By Date

Dear Friends,

Yesterday on Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—my colleague Rabbi Joshua Stanton tweeted the following:

“A person on the train keeps looking at me and saying ‘Get the F*** out of here rabbi.’ It’s not clear that he knows I’m a rabbi. It is clear that he has no basis for hating me other than for being Jewish. I do hope that his taunts do not escalate.”

He followed up with a tweet that said,

“I moved cars and am physically away from him. It’s just another day of living with my symbols of Jewish life (a Kippah) visible to all.”

Sadly, Rabbi Stanton’s experience is not unique. The Anti Defamation League released its 2021 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents Wednesday and the findings show a terrifying trend. In a single year there were 2,717 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States. (And those are just the ones that got reported.) That reflects a 34% increase from 2020 and is the highest number recorded since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. In other words, we aren’t imagining the perceived increase in anti-Jewish sentiment in this nation. It is real.

But as troubling as Rabbi Stanton’s tweets were, what caught my attention and filled me with emotion was the exchange that followed his second tweet. Someone asked,

“What are the bystanders doing?”

To which Rabbi Stanton replied,

“Not a thing.”

An overt act of antisemitism is taking place. And the response from the other passengers was… “Not a thing.”

Rabbi Stanton was worried enough that the situation might escalate that he moved cars. And the response from the other passengers was… “Not a thing.”

And once Rabbi Stanton was safely in a different car the expressions of concern for his well being were… “Not a thing.”

I appreciate that there is a specific culture to subway riding. And I know that a cornerstone of that culture is to not interact with someone acting erratically. So I could dismiss the lack of response from the other passengers if that were the only time I had seen utter silence in the face of overt anti-Jewish behavior. But it is not the only time.

As I have previously shared, I was pained by the lack of support from anyone outside the Jewish community when antisemitic incidents spiked in May 2021. As a military conflict between Israel and Hamas raged, there was an increase of almost 150% in the number of hate crimes directed at our American Jewish community. And yet, as incident after incident occurred, and as our worries about our personal and communal safety grew, there was all but utter silence from local clergy and elected officials.

“What are the bystanders doing?”
“Not a thing.”

And when the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas occurred it was more of the same. We looked at what happened there and realized that even small, suburban synagogues are potential targets. And our sense of security was further eroded. But even then…

“What are the bystanders doing?”
“Not a thing.”

A synagogue was attacked and hostages taken simply because it was a synagogue and they were Jews, and even the FBI initially said they weren’t sure if this was an act of antisemitism.

“What are the bystanders doing?”
“Not a thing.”

We have taken steps to secure our building and I look forward to sharing some important developments at the Annual Meeting in a few weeks. But that only addresses a symptom of the cancer of hate that has metastasized in recent years.

Until those outside the Jewish community begin taking this growing threat seriously, we will continue to see extremists from the right commit acts of violence against our community, and extremists on the left continue to stifle Jewish voices and self-expression especially on campuses across our country.

This video captures a good deal of my concern.

Antisemitism is Totally a Thing – Jew or False Ep. 1 

In a civil society that values diversity the answer to the question, “What are the bystanders doing?” cannot be “Not a thing.” Because our community knows only too well where that can lead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen