Utah leaders of Judaism address racism in the United States

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Interfaith Student Council hosts Jewish identity panel

Written by Alecia Epeneter and Caitlin LaVange

Photo by Caitlin LaVange

The reality of the Holocaust is fading, according to Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah, a member of the anti-semitism panel, which included Utah’s Jewish religious leaders organized by UVU’s Interfaith Student Council Nov. 28 in the Classroom Building.

Bat-Sarah said that the current state of American civic discourse has become hateful speech as a way of entertainment. “Nazis and Jews have become caricatures in pop culture,” she said. Bat-Sarah mentioned the mystery escape room in Salt Lake City which includes a puzzle-solving game where you try to escape a Nazi research lab. If the player fails the puzzle, gas comes through grates and kills the player.

The three panelists, Bat-Sarah of the congregation Kol Ami, Rabbi David Lavinsky of Temple Har Shalom and Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubauitch compared the historical oppression against the Jews to the current cultural crisis of anti-semitism and racism in the United States.

According to a 2016 report published by the Pew Research Center, hate crimes against Jews rose one-third from 2015. This research motivated UVU’s ISC to host the panel in order to address the issues of racism in the United States and to help overcome the rise in hate crimes against the Jewish community.

One of the goals of organizing these types of panels is to open up communication and try to connect on different views, according to Ben Peterson, a junior in pre-engineering and member of UVU’s ISC.“These kinds of conversations, you never know where they are going to go. We do these forums every month and topics vary greatly,” Peterson said.

When the event opened up for the audience to ask questions, a man stood and raised the question of what it really means to be a Jew and what makes someone a part of that sect. Lavinsky dismissed his comment as being not related to anti-semitism. The international topic of the state of Israel and Palestinians wasn’t discussed.  

In part due to the President Trump’s tolerance of anti-semitic and racist activities,there is a rise in anti-semitic activity is according to the Anti-Defamation League, Lavinsky said.

Zippel said in relation to the Holocaust, Americans are currently repeating similar mistakes. “We’re judging people by the color of their skin, their political ideology, their sexual preference and religion. We’re putting up borders and walls of separation and those need to come down,” he said.

Stereotypical and anti-semitic representations in popular culture were discussed, such as the German Nazi propaganda film, “The Eternal Jew” made in 1940 which depicts Jews as rats invading Europe. At the end of the film is Adolph Hitler who explains that if this problem isn’t put to an end, there will have to be an eradication of the Jews.

“From non-Jews, we hold ourselves in some ways separate,” Bat-Sarah said. “Each of us on the panel would define that difference differently, but it’s the significant feature of Jewish history. And it’s part of what has opened us to anti-Jewish sentiment and violence throughout the centuries,” Bat-Sarah said. She also said when Jews have successfully assimilated into surrounding cultures, anti-semitism actually becomes worse.