The biblical Purim story. The Holocaust. The Pittsburgh shooting. The derogatory political cartoons in the New York Times. There’s one common denominator.
These events portray the Jews’ greatest strength, resilience. Throughout Jewish history, one certain aspect of society hasn’t changed: the prevalence of anti-Semitism. We have been targeted since the beginning of our antiquity, yet our religion has continued to thrive.
Anti-Semitism has persisted since the beginning of time. However, the modern anti-Semitism we face today may appear different from in previous generations. Instead of Holocaust-like concentration camps and cattle wagons, there are hateful tweets and heartbreaking shootings. Nonetheless, it has the same essence. The essence of unjustified evil and barbarity.
Jews worldwide are affected by anti-Semitism. By watching any news channel, someone can see one attack after the next. But what happens when one of these attacks make an appearance in your hometown? What actions can you take when the threat arrives at your doorstep?
I was troubled by this inquiry. During school, we have had countless assemblies to discuss the safety of the Jewish nation as a whole. Usually, it is on broader terms, analyzing Jewish events in different geographical areas. Recently, the programs are summoned not only to reiterate the dangers of anti-Semitism, but also to establish that the hazard is steadily reaching our beloved communities.
After attending these worrying assemblies, I began watching the news at home, where information about anti-Semitic attacks was broadcast. I plainly thought to myself, “this is absurd; thankfully, my family and I are secure.” Yet, the words “Rockland County” laid in red font on the top of the television. It informed me of two nearby incidents in which four men hurdled fireworks into a local rabbis’ house. A neighbor testified that she heard the explosions, ultimately confirming the incident as a hate crime. These attacks generated greater concern in the broader Jewish community, precipitating local Jews to feel vulnerable and endangered.
Living in America, I take for granted all the freedoms I am guaranteed, particularly the freedom to practice religion freely. But because of the proximity of these two attacks, I felt helpless. I couldn’t prevent this news from frightening my friends and family. I couldn’t feel safe walking alone outdoors. I couldn’t walk my dog or take out the trash without constant fear. And most importantly, I couldn’t stop peoples’ religious intolerance.
Then, the inevitable occurred. On my quiet street, two homes were for sale and had many signs indicating such, surrounding their perimeters. While my mother was returning home from a late-night nursing shift, she witnessed what would become my worst nightmare: “NO JEWS” spray-painted on the for-sale signs in orange graffiti. My mother instantly phoned the police and authority was on sight in the next few hours.
On this occasion, we were one of the few Jewish Orthodox families on my block. We concluded that this atrocious deed was directed towards us and our fellow Jewish neighbors. But to our surprise, early the next morning, my non-Jewish neighbor rushed to the scene and promptly grabbed black spray paint to cover up the orange, discriminatory phrases. She then drew pink and red hearts over the black spray paint and throughout the street. My courageous neighbor felt offended by this atrocity, despite her non-affiliation with Judaism.
I find strength in individuals, such as my neighbor, who replaced hate with love. My neighbor gave me a new perspective on anti-Semitism: if one person can cause so much hostility in the world, one person can combat all that resentment with love. My neighbor is a perfect illustration of this concept.
I anticipate that if everyone’s actions mirror those of my neighbors, religious tolerance will be the new trend. All it takes is one person.
Rochel Itzkowitz is a junior at The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J.