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Pursuing justice is a deeply held tenet of Judaism. That is why Jews have often been at the forefront of social change movements.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an exemplary organization founded in 1891 by American Jews to help European and Russian Jews safely relocate to the United States in the face of pogroms (antisemitic riots). The society now rescues refugees worldwide fleeing oppression in their homeland because of their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Their brochure states: “In the beginning, we helped people because they were Jewish; now we help people because we are Jewish.”

As such, I have written about how Judaism directs us to “welcome the stranger” and to value and protect those who look or believe differently than we do. A topic I have not addressed is antisemitism, held back by the fear that naming it might provoke violence or be met with denial by those who doubt its existence.

Despite my hesitancy, I would like you to consider how you might support the “others” in your lives who are Jews.

Sadly, antisemitism has been around almost as long as there has been a Jewish people. Throughout history, there has been a longstanding reflex to blame the Jewish people for whatever is wrong. There is also a persistent antisemitic assertion that Jews have an inordinate amount of power and somehow control banks, the media, and the economy.

These twisted stereotypes manifested alarmingly in 2017 in a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that attracted thousands of angry participants carrying tiki torches (a fear tactic associated with the Ku Klux Klan), wearing swastikas, toting assault rifles, and carrying signs that said, “Jews will not replace us.” This is just one example of how the Trump presidency facilitated a spike in the number of hate crimes in this country. He is now out of office, but these terrifying incidents continue.

Growing up as an American Jew, I thought that blatant antisemitism was largely something of the past and felt quite safe attending services and clearly identifying myself as a Jew in public spaces. The massacre of Jewish worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 shook me to my core. For the first time, my synagogue reluctantly chose to lock its doors during services. Our greeters have been trained to deal with those who wish to do us harm.

Then, in May, a horrifying increase in antisemitism across the country brought swastikas spray-painted on synagogues, verbal threats and physical violence against Jews. Disturbingly, this uptick followed increased conflict in Israel and Palestine.

It is crucial to understand that American Jews have a wide range of opinions about the policies of the state of Israel, and our relationship with this land is complex, nuanced and fraught, but regardless of where we are positioned on this spectrum, we don’t vote in Israeli elections. Those of us who are heartbroken about the ongoing suffering support organizations in Israel/Palestine that are working hard for the peace, justice and security that all its inhabitants deserve.

Here is the take-away: 1) acts of antisemitism anywhere weigh heavily on your Jewish friends, so please reach out to offer your support; and 2) no matter your political beliefs, never confuse the state of Israel with Judaism as a religion or hold American Jews responsible for the actions of a foreign government.

You can criticize policies, not people and hold compassion for all who suffer from intolerance and stereotypes. During these heart-wrenching times of increased conflict in the Middle East and surging antisemitism in the world, be an ally to those who feel this pain in a very personal way.

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Sari Sapon-White is a writer and a tutor who prepares students for Bar/Bat Mitzvah. She is currently Co-Facilitator of the local chapter of The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

This article originally ran on democratherald.com.

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