By Barry Finestone
Growing up as a Jew in Glasgow, Scotland, and living there for the first 23 years of my life, I never really faced any anti-Semitism. Yes, on rare occasion someone would utter a comment as I walked down the corridor of my public high school. And in college I heard the beginnings of the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist movement on campus that is so prevalent now. But by and large it was all good.
As we grew older, my generation of Glasgow Jews left home. Many of us went to metropolitan areas, where the Jewish community is larger and opportunities greater. London was and still is the desired destination for the vast majority.
In the past few years as I visited my friends in the United Kingdom and stayed in touch with them via social media, I could see that things have changed. Is the anti-Semitism in London or elsewhere in European cities rampant? I don’t believe so, but something is lurking and it is very menacing. The Achilles heel of Europe, its anti-Semitism, is back. It’s coming from the far left, it’s coming from the far right, and it’s coming from those radicalized to believe that in the end, the root of their problems is the Jews.
While I recognize that it is so hard to know what to do and how to do it, we as Jews living in the wonderful country that is the United States cannot sit on the sidelines. Of course emergency fundraising to help our sisters and brothers is crucial, but we must start to think in a far more proactive manner and not just respond when the next tragedy unfolds. I know that while we live in a universal society in which anti-Semitism is mainly our particular problem, it is, as many non-Jews will point out, a larger problem for civilization. Together we must stamp out anti-Semitism in the same way that we should combat all the other injustices that permeate our world. Currently our efforts on campus and and in general are falling short. We are being outspent and outsmarted. In the famous words of my fellow countryman’s character (Sean Connery’s) from the movie The Untouchables – “We are bringing a knife to a gunfight”
The last time American and world Jewry were organized and unified was for the Soviet Jewry movement. Look at what was achieved. We were intelligent, we were strategic, we were proactive and we just kept on fighting.
It is time for another such movement, one that fights to rid the world of anti-Semitism. Let this be our cause.
One of the harsh lessons that we learned from the Shoah was that we never discovered what would have happened had we been adequately organized, spoken with one voice, and then mobilized the greater community. Perhaps we could have saved lives. We will never know. I am not in any way suggesting that we are facing another Shoah, but rather that being organized and unified is a priority.
Educating children, taking care of those in need, being proud citizens are still important for my fellow British Jews and all of European Jewry. But over the past few years, basic safety has become the priority: walking to school safely, going to synagogue safely or just buying food from the deli safely.
It’s 2015. We need to figure out together what we can do to restore the basic human right to feel safe in our own homes, wherever they may be.
Barry Finestone lives in Marin County California. He grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, before moving to the United States in 1990. He ran summer camps for Young Judaea, was the CEO of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and is currently the Executive Director of the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund.
A version of this article appeared in the J Weekly newspaper on Friday, February 13, 2015.