By, Channa Buxbaum
The library is my happy place. Ever since I can remember, I’ve found refuge in the endless stacks of books and the peace and quiet that is perfectly maintained by patrolling librarians. So it was inevitable that my bookish radar sent me in the direction of Kips Bay Library, a division of the New York Public Library just a few minutes’ walk from Beren Campus. Small and secluded, Kips Bay was the ideal spot to sit back, relax, and procrastinate the afternoon away.
I was just settling into my latest novel when a woman some feet away began asking me a question. Or that’s what I first thought, until she approached me and I could hear that she was disgustedly muttering, “Jew… you Jew…” She carried on moving closer and accusing me of killing Jesus. Like everyone else, I studiously ignored her; unlike everyone else, however, my fingers went white from gripping my book as recent headlines ran through my head.
Until that moment, I had never known the extent to which the word “Jew” could be made into an expletive. But there she was, spitting it from her mouth like it was rat poison. Her absolute loathing of me, a complete stranger, took my breath away.
What frightened me was not so much the hateful words of a mentally ill woman, though they set my heart pounding and my mind racing. What frightened me were the vacant expressions of those around her, the silence that went unfilled, the apologetic but wholly unsurprised look the librarian gave me when she told me I’d best wait at the other side of the room while she calls the police. And the little voice in my head, the one telling me this was no big deal as I left the library in a hurry? That was terrifying.
The events of the past few weeks have seemingly been a horrifying wake-up call for the United States. The San Diego synagogue shooting happened just two days after a grossly anti-Semitic political cartoon was published in the New York Times and exactly six months from the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed eleven people. There were an almost unprecedented 1,879 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018, including assaults, harassment, and vandalism. These are the numbers that one would think are more suited for 1930s Germany, but certainly not for the United States of America. Yet the rise of global anti-Semitism has earned sympathy but very little action from American society as a whole. It’s easy to condemn a 19-year old man who wrote a manifesto of racist rants. But it is just as crucial to take steps to identify and adjust institutional anti-Semitism, the kind that appears frequently in public discourse or in everyday settings like, say, the library. More than ever, we need people to care about the wrongs that are committed on and off-screen, but the smaller incidents are often met with no small degree of apathy.
I don’t pretend that my experience in the library was anything compared to what has been happening to Jews all over the country recently. My little mishap was a blip in the vast timeline of actions, or lack of action, taken concerning the fate of Jews. But it was my first time personally experiencing such a straight-forward show of hate toward Jews, and certainly my first time experiencing the widespread lack of concern that followed. Injustice is inevitable, but indifference in the face of that injustice is a choice made constantly. Unfortunately, antisemitism isn’t always a headline; it’s the space between the lines, the small but constant uneasiness that occupies the victims of everyday discrimination.
The number-one threat against Jews in America today isn’t terrorism, it’s complacency.
Antisemitism is a problem. I refuse to wait until the next massacre to acknowledge it as such.