Shining a light on the ugliness of anti-Semitism

And what organizations can do — beyond emojis and hashtags — to improve acceptance, by Beth Balsam and Gary Goldhammer.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

Beth Balsam, X2PR:
Let me start with a confession. It was the late 90s. Someone asked about my New Year’s Eve plans, and my regrettable response was “Ugh, I’m so gay, we’re just going to dinner.” To make matters even worse, the person I said it to was gay. As I was falling asleep, I cringed at the memory and apologized profusely the next day.

It’s hard to imagine, especially for the younger people reading this, that such terms were ever part of the vernacular. But they were, and it’s why I try to keep grace in my heart when remembering one boss telling me “you people have way too much money. That’s your problem.” Or another, in an annual review sharing “your clients are happy and doubled the budget, but you might want to cut down on the Jewish humor,” or a third-party vendor advising me to “Jew them down.”

The very good news is we’ve made such great strides as a country that these comments are pretty much universally recognized as unacceptable. But the bad news is, as has become recently apparent, though we fixed our language, we didn’t do enough work to adjust what’s happening beneath the surface. 

Gary Goldhammer, TruthDAO:
I’ve had lots of experience as the “other.” While I’ve never feared for my life, I’ve grown accustomed to the police protecting me at High Holiday services. I’m used to hiding my religion from strangers. I can empathize with attacks on synagogues as well as countless other acts of hate against races, religions or sexual orientations.  

I’ve been called a “Kike” and a “Jew Boy.” I was in a pub a few years ago when the man next to me casually talked about “you people” when referring to lawyers. I wanted to say “Um, dude, we’re doctors, too,” but that just would have encouraged him. 

I’ve rarely mentioned these issues or made a fuss. “We The Assimilated” want to feel normal and accepted. Fit in, don’t fight back. Keep quiet and there won’t be any trouble.   

Well maybe being quiet was a mistake. Quiet is what creates a Kanye or a Kyrie

We need to talk to each other, not retreat into the comfort of our ideological and cultural echo chambers. There can be no change if we stay silent, and we can’t condemn antisemitism without also explaining why some comments are wrong and painful. 

You’re hitting on a point that I think makes antisemitism different than other kinds of hate, which is when people buy into the conspiracy that Jews run the banks, the media, the entertainment industry and even the space lasers, they are ascribing a power to our community that makes the hate 1) justified and 2) acceptable. It’s not OK to punch down, but punching up is considered heroic. As a granddaughter of Eastern European refugees who ran from the Nazis, it’s painfully obvious to me, and those with similar backgrounds, how dangerous these conspiracies can become.

I recognize my pain pales in comparison to that of some communities. But when suspicion of the “other” is normalized, when virulent rhetoric and racist tropes are sanctioned by those in power, either by their words or their silence, then we are giving permission for the monsters to act.

As well-intentioned as they might be, we’re not going to end thousands of years of ignorance with supportive tweets or heart emojis. Change begins inside our own organizations by including Jews in diversity, equity and inclusion programs, by speaking up and speaking out and by encouraging clients to match words with actions when necessary.

Beth Balsam is founder of X2PR and Gary Goldhammer is partner and CMO at TruthDAO. 

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