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Can’t I Just Enjoy A Concert Without The Jewish Bigotry?

Earlier this month, I attended my 12th and 13th Pearl Jam shows.

On a Tuesday and Thursday, my brother and I headed down to the city early for drinks, dinner, and two outstanding concerts at the United Center.

Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and to see them live is special, because I’ve been following them for 32 years, and interacting with fellow fans is a communal experience like none other. We met another set of brothers, one of whom traveled from Washington state to see his 30th Pearl Jam show, and we witnessed a crowd taking pictures with excited and road and sea-weary fans from Scotland who brandished their country's flag that had been signed by fans from dozens of countries. We hung out with a couple until they uttered an antisemitic remark.

Wait, what?

Which of these things is not like the other?

The scene was this: my brother and I found our seats, and with plenty of time to spare before Pearl Jam took the stage, we walked around the United Center concourse to soak up the atmosphere. A couple having drinks at a table stopped us. The woman asked me what song I thought the band would open with. Pearl Jam is one of those rare groups that changes their setlist from show to show. For a band that has 11 studio albums, 23 live albums, three compilation albums, 36 singles, and numerous official bootlegs, the intrigue is delicious.

I loved her question, because it’s the one I always ask myself in the days leading up to a show. Sometimes I predict it, but most of the time I’m wrong, which I don’t mind at all. She and the man she was with were friendly and engaging as Pearl Jam fans tend to be. They introduced themselves and we responded with our names, which are Hebraic. That’s when I noticed the twinkle in the man’s eye, a familiar and unbenign one. He asked what we did, and when my brother mentioned he was a lawyer, he said, “A Jewish lawyer, figures,” with a smile and a sense of entitlement that so many people carry, because, apparently, antisemitism is the last accepted form of hatred.  

And there it is, I thought, the Jews and money trope. The nerve of him to think that he had permission to say this, assuming he could get away with it.

Historically, I’ve turned the other cheek, even going along with the joke, another self-deprecating Jew with a sense of humor as we’ve been conditioned to be. But not this time. Adrenaline running, I took a breath, pointed at him and said, “That’s not cool.”

“Oh, uh, I didn’t mean anything by it,” he stammered.

“But you did,” I said.

“Nah, come on…”

“I’m going to educate you on the origins of that ugly stereotype.”

“It’s just a joke, man…”

“Thousands of years ago, during the Middle Ages, the only jobs that Jews could have were as money lenders. The term was called “userers”, and it’s not that Jews wanted those jobs; it’s because it was illegal for them to work as anything else.”

“It was just something I…”

“So, when the economy was poor, people blamed the Jews. In Merchant of Venice, Shakespear’s main character is Shylock, the money-lending and grubbing Jew who demanded a pound of flesh. It’s a pretty antisemitic play if you ask me.”

“Look, I…”

“That’s where this complete nonsense about Jews having money and being cheap comes from, and this type of prejudice has been passed down from generation to generation since, and it’s been used as a weapon for people to commit acts of violence against us and to literally murder us.”

“I’m Filipino, and people say jokes to me all the time.”

“And that’s wrong, and it doesn’t give you the right to say them to us.”

He went on to say that his biggest client is a Jewish school in the city, you know, the age-old, but I have many (fill-in-the-marginalized-group-blank) friends justification/entitlement.  

I wish I could tell you that this was an outlier incident, but it wasn’t.

So no, not even at the cultural event of my year, featuring a band that is as passionate about social justice activism as they are music, was I immune from the type of insult that has unjustly and perilously followed Jews for millenia.  

As I mentioned before, this encounter wasn’t an outlier, but the way I responded was. Forgive me if this sounds heavy-handed, but I didn’t do it for me. I did it for us, for Jews.

Why Is Antisemitism So Tolerated?

History - As I’ve previously written, Jews have been murdered and exiled en masse in every single century since we have walked the earth, except for the current one.

It’s no wonder we make up .2% of the world’s population. However, this century is still young, and the rate of antisemitic incidents in America and worldwide is skyrocketing at record rates.

The False Perception That Jewish Persecution is Behind Us - One of the biggest misconceptions is that Jewish persecution ended with the liberation of the death camps during The Holocaust. To believe so is to disregard ongoing incidents of hatred, discrimination, and violence against Jewish communities worldwide.

In her book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bari Weiss writes that Jews, especially in the U.S., enjoyed a holiday from acts of severe Jewish hatred from around the start of the fourth quarter of the 20th century until the start of the 2010's. Generation X, my generation, and Millennials were lucky to be spared for a significant portion of our lives from the violence perpetrated upon those who came before us.

I, for one, dismissed the concerns of my parents and grandparents, that another Jewish genocide could happen again. No way, I told them. The world wouldn't allow it. That was then. Do I think it will happen again? I hope not. Do I think it could? Yes, and apparently, so do the many European Jews who are emigrating to Israel at a frequency not seen since the end of World War II.

