By Dr. Yifrah Kaminer
Antisemitism is the mother of all discrimination. It was conceptualized during the First council of Nicea in 325 CE where the emperor Constantine and his bishops created a consensus regarding the nature of Christianity. Antisemitism continued to expand and the devastating results of this ideological discrimination is sadly known. No church has yet taken responsibility for the suffering inflicted by Christianity.
My daughter Liah was featured in an article by Cindy Mindell regarding her experience with antisemitism at Hall High in West Hartford and the steps she took to combat it. My son Idan was bullied by antisemitic remarks at King Philip Middle School. Are my kids the only one to experience this ugly Christian tradition in West Hartford schools? I seriously doubt that. Why have I not heard about similar experiences of other Jewish kids? My conclusion is that most families prefer to underplay such incidents or to use denial and avoidance as coping skills.
Some readers may feel uneasy reading my essay and would argue that antisemitism is not an issue in West Hartford schools and/or that the Jewish families would react appropriately when necessary. I beg to differ.
I have grave concerns regarding lack of assertiveness by the West Hartford Jewish community due to several reasons. First, Liah felt attacked by the Jewish Student Union for bringing her experience to their attention. Their dismissive advice was to ignore it. Also my personal discussions with Jewish families, and the tepid response from prominent rabbis in the community, were disappointing. Finally, the fact that Liah has received many compliments for her courage and assertiveness but no support in terms of joining her in her effort to combat ignorance and prejudice in school is disheartening.
Based on our experience, there are three pivotal issues to address by Jewish communities. First, why Jewish kids and families prefer to ignore antisemitic experiences and use poor coping skills such as submissive denial and avoidance. Second, how do you prepare your kids not to the IF but to the WHEN and HOW this hurtful experience occurs? Third, what should the public school system do to effectively curb antisemitism?
First, American Jews are embarrassed to admit that antisemitism is alive and kicking in the U.S. Why? Because it is a frustrating reminder that it does not matter how much you thrive. You are not an integral part of this dominantly Christian nation! Accepting antisemitism in the U.S. as a fait-a-complis is similar to the “battered-wife syndrome.” It is a symbolic Fiscus Judaicus (Jewish tax) that Jews paid throughout history for the right to live as second-class citizens marginally protected by the state. The advice is, be quiet because the alternative could be worse. But is this the right answer?
Interestingly, when some of my professional colleagues told me on different occasions “you do not look or behave like the American Jews we know,” I have realized how deep antisemitism runs. This “backhanded compliment” epitomizes the American Jewish tragedy of those who want to believe that they are respectfully integrated here.
I was born in Israel and grew up as part of the Jewish majority. I have not experienced direct antisemitism in my more than 25 years in the U.S. I attribute it to my identity as an Israeli American first and as a Jew second. In the U.S. most groups define themselves by a national origin such as: Italian, African and even Palestinian-American. Perhaps the Jewish community should consider being defined as an Israeli-American. Such a meaningful transformation in identity would enhance pride in the historically rooted affiliation to the ancient nation and land of Israel intertwined with Jewish tradition.
Second, what should you do to educate your family?
A MUST reading or viewing for any Jewish and Christian family is the book/DVD Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll. This is the ultimate historic documentary about the development of the toxic relationship by the Christian establishment towards the Jews since the fourth century. As an adolescent psychiatrist who specializes in youth high-risk behaviors, it is crucial to empower your kids to fight for their rights for respectful coexistence! This is essential to their mental well-being because being victimized impacts their emotional development and self-esteem.
Third, it is time a challenging comparative history-based theology course in schools that includes a study of the history and conflicts between Judaism and Christianity should replace the diluted “why can’t we be friends”-oriented curriculum of the history of religions.
A successful adaptation to the environment goes through mastery and not submission, which leads to assimilation that is so prominent among American Jewry. Finally, this is the time for soul searching for community leadership for a fear-free, respectful and dignified life in “the land of the free and home of the brave”.
Dr. Yifrah Kaminer is professor of psychiatry and pediatrics in the Alcohol Research Center at the University of CT Health Center in Farmington and the Injury Prevention Center at CT Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.
The opinions expressed in KOLOT are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Jewish Ledger.