April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Taking a Stance and Active Role in Supporting the Jewish Community

The focus of last month’s column was antisemitism and how its ugly rise is being fueled by the hateful rhetoric of some very prominent people in entertainment and professional sports.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse… Immediately following publication of last month’s column, President Trump dined with rapper-turned-antisemite Kanye West and white supremist Nick Fuentes, whose longtime record of hateful antisemitic comments and Holocaust denial is well documented by the Anti-Defamation League and others. Shockingly, this is a man who once compared concentration camp Jews to “cookies in an oven.”

To say the dinner was wrong and beneath the presidency would be the ultimate understatement. After the fact, the president said he was duped by West, alleging that Fuentes was brought to the dinner unexpectedly. The bottom line is, the president of the United States—past and present—needs to be forever mindful of who is in the room and for what purpose.

West, Fuentes, and others will claim that they’re not antisemitic at all. They’re just unhappy with, for example, “Jewish money managers” and Hollywood executives. Often, those peddling in hate will justify their behavior and rhetoric with all manner of excuse, claiming they are not antisemitic.

This is not a new phenomenon. Two-thousand years ago, the Seleucids argued that they were not anti-Jewish, just concerned with the religious nature of the Torah. What started as a religious prosecution by the Seleucids continued with a full-blown persecution of the Jewish people. In the past century we witnessed a similar pattern with the persecution of Jews by Nazis and Communists.

While the virulent antisemitism of West and Fuentes must be strongly condemned and their messages of hate toward all groups must be rejected, we must not mistake condemnation and rejection alone as the solution.

Can antisemitism ever be fully eliminated? Sadly, the answer is most probably, “No.” Can we diminish this, as well as other kinds of hate? The optimist in me confidently answers, “Yes.” However, as someone who tries to be a student of history and learn from lessons of the past, I think we must be realists in order to effectuate the positive change we so desperately need.

Where do we start? Perhaps by acknowledging the reality that antisemitism is not rational. It never has been. In fact, the antisemitism we encounter in America today is as irrational as that practiced by the Seleucids, Nazis and Communists.

What can we actually do to address the current epidemic of hate and the irrational phenomenon of antisemitism? Last month I spoke about how the mission and message of New Jersey’s Interfaith Advisory Council needs to be amplified and replicated statewide by leaders, who have a responsibility to promote tolerance and mutual respect, as do citizens at large. Of course, that alone is not enough.

During my 2021 campaign for governor, I had the great privilege of spending considerable time with New Jersey’s Jewish community all throughout the state. That experience reaffirmed for me what the country and the world need to know—namely, that much goodness and light comes from the Jewish community, which will never cower or change because of irrational hatred. Wherever my New Jersey travels take me, I happily share my Jewish experience.

Another simple but powerful response to antisemitism is to acknowledge and support Jewish celebrations, including, for example, the lighting of the menorah. This, by the way, is exactly how the Maccabees responded to the prosecution of the Seleucids.

The bottom line is, leaders and decent people of all faiths need to take a stance and active role in supporting the Jewish community.

God said, “Let There Be Light.” And so, let us acknowledge—embrace!—that the antidote to darkness is light. This biblical reference, by the way, is not only specific to physical light, but also creation, for “The ultimate goal and purpose of creation is that Divine Light shine throughout the world, transforming everything, even darkness itself, so that it, too, will shine.” (Chabad.org)

In diminishing antisemitism and the darkness of irrational hate that threatens our country, Jews are uniquely positioned to lead, as they always have before, by example, with their Festival of Lights celebration, Chanukah.

Wishing my fellow New Jerseyans of Jewish faith a very blessed holiday. May the lights of the menorah warm all hearts with the joy of Chanukah.

Jack Ciattarelli was the 2021 Republican nominee for New Jersey governor and a likely 2025 gubernatorial candidate.

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