June 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Antisemitism and the One-Way Mirror

This past Monday I found myself in the interrogation room of my local police department, sitting opposite a tough-looking detective named Bill. The scene was straight out of “Law & Order”—fluorescent light, one-way mirror, sworn statement … the works. No, thank God, I wasn’t a suspect in a crime. I was filing a police report about an antisemitic incident that targeted me and my family…

…It was Shabbat afternoon and I was walking home with my wife and kids after lunch at a friend’s house. A guy drove by, opened his window, shouted an antisemitic slur at us, and kept on driving. We continued walking home, a little shaken but otherwise OK.

At that point we had a choice. We could embrace our victimhood and ask, “Why, in the United States of America in the 21st century, can I not walk down a public street as a Jew in peace?” We could pretend that it didn’t happen and try to forget about it. Or, in the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, we could face the experience and ask, “What then am I to do?”

It took me a couple weeks, but eventually I came around to the third option. I went to the OU’s antisemitic incident reporting site (https://advocacy.ou.org/file-an-incident-report/) and filled out a simple form describing the incident. Then I clicked “Submit.”

After that, things happened quickly. I got an email from the chief security officer of my local Jewish Federation asking me to call him. I did and explained to him what had happened. He recommended that we loop in the police department of my town, so I said OK. Then I got a call from a detective at my local police department, asking me to describe the incident and to come in and file a police report. So I did that, too. I didn’t have to do too much thinking; just respond to questions and let the professionals do their jobs.

Unfortunately, I doubt that they’ll find the guy who did this. But, in a way, that’s not the most important point. What matters most are two things. First, that instead of letting antisemitic incidents slide, at the risk of normalizing this kind of behavior, we take a stand and say, “No. This is not OK. Not in my town, not in my state, not in my country.” Second, that we refuse to let ourselves be defined as helpless victims. Given a choice to be silent or to speak up, we choose to take the anger, frustration and fear that we feel and act to stem this tide of antisemitism. If we do nothing we let the antisemites win. Only through action can we take control of the narrative and become protagonists in our story, and not passive victims.

I’m sure there are some of you who have experienced an antisemitic incident, as I did, or will in the future. And I get it—given an experience like this, there is an overwhelming urge to let it fade into the past, to pretend it didn’t happen and move on with our lives. We’re busy—who has the time to talk to these people on the phone, to go down to the station and file a police report? And who wants to go into an interrogation room and give a statement under oath? Most of us wouldn’t want to be within 500 feet of an interrogation room.

But while this path is understandable, it is not the best path, and it is not the path we should be taking as American Jews. When we come face to face with antisemitism, we shouldn’t look away and pretend it didn’t happen. We should stare it in the eye, say, “I’m not afraid of you,” and push our police departments and elected officials to take action to fight this scourge. It is these small acts of pushing back, the raising of each of our heads in defiance, that I believe will do more than anything else to stop this wave of hatred breaking upon our communities.

God willing, you won’t experience an antisemitic act like I did. But if you do, I urge you to fill out that OU form. And I urge you to go down to your police station and file a report. And when you’re sitting in that interrogation room as I was, take a look at yourself in that one-way mirror. In that mirror you’re not going to see a victim. You’re not going to see a scared American Jew at the mercy of his antisemitic neighbors. Instead, you’re going to see a proud Jew who stood up to hatred and said, “No. Not here. Not today. Not ever.”


Steven Starr lives in Hillside, New Jersey with his wife, Keshet, and children Ellie, Moshe, Meira and Rina. He can be reached at [email protected].

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