Anti-Semitism Hit Close To Home For Me This Week

by Charlie Beckerman
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Most of the time, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them San Francisco, where I lived from the age of eight to 18. The complete story is that I was born and lived for eight years in and around St. Louis, mostly in the suburb of Clayton, where my parents worked at Washington University, and where I passed a relatively diverse, peaceful childhood. So when I read reports starting Monday that a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery had been vandalized less than 15 miles away, I wasn’t just sickened: I was stunned. I was shocked that something so specifically anti-Semitic happen within a 20-minute drive from where I went to Hebrew school?

I spent much of the 2016 campaign claiming a position of semi-expertise and then reassuring people that there was absolutely no way that Donald Trump could get elected. So, when it actually happened, along with the disappointment, outrage, and disbelief, there was a certain amount of ground-shifting-beneath-my-feet disorientation. And while the popular vote might have borne out that the majority of voters did not want someone who espoused xenophobic, Islamophobic, and sexist viewpoints to be president, the fact that so many Americans did want to see him become president was jarring for me.

Reading about a Jewish cemetery being vandalized in a community I have long thought of as safe and free from anti-Semitism left me equally incredulous.

To be clear, I am not attributing responsibility for the vandalism on the Chesed Shem Emel Society cemetery to Trump or any of his supporters. As Mark Oppenheimer pointed out in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, anti-Semitism has been on the rise since before Trump was on the national political scene. There is no concrete evidence that anti-Semitism is experience an uptick that is correlated with Trump, let alone motivated by him.

As J.J. Goldberg, the editor-at-large, at the Jewish Daily Forward, wrote in December of 2016, noted there is anti-Semitism rising on both the far right and the far-left. "Both strains — far-right Jew-hatred and Muslim/leftist Israel bashing — are real. Both are dangerous. Both are on the upsurge. But caution is advised," he wrote.

It would be irresponsible (and incorrect) to draw a direct connection between Trump and the uptick in anti-Semitism in this country. It does seems to me there is some utility in recognizing the extent to which Trump’s extremist positions on other issues — notably his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric — has given cultural permission to those who hold anti-Semitic views to be more demonstrative and destructive. It doesn’t help that he has become associated with the alt-Right, a movement that is not wholly anti-Semitic, has more than a few anti-Semites in it. After appointing Steve Bannon, the Breitbart head who more than admitted he oversaw a "platform for the alt-right," it's harder not to worry about what influence the alt-right will have on this presidency.

Regardless of the source of the vandalism — or for that matter, the wave of bomb threats being called into Jewish centers across the country — the solution remains the same: to stay vigilant, to call out hate and prejudice every single time, and to remember that not speaking out against something can have the same force as speaking out for it.