December B'tzelem: Understanding Antisemitism

    12.04.23 | Stories, Articles, Israel, Btzelem

    The rise in antisemitism in the wake of the events of October 7 has been, on the one hand, unsurprising, and on the other hand, astounding. Unsurprising because as Jews we know that antisemitism never went away; it is always just below the surface. Astounding, because even the most hardened cynic could not have foreseen an almost 400% rise in antisemitism in one year alone. The Jewish community feels it is battling against the world—and in truth we are. However, we are not only fighting a war of bias and hatred, we are also fighting a devastating war of misinformation and disinformation. I have said many times since the October 7 massacre that one of the most important things we can do is to educate ourselves. In this spirit, today, I would like to clarify some of the areas of misconception surrounding antisemitism. 

    The first is the use, or misuse, of the word “antisemitism.” Antisemitism is defined, and this is my own simple definition, as hatred of Jews. It is important to note that there is no hyphen in the word and the ‘s’ in ‘semite’ is not capitalized. Antisemitism is one word. The reason this is important is because an upper-case ‘S’ in ‘semite’ suggests that ‘semites’ are a people of whom Jews are a sub-group, and, therefore, if you are an anti-Semite you can also be against Arabs, for example. That is not true. Antisemitism applies only to hatred of Jews and no other ethnic, racial or religious group. How did it come to be that antisemitism exclusively means hatred of Jews? The term emerged in the middle of the 19th century in Germany and Austria. In 1879 and 1880, Wilhelm Marr essentially coined the German phrase that we know in English as ‘antisemitism.’ 

    From there, we turn to another oft-misunderstood term: “anti-Zionism.”  The question of whether anti-Zionism is different from antisemitism has become a significant talking point around the world and on many college campuses. Some people believe—in fact, some Jews believe, that one can be anti-Zionist and not be antisemitic. Here, too, we should know a bit about the origin of the word Zion.

    Zion is the name of a mountain in Jerusalem: Har Zion. This mountain is outside the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. However, it is important to know that Zion is also the historical and religious name of the Land of Israel. Though mentioned only a few times in Tanach, Zion is mentioned frequently in rabbinic literature. Zionism is the aspirational idea of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, as in ‘the Jewish people will return to Zion.’

    Modern Zionism is the central project of the Jewish people and has been among our core, animating ideas since we were expelled from Jerusalem in 70 CE. Since that moment, a primary concern of our religion was the return of our people to Zion. The historical connection of the Jewish people to the land is coupled with a millennial-long yearning to return to this land, which is expressed in liturgy, theology, history, and culture. There is no understanding of either the Jewish people or the Jewish religion without the idea of a return to Zion. Therefore, to suggest that you can be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic is a logical impossibility.

    Of course, the only way to be expelled from a land is to be there in the first place. It follows that it is an incontrovertible fact that Jews lived in the land now called Israel since at least the year 586 BCE. Another incontrovertible historical fact is that Jews were expelled from Jerusalem twice, first in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and most recently 1,953 years ago in 70 CE by the Romans. However—and this is important—even after the expulsion, Jews continued to live on the land we now call Israel, and shortly after each expulsion, returned to the land. This is not at all to say that other people didn’t live in that area—many ethnicities and religions, including Christians and later Muslims, lived there. Jews do not have an exclusive right to this land. But, as much as any other people have an historical claim to that land, Jews do as well. To be anti-Zionist is to deny Jews a historical claim to that land, and therefore a right to return. This denial is, essentially, a denial of the Jewish people. 

    In contrast, to be anti-Zionist is not to oppose a given policy of the state of Israel. Many Jews, many rabbis, many Zionists,  (and many Israelis!) oppose policies of the State of Israel. Prior to October 7, Israel experienced a long period of civil unrest with hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting against the government. Those protestors were certainly not anti-Zionist.

    One of the most painful aspects of this time we are living in, is the knowledge that the Jewish state of Israel - and in turn Zionism -  is an inextricable part of being Jewish. When Israel is attacked, Judaism is attacked. Discounting the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel is anti-Zionist, and anti-Zionism is antisemitism. 

    Leaving aside any biblical claim to the land, Jews have been in that land since there have been Jews. Since the modern state of Israel was established in 1948, the Jewish world would be incomprehensible without Israel. If the State of Israel ceased to exist, we would be left with yet another observance on the Jewish calendar commemorating yet another dark day for the Jews. 

    Let me be clear. Without Israel, the Jewish people would slowly fade away. This is not a matter of semantics: Anti-Zionists seek to destroy Israel and hence they seek an end to the Jewish people.

    ~Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson


    This year, our Sack Lunch program set itself the lofty goal of delivering 13,500 lunches in 2023 to Hope the Mission (formerly Hope of the Valley) to help our homeless neighbors. And we're incredibly close to success! At last count, dedicated TJ members had packed 12,705 lunches! We only need 795 sack lunches to get to our 2023 goal of 13,500. WE CAN DO IT! Members of our Temple Judea staff will help pack lunches on December 12th to contribute to this mitzvah. The final opportunity to reach - and maybe even surpass - that goal is Monday, December 18. Make it a family activity or set aside time with some friends. Then bring your sack lunches to TJ between 10 - 11am on the 18th. It's even a tax write-off!