The Assumption that We are A Privileged People - Jewish culture carries the rich tapestry of over 3,000 years of history, traditions, and teachings that have profoundly influenced the moral, legal, and literary foundations of Western civilization.

Our culture has also fostered an enduring commitment to knowledge, justice, and community that has inspired countless individuals and movements throughout the ages.

But these cultural characteristics, though they shouldn’t, come at a cost.

It’s not a privilege to be the subject of the erroneous narrative that we dominate the elite percentiles of wealth and education. In reality one-in-ten U.S. Jews report annual household incomes of less than $30,000.

It’s not a privilege for Jewish students on college campuses to be harassed by their anti-Zionist and anti-Israel peers.  

It is not a privilege that in "Jewish" Northbrook (there are more non-Jews than Jews), where I live, my son's Junior High School allowed a student to present a book report on Mein Kampf unchecked and without framing it in the context of propaganda and lies.

It's not a privilege that Adidas CEO, Bjørn Gulden said recently, “I think Kanye West is one of the most creative people in the world. Very unfortunate, because I don’t think he meant what he said and I don’t think he’s a bad person. It just came off that way.”

It’s not a privilege that Roger Waters, former Pink Floyd frontman, can call Jews kikes, mock his saxophinist’s grandmother who died in the Holocaust, be an ambassador of the antisemitic Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, and still be booked to perform at venues around the world. We know damn well if he were targeting any other ethnic group that he would’ve been canceled long ago.

And it's not a privilege that Canada’s House Speaker honored a Nazi last week on the floor of Congress with no serious media or activist backlash.

Israel - There’s an ongoing presumption that Jews worldwide are responsible for the Israeli/Arab conflict.

When Hammas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad indiscriminately fire rockets into Israeli cities, killing and wounding Jews and Arabs alike, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responds by strategically taking out terrorist leaders, American synagogues are vandalized with Swastikas, Jewish Community Centers receive bomb threats, Orthodox Jews are attacked on the streets of New York, and members of Congress’ so called Squad accuse Israel of genocide.

There Has Never Been A Jewish Civil Rights Movement in U.S. History - Think about that for a second or longer.

One of the core pillars of Judaism, tikkun olam, is Hebrew for “Repairing the world.” This concept first appeared in the Talmud during the 1st millennium CE, and it is the cornerstone of Jewish identity, an awesome calling to make the world a better place. One of the greatest examples of tikkun olam is American Jewish support of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s to end legalized racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. Social action and social justice activism by Jews continues today.

Look at the incredible strides we’ve made this century regarding civil rights: Black Lives Matter; LGBTIQA+ Rights; DREAMers and DACA; Standing Rock/Sioux Protests; and more.

I wish there was a Jewish campaign that could be added to that list. I also wish that we weren’t discriminated against by the very movements we support. Recent examples include antisemitic statements made by founders of the Women’s March, and Jews being told to leave a Gay Pride parade in Chicago for carrying pride flags with The Star of David.

People may ask me, “Why make this a zero-sum game,” to which I’d reply, “I’m not. Why are you making it one?”

We Are The Problem, Too

Hillel the Elder, one of the earliest Jewish philosophers, asked the question, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

We’ve mastered, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” and have only flirted with, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”  

It’s an inconvenient truth, but Jews have to own our lack of self-advocacy. There isn’t a Jewish civil rights movement because we haven’t demanded one. We do not aggressively condemn antisemitism perpetrated by other marginalized groups, because of the fallacy of thinking that to do so would somehow invalidate our commitment to tikkun olam.

It all makes sense, though. You see, trauma is passed down from one generation to the next due to a biological phenomenon called epigenetics. Trauma is literally baked into our DNA. Though I didn’t witness the murder of Jews during The Crusades, Pogroms, and Holocaust, I feel a connection to the suffering.

I believe that Jews quietly think that we deserve more advocacy and protection, but we fear pursuing it due to the repercussions of violence and ostracization, byproducts of trauma.      

We need to get over that ASAP.

Back to The Show

While I felt good about the way I handled that man at the concert, my defenses were now up.

Truth be told, they’re constantly up, because a Jewish jab is always waiting around the corner. We returned to our seats and chatted with the people behind us. One of the guys was from New York and lived in Boca Raton, and I braced for a comment about all the Jews taking over South Florida. It didn’t come, and I compartmentalized and truly enjoyed the show.  

But on the drive home, as I decompressed from the night, I felt rankled and then a deep sadness that in the year 2023, Jewish hatred is only getting worse, and the only way we can cope is by normalizing it.

We are charged with repairing the world, an obligation we embrace. We also have to start repairing ours.

About the Author, David Telisman

I am a Writer and Content Creator, and I work with businesses to inspire their customers to buy from them. I believe that my clients deserve to feel proud of how their content marketing looks and what it says, and I deliver by providing expert copywriting and marketing solutions.

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