On a recent trip to Paris with my 16-year-old daughter, we visited a score of museums: The Louvre of course, the magnificent Quai Branly, the Rodin museum, the Pompidou center, the Hugo house. Each had a small if cursory security check. Then we sought out the small, very fine Jewish museum in the Marais. Here, we passed through a double glass door that did not allow you to continue to the front until the back had closed. The saddest part was my daughter’s insouciance. “Did you notice the security?” I asked. She nodded, “Dad, it’s the Jewish museum.” There was nothing more to be said.
My daughter was raised in Los Angeles. She and I live almost untouched by anti-Semitism, a blessing our ancestors could not have imagined. But the experience in Paris reminded us that we carry a deep, persistent awareness that many people in the world quite simply hate us.
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During our trip, the Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, issued a report that showed that there had been a significant jump in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe last year, with France leading the way. Researchers noted that there had been many “copycat” attacks following a shooting at a school in Toulouse in which a Muslim extremist gunned down 3 children and a Rabbi, and that physical assaults on Jews in France had almost doubled. Researchers also drew a connection between the rise in anti-semitic incidents and the ongoing economic crisis. As the world witnessed in Weimer Germany, mounting stress activates the scapegoat syndrome, and anti-Semitism often spikes with financial downturns. Uncertainty about the Euro and unemployment contribute to the phenomenon of targeting Jewish institutions and individuals.
But it’s not just France — anti-Semitism persists in some degree in a depressing range of cultures and countries. You can tour Europe, east and west, and find a resurgence of parties like Greece’s Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Jobbik party, which are openly anti-Semitic. Roughly 10 days ago, Turkish police uncovered a plot linked to al-Qaeda to bomb a synagogue in Istanbul, along with the United States embassy. When one’s antennae are up, vibrations of anti-Semitism surface in unexpected places: In tributes to the late Margaret Thatcher, Tina Brown singled her out for being virtually the only important leader of the Tory party without the traditional distaste for what a Tory grandee once sniffily described to me (not knowing I was Jewish) as “the gentlemen of the star.”
Anti-Semitism is a protean hatred. Jews have been hated for being communists and capitalists, for being weak and for being strong, for living in others’ lands and for establishing their own, for reasons theological, historical and purely visceral. The closing of a museum door is a small but potent reminder that hostility toward Jews still infects the world’s bloodstream. And it is an even more shattering moment when one realizes that one’s child takes that painful reality for granted.