Tonight, marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. As a child, Passover was a fun holiday with good food, relatives around the table, and the joy of hunting for the afikomen after dinner. Yet, amidst the fun, one line in the Seder stood out to me every year, “In every generation they have tried to annihilate us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.” In every generation people have tried to destroy Jews, whether through genocide or ethnocide. Beginning with Bible stories, which may or may not be factual, and continuing with historical accounts, there have been attempts to kill of the Jews staring in approximately 1430 BCE with slavery in Egypt and the attempted destruction of the Jews by Haman, in the book of Esther in about 356 BCE.
The first historical account of attempted ethnocide of Jews dates to 138 BCE when the Greek government outlawed the practice of Judaism in Israel, which is detailed in the celebration of Chanukah. There were recorded massacres of Jews in 486 CE by Christian monks, in 624 CE by Muslims, in 1096 CE by Christian Crusaders during the First Crusade and in 1146 CE during the second crusade. Throughout the 13th century Jews were murdered with impunity all across what is now Germany and Poland after being blamed for causing the Black Plague (which is caused by a bacteria). In 1391 Jews were massacred across Spain. In the 16th century, Marranos were burned in Portugal and Spain as well as in Mexico and Peru. Between 1648 and 1666 Jews were massacred by Poles, Swedes, Russians, and Cossacks. In 1818 Jews were slaughtered in Yemen, and in 1840 in Damascus. During the Holocaust six million Jews were slaughtered.
In addition to outright slaughter, Jews have been expelled from many different countries over the centuries including France, Spain, Austria, and Portugal. During the Civil War, citing anti-Jewish stereotypes, General Ulysses S. Grant expelled Jews from the Tennessee territory. During the Holocaust Canada and the United States, along with many other countries refused to take in Jewish refugees.
If you’re reading this, you probably harbor some anti-Jewish notions, believe in some anti-Jewish stereotypes, have told anti-Jewish jokes. If you say you haven’t you’re probably lying. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been the target of anti-Jewish slurs, jokes, and stereotypes. There are times I’ve stayed silent, because I was afraid. There are times I’ve spoken up and been rebuked. There are times when others have stood up for me, and there are times when others have been silent. Every time someone has told me that “I jewed him down,” is “just a saying,” and I’m being too sensitive by objecting to it, I die a little inside. Every time someone says, “The Jews control the media,” “The Jews control Hollywood,” “The Jews control the worldwide banks,” “Jewish space lasers caused the fires in Northern California,” I die a little inside. But, I do not and will not renounce my Judaism.
I am proud to be a Jew. That is not something I’ve often said, but I am. As a child I was largely oblivious to anti-Semitism. It wasn’t until we moved to Pennsylvania when I was in sixth grade that I really learned what it was to be hated for who I was without someone even knowing me. Slurs were directed at me. I lost my two best friends, who stopped being friends with me the instant they learned I was Jewish. Since then, I have been subjected to more anti-Semitic comments then I can count. I don’t write this, so you have pity for me. I don’t want your pity, or even your compassion. What I do want is for you to do your own work, to objectively and fearlessly examine the prejudices and biases that exist within you. If you claim you don’t have any, you are lying to yourself. This Passover, free yourself from your delusions. Wake up to your prejudices, because you have them. Stop lying to yourself, start being honest. You can’t heal what you won’t face.