July 15, 2021
The last couple of months have been hard. I was upset by the virulent, hateful language against Jews and Israel on social media, saddened by the lack of support and outreach from non-Jewish allies, and disheartened by the scarcity of grace we give one another within our diverse Jewish community. I’m grateful that my daughter is too young to understand what’s been going on because I don’t know what I would say to her.
The results of a recent ADL nationwide survey show that 77 percent of American Jews are more concerned about antisemitism in our country and 60 percent have personally witnessed an antisemitic incident related to the recent violence between Israel and Hamas. It’s overwhelming. And so easy to become disheartened and disillusioned or jump to “feel-good” or “performative” efforts to address these complex issues.
That’s why, over the last couple of months, the JCRC has held conversations with Jewish community lay and professional leaders, elected officials, and students to understand what they have been seeing, hearing, and feeling about antisemitism, what they envision long-term change could look like, and evaluate what tactics have or have not worked in the past and why. A few highlights:
What are people seeing, feeling, and hearing about antisemitism?
Increased concern about personal safety and emotional well-being.
Lack of nuance in the media, and lack of understanding about Jews’ identities in relating to Israel.
Lack of support in schools for Jewish students and a lack of support from allies.
What could long-term change look like?
The Jewish community creates welcoming spaces that foster productive dialogue and greater appreciation of one another’s experiences and perspectives within our community.
Better understanding in the general community on what it means to be Jewish in our region, what antisemitism is, and how anti-Israel rhetoric can sometimes be rooted in antisemitism.
The Seattle City Council and other local entities spending less time on anti-Israel measures, influential people understanding the global BDS movement and speaking out against it and antisemitism, and more nuanced discourse among policymakers and civic leaders.
In the past, which strategies have been effective, which have not, and why?
Ineffective strategies: Performative tactics that fail to build enduring relationships and educate.
Successful strategies: Educating people about the consequences of BDS actions and engaging in work to address injustices against other communities.
Strategies to consider: Learning from successful campaigns that have shifted society’s perceptions on major issues, and speaking out personally and intentionally about antisemitism.
Our next steps are core functions of the JCRC: fostering stronger relationships and enhancing understanding within our community and beyond through Darchei Shalom, paths of peace, and building solidarity through developing new and deepening existing allyships that can leverage our strength and amplify our voice.
In order to be impactful, we’ll have to grapple with:
The complex and multi-faceted ways antisemitism manifests and is received by our community;
The diverse ways in which American Jews relate to Israel;
The ways in which narratives from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have woven themselves into local social justice movements.
It’s easy to see a swastika or Nazi salute and agree that it is antisemitic. And to be successful at achieving some of the long-term outcomes outlined above which address more nuanced subject matter, we need to actively engage—be open to holding multiple perspectives, honest with our own biases, dedicated to learning from one another, and intentional and courageous with our words.
Let us take heart and inspiration in the words of Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it—for my daughter and for all our children in this community which we build together.
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs