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What About Semitism?

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Deep-ish Dive | 0 comments

October 7 changed almost everything for the contemporary Jew. There is so much we see differently. Jews are not new to cataclysmic events in Jewish life. They happen far too regularly in Jewish history: immigration to North America, the Holocaust, the rise of the State of Israel, Israel’s wars, the emigration and integration of Soviet Jewry, Intifada, terrorism. It’s never been dull for long.

There are so many factors to consider in why and how these things happen but there is a common thread to all of them. Yes, antisemitism is in one way or another a contributing factor to each of these events. It’s out there, always has been, and likely always will be. Don’t worry, it’s not us.

Let me submit that our People’s response since 7/10 is different. It’s not the war in Gaza that’s different, it’s the total war on antisemitism. It’s how our education system, its programs, its agencies, and its spokespersons are all working overtime to counter this menacing foe. Of course, antisemitism in all its forms is pernicious, infectious, evil and it should be eradicated. But antisemitism is not the major enemy.

In the most recent decades of Jewish history, too many have lost contact with our tradition, our literature, our history, our rituals. In our efforts to ‘improve our lot’, integrate into general culture, and survive financially, we set aside the regular times for Jewish study which had been a foundation pillar of our community. Memories of ‘Hebrew School’ are so negative that anything Jewish has become tainted. We no longer sit bored in synagogue because most of us never attend.

We are fooling ourselves into believing that knowing how to combat antisemitism and teaching the broader community about antisemitism will keep our community more secure. Sure, it’s important to know how antisemitism can manifest itself in our culture or to recognize the difference between a position critical of Israel and an antisemitic slur. But it’s vastly more important to be able to conduct a cogent conversation with a classmate, co-worker or neighbour about being a proud Jew, Judaism and Jewish life as well as current events in the Middle East. Antisemitism education won’t help with any of that. Antisemitism education focuses too much on ‘what they did to us’, how we suffered, the causes of the persecution. Jewish Education intends to develop an understanding and appreciation of the magnificent intellectual and social structures built by Jews in all the conditions, cultures and countries in which we’ve lived.

The survival of the Jewish people over several thousand years is not because we were once experts in combating antisemitism and need to re-learn our lessons.

We need to be focussing our efforts on what has supported our survival for thousands of years. Semitism! A meaningful knowledge of and familiarity with the ins-and-outs of our tradition, values, histories and languages.

We knew who we were. We identified with our People. We were able to identify with our People’s History. We could read and appreciate our literature, Biblical or otherwise. Home and synagogue rituals were not completely unfamiliar. Jewish identity was built by living a life within a supportive Jewish Community. Jews felt a kinship in the traditions, ‘stories’ and bond we felt to a system of greater ideas and values. Too few of us can turn to those intellectual reserves anymore. We’ve lost touch.

Our survival depends on our uncanny devotion to Jewish Education, period. In its broadest sense, Jewish Education and lifelong learning have been pillars in the foundation of our survival efforts. Learning Jewish Content provides roots. Jewish Learning brings together people and ideas into the community. Grappling with concepts and ideas fosters communication and expression of ideas. Jewish awareness enables ‘me’ to reflect upon ‘my’ place in the world. The record of Jewish Experience gives me perspective on my world and ways to consider how much better it could be.

Antisemitism destroys. Jewish education nurtures.

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