How Did We Get Here…

By Skylar Ribotsky

In February 2020, I had the privilege of attending the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) international convention in Dallas, Texas. On the second day of the convention, Bari Weiss, former editor for the New York Times spoke. Weiss talked about the Jewish star necklace she received for her Bat-mitzvah in Pittsburg, at The Tree of Life Synagogue, further she explained that for twenty-one years the necklace stayed in a drawer. Her reasoning for this as she stated, “I was already the big Jew in the room, why did I need to announce it around my neck?”

But that all changed on the morning of October 27, 2018, when she was alerted to the shooting in her hometown, in the synagogue she grew up in, from a text her sister sent her. In response, Bari Weiss went back home to bear witness and she also dug that necklace out of the drawer in her childhood bedroom and put it on, as an act of anger for what that white supremacist had done.  Bari also did this as an act of resistance, and she never took it off because generations of Jews died, and for those who barely survived the unthinkable and the unfathomable.   Those that came before perished and fought so we could be Jewish.   Bari also wore it for the future of our people and as a reminder to herself, that we must have the same audacity to stand up for our people in the struggles we face today. 

Weiss’s story has stayed with me ever since the day I first heard it. Though, since I first heard those words in that room in Dallas, Texas, what it means to be openly Jewish in this country has changed drastically.    We at The Ribotsky Institute, have always been cautious not to speak too much on one issue, but we cannot be silent any longer as not only are some of us Jewish, but the statements being made are eerily similar to the movement that grew to almost exterminate our people.  We have watched over the past couple of years as antisemitism has risen at a drastic level, as Jewish people on college campuses have been attacked and their Chabad’s vandalized, and as Jewish people all over the country have been attacked and brutalized on the street just for being Jewish.   

This Saturday white supremacist groups planned a “national day of hate,” calling for mass antisemitic action, in which they stated, “we are calling on all fighters of truth and justice to take a stand, and expose the international clique of parasitic vermin that infest our nation today…make your voices heard loud and clear, that the one true enemy of the American people is the Jew.” It is unfortunately sad to say that I wasn’t surprised by this though that does not mean that I was not angry and deeply saddened. I also was not surprised by the reaction from Jewish congregations around the country, who not only invited members of other faiths to their Shabbat Services, but in New York, even with heightened security on a cold morning, some temples had Shabbat Services outside.   This act alone was inspiring to the Jewish Community.  The Jewish people are arguably the most resilient group of people in history, we are a group of people who have refused to die in the face of horrific conditions and situations.

Though, in the year 2023, the Jewish people cannot fight this alone; and what is most disheartening is the silence. There are non-Jewish people in this country that are genuinely trying to learn and support their Jewish friends and it is so sad that their actions are overshadowed by the vast abyss of silence that fills this entire country and the world when it comes to antisemitism. I am sure everyone would agree that if any other race or religious group was openly attacked on the street just because they were of that race or religion there would be a massive demonstration and/or a march.   What if men in this country all of a sudden rose up against women’s rights after everything women have suffered to be equal to men?   What would happen if the landmark decisions that allowed integration and stopped racism gave rise to new segregation and people were told to sit at the back of the bus again?

You can rest assured that there would not be silence.

This so often becomes a political issue when it shouldn’t be.   We are not making a political statement when we say that it is disgusting and disappointing that the leaders in our government who have stood proudly and defended other marginalized groups or spoke out against other human rights issues, but when it comes to the Jews, again, they are silent. Your Jewish constituents are scared and they could really use someone with an ounce of power or leadership to stand up for us.

To the non-Jewish people reading this right now, your Jewish friends could use your support. To the entire general public, we stand up for you, we expect you to stand up for us.  We can no longer ignore or write off antisemitism, we are living through incredibly dangerous times, and as a Jew I know I can’t sit back and put my head under the covers and pretend my people aren’t in great danger.   This is serious and by marginalizing it everyone is condoning the behavior.

Last night as I was getting ready, I went into my drawer in my college dorm room and took out my necklace with my name in Hebrew on it, and I put it on. I put it on for Jewish people like Bari Weiss, who inspires me to show the world that I am Jewish every single day. I put it on out of anger for what these white supremacists were doing in the country I once felt safe being Jewish in. I put it on for every Jewish college student that refuses to hide that they are Jewish for fear of antisemitic upheaval. I put it on for the future of the Jewish people, for the Jewish children I hope to one day raise in a world where they do not live in fear of being Jewish, and I put it on to remind myself that I will not ever be scared to be Jewish ever. 

As a country, we have spent several years trying to recognize groups that have been discriminated against.  Now religious discrimination is alive and well here in America.   The fact that in 2023 we have to worry about white supremacy creating a new movement against Jews in the United States of all places, is a scary situation.  

The Jewish people collectively say “Never Again” referring to the genocide that killed six million Jews in the Holocaust and once again our way of life is threatened by white supremacists and other groups who have a similar message as the Nazi party did. 

These occurrences are unacceptable and must be stopped or we are all doomed.  One day when they are done with the Jews they will turn their sights on another group and by the time it becomes real for that group it will be too late for so many.   

#neverforget #jewishlivesmatter

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