By Rabbi Mendel Matusof
Antisemitism keeps rearing its ugly head in one form or another. As a campus rabbi, it is one of the most pressing issues concerning young Jews today. I would like to suggest that we, as a Jewish community, approach antisemitism as we would any form of bullying in our schools or society.
As in bullying, we first need to ensure that the victim is physically protected. Antisemitism is the same. We need to be vigilant and protected without being alarmists. Here, however, I would like to focus on the various steps beyond that.
The bullied child needs to understand that it is not their fault. We must make sure that young Jewish people don’t internalize the antisemitism. No behavior of a Jewish person or even policy of the only Jewish State is an excuse for any form of antisemitism. There is nothing we can or should change which would get rid of antisemitism.
Second, we teach a bullied child to have confidence and hold their head high. As Jews, the most effective thing we can do is be proudly Jewish. Not simply within the echo-chamber and often cesspool of social media. We must be proud Jews in public. We must make sure that our homes proudly display a kosher mezuzah. Our children need to have the confidence to share and discuss their Jewish holidays in school, including taking days off to celebrate. When a young adult moves to a new city for college, they happily and proudly share with their roommates and classmates that they are Jewish and that Friday night is a special time for them to join their community for a Shabbat dinner.
Third, we remind a bullied child that they shouldn’t allow the bully to define them. Too often, our Jewish pride is a reaction to antisemitism. Our Judaism must be proactive. A critical component of proactive Jewish pride is Jewish education. We can’t expect a young Jew to be proud of a Judaism they know very little about beyond how the bully defines it. Judaism has a beautiful tradition of Torah learning. Today with so much translated into English and so easily available, we must take advantage of it.
We teach a child who is being bullied to know who their real friends are. Real friends don’t bully. True friends would be horrified at the thought of making an antisemitic comment. And being part of a Jewish community where we have each other is critical too.
Finally, most of the time, a bully just needs to be taught. The same is true with antisemitism. Most people who are antisemitic, regardless of the far-right or far-left variety, are clueless. Often it is an opportunity to teach and hopefully rehabilitate. If the bully themselves refuses to be taught, it should still be a learning experience for all the observers, many of whom are as clueless as the antisemitic person.
In summation, antisemitism is not a Jewish problem. It is an antisemite’s problem. A lack of Jewish pride, education, and involvement is a Jewish problem.
Together we will succeed in making this world a G-d filled - and as a result – good place, each one of us doing one proud mitzvah at a time.
עם ישראל חי
Rabbi Mendel Matusof, was born and raised in Madison, received his training in France, Canada, Israel and New York. In 2005 he and his wife Henya moved back to Madison to direct the Chabad activities on the UW campus. Under his leadership a new Chabad house on campus was established, UW Chabad at UW-Madison, serving the thousands of students.