Have you ever heard of PewDiePie? I hadn't either. But if you know a 14 year old boy, I bet he has. PewDiePie is the world's top-rated YouTuber. With 54 million subscribers, nearly twice as many as the 2nd
most popular YouTube channel. His videos have garnered over 14 billion views - almost twice the population of the planet.
PewDiePie (his real name is Felix Kjellberg) is the world's most popular and influential video gamer. PewDiePie is so influential in the gaming world, his words can make or break a new video game.
Another tidbit about PewDiePie - a couple of months ago, he displayed a banner on his YouTube site that proclaimed: DEATH TO ALL JEWS. PewDiePie has since removed and disavowed the video (as lucrative contracts with Disney and others were cancelled) and said it was a misunderstood joke.
I heard about PewDiePie from a mom of an adolescent boy who has recently experienced anti-Semitic comments at school. At a pre- Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, the rabbi asked if any kids had experienced Anti-Semitism. Most everyone knew about PewDiePie.
Which reminds me that -
Our kids are growing up in a really different world than the one we grew up in; and
Jew hatred is still out there and if our kids have an Internet presence, chances are they will come across it.
It's not just on the Internet. In the last two years, I've heard from numerous parents about anti-Semitic incidents in local secondary schools. Last year, a Sunnyvale teen was arrested after making anti-Semitic threats against Jewish students. And on college campuses, we hear more stories of Jewish students hiding their Jewish identities to avoid intimidation.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes increased in 2015, they rose again in 2016 and, while it's only April, there is eve
ry indication they are increasing further (this year
many of the recent bomb threats made against JCCs nationwide were made by a troubled Israeli teen, the day after he was arrested, another threat was made)
. Anti-Semitism exists, here in California, in multiple forms.
There are many ways our community can, should, and does respond. Firstly, security for our institutions and those who visit them, and community relations with law enforcement, with schools, with other faiths and civic groups. At Jewish LearningWorks, our concern is education.
Anti-Semitism can have insidious effects. It is not only about swastikas on gravestones or about physical security. It can become internalized and, as with any minority, that internalization can lead to psychic and emotional damage. Jewish education cannot stop anti-Semitism, but it can help Jews deal with it, respond to it, and overcome it.
And, while there are aspects of anti-Semitism that are unique, there are also ways that it resembles other forms of xenophobia and racism. Studying anti-Semitism offers the opportunity to understand those connections and to find solidarity with others who have and who are oppressed by fear and hatred of "the other."
Next week, at our Seder, we will again sing "
V'hi she'Amda," which includes the words - "...in every generation they try to destroy us..." We plan to unpack those words at our Seder this year. Spring - from Purim to Passover to Yom HaShoah to Israel Independence Day, represents a virtual tour through our people's experiences with and responses to anti-Semitism, genocide, and power and powerlessness.
These holidays offer opportunities to engage students in exploring our place in the world, ways in which our oppression has been unique and commonalities we share with other minorities, and how we have overcome oppression and thrived in spite of it.
The greatest danger anti-Semitism poses at this moment might well be within the minds, hearts, and souls of our young people. Our community relations organizations help us secure our institutions and our bodies. For our educators, our focus must be to protect and nurture our students' growing Jewish souls.