I’d say it’s been a rough couple of weeks for Jews in Los Angeles but the truth is, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for anyone who has felt the sting of hatred. The time to come together to fight the rising flames of hatred and antisemitism is now.
As a Jew, I can speak from my own experience,but I’m sure it resonates with others. When I was a boy, growing up in Texas, I suffered many times the looks, stares and punches of those who hated me because I was different. I remember one night jolting up in bed to the sound of loud pops and hisses. My parents came running to make sure I was okay.
Looking out into our front yard, we saw several small explosives had gone off in our flowerbeds and mailbox. A smoldering swastika was burned in the grass. Thank God no one was injured but it was just one of many experiences that I and thousands of other Jews like me have experienced in America.
It’s an age-old story
Each generation grapples with the same hatred and bigotry, reminding Jews that we are both a part of our nation’s story and yet somehow still apart from it. It’s true on campuses, where Jews are increasingly excluded from student clubs and berated while walking to class.
It’s true in the streets where swastikas and other symbols of hatred are carved into bus stops and slogans like “The Jews are guilty” are spray-painted on prominent sidewalks. Saddest of all, it’s true in our houses of worship where rabbis have been held hostage and congregants have been beaten and murdered.
What will we as Angelenos, tell our children and grandchildren about this moment? That we saw the rising flames of hatred and bigotry in our own backyard and we did what? Tweeted about it? How do we extinguish this fire?
How to extinguish antisemitism
First, we must work to de-platform those who use their voice to peddle hatred. It matters not if they are leaders of a countries or an influencer. Everyone has a right to free speech but social media platforms are not public squares, they can be moderated to eliminate, not elevate, hatred.
Second, we must be vigilant in providing safety for Jews here in LA and around the world. My organization spends millions of dollars a year to monitor nearly six hundred Jewish sites in Los Angeles. It is immoral and unfair that the Jewish community must shoulder an extra cost to enjoy our First Amendment rights. While progress has been made on behalf of targeted and vulnerable institutions through state and federal nonprofit security grants, more must be done to ease the fear of violence many Jews face while studying and worshiping.
Third, we must act with pride. The days when Jews were systemically excluded from colleges, hotels, workplaces and country clubs are long gone. Still, our story in America is one where Jews have changed our names, our businesses, our tone, and even our bodies to seem and sound less Jewish. No longer should we choose between our Jewish identity and our American one. We can and must have both. Bullies pray on fear and nothing holds fear back like pride.
Lastly, we must love each other. We must meet the rising flames of hatred with our own rising tide of kindness and fellowship. True redemption as a city will only come when we realize that there is more that unites us than divides us.
Only then will we conquer our fears of each other and move beyond the myopia of zero-sum thinking to chart a course toward a common human horizon. To be a Jew is to love life, to love our neighbors and to extinguish the fires of hate by pursuing a more righteous path of liberty and justice for all.
The writer, a rabbi, is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.