Who's afraid of antisemitism?
April 07, 2023
Wow, y'all. Is this really how they see us?
I've heard from a lot of us who are activated by the anti-Soros rhetoric coming from the GOP this week. I happen to be a fan of Mr. Soros' philanthropy, but in this moment that's almost beside the point. Blaming the world's ills on any Jew strikes fear into a lot of hearts, and not without reason.
Conspiracy theories about Soros are rooted in lies about nefarious Jewish control. (That Washington Post piece is from 2018, but it's no less true now than it was then.) Hearing this ugliness during Holy Week, historically a season when Christian slaughter of Jews has surged, adds to the anxiety.
The Catholic church officially blamed Jews for the death of Jesus until 1965. And for centuries, Eastertide passion plays blamed us for that death in no uncertain terms... which dovetailed with the popular conspiracy theory that we put Christian children's blood in our Passover matzah.
The false allegation that Jews make ritual use of the blood of non-Jewish children was popularized in the 12th century, resulting in Eastertide violence against Jews in England at the time, and against Jews in Prague in the fourteenth century, and against Jews in Lisbon in the sixteenth century.
In the 20th century, as you might imagine, things got worse. See 1903:Easter Week | A Proclamation Inciting a Pogrom of the Jews, with accompanying write-up from Kishinev. And of course, Hitler and his Nazi propagandists were big fans of this vile rhetoric, and they slaughtered six million of us.
The claim that Jews kidnap and kill Christian children to put their blood in our Passover matzah is so ridiculous it's hard to take it seriously. But scratch the surface of QAnon's lies about a secret cabal harvesting children's blood, and it becomes clear that the lie of blood libel is still with us.
So yeah, Holy Week is a time of heightened anxiety for many Jews. Even if we haven't experienced violence at this season, many of us know that our ancestors did... which becomes part of our inheritance, whether via epigenetic trauma or because we empathize with our ancestors' suffering.
(Christianity Today ran an article about this in 2004: Why Some Jews Fear The Passion. They were trying to understand why so many of us were afraid around the movie The Passion of the Christ. I give them credit for recognizing that yeah, we had reason to be afraid. Unfortunately, we still do.)
I used to not be afraid of antisemitism. I thought it was a horror of the past. I thought humanity had finally reached a level of post-triumphalist spiritual evolution in which no one hates other human beings because of how we mark holy time or understand scripture or experience the presence of God.
(Of course, that's not actually why most of them hate us, setting aside for the moment those who shoot up synagogues because they hate Jewish support for refugees. They just need to blame someone for everything that's wrong in the world, and for thousands of years we've been a favorite scapegoat.)
I thought antisemitism was old news. Then came "Jews will not replace us." And antisemitism at an all-time high. And antisemitism in schools. And did you know Ye has twice as many Twitter followers as there are Jews on earth? And now there's the antisemitic demonization of George Soros... again.
When I started this blog in 2003, people would occasionally ask why I didn't write about antisemitism. My answer then was that I didn't want to give it any energy by naming it, and besides, it wasn't part of my lived Jewish experience, honestly. But these days, I can't not mention it. It's everywhere.
I don't want to be marinating in the fact that some Christians hate us. Especially not during this glorious festival week of Passover which just began. I guess this reality is part of what I'm experiencing as this year's Mitzrayim, the "narrow place" of constriction from which I (and we) yearn to be free.
In the face of this, I want to say: your hatred can't stop Jewish joy. Your hatred can't stop the sweetness that is Shabbat, or the sparkling gems of our festivals set in the wheel of the year. You can't destroy the wonder of our encounter with that Mystery we name as God, or our tapestry of teachings.
Today is the first day of the Omer, lovingkindness within lovingkindness. Today I'll eat matzah, the humble cracker of servitude and the mnemonic waybread of our flight to freedom. Tonight I'll light Shabbat candles, blessing the twin flames that evoke the light of Torah and the light of creation.
I woke with Jewish words of prayer on my lips, and I'll go to sleep the same way. Today I'll serve my Jewish community as best I can, and parent my Jewish child, and I'll do so knowing that there is joy in my tradition that haters like you can't begin to imagine. No one can take that away from me.
For more on the appalling artwork that accompanies this post: here's a fascinating and distressing article about the original image and its origins "on a blog discussing the conspiracy behind Jewish ritual murder of Christians." In 2001, which is to say, in this century. I wish I were making this up.