I am a proud Jew and a fervent Zionist. I am a Jewish educator at a local synagogue who regularly and closely follows the news surrounding the Jewish community in the United States and the world. I am a proud Clevelander and Ohioan, and an even prouder American.

I love being an American. I love that I have freedom of speech, I am proud of my public schooling background, and I am thankful to live in a city and a country in which people of many cultures and backgrounds can live together and learn from one another. Recently, however, I have begun to question my American pride. I am deeply concerned about the rise in antisemitism in the United States of America, and the lack of action – both physical and in words and thoughts – of my fellow Americans, both Jewish and not. Most concerning to me, however, is the silence within my own community.

Antisemitism rears its ugly head each and every day, whether it makes the news or not.

Shabbat morning of Jan. 15 was no different. I do not need to tell you what happened because you already know. A gunman, whose name does not even deserve to be published, held four Jews hostage for almost 12 hours after posing as a homeless man during Shabbat services. He was demanding the release of a terrorist being held in a prison in Fort Worth, Texas. From the moment I found out about this until I heard that all four individuals had escaped, I sat teary-eyed watching the news (or checking social media when CNN decided that antisemitism wasn’t important enough to keep talking about and started broadcasting a documentary about the history of movies). I was deeply troubled by the number of my friends – my Jewish friends – who were posting pictures from their vacations, their afternoon coffees, or their dinners out with friends. I was (and still am) deeply troubled by their silence. These are the same people who posted in solidarity with the Black community after the murder of George Floyd, and the same people who posted in solidarity advocating to #StopAsianHate. But they are also the same people who stayed silent when Hamas was barraging the state of Israel, our homeland, with rockets this past summer, and the same people who repost things from “Hey Alma,” an extremely “woke” Jewish media outlet.

I want to say that it is far beyond my understanding how these people can ignore the news of what is happening to their very own people. But it’s not. It isn’t “cool” to post #stopantisemitism on social media – it’s seen as controversial. Why? Because Jews are seen as having privilege. To the right, we aren’t white enough, but to the left, we are too white. And if we are deemed “white,” we aren’t given space to talk, and our experiences aren’t valid.

When I was in college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I took a class, “Intergroup Dialogue: Race and Ethnicity.” There were about 15 people in my class, and it was quite a diverse group. There were Black people, white people, Asians and American Indians. We also had two peer facilitators who were fellow students. We did things like “privilege walks” to see who had the most privilege in our class (where I, as a white Jewish girl, ended up having the most privilege of anyone because #JAP), we discussed our backgrounds and ideologies, and facilitated dialogues for other groups of people as well.

When we discussed privilege and oppression, everyone tried to share openly and honestly about their experiences. When it came to my turn, I shared about what it felt like to be Jewish in our world, and that I sometimes would tuck away my Magen David necklace or be fearful due to the fact that I, with brown curly hair and a small stature, look pretty stereotypically Jewish. I was told by my facilitators that this was not what it meant to be oppressed. That my experience as a white Jewish woman in America only meant one thing: privilege. They told me that because I can hide my Judaism, I experience privilege and that I can avoid being oppressed because of it. They also told me that I was privileged because I am white, and they shared something along the lines of “really, we haven’t seen Jewish oppression in so long, because Jews have come so far in America.”

This right here is the problem with being Jewish in America; yet again, we are not white enough for the far-right neo-Nazis, but we are far too white for the “woke people” to acknowledge our oppression. Jews are a minority, and Jews are oppressed. This did not change after Pittsburgh; it has always been the case. It has been the case since my father was told to “Jew someone down” on his first day of work as a 22-year-old in 1982, and it continues to be the case today when four members of our community were held hostage on that Shabbat. Privilege is being free to pray when and how you want without fear of someone terrorizing your place of worship. Privilege is wearing whatever you want when you want, not hiding your religious garb in public. Privilege is not being scapegoated and blamed for the misgivings of others. Privilege is not being stereotyped or satirized in comics and cartoons.

If we are so privileged, why have we seen massive increases in antisemitic hate crimes across the United States as of late? If we are so privileged, why do we receive hate from neo-Nazis, anti-Zionists and Islamist extremists alike? Antisemitism does not exist in a vacuum, and it does not come from only one group or one side of the aisle. It comes in the form of thoughts and beliefs, when people think Jews control the media, for example. It comes in the form of extremism, when Hamas brainwashes Palestinian children into believing that Israel should not exist. It comes in the form of synagogue shootings and hostage situations. But it also comes in the form of silence. The silence is what concerns me the most. And it is not just coming from outside. The silence is coming from within our own community.

We (and by we, I mean the Jewish community – the observant and the secular, and everyone in between) cannot keep living in denial. Antisemitism is a massive problem in our world today, and I am so sick of us skirting around the issue and pretending like it isn’t. I do not write this claiming to have the answers to this problem, but I do write this asking you – at the very least – to be concerned.

I work at a synagogue. Every single day when I get out of my car, I look around the parking lot for anything suspicious or unusual. I am genuinely afraid to go into work. But here’s what I am really sick of: every day, thousands of Jewish communal professionals get out of bed and do the exact same thing as me, looking around their parking lots and planning their exit strategy, should they need one, G-d forbid. They are writing grants to increase security measures at our camps and synagogues, in our JCCs and our schools.

But they are also waking up every single day ready to further Jewish peoplehood and help bring our community together. And I am so sick of us working so hard, putting targets on our back by way of our titles, jobs, and places of employment, only to be met with silence. I am sick of people being cowards and not speaking up in the face of antisemitism. I am sick of people reposting things on social media in support of other communities, but staying silent when it comes to supporting our own. I am sick and tired of people in our community not standing up for one another.

Jewish communal professionals are quite literally putting our lives on the line. It is frightening. More than frightening, it is petrifying. It is far beyond my comprehension that I am even sitting here writing this. If you care at all about your community, then show it. It doesn’t matter if it’s “woke,” or “cool,” or “goes against progressivism.” You are not siding with the right or the left when you show support for your people. You are siding with humanity.

I am not OK. I am afraid for my life, and I am afraid for my community. But you are not OK either, and I implore you to not be silent in the face of that. Do something. This is not a choice – this is a need. Our community is not OK. Our safety is threatened each and every day, and it will continue to be threatened until we are no longer apathetic targets who are too afraid or embarrassed to stand up for ourselves. I am not OK – and it’s time for you to admit that you aren’t either.


Sydney Ungar is the youth director at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike and the director of The Bridge, which aims to build Jewish community downtown and on the near west side for young Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s.

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