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Let us be Kind but Ever Vigilant

by Zachary Benjamin
Executive Director
Jewish Federation of New Mexico

Zach's page one photo from FB

In the days immediately following the election, many colleagues and fellow members of the Jewish community reported experiencing a state of mourning. Some feared that the results had empowered right-wing anti-Semitic elements to such a degree that our country would no longer remain a safe space for its Jewish citizens. Others expressed feelings of uncertainty for their children, for LGBT and minority family and friends, and for others whose dignity they saw attacked during a deeply divisive and negative campaign season. On the other side of the spectrum sat those who feared that expressing support for the new president and Congress might alienate them from the community, endanger their jobs and personal relationships, and even subject them to physical harm. Indeed, this election cycle and its outcomes have resulted in seemingly unprecedented ill will between friends, have seen relationships dissolve over political differences, and have, in some circles, generated a dangerous propensity against open communication.

Despite the trepidation that many feel in the wake of the election, it has generated at least one silver lining. The tone of the campaign and its aftermath have re-awakened a national awareness of anti-Semitism as a prejudice that is just as vicious, insidious, and contagious as any other form of bias.
Recent history has seen great progress toward institutionalizing civil rights and stigmatizing bias against marginalized people and minority groups. Jewish Americans enjoy well-earned success and high stature throughout society. Perhaps as a result, the response to increasing anti-Semitism from across the political spectrum has, at times, appeared lukewarm. The recently completed campaign and its outcome have reminded not just the Jewish community, but all who value humanity, that we must never let down our guard against prejudice of all kinds—and certainly not against anti-Semitism—in a world where it still exists, both overtly and just below the surface of our political discourse.

There is more good news to be mined from this difficult juncture in our political history. The Jewish people and other vulnerable communities now enjoy an unprecedented strength of agency at the local, national, and indeed at the global level. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we all become familiar with the many resources at our disposal to combat bias and fight hate. Close to home, the New Mexico Region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) (new-mexico@adl.org) is committed to the ADL’s mission to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Other community resources include the Federation, your synagogues and religious institutions, the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum of New Mexico, and more. You can find a full list of statewide resources for the Jewish community on our website, www.jewishnewmexico.org. Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, www.aclu.org) has stated that it will redouble its efforts to combat anti-Semitism and biased legislation at all levels of government, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC, www.ajc.org) has established the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council to “protect and expand the rights of religious minorities in the U.S., as enshrined in the Constitution, so they may practice their faiths in full freedom and security.”

Let us also remember that the very existence of the State of Israel is a bulwark against global anti-Semitism and a critical line of defense against worldwide threats to the Jewish people. We as a people are better equipped than ever before in our history to defend against hatred and anti-Semitic violence.

Finally, though none of us can predict the future, I would like to offer some personal thoughts on where we stand at this juncture in our history. The 21st century has, thus far, seen geopolitical and economic upheaval on a remarkable scale. As Americans and as Jews, we find ourselves in the midst of a sustained era of volatility. Over the past decade-and-a-half, we have experienced the traumatic 2000 presidential election, followed quickly by the 9/11 attacks. We have endured wars that, whether justifiable or not, have been deeply taxing on our economy, with loss of life that has been even more taxing on the American psyche. We have experienced consecutive two-term presidencies featuring chief executives governing from opposite poles of our political spectrum. We have lived through the 2008 economic crisis, the contentious national conversation over health care, the ongoing geopolitical tug-of-war over Israel and its role in the broader Middle East, and a host of other challenges that have caused the political pendulum to swing wildly.

History is long. Eras such as the one in which we sit may seem unending within the scope and scale of the human lifespan. It is my sincere belief that the national political environment will eventually moderate and that the temperature of our discourse will ultimately fall to more hospitable levels. This is a process that may take another 10 years or more, but I am filled with optimism that the rough seas of recent history will yield to calmer, more forgiving waters. Until then, let us be kind to each other and yet ever vigilant.

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