Fighting Anti-Semitism: A Conversation with District Attorney Jeff Rosen
By Denise Sandel, 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow
Jews are the second-most targeted group for hate crimes in the U.S., yet they are only 2% of the population. They have experienced injustice and anti-semitism throughout all of history, and in all locations of the world. My home country Argentina was a target for two terrorist attacks on the Jewish Community. What can we do, as Jews, to have an impact on this historic hatred?
When anti-semitic acts occur, our community typically looks for ways to help one another. We talk with each other about hate with our family and friends, and sometimes we post about it on our social media. But, can we do more? Sometimes it feels safest to just shrink inwards and become smaller, in an attempt to make ourselves, and those around us, less vulnerable to the perceived threat. What can we do in the face of anti-semitism? There are fundamental questions that Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen addressed in his conversation with our cohort during a J Leaders retreat.
The J Leaders Academy 2022-2023 cohort is made up of fellows from a variety of backgrounds. We come from all over. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from Rio to Buenos Aires. Some of us have families that have been in the U.S. for multiple generations. Some of us are first generation, American-born Jews. Some of us (myself included) are immigrants.
Regardless of these differences, we share common values, goals, and the drive to make the world a better place. We also share a common problem – one that is unfortunately common to Jews around the world and across time – anti-semitism. Part of our call as Jewish leaders is addressing the difficult issues; And one of these very difficult and important issues for us to address is anti-semitism. Anti-semitism will not disappear. Hate will not disappear. Violence will not disappear.
What can one say to a group of Jewish young adult leaders on a topic that would make us feel empowered in the fight against anti-semitism? We hoped for a fresh perspective on this five thousand year-old issue which Jews have experienced for generations. On the Saturday night of our second weekend retreat, DA Rosen offered us his perspective on responding to anti-semitism.
DA Rosen shared a simple but effective answer for fighting anti-semitism. We need to be and develop allies. What are allies? Allies step up and support others in their time of need. Allies acknowledge oppression and actively commit to reducing their own complicity, investing in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.
How do we find and grow alleys? We do so through one of Judaism’s most important values, that of education. We have survived throughout history by teaching our history from generation-to-generation (L’dor v’dor). We take people to Holocaust museums, hear stories of oppression, and show the consequences of hate.
These are the words I often have used in the last few years to encourage myself to do new things, to leave my home country, and to start a new life in the United States.
What were the take-aways from our conversation with DA Rosen?
- Find allies who can support Jews when confronted with anti-semitism.
- Support others who are experiencing hate – whether due to race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.
- Create these alliances, relationships, and bridges of support BEFORE we need them.
- Teach others about hate through the lessons of history.
- Don’t shrink away from hate. We need to stand-up proudly and boldly as Jews whenever and wherever it occurs. In the face of hate, it’s important that we make ourselves bigger, not smaller.
As DA Rosen concluded his comments with these words… “Be better Americans and citizens of the world. Be better Jews. Be better Zionists!”
Dense Sandel is a 2022-23 J Leaders Academy Fellow.