    While this will be the last collection day for 2023, Temple Judea's efforts to help feed the homeless will start anew in 2024 -- Monday, January 1st in the Gelson's Parking lot.


    Many of our Temple Judea 8th-grade students are participating in a program called Tzedakah Transforms. These students have formed the "Judea for Equity, Wellness and Safety" board and have a set a goal of raising $7,500 in support of organizations working to promote support for Israel, mental health, kids in sports, and reproductive rights. Students invite you and our Temple Judea community to participate in this endeavor at any amount. If you are interested in donating, click here and select "Teen Philanthropy".


    At a time when the Jewish community feels alone in the world, it felt reassuring to join with over 300 members of interfaith and religious institutions in the OneLA Community Conference on November 12 - showing the power of WE to tackle the problems of affordable housing, mental health, and the economic challenges of living in our area. Led by Judy Rutt and Carryl Carter, our Temple Judea team was joined by our friends from Our Lady of Grace. In attendance were Los Angeles City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky and Mayor Karen Bass’ Director of Housing Affordability, Azeen Khanmalek. Both expressed gratitude for OneLA’s work in helping them achieve their goals. Supervisors Lindsey Horvath and Holly Mitchell had prior commitments but have been in dialogue with OneLA. Our TJ team is going to pursue issues surrounding mental health, and we welcome your input and participation. Please contact Carryl Carter by email at   to get involved.


    Our TJ 8th & 9th graders partnered with Tzedek America in November to visit Phoenix, Tucson, and the border town of Nogales, Arizona, for a weekend of meaningful social action surrounding immigration justice. Students went on a Samaritan walk in the desert, leaving water near the border for immigrants traveling through. They also packed snack bags for immigrants recently processed through a border facility on their way to the next step on their journey. Listening to the experiences of immigrants, activists, retired border patrol agents, and others, these teens learned firsthand about this complex and layered issue. 7th Graders on the Tzedek Track will again partner with Tzedek America in December to discuss civil rights as part of their civil rights unit.


    "This has been the hardest period for the Jewish people since the Shoah," says Rabbi Aaronson in a recent Hollywood Reporter article. Yet in this challenging time, even since our last November issue of B'tzelem, our members and leadership have continued to rely on the strength of the TJ community to help process the events happening in Israel together. From our sponsorship of the "One People, One Heart, Solidarity with Israel" rally at Sinai Temple, to Rabbi Emeritus Don Goor’s participation in the LA Jewish Federation's Board of Rabbi's Mission to Israel; from our ECC’s support of the upcoming Beats for Israel Benefit Concert to our Religious School students and their families sending heartfelt notes to Israeli soldiers — Temple Judea’s community has found strength in action, prayer, and unity. To learn more about all that we’ve done and all we continue to do to support our brothers and sisters in Israel and combat the rising tide of antisemitism at home and abroad, click the button.

    Click here for more


    Temple Judea's Annual Thanksgiving Market was a resounding success! Thanks to our many donors, this year's fundraising endeavor provided 117 families with a full Thanksgiving meal! We also extend a great big thank you to the volunteers who packed boxes and to the Social Action Committee members for this experience!

    Temple Judea will be recognized by PATH for our support in 2022-2023. Temple Judea's contributions supported PATH's ability to help end homelessness for over 4,000 individuals this past year. PATH is a non-profit organization working to end homelessness by building affordable housing & providing supportive services throughout CA. 


    B'tzelem: Coat & clothing drive for Hope the Mission.  Drive-thru: Sunday, Dec. 10 @ 8:30am-12:30pm. Ongoing: Dec. 11-15 in the TJ Lobby. As you clean out your closets, please note TJ's B'tzelem Social Action initiative will be collecting gently worn clothing and shoes for adults and children. Learn More

    We're not just spinning yarns here! Sunday, Dec. 10 @ 10am. Join People of the Yarn, TJ's knit and crochet group, for a morning of fun and creative tikkun olam. Craft items for people in need in our community. All levels welcome! Learn More

    A brave space for LGBTQ+ Teens.  Monday, Dec. 11 @ 6:30pm. Jewish teens are invited to meet for connection, reflection, support and fun. Learn More

    Support Our Hungry Neighbors with Social Action. Mondays, Dec. 18 (@ TJ), Jan. 1 (@ Gelsons) @ 10am. Pack sack lunches to donate to Hope the Mission. Let's reach our goal of 13,500 lunches donated in 2023! How many have you made? Every lunch counts. Learn More

    A Very Israeli Chanukah: A great miracle happened!
    Friday, Dec. 15 @ 7:30pm. 
    Let’s celebrate Chanukah Israeli-style with a delicious chicken dinner including latkes & sufganiyot, Israeli dancing, Chanukah games, art, cards for Israeli soldiers, and more! Learn More & Register

    Pathways to Citizenship is gearing up for a new year. Saturdays @ 9am-1pm, Jan. 13 (@ Clinica Romero), Feb.10 (@ Our Lady of Grace Church). Who do you know that wants to become a citizen? We will help them achieve that goal. Learn more at these upcoming workshops in 2024. Call Judy Rutt at 213-700-9363 to learn more.

    Ongoing Initiatives



    All of the work we do aligns with initiatives and policies supported by the Union of Reform Judaism both nationally and in California. Every day, we are inspired by the thousands of volunteers in all of these different areas who work tirelessly to make a difference. YOU could be one! Learn more and get involved!

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