Yeezys, Yamakas, and Yom Kippur: A surge of Anti-semitism


Photo credit: Benjamin Kagan

Members of the Jewish Student Connection celebrate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

On October 31, 2022, a Jones College Prep student showed up to school in a “Germany military costume” where he goose-stepped (an action heavily associated with Nazism) his way through the school’s costume contest and gave a Nazi salute. 

On October 8, 2022, Kanye “Ye” West took to twitter and tweeted, “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going defcon 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” However, more than that, Kanye asserted the antisemitic trope that Jewish people are disproportionately powerful and control the media. In the following days, a banner was hung from a bypass of the Los Angeles Highway which read “Kanye is right about the Jews.” Next to this this banner stood many citizens with their arms in a Nazi salute. 

On November 14, at a cemetery in Waukegan, Illinois, 16 headstones were found vandalized with red-spray painted swastikas, and 23 other headstones had been defaced with red illegible graffiti. Unfortunately, these are just recent examples in the last 45 days, and the list does not stop here. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)– the leading anti-hate organization in the world-– there were 2,717 reported antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2021 which is the highest number recorded since the ADL began tracking the statistic in 1979 and represents a 34% increase from 2020.

Antisemitism is currently pervasive in American culture and is only getting louder. 

Antisemitic rhetoric can often be heard from politicians who are running for various prominent state and federal positions all over the country, including governors, congresspeople, and state representatives. In addition, antisemitic hate speech is prevalent on college campuses, and antisemitic attacks on Jewish synagogues are now commonplace.

However, antisemitism also finds its way into American–and Parker–culture in a way that is not as clear as a banner on a highway. In Dave Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live monologue, he stated, “I’ve been to Hollywood. It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot.” The microaggressions of Chapelle’s Saturday Night Live monologue displayed a stereotype of Jewish wealth and control which is dangerous to the Jewish people while normalizing antisemitic tropes in the media. 

I am Jewish, and currently, I am scared and angry. 

I have always been surrounded by a strong, loving Jewish community. I attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish school, for 11 years, and then joined the Parker community. 

At Bernard Zell, I researched the historical persecution of the Jewish people, learned that the Jewish people make up just over 2% of the American population, studied the many different forms of antisemitism, and celebrated my heritage.

Unlike Bernard Zell, Parker is a secular school. However, relative to the outside world, Parker has a larger Jewish community. While I am thankful to have a Jewish community inside the four walls of Parker, I believe that the prevalence of this community leads other members of the Parker community to not act with urgency on the current threat to Jewish people. 

There is a callous notion in the world–and consequently at Parker–that because Jewish-Americans are perceived to be in the upper or middle class (itself an untrue stereotype), they are therefore immune to the dangerous acts of antisemitism. I object. We must speak up and be advocates against all types of hatred and bigotry. The advocacy for the oppression of one group does not take away from the need to advocate for another group. 

Terrorism and hate have no barriers, and neither should compassion and activism.

When junior Benjamin Kagan and senior Leo Auerbach created the Jewish Student Connection Club this school year, they were met with criticism along the lines of “why do the Jewish students need an affinity group?” This is a microaggression. We must recognize the struggles of all marginalized communities, and understand that there is enough advocacy to go around.

  In my Parker experience, no student has ever displayed blatant antisemitism towards me. Instead, the antisemitism takes shape through the denial of the need to combat antisemitism. 

Parker’s mission statement outlines the school’s goal to “educate students to think and act with empathy.” Now is the time to educate. Education is the crucial antidote to prejudice, hatred, and ignorance. 

As a community, we must be educated on the current state of antisemitism in America as well as on the Holocaust– the systematic murder of the six million Jews in Europe. 

In 2020, the first fifty-state survey on American’s knowledge of the Holocaust was conducted. This survey revealed that 63% of all respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered. 59% of Illinois respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered. 

Since 1990, Illinois has mandated the inclusion of Holocaust history– as well as other cases of genocide– in public elementary and high school curriculums which helps to alleviate ignorance. It is the responsibility of all schools nationwide to ensure that their students leave their institutions as upstanders. 

While Parker does provide a curriculum rich in history and the fight against bigotry, I would love to see the education of the Holocaust and antisemitism further integrated into curriculums. There are some classes at Parker that cover the history of the Holocaust, notably the eighth grade history curriculum. However, depending on your pathway, a student may go four years without fully diving into the Holocaust.

Next, I encourage all members of the Parker community to engage in conversations with each other about the current state of antisemitism in our country, even if these conversations are uncomfortable. While the newly created Jewish Student Connection club has had impactful conversations on how to resist antisemitism and provide Jewish students a necessary place to reflect, it is of the utmost importance that individuals of every faith engage in deliberate dialogue on the dangers of antisemitism. You do not need to be Jewish to fight against antisemitism. 

Right now, antisemitism is of dangerous prevalence in America. It is no longer enough to not engage in antisemitism. The pervasive nature of antisemitism requires active resistance. We must not allow antisemitic rhetoric to continuously dominate our world.    

During my four years at Parker, I have been taught the importance of celebrating each other’s differences and successes while also supporting each other when we are in need. Right now, I, a Jewish-American, am in need of your support. I am not asking my community, but rather begging them to educate themselves and others, to stand up to antisemitism, and help to create a better world for everyone.