In every generation

April 2019
Miriam Sager

It is no wonder we sing at our Seders that "in every generation, our enemies rise up to destroy us."

Repeated waves of invaders tried to break or annihilate us, as a small and independently minded people on a coveted, fertile strip of land. Later, in the Eastern European Diaspora (and to a lesser extent in the Arab world) Jews were isolated among gentiles who had learned to hate them. Again, possessing valuable skills and resources such as literacy and international connections, they were prime targets for exploitation.

The community would be offered protection while a minority served in unpopular, visible roles such as tax collectors, until a scapegoat was needed to distract a disgruntled population, and the survivors would move on, only for the cycle to be repeated elsewhere. Today, after a good stretch of relative safety and prosperity, the pendulum might be swinging in the other direction, as we witness rising White Nationalism in our own country, province, and city. But are we doomed for this cycle of oppression to be repeated?

I believe that anti-Semitism will be eliminated, if only because it is in everyone's best interest to unlearn the hatred of Jews and resist the divisiveness it fosters. While Jews are the direct target, the singling out of Jews for blame diverts the attention of other groups from identifying and fighting against the real causes of their own oppression, and slows down their progress.

We Jews have a powerful role to play in eliminating anti-Semitism, beginning with noticing that allies have always been around to befriend and help our people. Just recently, many gentiles were appalled by the Pittsburgh shooting and showed up to express their love and support. Muslim allies raised money for the victims' funerals.

It is through no fault of our own that it is easier to notice hate: our brains, answering the primal call of survival, focus on danger. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre's "Righteous among the Nations" project is at least as important for our own healing as it is for those gentiles who have acted with incredible courage and integrity to save Jews.

Now is no time to withdraw into our old isolation, allowing anti-Semitism to derail the causes we care about. We must develop the muscle to struggle from within our movements: to show people how anti-Semitism hurts us and educate them about its cyclical nature, to help would-be allies see how a relatively affluent community can still be targeted. The work will be painfully imperfect and scary, as it goes against what both "we" and "they" have internalized over the course of millennia, but with our tradition of arguing even with God, we can do it. Just recently successful coalition building resulted in Jewish women being included on the steering committee of the USA Women's March; anti-Semitism was noted as one of the key ills of society by several of the speakers.

We must also develop the muscle to ally ourselves with other liberation movements, using any class or white skin privilege we may enjoy to pursue Zedek (justice), both because it is the right thing to do and for the long-term survival of our people; similarly, gentiles must learn to be our allies both because it is the right thing to do and because it is in their own best interest. To quote Emma Lazarus, "until we are all free, we are none of us free."

Miriam Sager works at SACHA and organizes with climate action groups. She can be reached at