When it comes to understanding the impact that Jew-hate has on us, the Jewish community is generations behind. We spend a huge amount of time categorizing and analyzing the phenomenon of Jew-hate, but little time understanding how it affects our perceptions and feelings toward ourselves. Such an approach should be an important part of any wider study on Jew-hate.
One of the fundamental ways Jew-hatred harms us is the way anti-Jewish racism gets absorbed into the Jewish psyche. Internalized anti-Jewishness, as I discuss in my latest book, Reclaiming our Story: The Pursuit of Jewish Pride, is the hidden Jewish pandemic.
Luckily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The LGBT community is widely known for its development of a pride movement, which traces back to the historic Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. This moment taught generations of LGBT individuals a powerful lesson, affirming our inherent worth and dispelling notions of wrongdoing or defectiveness. This resultant social revolution it sparked had a profound impact on my life. It helped me understand that the mental health challenges I faced due to internalized homophobia were not my fault. I had absorbed negative societal views about homosexuality, which burdened me with shame. Over time, conversations about pride and the fight against internalized homophobia have become commonplace in the gay community.
The black community has also made significant progress when it comes to academic research on the topic of internalized antiblack racism. Camara Phyllis Jones, an anti-racism activist, argues that internalized antiblack racism arises from the acceptance of negative messages about one’s abilities and inherent worth among stigmatized racial groups. “This acceptance leads to a lack of belief in oneself and others who share a similar appearance. It involves embracing limitations on one’s complete humanity, including aspirations and the right to self-determination.” Jones further suggests that internalized antiblack racism is one of the three primary forms of prejudice experienced by the black community. Additionally, black activists have actively worked toward building a pride movement that challenges Eurocentric beauty standards and proudly promotes the message “Black is beautiful.”
The harm it causes us
The Jewish community also grapples with internalized hatred. Many of us unwittingly internalize the anti-Jewish sentiments that exist in the world around us. Consequently, these negative attitudes become ingrained in our perspective, allowing the non-Jewish world to shape our narrative and our understanding of ourselves. Due to various factors, including the power dynamics between the Jewish minority and the non-Jewish majority (especially in the Diaspora), Jews often feel compelled to embrace non-Jewish notions of Jewish identity and experience. The result is what I refer to as the Broken Mirror of Jewish Identity: a fractured reflection of Jewish identity, whereby both acceptable and unacceptable forms of Jewishness are projected onto Jews by the wider society.
Trauma can also profoundly impact our connection with ourselves. This leads us to view our Jewish identity as a cause of our suffering, rather than recognizing that the root of this trauma lies in non-Jewish anti-Jewishness. The countless tragedies that have afflicted our people have deeply affected our emotional well-being. Trauma possesses the ability to alter not only our emotional foundations but also our genetic makeup. It is crucial to comprehend and address this trauma to prevent further harm to our people.
A significant aspect of this issue stems from the pressure imposed by the non-Jewish world, whereby Jews are faced with a false choice between embracing their Jewish identity and fitting into mainstream society. Despite having a distinct civilization, Jews are frequently compelled to dilute and downplay their heritage in order to gain acceptance. Those who conform to the portrayal of Jewish identity as reflected by the Broken Mirror of Jewish Identity are considered “Good Jews.” Conversely, those who deviate from these expectations, expressing different ideas, practices, or traditions, may be labeled as “Bad Jews.” This, combined with an understandable yet desperate need for acceptance, leads to Jews blaming other Jews for causing anti-Jewishness.
As I write in Reclaiming our Story, it is crucial to recognize that this phenomenon is in no way the fault of the Jewish people collectively or as individuals. We have done nothing to deserve the treatment we receive at the hands of the non-Jewish world. Jew-hate is their problem. It is their distorted perceptions and fantasies that distort their view of the world and compel Jews to conform to certain roles that help them make sense of their own identities and experiences. The Jew that exists in the mind of the anti-Jewish non-Jew is a fantasy. It bears no relationship with our reality as real Jews.
How to heal
Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to work toward a solution to this problem. I am not suggesting we take on the task of resolving Jew-hate itself. While we do play a role in this fight, it is ultimately the responsibility of non-Jews to address and eradicate it. Our focus should be on combating and preventing internalized anti-Jewishness within our own community and fostering a sense of Jewish pride.
Engaging in these discussions is not a sign of weakness. It is a testament to our strength. It demonstrates our ability to confront past experiences without allowing them to diminish or define us. By having these challenging conversations, we strive for a better future for ourselves and future generations of Jews. Our goal is to create a world where we recognize the profound impact that Jew-hate has on us. We need to acknowledge the wounds caused by this hatred in order to heal them.
Other communities have sought to undo the harm committed against them through respective pride movements. It is crucial that we strive to catch up to other communities and actively build Jewish pride. We must work toward inspiring, empowering, and educating Jews worldwide. We cannot shy away from engaging in the challenging discussions surrounding the impact of hate on our community. We should not allow ourselves to be bound by shame, and trauma. Instead, we must understand these experiences and ultimately release their hold on us.
Throughout history, we have demonstrated a determination to liberate ourselves from oppression. Today, I am privileged to have a column in The Jerusalem Post, the widely read English-language newspaper in Israel, the modern Jewish state, which serves as a testament to our remarkable achievements. We have accomplished the seemingly impossible by rebuilding our nation and regaining sovereignty in our indigenous land. Now, it is imperative that we focus on building a proud global Jewish people, free from the shame and harm caused by Jew-hate. In a world where embracing and proudly expressing our Jewish identity may not always be viewed as acceptable, this act of defiance becomes a radical act of resistance and represents the crucial next step in our ongoing journey.
The writer is the founder of the modern Jewish Pride movement, an educator, and the author of Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People.