By SVANTE MYRICK
People For the American Way
If you’ve been watching news or social media recently, it’s hard to miss a disturbing trend in American culture. It seems like antisemitism is back in a very public way – and not just in the white supremacist circles where it’s been all along. It’s heartbreaking. And it got me thinking about an experience I had fifteen years ago in my hometown of Ithaca, New York.
I was on the city council, and a local rabbi came to me with a concern. He explained that in traditional Jewish communities, many activities that are considered work are not allowed on the Sabbath. These include carrying objects from place to place outside the home. So tradition accommodates this restriction by creating a larger area called an eruv: a space that defines home as several houses and streets within a community. The boundaries of the eruv are designated by markers around the neighborhood, often attached to utility poles and wires.
The eruv symbolically enlarges the home – so the necessities of faith and of daily life can coexist.
For years, the rabbi said, the Jewish community had been asking to put up eruv markers in parts of Ithaca, but the city council hadn’t responded: could I help? I’m happy to say that we got it done. But not without some resistance – including pushback from people who called themselves progressives, who opposed what they called “catering” to a religious community.
That disappointed me then, and it bothers me even more today. Here’s why.
The alarm bells that are ringing about the rise of antisemitism are on both the Right and the Left. On the Right, we know that white supremacists, militant Christian nationalists and other bigots pose a deadly threat. And the way to combat this is with a strong, progressive, multiracial coalition. This is what happened in the civil rights era, when a Black-Jewish alliance played a major role in the fight for desegregation and voting rights.
But alarm bells are also ringing on the Left, because today there are fractures in that old alliance. A mix of cultural and political influences has left some in the Black community feeling like we’re not all on the same team. And what happens when good people are not aligned is that evil gets the upper hand.
There are plenty of examples of this throughout history. And I don’t use the word “evil” lightly. Think of Nick Fuentes, the far-right activist who grabbed headlines for his dinner with Donald Trump and Ye. Fuentes has openly praised Adolf Hitler. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
This is the kind of viciousness that we are facing today, with a Far Right that became louder, bolder and more aggressive under Donald Trump – and hasn’t gone away. This is a time when the Black community and Jewish community need to come together, and not be driven apart by forces with a divide-and-conquer agenda. We can acknowledge that there are differences between us, things we can talk about, while still having each other’s backs.
In other words, we can symbolically enlarge our home.
Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday just passed, famously reminded us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Those of us who want equity and justice need to want it for all people. Our real and symbolic home should be with each other, where we are united by our shared humanity and where hate by any name is excluded. Let’s make that space, and welcome each other in.
Svante Myrick is president of People For the American Way. Previously, he served as executive director of People For and led campaigns focused on transforming public safety, racial equity, voting rights, and empowering young, elected officials. Myrick garnered national attention as the youngest-ever mayor in New York State history.