Segal: On anti-Semitism, from Aspen
I’m not an alarmist. I have often said, and continue to believe, that Jews in North America enjoy a level of security, freedom, acceptance and prosperity that our ancestors could not have envisioned. I’ve had barely a brush with anti-Semitism myself, including during my 13 years of Episcopalian prep school in Texas.
In Aspen, too, I’ve never felt uncomfortable for being Jewish. My congregation shares the Aspen Chapel and several annual interfaith celebrations with that community. In the four years I’ve lived here, I’ve been welcomed by my Christian clergy colleagues and other local leaders, with invitations to speak at churches, volunteer organizations and civil holiday commemorations. With the help of the faith community, the superintendent and the school board, the school district calendar was changed to include major Jewish and Christian holiday observances so that teachers and principals can do their best to avoid conflicts. Despite the occasional anti-Israel letter to the editor, I’ve never doubted that this valley is a welcoming place for Jews.
Given this frame of mind, it’s difficult for me to process news from around the world of intense and growing anti-Semitism. In the Middle East, it’s less surprising. In France, sadly, we’ve come to expect it, although recent violent demonstrations and attacks against synagogues and Jews have led to an increase in the already high rate of French Jews immigrating to Israel.
Even more unsettling is the unfolding of a “crisis of confidence” for British Jewry, as Eylon Aslan-Levy wrote in Tablet magazine last week. A spike in recorded anti-Semitic incidents has raised eyebrows and fears among one of the world’s most respected and integrated Jewish communities.
David Finkelstein, editor of The Times in England, responded soberly (“Anti-semitism hasn’t been an issue for me. Now it is,” Aug. 21): “This is a great country to live in and in many ways it is getting better. … Yet most of us Jews, wherever we are in the world, have a niggling feeling that perhaps it might be a good idea to keep a suitcase packed, and many of us have had, at least once, a conversation about where we would go if we had to. I don’t have such a suitcase. I won’t need it, I know I won’t. But if I told you that I didn’t understand it, I’d be lying.”
I don’t like to admit (even to myself) that I understand this sentiment. When an American sportscaster makes an offensive comment at the expense of his Jewish partner, as Hank Bauer did last month during a San Diego Chargers preseason game, is it just poor taste or something darker? A couple of years ago, I took a group from my synagogue to spend Passover in the desert near Moab, Utah, with the Adventure Rabbi retreat. We encountered a group of hikers at the spot reserved for our Passover Seder and asked them politely to finish up their rock climbing so we could use the space. An argument ensued, and one of the climbers, upon learning that we were a Jewish group, said, “You’re the Jews that Hitler didn’t get.”
I’ve always thought of these as isolated incidents, at least in North America. I still believe they are, although now perhaps with a little less confidence. I also still believe, and polls back this up, that Americans on the whole view Jews remarkably favorably among religious groups.
I agree with another British commentator, David Aaronovitch, who wrote in England’s Jewish Chronicle (“Now’s not the time to pack the suitcase and leave the UK,” Aug. 21) that “the political classes have set their faces against Jew-hatred.” That’s true in the U.S., as well. After all, the sports broadcaster was suspended and publicly apologized, and the hiking group eventually left us alone and had no support from the authorities. There are individual incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry in this country but not systematic anti-Semitism. It’s not tolerated.
If you’re reading this column and wondering why you should care, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said it powerfully in The Times (Aug. 16): “The hate that starts with Jews never ends there.” Anti-Semitism, he suggests, “is not really about Jews. It is about how societies treat the Other, the one-not-like-us. … Jews were hated because they were different. But it is our difference that constitutes our humanity. … A nation that has no room for difference has no room for humanity.”
I give thanks that I live in a country that, with all its imperfections, strives to be a beacon of freedom and acceptance. I feel blessed to live in a place like the Roaring Fork Valley, where I don’t feel judged or persecuted for my religious life (only for how well I ski powder and how often I bike to the Bells). Let’s not take for granted that we live in a place that has room for difference, that even embraces and celebrates it. And let’s remember that with our gratitude comes the responsibility to work against bigotry, anti-Semitic or otherwise, whenever and wherever we witness it.
Rabbi David Segal, of the Aspen Jewish Congregation, can be reached at 970-925-8245 or rabbi@aspen jewish.org. He blogs at http://www.aspenjewish.blogspot.com, and his column runs the first Saturday of each month.
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