Reflections on antisemitism during the holidays: Here's what happened - opinion

Kanye West, COVID-19, and politics were discussed at this year's holiday tables. Everyone agreed that Jew-hatred is becoming more pervasive in the US.

Women reading selichot -- Jewish penitential poems and prayers said leading up to the High Holidays -- at the Western Wall before Rosh Hashana (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Women reading selichot -- Jewish penitential poems and prayers said leading up to the High Holidays -- at the Western Wall before Rosh Hashana
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

It’s been a long holiday. It’s been a marathon of prayer, food and time spent with friends and family. It’s been a time for hosting and for being hosted in private homes, at organized events and in sukkahs.

It’s been a marathon I’ve been looking forward to since COVID has now become less frightening. The holidays are a marathon that I look forward to participating in again next year.

It’s been a time for me to reflect – with those people I know very well and others I only just met around festive dinner tables – about the lives we live, as Jews and as Americans, and about the world we live in. 

And it’s been a revelation.

Sitting around a table with a mosaic of people from all walks of Jewish life and across the political spectrum, had become a raucous, nerve-racking, exasperating experience. But sitting around tables with that same mosaic over this holiday season has been an enjoyable experience.

 Ultra orthodox Jews shop the four species, for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in the ultra orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Ultra orthodox Jews shop the four species, for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in the ultra orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem, October 6, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The holidays, it seems, have a sobering effect.

For the first time since Donald Trump took office and Benjamin Netanyahu won his last election, I was able to hold conversations – real conversations, not shouting matches – on essential issues confronting our communities. Honest, thoughtful people, who disagreed with each other’s opinions, politics, lifestyles and agenda, spoke openly and civilly, to me and to each other.

We spoke about inflation. And both sides of the political spectrum agreed that leaders in both US political parties were deeply problematic and to blame. This was not a game of blame. No finger-pointing. No histrionics. Just a group of people trying to make sense of a stressful situation with no end in sight. People who agreed that both Trump and President Joe Biden suffered from serious shortfalls. How mature of them. 

Antisemitism a worry at holiday table

WE SPOKE about Jew-hatred. And everyone agreed that Jew-hatred is becoming more and more pervasive in the US. And it was agreed that both the Left and the Right have serious problems calling out Jew-haters. What was not agreed on were the numbers, the prevalence of the attacks, and how to reduce Jew-hatred. And that’s okay.

We, as Jews, have never been able to figure that one out. But we try.

Our grandparents never questioned Jew-hatred. They accepted Jew-hatred or, as it was called until recently, antisemitism. It was the price you paid for your being Jewish, a toll that was exacted for your being Jewish. It was best dealt with by avoiding interaction as best one could. It was a lesson taught to me by my own grandparents; a lesson I remember well but I will never pass on to future generations.

Quite naturally, conversations would veer toward the explosive comments about “death con 3 on Jewish people” spewed by Kanye West, aka Ye.

And once again, I would remember the lessons taught me by my grandparents and I would hear my grandmother’s voice – softly, patiently, explaining to her idealistic, fiercely proud Jewish grandson, that there is no single event, no precipitating act, no reason why someone would commit an antisemitic act.

And in that, she was correct. As correct today as she was in her day. No one, not even a music icon cum popular fashion designer, spews hate because they woke up one day and decided to become a Jew-hater because of something a Jew had done. 

There is nothing Jews do to cause the hatred. Kanye West did not need a reason to spew forth his hateful rhetoric. But his hateful message could easily stimulate any number of his millions of followers to follow his lead and engage in attacks against Jews.

Laughter during the holidays

NOT ALL my holiday table conversations were serious and sobering. 

Some were full of laughter. And again, it was a delight to discover that rightists and leftists, religiously observant and Jewish-in-name-only could be together and enjoy one another’s company. One evening in the sukkah was dedicated to Month Python and it was so much fun. 

The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Watch his TV show Thinking Out Loud on the Jewish Broadcasting Service.