As Chanukah 2020 came to a close, unsurprisingly it was less Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights and more stay at home, gather with family through Zoom, and anticlimactically open gifts over FaceTime.
But unfortunately what didn't change in 2020 was an onslaught of antisemitism during the holiday. In just the past few weeks, the Anne Frank Memorial in Iowa was vandalized with swastikas, a Jewish Chabad member in Kentucky was attacked and hit by a car, and a Jewish school on Long Island was hacked and swastikas uploaded onto its website. This doesn't even scratch the surface.
By any measure, antisemitism is on the rise, both globally and here in the United States.
There's of course the horrific violence that makes headlines: The October 2018 mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which 11 Jews were murdered, followed by another synagogue shooting in Poway, California six months later. Last December, there was a shooting that ended at a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, and days after that, a stabbing at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York.
But the truth is, most of the antisemitism in this country happens without much fanfare. I spent a long time going through the Anti Defamation League's website, which tracks reported antisemitic incidents.They were up by 12 percent year-over-year in 2019, the highest level since the group began tracking in 1979.
So where does that leave Jews in the United States, a country that for years was a place of refuge for Jewish people fleeing pogroms in Russia, or expulsion from the Middle East, or the Holocaust in Europe?
In a new survey from the American Jewish Committee, nearly nine out of 10 American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in the United States today. More than four out of five believe it has increased over the past five years.
In the two years since the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, more than a third of American Jews have actually tried to conceal their Jewishness in public.
In this file photo a woman and her children pause Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, to take in a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue honoring the 11 people killed Oct 27, 2018 while worshipping in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
At the same time, an AJC survey of the general public (including non-Jewish respondents) found that nearly half of Americans — and three quarters of those without a college education — do not even know what antisemitism is.
There's also a shocking lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among millennials and Gen Zers. In a separate survey from the Claims Conference, more than half, 63 percent, said they didn't know six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. One in 10 said they'd never heard the word "Holocaust."
So the bottom line: While there's been an increase in antisemitism, there's also been an increase in ignorance around antisemitism and humanity's most horrific manifestation of it.
It's coming at a time when America is collectively and rightfully waking up to long-standing systemic racism and inequalities. But it sometimes feels like there's a lack of outrage when racism and bigotry is targeted at the Jewish community.
For example, over the summer, NFL star DeSean Jackson posted on Intagram to his more than one million followers, several antisemitic messages, including a quote he wrongly attributed to Adolf Hitler.
Bestselling author and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom pointed out at the time there was no mass outrage from the sports industry and no immediate punishment from his team.
He wrote, "Anti-Semitism doesn't cause the same fury as other prejudices. There is rarely as loud or sustained an outcry when a synagogue is attacked or a Jewish person is killed for his faith. Or the entire Jewish population is slandered."
Albom appeared on Cheddar this summer and I asked him why he thinks that is. He said, "Antisemitism is really the oldest form of bigotry in the world and it goes back thousands of years. And some people don't realize that Jews over the years have been accused of everything from causing the bubonic plague, to, of course, the death of Jesus to many other things. And they've been persecuted over the years, over the centuries, wherever they have been. Not to mention, of course, there are still people walking around with numbers on their wrists that they got in concentration camps."
"So I tried to write a piece that just said, 'Hey guys, while we're at it being kind to one another and sensitive to one another and calling everybody out, let's remember that antisemitism falls under that category as well,'" he added.
Albom said the reaction was overwhelming. He said in 30 years, few of his columns have struck such a chord.
On a personal note, it resonated with me.
I have never felt less secure as a Jewish person in this country as I do now, or at least as I did pre-pandemic, and less comfortable talking about it. My feeling is — rightly or wrongly — most people who aren't Jewish don't really care.
The few discussions I've had about my fears as a Jewish person in this country right now, have left me feeling like I shouldn't talk about antisemitism when others may have experienced worse.
I certainly don't speak for all Jewish people but I do feel like there is a double standard when it comes to the overall reaction to antisemitism in this country.
It's not just incumbent on non-Jews and minority communities to be outraged by it. I think there are a lot of members of the Jewish community itself who almost don't want to call attention to it, or rock the boat, or are just used to it. So they — and I would put myself in this group sometimes — let these incidents go unnoticed.
Here's what I do know:
I send my daughter to a Jewish preschool attached to a synagogue. One of the first questions I had for the school director was not about class size or curriculum. It was about security. And the answer — there are armed guards on the premises whenever school is in session.
Even so, when I pick her up at school in the afternoon, I find myself looking around for any suspicious cars.
I cringe every time I go on Twitter and see "Jews" trending, scared to find out: What happened? Who said what now? And I wish more than anything that antisemitism wasn't still an issue.
I've been to the Auschwitz concentration camp twice with Holocaust survivors. I fear a world when the last of these eyewitnesses to unbelievable terror will no longer be with us, which will come just as more people downplay or deny the Holocaust ever happened.
This is my experience. I'm not comparing it to anyone else's. And as it has been said rightfully, no group has a monopoly on suffering.
What I do think is that judging someone on the basis of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion — regardless of which it is — is wrong. And as Albom said, "We can't be selective" about which hate sparks outrage. If we're going to make some real change in this country, we all have to do it together.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of Cheddar and Altice USA.