When the shooter was arrested last Thursday night after two days of violent antisemitism in Los Angeles he said, “I was looking up kosher supermarkets on Yelp.” Thank God neither of the victims died and one was released from the hospital. What’s clear is that he was hunting Jews.
The horror is real. Our feelings of anger and fear have grown intensely here in Los Angeles in the wake of this week’s abhorrent antisemitic shootings. And we know we are not alone. All around the world, the world’s oldest hate is once again threatening the safety, security and well-being of Jews. It is being stoked by extremist groups, social media, political leaders and celebrities.
Many American Jews have experienced antisemitism
According to the American Jewish Committee’s most recent survey on antisemitism, 69% of American Jews have experienced antisemitism online in the last 12 months, the vast majority of whom are young adults. One in four Jews in America has now changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism, whether by refraining from wearing religious items or not going to synagogue.
The last 10 years have seen the most violence perpetrated against the Jewish community in a century. From Charlottesville to Poway to Squirrel Hill to Brooklyn to Colleyville we have been assaulted, beaten, kidnapped and shot. We know from our long history that hate speech leads to hate crimes. What begins with words often ends with bullets.
The time has come as a global Jewish community to put our differences aside and focus our energies together. Democracy is built on collective action. Alexis de Tocqueville once thought that democracy was a threat to familial and social conventions. Then he came to America from France, where he found instead a teeming society supported and sustained by associations that drew people from individualism into shared interests and civic life.
These associations were voluntary in nature, meaning they could respond to the ebb and flow of civic values. The sustainable American democracy de Tocqueville observed stood in stark opposition to the constitutional monarchy that brought him to power, which lasted less than a decade.
But for now, our global Jewish community is uncoordinated, spending too much money and time building redundant efforts that often focus on the wrong thing. How many organizations have taken on the role of fighting antisemitism without a clear theory of change? How many new organizations and media campaigns have been created without leveraging the power of our collective voice? What has all this activity amounted to, other than to disaggregate funds and power?
MOREOVER, WE spend too much time thinking about antisemites and their motivations. We get into arguments over the definition of antisemitism and whether left-wing antisemitism or right-wing antisemitism is worse. To me, those conversations and those efforts miss the point.
It does not matter to the antisemite if we are Orthodox or Reform, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, or white or non-white. In the end, antisemites will rationalize hate in whichever way they can and hunt us down. From what I have learned as a career community operative and organizer, the taxonomy of hate fades to irrelevancy when we center the victims and not the antisemites.
What astonished de Tocqueville was the American ability to create a collective capacity through individuals who share the vision. What the Jewish community needs now, more than ever, is to convene and coordinate our power toward collective action. Here in Los Angeles, we began an experiment last year by establishing an antisemitism roundtable hosted by our Federation.
We came together to get to know each other and establish working principles, which included placing the mission of fighting antisemitism and keeping our community safe above any organizational self-interest. We committed to transparency and to eliminating redundancies while advancing each other where we can.
The only way we will truly fight antisemitism is if we, as a global community, leverage each other by coordinating our responses in a multi-vocal way. We must be willing to drop strategies that are counterproductive. Most importantly, we must place our focus on putting mission over the organization.
We have a long way to go but our collective voices are growing louder, the Jewish community is beginning to coalesce and new funding has been made available. Elected officials, prominent members of the business community and media executives are finally paying attention.
As we grow this roundtable, we hope to amplify as many voices as possible who are committed to the principle of working for the greater good of the Jewish people. The time is now to refresh our covenant with each other. If we want to act powerfully, we must be willing to act together.
The writer, a rabbi, is the president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.