‘The crunching sound doesn’t leave me. I feel it every day of my life,” says Ruth Zimbler, recalling walking on glass shards splattered on her Vienna street in November 1938. She was only 10 years old when the antisemitism that had already driven her family to flee neighboring Germany rose up and struck violently in both countries.
Now 90, Zimbler was addressing an audience, consisting mostly of Jews of all ages and diplomats, gathered at the German Consulate in New York to commemorate Kristallnacht. The consulate sits across the street from the United Nations, the world body that was created on the ashes of the Holocaust.
Over eight decades, there have been numerous efforts by survivors, Jewish organizations, other faith groups, and governments to educate about antisemitism, to show that it threatens not only Jews but societies in general, and to develop strategies to counter the hatred that singularly targets Jewish communities. And yet that same crunching sound continues to overwhelm the cries of “Never Again.”
“Antisemitism has become ‘normalized’ across the EU,” states the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in the introduction to its new report on hate crimes and discrimination against Jews. The poll of 16,500 Jews in 12 EU member states found them perceiving the situation in 2018 worse than six years ago, when the first FRA survey was conducted.
A stunning 70% of those surveyed say their own governments do not effectively combat antisemitism. No wonder 52% do not even bother to report antisemitic attacks, even though 89% say that antisemitism has increased in their own countries over the past five years.
Anxiety is reflected in the crunching sounds of the 34% who say they avoid visiting Jewish events or sites, and the 38% who have considered emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews in the country where they live.
In the US, too, where Jews comprise only 2% of the population, the crunching sound is ever-present. The latest FBI report, covering 2017, showed that 58.1% of all religious-bias hate crimes targeted Jews.
The New York Police Department recorded a 22% increase in antisemitic incidents in the city in the first 10 months of this year, compared to the same period in 2017.
Even before the massacre of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which occurred less than two weeks before the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, American Jews were worrying.
That crunching sound resonated in AJC’s 2018 survey of American Jews. Asked how secure they feel amid rising antisemitism in the US, 55% said less secure than a year earlier, 24% said about the same, and only 18% said more secure.
American Jews, of course, are not having – and hopefully never will have – the kinds of conversations that Jews in France, the United Kingdom, and other European countries have engaged in about whether to stay, or leave for Israel or somewhere else.
But perceptions of vulnerability, more crunching, have been growing. AJC’s 2017 survey found a significant increase over the previous year in the numbers of American Jews who view antisemitism as a problem in the United States. While in 2016, 73% considered it a problem and only 21% viewed it as “very serious,” in 2017 84% said it is a problem and 41% considered it a “very serious” problem.
IN TROUBLING TIMES, we Jews look for solace from our political leaders, the broader community, and neighbors we hope will instinctively empathize and do whatever they can to reassure us and ensure our safety, just as we would for other threatened faith groups and minorities.
Notably, some of the strongest words of empathy these days are coming from representatives of countries that perpetrated the worst tragedy on the Jewish people. Leaders of both Germany and Austria have made great strides in leading efforts of contrition in their own countries and, in Europe, to combat Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
“The attack on the Tree of Life Congregation was an attack on all of us, on what we stand for – religious liberty, human rights,” Austrian Ambassador to the UN Jan Kickert told an overflow Temple Israel congregation in New York City on the Friday evening following the bloody Pittsburgh assault. Jews and people of many other faiths came out in droves across the US to #ShowUpForShabbat, an AJC-led campaign to fill synagogues on Friday evening and Saturday morning in a vast display of solidarity.
“We are committed to the safety and security of Jews wherever they are,” said Kickert. “I say this with growing up and living with the shame that my forefathers were among the worst perpetrators in Nazi times.”
Yet, contrition and empathy aside, Austria, Germany and the other 10 countries covered in the FRA survey face the challenge of developing and implementing policies that will aggressively confront the sources and perpetrators of antisemitism.
“Time does not, in fact, heal all wounds,” German Consul-General David Gill said at the Kristallnacht event, co-hosted by AJC’s New York region, following survivor Zimbler’s moving remarks.
That the FRA report was barely mentioned at all in the American media and got little coverage in Europe suggests that a certain numbness has set in, an unfortunate acceptance of antisemitic normalcy.
Beyond issuing proclamations about the unacceptability of antisemitism, governments must back up their stated commitments to crush such hatred with concrete action that will silence the constant crunching sounds.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.