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A letter to my fellow Jews

| Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, not a bunch of rabbis. So, it is understandable that a Catholic university might not cover Jewish events. I am perfectly fine with this; Catholic education is part of why I decided to come here. However, it does not mean we should be silent towards the Jewish suffering across the nation.

Last semester, I realized the platform that columnists enjoy. I have the privilege to share my opinion on a widely read resource, and that carries a responsibility of showcasing underrepresented narratives to educate the community. Thus, I feel an obligation to discuss the Jewish community during important times, especially as a Jew myself. This is one of those times.

We cannot deny the persistent presence of anti-Semitism in the United States. The stabbing of five Jews in New York a few weeks ago continues the rise of anti-Semitic violence. Jews celebrating Hanukkah in New York saw a string of attacks during the holiday, showcasing the danger of being Jewish in America today. But this is not a new occurrence.

In 2017, we saw a 57% increase in hate crimes towards Jews compared to 2016. Based on 2018 statistics, 60% of religiously-motivated hate crimes were directed towards Jews, accounting for 1,879 incidents. Oren Segal, vice president of the center on extremism for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), stated these are “near-historic levels” of anti-Semitism in the United States. Whether it is the Pittsburgh shooting or the gunman in the Poway synagogue, Jews certainly feel the presence of anti-Semitism. Synagogues have increased security during worship, especially in New York, where many of these attacks have occurred. One only has to turn on the news after these events to see the constant coverage of American Jewry under duress.

Based on this information, one could understandably see why Jews might be fearful to step outside. However, this is far from the reality.

American Jews still proudly display their faith despite anti-Semitic attitudes. An October 2019 survey from the American Jewish Committee explains that 95% of American Jews would not avoid participating in Jewish events out of fear for their safety. This is not the first time Jews have been exposed to hatred, and it will certainly not be the last. Nevertheless, Jews still recognize the importance of celebrating their faith.

The persistence of the Jewish community against the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism is why I wrote this column. It may seem easy to simply hide to avoid danger. However, Jews cannot be silent towards these threats.

We cannot stash away our kippahs and not attend services out of fear, hoping that us abandoning the faith will end the hatred. This is flawed thinking. Hiding will only let the violence continue.

History has certainly not been kind to Jews, but it is especially unkind when hatred is allowed to fester. IF we accept the media’s portrayal of a dangerous atmosphere that must be feared, we also accept the notion of Jews as an endangered species. That is not the Jewish community I know.

My Jewish community is one that is proud of its heritage and faith. It is one that lives by its values in the face of anti-Semitism, working towards a just world void of hate. It is not comprised of members afraid to step outside or display their identity; rather, they celebrate their heritage.

I implore American Jews to combat anti-Semitism by not hiding their Judaism. Wear it proudly and proclaim the faith in the face of hatred. When evil is confronted with good, it is blinded by the light.

This is not the first time Jews have stood up to hatred. Throughout history, the Jewish people have faced evil and came out on top.

Just last year, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Poway synagogue shooting called for Jews to keep publicly being Jewish despite anti-Semitism. His powerful message led to increased attendance in his congregation, a statement in defiance of anti-Semites and their despicable actions. It symbolizes the persistence of Judaism in the face of evil, a constant theme for the Jewish people.

I reiterate Rabbi Goldstein’s call in the wake of these recent attacks, hoping that more Jews continue to celebrate their Jewish identity. Wear your kippahs, light the Shabbat candles, put up mezuzahs and attend services despite the fear one may have. Fear is nothing to a community united against hatred.

Even recently, Jews celebrated #JewishandProud Day, showcasing Judaism despite anti-Semitism. These actions are a necessary effort to not only showcase Jewish pride but to combat the hatred of anti-Semites.

Moreover, this is an opportunity for American Jews to grow deeper in faith. As we mourn the losses and pray for the recovery of the injured, American Jews can honor them by celebrating Judaism. Following recent events, practicing Jewish traditions not only upholds a religious obligation, but also symbolizes a Jew’s commitment to his Jewish identity.

Personally, I will begin to wear my kippah publicly outside of synagogue. I hope this act invites conversation to educate others and stamp out the ignorance anti-Semitism capitalizes on.

This is not simply a call for American Jews to remain faithful following tragedy. It is also an opportunity to educate non-Jews about the perspective of the Jewish community and the support necessary to end hate against a beautiful, vibrant community. Together, we can come closer to a world we all want to achieve: a world without hate.

Blake Ziegler is a freshman at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He hopes his writing encourages others to take an interest in politics and government. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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