Tuesday, November 14, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. showing our support for Israel and for freeing the hostages, and to combat antisemitism.
This event had an impact on Abbe Distelburger, a board member and past president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County.
“The March for Israel was such an amazing and uplifting experience. It’s been hard to watch the news and read the papers in the aftermath of the most horrific day in Jewish History, October 7, as I feel that most of the world has turned against us and has become increasingly anti-Israel,” Distelburger said. “To feel the love and bipartisan support that day by members of Congress, to hear the strong messages of Never Again, to hear the messages that we as Jews will never give up, and of course to hear the most impassioned pleas from family members of the hostages, was just so powerful. For the first time I didn’t feel that we, as a Jewish people, were alone in this fight against antisemitism or in our pro-Israel stance against Hamas.”
Wendy Cedar, the executive director of The Jewish Federation, has expressed great concern for her own safety and her family, as well as the Orange County community.
“Working as a professional amplifies any stress that I might feel personally. Some of us are hesitant to divulge our Judaism. We see that hatred is out there and fear at the very least being shouted down, and, in the worst-case scenario, physically harmed.”
Over the last five to seven years, Orange County has experienced incidents ranging from swastikas and other Nazi symbolism painted on the bathroom walls of schools and on the grounds of cemeteries and their graves.
“We’ve seen the whole gambit of antisemitism in Orange County. Swastikas were actually painted where my mother was buried,” said Cedar.
There are many people in Orange County who have families and friends who have been killed or kidnapped in Israel.
“The government at this point, by and large, understands the situation in the Middle East and is supportive of the Jewish people, but we don’t know what’s ahead. That’s the problem being Jewish in America or anywhere in the world,” said Cedar.
The parents of college students, the teachers in our schools, the congregants of synagogues, and the entire Jewish community are all very concerned.
“It’s in our face all the time since the war in Israel started and is extraordinarily disturbing to hear about it in news reports and posts in social media. It is causing a great deal of stress for everyone,” said Cedar.
Why does antisemitism exist? There are many theories, including the charge that Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus. Jews have been stereotyped, exiled and violently assaulted based on a wide range of false accusations and assumptions for thousands of years. Conspiracy theories are often baseless and can be detrimental as they perpetuate stereotypes and incite bigotry.
“Historically, when you look at people who were largely discriminated against, it was often because of conspiracy theories that Jews were responsible for all of the ills of society, which is of course absurd,” said Cedar.
But discrimination isn’t limited to conspiracy theories. It is also a result of religious disputes and political agendas.
“There are those in our community who will say that the world is comfortable supporting Jews when we’re put down and discriminated against, but the minute we fight back, suddenly we’re the oppressors. Israel has a very strong army, and they can and will fight back as they should. But people don’t like that,” said Cedar.
It is important for Jews and non-Jews alike to help prevent and combat any further antisemitism. By educating people, we can hopefully eliminate all hatred.
“The only way to solve any problem is through discourse and empathy, and the willingness to hear someone else’s side of the story, even if it makes us uncomfortable,” said Cedar.
At present, there are no additional definitive plans underway to help fight antisemitism, but things are in the works in both Orange and Dutchess counties.
The Zachor Antisemitism Initiative, an Orange County Program, and the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education in Rockland County, are both committed to preventing antisemitism and all hatred.
Some of the opportunities offered at the Initiative are: Workshops on modern antisemitism for students and school faculty/staff; assistance to schools dealing with antisemitism and other types of hatred; and, through the partnership with the Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance, field trips, travel exhibits for schools and guest speakers on a variety of topics centered on the Holocaust and antisemitism can be arranged. “Antisemitism and other forms of hate can only be overcome through communication, understanding and empathy toward those who are the target of your hatred,” said Cedar. “Here in Orange County, we can find ways to communicate with each other to reduce hatred. The hostages must come home safely. Increased antisemitism and anti-Arab actions here are not the answer.”
In Judaism “Tikkun Olam” teaches us that the world is not completed, it is not perfect, but it is upon us to try to improve it in any way we can.