If there is a prejudice older or more persistent than anti-Semitism, I cannot call it to mind.
It was 2,600 years ago that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II decimated Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and exiling the community’s most prominent members. About 50 years later, the Jews were allowed to return, welcomed back even, and construction on the Second Temple began.
That cycle of deep persecution interspersed with relative acceptance continued for centuries in the region, and continues still around the world.
Jews have been savaged nearly to the point of elimination, but never eliminated. They have, at certain times and in select places, been prosperous and accepted, but never so much so that the fear of anti-Semitism has faded or the reality of it has disappeared.
Last week, I got a tenacious set of calls and emails from Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, who oversees more than 30 Chabad centers on Long Island. He wanted me to speak to the chief rabbi of Berlin, Chabad leader Yehuda Teichtal, a Crown Heights native who was in the United States for a few days to celebrate the engagement of a daughter.
Over the past few years, anti-Semitic incidents have skyrocketed in Germany, just as they have elsewhere in Europe and in the United States.
“I’ve been attacked myself,” Teichtal told me, “several times.”
In the spring, Teichtal said, after a wave of violent attacks against Jews across Germany, Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, warned against showing Judaism in public. “My opinion on the matter has changed following the ongoing brutalization in German society. I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany,” Klein said.
“I came out in the media saying voices that said Jews should hide or not be proud … I said it is the exact opposite,” Teichtal told me. “Only when we could all be proud would we be where we need to be.”
Teichtal, 47, was not the only one saying so.
The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, tweeted at Klein, “The opposite is true. Wear your kippah, wear your friend’s kippah. Borrow a kippah and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society.”
But what Teichtal and Teldon wanted me to know about was the response of Berlin-based Bild, the most widely circulated newspaper in Europe and one of that continent’s staunchest supporters of both Jews and Israel. Bild, on its May 27 front page, ran a picture of a paper yarmulke meant to be cut out and worn, and an editorial arguing Germany has failed as a society if Jews cannot safely wear them.
As I mulled Teichtal’s words and Bild’s efforts over the weekend, tens of thousands marched in lower Manhattan to protest a spate of recent violence against Jews, including the attack in a rabbi’s home in Monsey that left five people seriously injured.
I also recalled my daughter asking, “But why do they hate Jews, Daddy?”
Jewish parents are not the only ones facing such questions today. In the United States, black parents and Hispanic ones and Asian moms and dads and Islamic ones field their versions of the same query.
Jewish parents have simply been trying to find the answer to this question, and a solution to the problems of tribalism and hatred and fear, longer than anyone else.
And while we have no more answers today than we did 2,500 years ago, or even 50, we do have more allies, whether they be neighbors in Brooklyn or Bild in Berlin.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.