This Chanukah, many in our communities are celebrating the Jewish festival of lights through happy gatherings and the warm glow of the menorah. While we revel in the joy of the holiday, we also remember that just a few years ago, attendees at a Prince George’s County budget hearing were handed a flier with shockingly grotesque, vulgar, racist and antisemitic language. Then, just a couple of years later, residents in the nearby city of Laurel woke up to fliers on their lawns full of hate-filled messages about Jews.
When these incidents were reported, our hearts broke. How could it be that our beautiful, inclusive community could be home to such disgusting acts of hate?
Sadly, the answer comes as easily as the question. Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish state, and it has existed in various forms for thousands of years. As those incidents in our county prove — alongside shocking violence like the Pittsburgh synagogue murders and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville — we are still living with antisemitism today, and it’s actually been on the rise. In 2020, according to the FBI, 55% of all religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews, who make up just 2% of the U.S. population. And the American Jewish Committee report, “The State of Antisemitism in America 2021,” released in October, found one in every four American Jews surveyed had been targeted by antisemitism over the past year, and nearly four in 10 report changing their behavior for fear of being identified as Jewish, or for their safety or comfort as Jews.
As Pittsburgh and Charlottesville showed, antisemitism still exists as dangerous, violent acts — but also as fliers quietly left on lawns, and in “polite” conversation woven throughout our culture. What we must confront is not only the old-school antisemitism of the past; modern-day antisemitism shows up as anonymous hate speech on social media; or as blaming Jews for moments of societal instability; and, increasingly, as a denial of the right of Israel to exist or blaming Jews everywhere for the actions of the Israeli government.
Now it is up to us to come together and do something about it. Antisemitism isn’t just a Jewish problem — it typically tracks with broader patterns of discrimination, progressions of violence and the fraying of democracy — a terrifying risk to us all. You may be wondering “what can I do?” — and the answer is there is plenty. Shine a Light, a national initiative to spotlight antisemitism, empowers people like you to open your eyes and speak up online, in your workplace, or in your school or on campus when you see or hear antisemitic words or actions, and proactively show support for your Jewish neighbors. There are Shine a Light filters, stickers and GIFs to post during this week of Chanukah and beyond. There are ways to ask your employer or your school administration how they’re supporting the Jewish community. And there are plenty of resources to learn about antisemitism so you, too, can shine a light and spread a message of positive change within your community and convey that hate will not be tolerated.
Maryland needs to be safe for everyone, regardless of race or religion. By shining a light on antisemitism you can help bring our community one step closer to this goal — which will lift us all up.
Jazz Lewis is a Maryland state delegate. Alan Ronkin is the regional director of the American Jewish Committee’s Washington, D.C., branch.