Reflections for the Jewish New Year 5782
By Esta Epstein and Jonathan Greenblatt
The Jewish New Year presents us with an opportunity to renew ourselves and our world and to look forward to a brighter year ahead. As we gather with friends and family to celebrate the advent of 5782, it is a good moment to take stock of the year that’s passed and to reflect on what we as a people and a society might do to improve our world and ourselves in the year to come.
There’s plenty of uncertainty as we look around us this Rosh Hashanah. The surge of antisemitism in recent years, ADL’s number one priority, played out in our streets during the Israel-Hamas conflict this past May, including in the United States but also around the world. It laid bare the fact that we face the threat of raw antisemitism spawned by the anti-Israel animus emanating from many on the Left and that we cannot relent on our vigilance.
While we hosted a successful virtual rally that brought together more than 30,000 people to hear diverse allies from across the spectrum who pushed back against this antisemitism, we still have a long way to go to create truly inclusive environments where all forms of bigotry are addressed equitably and without hesitation.
This past year has seen the COVID Delta variant slow the anticipated economic recovery and return to normalcy for much of our country. It brought a return to mask mandates and a reminder that the pandemic is not yet behind us. And it sparked an ugly wave of Holocaust trivialization where people drew false equivalencies to the Shoah. ADL has been quick to call this out.
Indeed, the anti-vaxxer protests in America and overseas (which have at times employed Holocaust analogies) and the prevalence of QAnon conspiracy theories are a reminder of the work that needs to be done to push back on extremist lies, especially in the echo chambers created by social media and other digital spaces. They also are a reminder that social media platforms cannot be complicit with extremists who use their platforms to spread disinformation and hate. ADL remains uniquely engaged with all of the major social media companies in order to ensure that these spaces are safe for all, and do not devolve into cesspools of extremism.
But extremism continues to spread seemingly from all sides. No moment exemplified this more than the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, the most predictable terror attack in American history. It was a terrifying reminder of the fragile state of our democracy and the ability of extremists, emboldened by false accusations of a “stolen election” amplified on social media, to wreak havoc on our national institutions. The fanaticism and violence we witnessed on that day was a reminder that we cannot take our time-honored democratic institutions for granted. We cannot let domestic extremists gain the upper hand and we must push back strongly on those politicians and others who now claim that the coordinated attack somehow wasn’t as bad as what we all witnessed on that violent day.
Core issues certainly remain. We’ve been reminded time and time again this past year that racism and bigotry are pervasive and can flare during times of unrest and uncertainty. The COVID pandemic brought with it conspiracy theories that Jews were helping to spread the virus. Asian Americans in particular felt the full brunt of accusations that they were responsible for bringing the virus and its variants to America, as the former president and others’ use of racially charged terms to describe the virus spurred anti-AAPI violence and hate crimes. This culminated in the vicious attack in Atlanta this past March where eight people were murdered. As the AAPI community continues to heal from this harm, we are so proud of the role that ADL played to incubate The Asian-American Foundation earlier this year.
And yet the fight for racial justice in America endures. We continue to see efforts to disenfranchise voters of color and undermine voting rights, reminding us that we must redouble our efforts to fight for full equality for everyone in the U.S. The spread of anti-transgender legislation, particularly targeting young people, has underscored the need to fight anti-LGTBQ+ bias wherever we find it. And we expect that the abrupt, disastrous pullout of US troops from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will result in a new refugee crisis. Our country has a moral responsibility to ensure the safe resettlement for those Afghans and their families who helped us over the years.
The fundamentalist, violent nature of the Taliban has sparked grave concern among many observers for what this new regime will mean for women and girls, let alone ethnic and religious minorities, in the country. Based on the Taliban’s barbarism when it ruled in a reign of terror before the US-led NATO incursion in 2001, these concerns seem well-placed. Moreover, a Taliban-controlled country seems poised to serve as a haven for Islamist extremists, fueling those forces who seek to destabilize secular governments in the region as well as delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state. Israel already faces many security threats, including from an emboldened Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime now led by a war criminal who promotes Holocaust denialism and a coterie of wanted terrorists and hardened antisemites.
While there are daunting issues, fortunately there’s plenty to be hopeful about in the coming year. The Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for people 12 and older amid data that the Pfizer vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 91 percent was a significant milestone. The soon-to-be widespread availability of a booster vaccine shows promise that America may be able to move towards reopening schools and places of business — and keeping them open.
And we are making progress in the fight against antisemitism and hate in society. The recent nomination of Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, one of the foremost authorities on antisemitism, to be the new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department was a strong sign that the new administration is taking the fight against antisemitism seriously. And recent statements by world leaders condemning antisemitism globally give us assurance that many national governments are taking the surge in Jew hatred seriously. We’ve been fortunate to share our expertise with elected officials on numerous occasions over the past year, including testifying before Congress, engaging with the White House, and meeting with governors and mayors across the country.
Moreover, the Jewish community is coming together to combat antisemitism — whether it comes from the left or the right — more than ever before. ADL has recently announced new partnerships with communal organizations including the Secure Community Network, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Hillel International to coordinate our responses to anti-Jewish hate — and more are on the way. Our new BINAH program is making strides to educate about antisemitism in our nation’s schools. And Never Is Now has surpassed expectations as the largest annual conference in the world focused on antisemitism and hate; this year’s conference promises to be even bigger and better than previous installments.
ADL also continues to break new ground in the fight against antisemitism and hate on social media which has served as a veritable super spreader of intolerance for far too long. Following our Stop Hate for Profit campaign in 2020, Facebook made a series of consequential concessions on issues where we demanded change, including taking down QAnon and extremist content, banning Holocaust Denialism as hate speech, and hiring a dedicated executive to monitor our concerns on an ongoing basis. ADL now is working with PayPal to stop the flow of funds to extremists and is working to drive change across other platforms. Our Belfer Fellows continue to do breakthrough research such as uncovering how algorithms amplify hate on video platforms. And our Backspace Hate campaign has succeeded in passing new laws to address various forms of online harassment.
In the coming year, we will double down on our efforts to push back on antisemitism and hatred in the US and around the world. Our work continues to expose extremists, to ensure that every antisemitic incident is taken seriously, and to ensure that law enforcement is working hand-in-hand with our communities to ensure the safety and security of Jewish people and our institutions as well as everyone in society.
We will strive to ensure that America is more prosperous and safer, free from the elements of antisemitism, extremism, racism, anti-AAPI hate, anti-Muslim bias and other forms of bigotry that threaten to undermine our society. We will work to make our country a fairer place for all people, regardless of how they pray, where they’re from, or who they love. And we won’t just hope for a more peaceful world where people of all backgrounds can prosper — we will commit to making it happen.
Esta Epstein is Chair of the ADL’s Board of Directors. Jonathan Greenblatt is CEO and National Director.