“What is latent can become overt. It is too easy to forget, and only by being vigilant can we hope to stop it.”
That’s the message that must get out to stem the rising tide of anti-Semitism, Marvin Goldstein said, following the April 27 attack at a California synagogue that killed one worshiper.
Goldstein is the associate director of Rider University’s Julius and Dorothy Koppelman Holocaust/Genocide Research Center.
The center was created in 1987 to maintain awareness of the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews, and other genocides.
The April 27 attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue occurred six months after a similar shooting at Pittsburgh, Pa., synagogue – and four days before Yom HaShoah on May 1. Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“We would like to think that as people become more educated, these events will stop. Unfortunately, they are not stopping. People think it is socially acceptable to act out (their biases), it seems,” Goldstein said.
The Internet gives some people the courage to take action and harm others, Goldstein said. These are people who, by themselves, would not do anything, but they get “worked up” by what they read online and act out, he said.
“Some people, for whatever reason, are angry at the world. They are looking for an avenue to vent their anger. A kid in the middle of Iowa reads something on the Internet and says, ‘These people are the problem’ – Jews, or another out-group,” he said.
“I think there will always be people who are looking to hurt somebody because of their own feelings of inadequacy. Everyone has that capability, but most have learned to keep it down,” Goldstein said.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Benjamin Adler and Cantor Arthur Katlin of Adath Israel Synagogue in Lawrence Township said they were upset to learn of the April 27 attack. Rabbi Adler said he was shocked, but not surprised.
“It is a scary situation when innocent people are violently attacked for coming together to bring spiritual meaning to their lives through communal worship,” Cantor Katlin added.
Like Goldstein, Rabbi Adler said anti-Semitism cannot be ignored. It has not disappeared. Anti-Semitism is here today and it must be dealt with, the rabbi said.
Rabbi Adler said he has discussed anti-Semitism with the students in his classes and whether they have experienced it, but they are somewhat dismissive of it. They joke and say they have not really experienced acts of anti-Semitism, he said.
But anti-Semitism is “out there” online – on Instagram and other web sites, Rabbi Adler said. There is a lot of joking among middle school-aged children, and they want to fit in. No one wants to be the one to ruin the joke and to be considered a tattle-tale by reporting it, he said.
“I have said to my students, ‘You have to make it clear that this joke is not okay.’ You can’t shrug it off. It grows. The things that you think are jokes can blossom and turn into true hatred,” Rabbi Adler said.
The students must be taught to stand up for themselves and for others, Rabbi Adler said.
“We can’t eradicate anti-Semitism, but we do not have to legitimize it. No one wants to see it legitimized. I think we have to say, as a society, ‘This is wrong.’ Hopefully, those voice (of anti-Semitism) will become de-legitimized,” he said.
Goldstein said the United States is not at the point of becoming anti-Semitic. There is diversity among the population, he said, adding that he does not think the country will ever get to the point of being anti-Semitic.
Nevertheless, Cantor Katlin said, “we must be vigilant, protective of each other and stand up against those who would do harm to another because they are different.”
“When a diverse community comes together to support each other’s religious and spiritual expressions, we become stronger as a community,” Cantor Katlin said.