The Jews Are Tired – Antisemitism Fatigue and What Sustains Us

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, April 30, 2024

There are 15 million Jewish people in the world today. That amounts to 0.2% of the world’s population. A tiny drop in a vast ocean of humanity. In 1933 the world’s Jewish population was estimated at 16.9 million. The total world Jewish population, after more than 80 years, has not yet reached the number of Jews in the world prior to the Shoah. (reference)

There are 2.5 billion Christians in the world today. Christianity is the predominant religion in Europe, Russia, North America, South America, parts of Africa, and the Philippines. In some 21 nations worldwide, Christianity has been deemed the state religion. There are 2 billion Muslims in the world today, 400 million of whom are Muslim Arabs. Muslims are the majority in 49 countries. Yet somehow many of the world’s population believe the antisemitic conspiracy theories that Jews run the world.

In 1933 the total Jewish population of Europe was 9.5 million. This number represented more than 60 percent of Jews in the world. In 1933 most European Jews were living in eastern Europe, with about 5.5 million Jews living in Poland and the Soviet Union. Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Europe had a dynamic and highly developed Jewish culture. There were 70 million White Germans. In little more than a decade, most of Europe was conquered, occupied, or annexed by Nazi Germany and most European Jews – two out of three – were murdered by the Nazi regime.

In Europe, 2/3 of Jewish people were murdered, and by 1948 in North Africa and West Asia, over 99% of Jewish people were expelled. Most Israeli Jews are the descendants of refugees from Arab and Islamic countries, and most also have a parent, grandparent, or other relative who was a Holocaust survivor. I often wonder how many more Jews there would be in the world today had we not lost more than 2/3 of the European Jewish population (and therefore their potential descendants) in the Shoah. The majority of the world’s remaining Jewish population – 15 million today – lives in two places: Israel and North America (US and Canada).

In the last two decades we have experienced a historic rise in antisemitism across the world. We are tired of the social media postings, graffiti, memes, slogans, and chants that promote Jew hatred. We are fearful of the increasing number of violent acts that will inspire more violent and dangerous situations. We are tired of the terrorist bombings and shootings aimed at Jewish targets by extremist groups fixated on wiping out all of the Jewish people.

We are tired of being gaslighted and told that what we are experiencing in our schools and places of work are not antisemitic, that it doesn’t exist in those places – essentially that our experiences don’t matter. We are tired because we are constantly asked to enlighten others about Jews and Judaism and explain the Jewish experience, and then we are told that we are not allowed to define what is antisemitic. We are tired of the dismissive responses we receive when we explain to others why many Jewish people feel deeply, personally threatened by actions against Jews anywhere and that this is part of the Jewish experience. We are tired of Holocaust revisionism and Holocaust denial.

We are tired of others claiming the definition of our own identity. We are told that because of white privilege Jews can’t possibly be discriminated against, despite the fact that more than 60% of Jews in Israel and 12-15% of Jews in North America are Jews of colour. (reference) White supremacists define us as non-white, and are striving to take over the world – the chant “Jews will not replace us” is part of the great replacement theory, the claim that the Jews are leading an intentional effort to promote mass immigration, inter-racial marriage and other efforts that would lead to the “extinction of whites.” Others cannot understand that Judaism is not only a religion, but also a nationality, a peoplehood and a culture.

At the same time, we are tired of Jews and Judaism only being defined by others in relationship to persecution, as if that is all there is to Jewish life and Jewish living. Jewish life is vibrant. It is about beautiful tradition and ritual, baking challah, lighting Shabbat candles, keeping Shabbat and going to synagogue. It is about learning our history, learning Hebrew, learning to cook Jewish foods. It is about telling Jewish stories and singing Jewish songs and dancing the hora and Israeli dances. It is about being a part of a community that is unique and special, that is greater than our own individual selves, and striving to live a life of mitzvot/good deeds through the teachings of Torah. It is about focusing on the here and now, making this world a better place for all. Being Jewish transforms ordinary life into a life of deeper meaning.

It is about being part of a community that believes in deep study, healthy debate and a respect for both the majority and the minority opinion, in order to make better decisions. It is valuing education and lifelong learning. It is about being part of a larger community with people who are there to celebrate simchas together and support each other in times of sorrow. It is about having a meaningful connection to God, to our history, to our people, to community and building for our future. Judaism honors the past, is focused on the present, and brings hope for the future. It is about carrying on the legacy of the Jewish people while bringing our own personal meaning and traditions along.

We are tired, but when we focus on all that is good in Jewish life, we find the energy and strength to move forward. In Pirke Avot 2:21 – The Ethics of Our Ancestors, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us: You aren’t obligated to complete the task, but you’re also not free to desist from it.” Today and everyday, we are grateful that we are still here, and find inspiration to continue working towards making the world better for everyone.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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