Yisabella Hazan, 21, says we are in the midst of “Chanukah antisemitism”, a hatred that tells Jews to reject parts of who we are in order to be a part of the community of good. She is one of a number of modern-day Maccabees, fighting antisemites and showing Jews who have internalised this antisemitism how to find their voices.
I met Ysabella at the Tel Aviv Institute’s Jews Talk Justice conference, where activists came together to learn to advocate more effectively online. “Given that bigots radicalise and recruit online, our goal is to help people do the opposite: recruit more people into kindness, understanding, and inclusion, to discuss antisemitism and learn to combat it,” says Hen Mazzig, Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.
Attendees included Jews of many backgrounds: Native American, Black, Latin, LGBTQ+, Yemenite, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi, as well as non-Jews, who use their platforms to combat Jew hate and defend the Jewish people and Israel.
Their activism and passion for Jewish pride is a direct antidote to the JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace)-type activist, the young campus Jew who has been forced to turn on Israel and Zionism to be accepted into left-wing circles.
But far from fighting them, these advocates use their platforms to help “decolonize” fellow Jews with education and empathy, enabling them to take pride in and appreciate their heritage and culture.
Noah, 21, is Black and Jewish. His father defected from Russia in the 1980s where all official documents labelled him as a foreigner, a Jew. His mother’s family has Jewish roots and experienced slavery in the southern US. From both he understood the importance of a homeland and the pain of having it forcibly taken away. “Our people need to be empowered and talk about our history and past. Jews have assimilated and adopted foreign concepts of identity and race that don’t fit us. In order to understand where we come from, we need to reject the categories that are forced upon us.”
Adiel is a Yemenite Jew. During the Covid lockdown he downloaded TikTok. And was immediately bombarded with antisemitic comments. “They said, ‘You’re a white coloniser— go back to Europe’…but I am a Yemenite Jew. I knew this rhetoric existed but I never personally encountered it. I realised that the problem is rooted in deep hatred and they are attacking all Jews. It was mind boggling to watch other Jews argue that 60% of all Jews are Middle Eastern, but ALL Jews are indigenous to Israel so, why are they saying this?”
According to Adiel, it’s not an attack on Israel, it’s an attack on the history of the Jewish people. AdielofIsrael now has nearly 39K followers and has videos debunking tropes, myths and even having conversations with Palestinians.
Yirmiyahu, 26, is descended from Sephardic Caribbean and Jerusalemite Jews. After living mainly in the Jewish community, at 12 he encountered Jews in public school and found it alienating. “My idea of Judaism was different to theirs. They had assimilated into whiteness, trying to erase their ethnic and racial differences to assimilate. Western Jewry has gone through an intense process of identity loss because of assimilation and antisemitism. We need to decolonise Jewish identity.
“Colonisation is violent dispossession of a people, racially, politically… it’s deeply traumatic. Decolonisation is an act of healing — we need it, mind, soul and body. Then advocating for our people will come naturally.”
So how to help disempowered Jews appreciate their heritage and peoplehood? Noah suggests observing and learning about the festivals and why we do what we do. “The ritual and the customs speak to where we come from and who we are. Judaism as a religion is the cultural practices of the Jewish people. You don’t have to do them all but they give you knowledge and connect you.”
Yirmiyahu agrees: “Culture is supposed to be tangible, not just ‘Jewish values’. Engage with your culture. You have ancestral language and clothing — learn them and use them. You have a land — connect with it.”
Ysabella says the antidote is Jewish pride and empathy. “Many Jews have internalised antisemitism and we need to reach them. They need to be comfortable speaking to us and then they won’t learn their Jewish identity from others.”
For Adiel, it starts with us: “We cannot expect non-Jews to stand up for us if they don’t know the history of our people and we can’t expect them to know the history of our people if we don’t share it.”