Anti-semitic remarks by a high school teacher in Tennessee in August 2021.
Arson at Congregation Beth Israel in Austin on Halloween 2021.
Anti-semitic social media posts by University of Southern California students earlier this month.
And now, the standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX this past weekend.
Anti-semitic incidents like these are rife within the United States, and have been throughout all of history. In fact, anti-Jewish hate crimes are the most common anti-religion hate crime year after year, and these crimes are on the rise.
Late last year, the American Jewish Committee released a report detailing the rise of antisemitism in America. Their findings showed that 1 in every 4 Jewish Americans has been the target of antisemitism within the last 12 months. This data is corroborated by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s Center on Extremism which found a 12% increase in anti-semitic incidents in the U.S. over the past year.
Much of this rise is driven by the lasting impacts of the Israel-Gaza conflict. People incorrectly conflate being Jewish with supporting and standing with Israel, when the truth is Jewish Americans hold very diverse political and social beliefs. It is also, in part, due to the increased polarization of our country, as antisemitism has recently been more widely observed on the far right and the far left of our political spectrum. There has also been a general increase in violent crimes. Aggravated assault, the most common form of violent crime, rose 12 percent in 2020. All of these factors, when combined, have led to a drastic increase in violent, hate-based crimes that target Jewish people.
As a half-Jewish Millennial, one of the things that frightens me the most is the blatant antisemitism that occurs on college campuses. In the summer of 2020, Jewish on Campus – a movement of young Jewish people – began a simple Instagram campaign to document and fight against anti-semitic incidents on college campuses. Examples of posted incidents include a University of South Carolina professor giving a lecture titled “Why the Holocaust was Morally Okay” and mezuzahs being stolen from dorm rooms at George Washington University and Carleton University. Over just 18 months, Jewish on Campus shared more than 600 posts of similarly anti-semitic incidents, and in response, the organization has grown into a powerful platform for networking, activism, and education.
Why does antisemitism in college stick out to me amongst all the other atrocities committed against Jewish people? Because college and university campuses are often seen from the outside as inclusive and equitable self-contained societies. In this way, colleges work as temperature gauges of how harmonious or discordant the climate of our country is. Seeing such brash anti-semitic behavior occurring on a college campus makes me pause and wonder what this means for society at large. If college students and faculty can’t create an environment that’s free from religion-based hate, then how can we possibly fight antisemitism and antizionism in our communities?
I’m not the only one who feels this sense of hopelessness in the wake of recent events. It’s clear that the entire Jewish American community is living under the weight of unwavering and increasing anxiety, wondering if their next visit to the synagogue or kosher grocery store will end with a 12-hour hostage situation, or worse. Rabbis are being trained in tactical maneuvers, law enforcement is increasing patrols at synagogues, and metal detectors and surveillance cameras are being installed. All so that Jewish Americans may attend services and express their religious freedom.
In this dire situation, you may be wondering how you can help support Jewish Americans and practice active allyship in your community. Here are a few things you can do to make your Jewish colleagues feel safer at work.
1) Stand up against microaggressions.
First, educate yourself on what common antisemitic microaggressions look like in the workplace so that you can recognize them when they arise. Some of these include attributing particular qualities to Jewish people based on their identity and spreading misinformation such as that on blood libel or holocaust denial.
Then, practice speaking up with a “microinterruption.” A microinterruption is a quick moment to call out the offender before moving on. This might look like questioning the offender’s motives with a question like “can you tell me what you mean by that?” or “will you explain to me why that’s funny?” Or, you can choose to call them out more blatantly by saying something along the lines of “the comment you made in our 3pm meeting wasn’t ok.”
It might feel silly or confrontational at first, but practicing these phrases in the mirror better equips you to speak up quickly when a microaggression occurs. And remember, although this moment might be uncomfortable, it can make a permanent and positive difference in helping your Jewish coworker feel safe at work.
2) Do a policy check.
Your company likely allows paid time off for Christmas and/or Easter. But what about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? If not, this discrepancy sends a message to Jewish employees that their culture and beliefs aren’t equally worthy of recognition and respect. Educate yourself on the High Holy Days and be prepared to allow scheduling and deadline flexibility to accommodate them.
3) Practice Active Inclusion.
Small things like catering to dietary restrictions, permitting scheduling flexibility around shabbat, and being cognizant of concepts such as Yichud and Negiah can go a long way to make your colleagues feel more comfortable and included at work. The more you educate yourself and increase your cultural competence, the better you can serve as an ally to others.
These seemingly-small actions take only a moment but hold the potential to shift workplace culture to be more inclusive and respectful of all employees, and Jewish employees in particular. With the rise in antisemitism across the country comes an opportunity to practice active allyship and support one another.
Have other tips on practicing allyship or navigating the workplace as a Jewish American? Please reach out firstname.lastname@example.org with your contributions and perspectives. We would love to hear your personal perspective as we strive to learn more about the lived experiences and issues facing our community.