In a small village in upstate New York, a wooden houSe sits off the main road, with an ornamental fish pond in front and a running brook at back. Over the many summers I’ve spent in this village, I pass the house each time I go to and from shul on Shabbos. One Shabbos two weeks ago, I met the owner of the house, an elderly woman, weeding in front of the pond.
In the course of our ensuing conversation, it emerged that she was almost 90 years old and had grown up in Holland. She has vivid memories of the war years, spent recovering from tuberculosis in Amsterdam. She remembers avoiding exchanges with neighbors and friends to conceal the fact that her father was Jewish. And she is still haunted by witnessing the suicide of a couple down her block who jumped three stories to their deaths when they saw the Gestapo drive up to their house.
“Why does the world hate the Jews so much?” she asked me. Hesitant to present the concept of “Eisav soneh l’Yaakov” to the daughter of a Catholic mother, I submitted an obvious possible reason — jealousy. I pointed to the success of Jews in every sec- tor of society, despite oppression. After thinking about it, she agreed.
Just then, we were passed by a group of a half-dozen Chassidim, easily identified by their distinct garb. They nodded to us as they went by. She exclaimed that she had spoken to them at length that morning and had been surprised at how friendly they were, having previously thought that they didn’t talk to gentiles, especially female ones. “I don’t blame them though,” she said. “They’re so persecuted that they must be scared.”
Persecuted? Chassidim in New York? While anti-Semitism undoubtedly exists in America, it has thankfully not deteriorated to the point of “persecution.” However, such sympathy is welcome elsewhere, specifically in Europe.
While I enjoyed the general good will of non-Jews during my summer vacation in the mountains, the same cannot be said about my sister-in-law’s summer vacation in the Swiss Alps. Having lived in Zurich for over 30 years, she has gotten used to the occasional slurs and dirty looks of her Swiss neighbors, but the blatant anti-Semitism she encountered this summer was “beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.” And it prompt- ed many of her Swiss family and friends, who spent years summering in the Alps, to declare they would not be going back.
My sister-in-law described the Swiss locals as “pouncing dogs” in their attempt to discredit Jewish visitors for any conceived or imagined infraction of unwritten Swiss rules. Her son-in-law was greeted by Swiss youths with hands raised in a Nazi salute as he bicycled in the village. Another relative was rushed out of a local store by the owner, who urged his cashier to hurry, “so we can get those white shirts and black pants out of here.” And with undertones darkly reminiscent of that era, and despite the boon to local economies, two towns in the Alps arranged meetings in August to discuss the “Jewish” problem.
A close friend reported a similar experience in a resort town in the Austrian Alps, ironically situated next to a village overrun with Muslim immigrants. The situation in France, where Jews were murdered because of their religion, has become so dire that even The New York Times ran an article in July detailing rampant anti-Semitism in Paris. One resident, wearing a Star of David, said, “They spit when I walked in the street.”
In Britain, a total of 1,414 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2017, the highest tally recorded by the Commu- nity Security Trust. This is not surprising, considering the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is a well-documented hater of Jews and Israel. He was recently condemned by the usually reticent former chief rabbi of the U.K., Rabbi Lord Jonathan Saks, as an anti-Semite who has backed “racists, terrorists and dealers of hate.”
If, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members,” then perhaps President Trump truly has made America great again. Trump staunchly champions the beleaguered Jewish state, and by extension the Jews, in so fierce a way as to act as a foil to European leaders’ mere lip-service against anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Europe’s embrace of Muslim immigrants and its reluctance to stand up for its weakest members — Jewish citizens — contrasts with its American counterpart and high- lights Trump’s head-on collision with anti-Israel bias in Middle East diplomacy.
In a year and a half, President Trump scrapped the Iran deal while Europeans still seek to resuscitate it, recognized Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital despite European protest, withdrew from UNESCO over “anti-Israel bias” while Europe stays entrenched, slashed the entire U.S. aid budget to UNRWA, which Germany in turn pledged to increase, and now seeks to eliminate refugee status for descendants of Palestinian refu- gees. Over Rosh Hashanah, the Trump administration ordered the closure of the PLO office in Washington, and John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, slammed the International Criminal Court, vowing that “we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.” And who can forget when Trump commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the quintessential target of anti-Jewish prejudice.
All these Trump policies have deepened schisms between Europe and the U.S., and perhaps between Europeans and Americans — at least those who support Trump. This under- scores the urgency to continue supporting Trump, especially in the upcoming mid-term elections. Democratic candidates, from Michigan to New York to Minnesota who espouse virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish views, are riding high in a progressive wave that is every bit as threatening as the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment now ingrained in Europe.
Halting that wave means halting the hatred that comes with it and protecting this country’s true weakest members. I, for one, want to ensure that I can continue going upstate without ever feeling “persecuted.”