How to Fight Anti-Semitism
“All Jews must die.”
Those words, uttered by an anti-Semite as he gunned down eleven of my neighbors at Tree of Life on October 27, 2018, are the words that marked my before and after.
That line — the one that had been uttered in a different tongue by Amalek, the villain who stalked the weakest of the ancient Israelites in the desert on their way to the Promised Land; the one that had been echoed by Amalek’s ilk down through the generations; and the one that was now being shouted in ours — was my alarm bell. That line woke me up to the fact that I had spent much of my life on a holiday from history. And history, in a hail of bullets, had made its unequivocal return.
But the truth — a truth I had largely avoided as a member of the luckiest diaspora — is that there has not been a single moment in Jewish history in which there weren’t anti-Semites determined to eradicate Judaism and the Jews.
The other truth, the sweeter truth, is that they have never prevailed.
Think for a moment about the fact that no one in the world says “Hail, Caesar” anymore. There is not “one single Hittite” on the planet, as Walker Percy once observed, “even though the Hittites had a flourishing civilization while the Jews nearby were a weak and obscure people.” And yet millions of Jews all over the world still recite the Shema in the same language.
What explains this earthly miracle?
One answer: The Jews did not sustain our magnificent civilization by being anti-antiSemites. They sustained Judaism because they knew who they were and why they were. They were lit up not by fires from without but by the unquenchable fires in their souls.
Today we face a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world that American Jewry has not escaped. But the right response is the same now as it has been for Jews of so many other times and places. The only sustainable way we can fight anti-Semitism is by waging an affirmative battle for who we are. By entering the fray for our values. For our world-changing ideas. For our communities here and abroad. For the generations that gave us our lives — and for the generations that will come after us.
Da lifnei mi atah omed. Know before whom you stand. That phrase is inscribed over the ark in many synagogues around the world. Maybe you are looking at it right now.
Who do you stand before? I stand before the valor and the sacrifices of my ancestors. I stand before the iconoclasm of Abraham and Sarah. I stand before the faith of Rabbi Akiva. I stand before the courage of Hannah Senesh. I stand before the bravery of the Maccabees and the optimism of Anne Frank and the resilience of Natan Sharansky and the audaciousness of Theodor Herzl.
That is my proud legacy. That is the epic story I want to be part of, however tiny my role. Crucially, it is not a line of blood. The biblical Ruth, after all, was a convert from the Moabite people, one of the most hated groups in the Torah. She left her tribe and followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to the land of Israel. And it is Ruth’s line that Jews believe would give the world King David and, ultimately, the Messiah.
In other words, the line is not and has never been a simple matter of inheritance. It is a line of choice — and each one has to make it. I believe there is no greater honor.
Bari Weiss is an op-ed writer and editor for The New York Times. Her first book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, was just published by Crown.