I remember years ago learning that there were Jewish institutions in some countries in Europe and South America (i.e., France, Argentina) that didn’t have signs, fearing that identifying themselves as Jewish would lead to anti-Semitic acts of one form or another.  Having been born and raised in the U.S., in New York no less, I simply couldn’t imagine what it might be like to be a Jew living under such circumstances.  That was, until recently.

Events such as the firebombing on January 11 of Temple Beth El in Rutherford, NJ, along with the home of its Rabbi; a similar attack on a synagogue in Paramus, NJ a week earlier on January 3; spray painted swastikas on synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack, NJ in December; cars burned with anti-Semitic graffiti such as swastikas and KKK markings on cars, sidewalks and benches in Midwood, Brooklyn on November 11 (the day after the commemoration of Kristalnacht); and other such incidents in Manhattan and Long Island are beyond disturbing.

And who are these Jew haters?  Well, the four men who were convicted of plotting to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx in 2009 were reportedly radicalized Muslims. No surprise there.  As for the Rutherford synagogue firebomb, not much is known about the 19 year old suspect, Anthony Graziano, of Lodi, NJ, aside from the fact that a classmate was quoted by CBS news as saying  “For the past two months he’s been talking about how much he hates Jews because they were going to take over the country. This kid is crazy. He’s insane.”  And regarding the suspect of several of the Brooklyn incidents, and this is the real kicker, he’s a 56 year old Jewish man named David Haddad.

So what are we to make of all this?  So much for all my preconceived notions of Jew haters, for they truly come in all shapes and sizes, and religions too.  I’m not going to get into the dynamics of why a Jew would do such things, but my father frequently went on about how some of the worst anti-Semites were Jews.  And while in my youth I may have looked at him like he had three heads, as an adult I’ve experienced his point more times than I can count.  Psychologists refer to this as ethnic self hatred, and maybe on some future date I’ll blog about it in more detail.

As for the broader question, I’m reminded of that old Tom Lehrer parody, National Brotherhood Week, listing the many prejudices between groups of people, and ending with the lyric, And everybody hates the Jews. Not so funny.

Now, back to where I began.  My synagogue in Great Neck, NY recently spent a lot of money putting steel barriers by the front entrance to prevent a car from driving into the building, and new security systems for all entrances and throughout the building.  My daughter’s high school, a Jewish school in Riverdale, is a fairly new building with no signs or markings on the outside to identify it as a Jewish school.  As I said, I now understand what Jews in some other countries have been experiencing for years.

So, is anti-Semitism worse or better than in the past?  If by “the past” one means Nazi Germany, than the answer is obvious – nothing can compare to that.  But things are pretty bad out there, and overt antipathy towards Jews is definitely on the rise.  Sometimes it’s dressed up as “anti-Zionism,” a subject of yet another future blog, and sometimes it’s not dressed up at all.  In any event, our vigilance must be constant, our voices must be heard, and our heads must never buried in the sand.

Andrew Kane is the author of the critically acclaimed and controversial novel Rabbi, Rabbi and the new book Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale. He holds a PhD in psychology from Yeshiva University and is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He lives in New York with his wife, Debbie, and their two children. To purchase a copy of his new book, please visit amazon.com.

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