Lost and Found

By Myra Clark-Siegel, AJC Westchester/Fairfield Regional Director

For years, Jewish community scholars and leaders raised growing concerns about a divide between Israelis and Diaspora communities around the world. Many were concerned about the younger generation being distanced from, disinterested in, or disconnected from Israel. Divides between denominations and political affiliations were growing, and the very real political strife within Israel over the judicial overhaul was stretching Israeli civil society as never before. 

From a number of corners, there was genuine, growing concern about the future of Jewish peoplehood, until October 7, a date which will be scarred into our community’s collective history. After the horrific, depraved terror attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7, everything changed. 

No longer are we divided: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Israeli, Diaspora, Democrat, Republican, Sephardi, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi. We are Am Echad, ONE people. We are unified, fighting for the very existence of our people. And the Jewish community has found its voice. At every age, denomination, level of religious practice, and background, we are standing strong, and are vocal. 

If Hamas thought that through these horrific terror attacks that they would bring us to our knees, and weaken or destroy us, they were badly mistaken. We are a people of collective memory. We are the same people who every year for millennia recount and retell the stories of those who tried to destroy us – Passover, Purim, Tisha B’Av, the Shoah. But, as Jews, we come back stronger. Those who tried to destroy us are the ones who have gone from power. We are here to stay. 

Our response: Jews around the world who never did so before have begun wearing a Magen David or Star of David necklace, are going to synagogue, having Shabbat dinner, and are publicly advocating for the Jewish people and Israel in a newfound, powerful, and unified voice. 

Death wishes on Jews, calls for the destruction of Israel, and glorification of the horrors of Oct. 7 are not expressions of support for the Palestinians. The violent expressions we have witnessed on our campuses and in so many cities across the United States and around the world are expressions not of support for the Palestinian people but a violent manifestation of anti-Jewish hatred. Full stop. And they must be roundly and publicly condemned for their reality: antisemitism –  hatred of Jews. 

Antisemitism in America used to be relegated to the dark fringes of society, but as we have seen on social media, in mainstream media, on campus, and in the workplace, that mask has been torn off and exposed. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen it increasingly become part of mainstream discourse, becoming ever more violent, and it must not become normalized. According to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2022 report, 43% of American Jews believe that antisemitism is a serious problem in the United States. However, antisemitism on our campuses and in the workplace has rarely been addressed. Many DEI trainers and officers do not know how to talk about Jew hatred, with many making comments that downplay or ignore Jewish hate.

College presidents should immediately and without equivocation, adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) Working Definition of Antisemitism and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness) officers at K-12 schools, on college campuses, in the corporate world, and in government should work diligently to ensure that the Jewish community is invited to participate in DEI efforts. 

Our campuses and workplaces should adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism as a clear framework for understanding the many manifestations of antisemitism, including debates about Israel’s right to exist and Zionism. Only by identifying antisemitism in its most potent forms can our leaders in education, in the workplace, and in government effectively combat it. 

We must continue to stand up against hatred against Jews and Israel and AJC has resources available for you to use for your schools, university administrators, workplaces, and with government officials: www.ajc.org/attackonisrael.

The Jewish community here in Westchester County, throughout the United States, in Israel, and around the world is Am Ehad. We are proud Jews; we are strong, and we will prevail. Am Yisrael Chai. 

Myra Clark-Siegel is AJC Westchester/Fairfield Regional Director.  westchester@ajc.org