From Israel to Campus: On Antisemitism Today

I used to think antisemitism was just evil people consciously hating Jews. I was wrong.

Dylan Skurka

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My first brush with antisemitism happened when I was twenty years old. Some friends and I were taking part in a Secret Santa tradition we’d always do right before winter break, and when it was my turn to open my gift, I was horrified to find out I was holding a copy of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf.

I stood there for a moment, dead inside, holding a book associated with the slaughter of millions of other Jewish people as a crowd around me erupted in laughter. It was as if I had been transported to an alternate universe where up was down and down was up. Nothing made sense anymore.

Once the shock and anger subsided, as I looked around at all the jovial faces, my emotions began pulling me in another direction. This was my friend group. What if they abandon me if I speak up? Do I really want to make a scene? Wasn’t what was happening now, in a way, my fault for going along with all of those Holocaust jokes beforehand? I was justifying what had happened because I realized that as awful and painful as it was, actually doing something about it was going to be even more awful and painful for me. So like everyone else, I went along with it, my laughter suppressing the emptiness that roared inside my chest.

It took many years for me to recognize that this was a moment of antisemitism. Growing up, I had always thought that antisemitism was simple: you had an evil person who consciously hated Jews and consciously acted out on that hatred. That couldn’t be the full story, I now saw, because the antisemitism I had witnessed was carried out by people who certainly weren’t evil and certainly didn’t self-identify with hating Jews. They were just normal university students who either didn’t understand they were doing anything wrong or, if they did, like me, figured that using their voices wasn’t worth breaking with the status quo.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to antisemitism is paved with apathy and complacency. Once I understood this, I made a vow to never enable antisemitism whenever, if ever, it came looking for me again.

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Dylan Skurka

Just someone who likes writing about the philosophy of music and the music of philosophy.