Amid rising antisemitism, German Jews are not alone

On the streets of Germany, demonstrators have been heard shouting “Jews to the gas chambers,” a young man wearing a kippa was assaulted simply for being a Jew, and a Jewish child was harassed at school because he wore a necklace with the Star of David. These incidents did not take place in the1930s, but rather in 2018 Germany.

Just a few days ago, thousands of people of all faiths and political inclinations gathered in the capital city, in front of the Jewish Community Center, under the banner “Berlin trägt kippa” (Berlin wears a kippa) to show their solidarity with the Jewish community in fighting antisemitism.

Be the first to know –

The rally was organized by the Jewish community of Berlin as a response to an assault the week before against a young man wearing a kippa. It was initially assumed that the victim, Adam Armoush, was Jewish, but it quickly emerged that he was an Israeli Arab who wanted to understand the daily realities faced by his Jewish friends in the city.

The recent spate of antisemitic incidents came as a surprise for many Germans, especially for non-Jews, but for members of the Jewish community, including myself, this was a long anticipated and far-too-ignored development.

How is it possible in today’s German society that the word “Jew” has become common insult in schools, without causing outrage and corrective action?

How is it not regarded as outrageous when German teachers refrain from teaching about the Holocaust, fearing negative reactions from their Muslim students?

Yet this our reality in Germany today: Jewish children are being bullied, Hebrew speakers are attacked in the streets, and Israeli flags are burned.

Where is the Germany that claims to have learned from its past? As a German-born Jew and citizen, I refuse to accept a reality in which my freedom of religion and identity as a Jew is restricted or denied.

We have more than six million reasons to refuse this reality in Germany, or anywhere else, today. It is unacceptable that Jews once again feel threatened in their home country.

The kippa rally this week was not only a sign of Berliners’ solidarity with the Jewish community – it was also a clear message to those trying to divide our society: you will not succeed. We will never give in, we refuse to be pushed aside, and we will never be silenced.

I have heard so many times the refrain that antisemitism in Germany affects only a small part of society – specifically the 200,000 German Jews. This is unequivocally wrong. In Germany, antisemitism affects 80 million people – every single person living in the country. This is the greatest mistake naysayers can make. Antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem, it is a problem for our entire society and an attack on our democratic values.

When a survey by the German expert commission on antisemitism states that 60% of Jews in Germany avoid certain city districts, when Jewish institutions must be protected by police, and Jewish community representatives feel obliged to warn against wearing a kippa on the street, we know that the time to act is long overdue.

The Jewish community in Germany is confronted by many challenges, underlined by growing frustration and fear by some. We need more than just words of promise from the government, law enforcement and political establishment – we need a guarantee that our future here is secure.

In The Ethics of our Fathers, it is written: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
We owe it to the victims of the past to continue their work to build a safe Jewish life here, without deterrence.

We owe it to those courageous enough to rebuild Jewish life in Germany after the greatest crime against humanity to show our own moral courage in combating this new wave of antisemitism. We owe this to ourselves and to our children.

The kippa rally was a strong first step in confronting indifference to antisemitism. The time has come for us all to unite against hatred of Jews and other minorities, and to put a stop to xenophobia and discrimination, no matter where it comes from.

There can be no antisemitism in the Germany we call home. This journey won’t be a sprint, but rather an exhausting marathon of endurance, perseverance and commitment. We need cooperation, we need accountability, but we also need the moral conviction to overcome these ills.

The kippa symbolizes the respect for God and our humility – a reminder that we are not alone. This week, several thousand Germans used that very symbol to show strength, solidarity and hope for the Jewish community and its values. Several thousand people stood together to declare: German Jews, you are not alone.

The author is a member the flagship program of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps ().