Reaching herd immunity on antisemitism

Sustained educational efforts may inoculate us against this pandemic

By Joshua Yudkin

Words have meaning and power and, unfortunately, education is still a privilege to which not all persons have access. As we continue to process the horrifying hostage situation that took place in our own Texas community last month, many ask, what we can do better? More broadly, how do we understand antisemitism in the status quo? 

First, antisemitism has been on the rise. Months before this trauma, reports showed that 25% of American Jews have been the target of antisemitism and 39% of Jews changed their behavior out of fear of antisemitism in the past 12 months. In this same period, 90% of American Jews and 60% of the public considered antisemitism to be a problem in our society.

Antisemitism is multifactorial, but the lack of education is certainly a major cause. To share one data point, even though 90% of Americans believe it is important for students to learn the history of the Holocaust, more than 60% of young Texans did not know 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Let’s not forget the recent situation where a school administrator in Texas instructed teachers to teach “opposing views” about the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, these statistics and the critical work carried out by our community leadership to research, educate and support public initiatives and leaders addressing antisemitism does not seem to curb the increased growth in antisemitism. More importantly, it takes a terrifying situation like the one in Colleyville to renew the greater community’s focus and enthusiasm to combat this timeless hate toward our community. In fact, many have adopted language from the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic to call antisemitism a pandemic of Jew-hate.

There is an immediate need to invest in sustainable solutions that address upstream or root factors of antisemitism. Importantly, this does not mean to replace security trainings like that of the Secure Community Network, to which Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credits helping him save both his own life and the lives of the other hostages. In the short term, there is a need to make sure all members of the community both feel prepared and have the necessary skill sets should another attack plague our community. However, sustainable solutions address root causes of Jew-hate. Sustainable solutions begin with education, so that vulnerable populations do not fall victim to tropes of Jew-hate. Sustainable solutions include building relationships with diverse communities and individuals, so that all communities have firsthand experience and relations with Jews and can serve as allies in deafening Jew-hate rhetoric. Sustainable solutions develop a shared agenda amongst diverse partners who share the same goal of eradicating all hate speech. 

Investing in education, relationships and shared agendas is a proven strategy that can lead to sustainable change. In public health, the term herd immunity is used to describe the situation where a large enough portion of the population is immune that the disease lacks hosts and contagion is unlikely. In the case of antisemitism or Jew-hate, immunity, a reality where tropes of Jew-hate no longer have hosts can be achieved through education, relationships and shared agendas. 

Alongside non-Jewish partners, we can debunk and deafen all voices who proselytize Jew-hate via conspiracy theories through education and firsthand experience. 

These endeavors are well underway. We need to do more. This responsibility is shared by all. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook affirmed, “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” As Jews, Americans and citizens of the world, we don’t speak because we have the power to speak; we speak out against hate because we don’t have the power to remain silent. Speaking out against hate is the righteous choice. Speaking out against hate is the human choice. 

Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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