Many American Jews reacted with a sense of relief — and a degree of embarrassment — to the news that an Israeli teenager was arrested in connection with many of the phoned in bomb threats to JCCs and other Jewish institutions around the U.S.
For several months, as dozens of JCCs were subjected to evacuations, from toddlers to the elderly; as Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, with tombstones overturned; and as reports of swastikas defacing synagogues and other Jewish institutions were reported at a quickening pace, a sense of fear gripped much of the community. And connections were suggested, though not established, to the toxic atmosphere of the presidential campaign, and specifically to Donald Trump’s demeaning comments about women, Mexicans, Muslims and other minorities, which, in turn, seemed to embolden white nationalists and other extremists to speak out with words of hate.
The community wasn’t certain whether it was witnessing an outbreak of anti-Semitism like no other in decades across the land or was merely the intended victim of a handful of unhinged individuals. Or something in between.
Not surprisingly, given our long history, many feared the worst. And when President Trump seemed resistant to fully condemn anti-Semitism and other acts of hate, it only fueled the fear that his behavior was allowing, if not encouraging, such acts.
What we’ve learned from this unsettling experience are lessons we as a community should have known since we Jews offer them ourselves at times. Namely, to take threats seriously but not to make assumptions. Remember the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, when it was assumed the perpetrators were foreign terrorists? Instead, it was one disturbed American citizen.
We should also remember that as American Jews, we are only victims if we make ourselves victims. For all the persecution our people have suffered over the centuries, we are blessed to live with more freedom as Jews in this country than any other in history. And yet we also know that anti-Semitism still lives and that vigilance must never waver.
This sorry episode should be a humbling one for all of us; examine the facts before we make accusations.