“It pains me to say this, but if you fear for your life or physical safety take off your kippah and hide your magen David”
Even five years ago, the idea that wearing a yarmulke on your head painted a target on your back sounded like something from an Islamist-controlled Paris suburb, not 21st-century America.
Not anymore. After the fighting in Gaza triggered waves of attacks on the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles targeting religious Jews, the Biden campaign’s former Jewish liaison tweeted this:
“It pains me to say this,” wrote Aaron Keyak, “but if you fear for your life or physical safety take off your kippah and hide your magen david.”
The vitriolic Twitter response couldn’t hide the fact that Keyak was on to something: In the land of the free, visibly Orthodox Jews are now threatened as never before.
How to respond? First, reject clichéd solutions to anti-Semitism. For Israel, which is the Jewish world’s diplomatic heavyweight, that means avoiding automatic calls for aliyah.
In Yair Lapid, Israel is about to get a foreign minister who embodies this unfortunate tendency. His 2015 response to the Hypercacher attacks in Paris in which four Jews were killed was that “European Jewry should understand that there is only one home for Jews and that is the State of Israel.”
Apart from the fact these calls are unrealistic, they’re also counterproductive. Israel needs strong Jewish communities in America and Europe, just as much as these communities need Israel.
But leave aside Israeli officials, because it’s American politicians who need to get their house in order. The fact that Jews must even think of hiding their identity shows that something is rotten in the United States. Anti-Semitism, as the Holocaust showed, isn’t a Jewish problem — it’s a disease of society that strikes Jews first.
With Joe Biden in the White House and governors’ mansions in both New York and California under Democratic control, it’s Democrats who now own America’s anti-
Semitism problem. And while the party was vocal about the rise of far-right hate after the attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway in 2018 and 2019, Democrats have avoided facing their own challenges.
Because the uncomfortable truth for those like Aaron Keyak and others who defend the current Democratic Party is that the anti-Israel animus that galvanizes so much of the progressive left manifests itself as anti-Semitism on America’s streets.
You don’t need Martin Luther King’s famous statement that “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews” to understand why. Even if their motives were purer than driven snow, the Left’s irrational obsession with Israel’s actions inevitably acts as a dog whistle for real anti-Semites.
Democratic politicians like President Biden and New York governor Andrew Cuomo have made heartfelt statements condemning the anti-Semitic surge. But restoring a sense of safety to America’s Jewish communities will take far more than words. It needs the deterrence that comes from a zero-tolerance policy to anti-Semitism; not the flaccid response of a justice system that releases offenders back onto the streets.
Just as important, it will take guts from Biden and the party’s moderate wing to stand up to progressives and say “enough is enough” to the Israel-bashing.
European Jews have long learned to hide their identity, with mezuzahs buried out of sight and kippahs hidden under baseball caps.
If American politicians want to avoid the Europeanization of anti-Semitism, they have to act now.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 863)
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