Jews must seek non-Jewish allies in fight against hate

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In one way, Rabbi Brad Bloom's description of his arson-ravaged synagogue was on target. "It's like looking at Nazi Germany," he said.

He's right. There were sights exactly like that during Kristallnacht.

When arsonists struck Congregation B'nai Israel on June 18, they destroyed the synagogue's library, causing at least $800,000 in damages.

But Bloom would also agree that the differences between what happened in the Sacramento area and in Nazi Germany are more important than the similarities. The differences point to what our agenda must be.

The Jewish Council of Public Affairs, a coalition of all local Jewish Community Relations Councils and major national agencies, once laid down the criteria for measuring the state of anti-Semitism in America. Toward the top of the list was this:

"One index to a society's readiness for anti-Semitism is the extent to and the alacrity with which public officials and official bodies publicly reject any expression or manifestation of anti-Semitism."

The German government approved and helped to plan the Kristallnacht arson against synagogues. The police, at best, stood by and watched.

In the case of last month's arsons, all public officials swiftly expressed their horror — as did newspapers, Christian churches and leaders of major ethnic and civic organizations. At the same time, law enforcement agencies went to work to find the culprits.

Are there bigots out there whose repertoire includes anti-Semitism? Certainly. There always have been and will be for some lifetimes to come. They represent a counterculture that is rejected and constrained by the majority, which is what occurred in Sacramento.

In fact, there are fewer of those countercultural bigots in America today than there have been in past decades. And their numbers are not growing, partly because most people's attitudes are shaped by the public culture in which they live.

It is true that the activist bigots do have more access and disposition to use weapons. So even though they are not politically dangerous, they may be personally dangerous and can only be restrained by law enforcement.

What does all this suggest for the future? First of all, it suggests that we should not relax our vigilance and that we should continue to focus on the mainstream public.

It was no accident that the various public and private institutions in California reacted so swiftly and vigorously to the anti-Semitic arson in Sacramento.

For decades, California's JCRCs — along with their statewide groups and other major Jewish agencies — have worked on maintaining relationships with public leaders and raising their levels of vigilance.

Still, there is one aspect of the public culture that we have a tendency to neglect — the public schools. They have been neglected despite statistics showing that the better educated the students, the fewer of them become anti-Semitic.

The JCPA's head recently said that San Francisco's JCRC may be the only one in the country with the public schools on its prime agenda.

So, the main lesson of Sacramento is that Jewish agencies must continue, ever more strongly, their hard daily work. They must continue to build relationships with public officials, the media and the various organized elements in the population quiltwork. And they must not overlook the public schools.