BY CAITLIN CLEMENT
This past Wednesday, Drake Hillel and the Comparison Project co-hosted the Anti-Semitism Today panel in the Cowles Library Reading Room. Their goal for this event was to educate people on Judaism and anti-Semitism in the modern world and create a safe space where people could freely ask questions about the issue.
The panel consisted of local members of the Jewish community: three Rabbis from surrounding Temples, a lobbyist, a professor from the Drake Law School and a CEO. Incoming Hillel president Rebecca Perl was the commentator of the event, asking previously prepared questions as well as taking questions from the audience.
One of the first questions given to the panel was, “What is the hardest thing about being Jewish in this community?”
Panelists said the schedule society runs on has a major conflict with the Jewish religion. Rabbi Kaufman explained days such as High Holy days are in conflict with schools because the school expects students to participate in their events rather than those of the Jewish religion.
The panel felt that society is trying to force them to follow the social norm, to conform to a schedule put in place that butts heads with the Jewish schedule because that’s what the majority of the U.S. uses.
According to the New World Encyclopedia, shops traditionally close early on Sundays because of the Blue Laws that were enforced during the United States’s infancy, although many have been banned. They were laws designed to restrict or ban any or all Sunday activities for religious reasons.
These Blue Laws are still enforced in many European countries today. However, Jews have Shabbat, a holy day, from Friday evening to Saturday night, and because of this tradition, almost all events and outings are planned on those days in communities.
“We are raised in a community that you are not here to fit in but to stand out,” Rabbi Yossi Jacobson said. “We are proud of being Jews.”
David Adelman, a lobbyist in Des Moines, broke down in tears when he answered, “What makes a Jew a Jew?” He explained how he believes his kids are Jewish because in his and his wife’s eyes, that is how they are raising them.
Clearing up misconceptions about Jews was another key part of the panel. Professor Brad Crowell, a religion professor at Drake, explained that many misconceptions today started back in the 1800s and early 1900s in Europe when there was a lot of misinformation about who Jews were.
“A famous false book called ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ circulated around that time,” Crowell said, noting that the book portrayed Jews as money hungry and even committing acts such as blood libel, where they would kidnap kids.
This book was, in its simplest form, a book of fake news stories. However, enough people believed it that things like the Holocaust transpired from it.
“My grandparents survived the Holocaust,” Perl said. “My grandfather survived Auschwitz and the Death March towards the end of the war, and growing up, I was incredibly educated with stories of the persecution that my family and that the Jews in Europe faced.”
Perl went on to reference “Tikun Olam,” or “repairing the world,” saying it means, as a Jew, they stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, making sure that no one has to go through what her grandparents and ancestors lived through.
The panelists agreed that it is not the job of one group, community or person to change anti-Semitism. People of all religions and ethnicities must take up the meaning of “Tikun Olam” and stand together for those in need, to educate themselves on a culture or people before putting a label on them.
The panel discussion also brought up the rising anti-Semitism in the U.S., referencing the swastika etched into the Olmsted elevator earlier this year as well as Charlottesville.
“Anti-Semitism in this country is going to increase, probably substantially,” Crowell said.
Crowell said the media and current government structure isn’t able to deal with anti-Semitic religious groups popping up.
“A year and a half ago, I would have been surprised at what we’re seeing now … I didn’t know this kind of anti-Semitism was still a part of this country,” Crowell said.
Crowell attributed this rise in anti-Semitism to the past election and President Trump, saying that it unleashed a segment of the population who had not been vocal about their beliefs.
“Creating a backlash against political correctness … and with that came a self-centered anti-religion, anti-any religion, that I did not know was really such a major part of our country,” Crowell said, later referring to Trump retweeting “anti-Muslim” videos.
Drake Hillel is partnering with Dr. Tim Knepper, a professor of philosophy on campus, to create an interfaith organization due to the recent religious and racial attacks on campus. If interested, contact Knepper or Drake Hillel with any questions.