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Antisemitism

            I don’t want to write about antisemitism. I don’t even want to think about it. I have been lucky to live in the United States, and in New York, and especially on Long Island, because for most of my life anti-Semitism was a vague noise in the background, or a lesson from history, instead of an everyday reality for me. Even in High School, when I knew that my Jewish school was receiving bomb threats, I still didn’t take it in as a real danger. I was comfortable being an American Jew. It seemed normal, just like being a Catholic or a Methodist, or nothing. If anything, I experienced more conflicts within the Jewish community, especially between liberal and Orthodox Jews, than without. I knew I was part of a religious minority, but it didn’t seem to matter. Yet.

“Uh oh. That sounds like foreshadowing.”

            I’d heard about the blood libels in previous centuries, when Jewish people were accused of killing Christian babies in order to use their blood to make matzah. Setting aside the obviously unbelievable claim that Jews were killing babies for ANY reason, it’s important to know why this accusation would actually make religious Jews laugh. Jews who keep kosher salt their meat (this is where the name Kosher Salt comes from) in order to remove as much blood as possible before cooking, because blood isn’t kosher. And matzah, which is eaten at Passover, is made under very strict conditions, using only flour and water, under rigid time limits, so that the idea that anyone would add anything to the matzah, let alone human blood, is unthinkable.

“Matzah is boring.”

            But I remember, after 9/11, when an outspoken minority of people blamed Israel for the attacks on the World Trade Center, either with wild conspiracy theories about Mossad agents disguising themselves as Muslim Terrorists, or arguments saying that if Israel had never existed then terrorists would never have targeted the United States. The rhetoric made me anxious, but I didn’t see many people taking them seriously. And the extreme backlash against anyone who looked like they could be from the Middle East, or who seemed to be practicing Islam, was much more of an issue. It seemed wrong to focus on some anti-Semitic theories, when there was anti-Muslim violence going on all around me.

            Maybe things started to change with the onset of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, an umbrella movement that included groups that were specifically protesting the presence of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, and groups that believed Israel had no right to exist, the Holocaust never happened, and Jews should be pushed into the sea. As the BDS movement became more popular on college campuses, I heard more stories about Jewish college kids facing demonstrations against Israel on campus that supposedly focused on anti-Zionism as separate from anti-Semitism. The problem with that argument is that Zionism started as a movement to save Jews from life threatening situations in Europe, especially in Russia, in the 19th century, and grew in intensity after six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, just for being Jews. If the criticism had focused on the policies of the current government of Israel, without bleeding into a criticism of the existence of Israel, I could understand; just like you can be a patriotic American, or a friend of the United States, and disagree with the policies of the Trump administration. But anti-Zionism, if it means antagonism to the existence of the state of Israel, and unwillingness to recognize what led to the creation of the state by the United Nations, IS anti-Semitism.

None of this is to say that the Palestinians have been treated well, by the British, or the Jordanians, or the Egyptians, or the Israeli government; damage has been done and continues to be done. But if activists refuse to look at the causes of the complicated and painful current reality in the Middle East, and instead decide that everything is the fault of the Jews, for being there in the first place, then they are falling into old tropes that lead us all back into the darkness. When voices at the edges started to say, out of anger or ignorance, that the word Zionist was comparable to the word Nazi, they crossed a line that is hard to ignore, or forgive.

“Grr.”

But, even with all of that rhetoric, I still felt safe at home, in America. And then, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups grew in strength, and terrorist attacks took place in Europe, and then white supremacists carried their tiki torches in Charlottesville, to protest the removal of confederate statues (that shouldn’t have even been there in the first place), and they yelled, “Jews will not replace us.” Wait, what? What do Jews have to do with this?

            And then I started to hear about swastikas on bathroom walls, in Long Island schools, and then synagogues in the United States were attacked. But… so were mosques and churches and schools and movie theaters, and the news people said that it was terrorism in general, not anti-Semitism in particular, no matter what the shooters, or the internet trolls, were saying. I wasn’t sure what to think, or how to feel. I had never directly experienced antisemitism. Microaggressions, sure. Lack of knowledge, or insensitivity about Jewish issues, or lack of historical memory, sure, but nothing like what I’d heard from older Jews, about how it used to be, even in America, when Jews were excluded from professions and schools and towns and clubs just for being Jewish, before and after the Holocaust took six million Jewish lives.

But still, I thought, I’m an American. Three out of four of my grandparents were born in the United States. That should make me safe.

“Safe, American Cricket.”

And then, a few weeks ago, for the first time, someone left anti-Semitic comments on my blog. I couldn’t read those comments from a distance, as if it were news that had nothing to do with me, because it was on MY blog, and it was directed at me. Reading those comments, three by the same author, highlighted for me the fact that I had never been targeted like that before, not on my blog, and not in person, ever. I was always more worried that I would alienate readers by writing about Jewish stuff on my blog because it would be too niche, or boring, than I was worried about facing antisemitism. I was able to remove the comments from my blog easily, and there has been no recurrence, but, I couldn’t forget about them.

            I still feel safe, or as safe as I am capable of feeling. But, anti-Semitism is real to me now in a way it wasn’t before. And the lessons of the Holocaust (be wary of hatred and targeting of people because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, disabilities, or ethnic group) are more prominent again, for everyone.

It is so easy to blame someone, some group, some minority that you don’t identify with, when things start to fall apart. It’s so easy to project your own self-loathing and guilt and fears onto someone else who is not you, when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And it is shockingly easy for a leader in trouble, or seeking more power, to target vulnerable groups and aim societal anger and fear like a firehose in order to gain even more power.

I didn’t realize how easy it was to create baseless hatred, honestly. But now I do. And that really does scare the crap out of me. Because it could all happen again.

“Uh oh.”
“Don’t worry, Mommy. I only hate people who deserve it.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

212 responses »

  1. Oh, Rachel, like everyone else, I’m so sorry you have had this experience. The anti-everything people just don’t go away, and they’re more emboldened than ever by the inflammatory discourse starting at the top and by the ease with which social media gives them voice. Anti-Semitism/Black/LGBTQ/Muslim, etc is the single most profound heartbreak of my long years. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around it and I never will. Bravo to you for writing about your personal experience and feelings. I hope it brought you some solace and reassurance that there are more caring people out there than ignorant, bigoted hate mongers. There are, but we need to have those people as our leaders!

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  2. The favorite child is often hated by his/her siblings just for being the favorite. Aren’t the Jews God’s chosen people? No one can explain hate in any rational way. Or why it becomes contageous. We just have to refuse to accept it. May God’s peace be with you.

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  3. I was shocked to read this…I am so sorry you had to deal with those comments. It’s hard to ignore those strident voices, but I hope you can also hear the thousands of voices of love and support. I keep thinking it may be a dangerous time to speak, but it’s an even more dangerous time for silence…

    Wishing you a week that buoys and uplifts…

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  4. I join with the other comments my sorrow that you had to have this happen. Hatred and divisiveness are rampant. This has been a safe place to share our caring for each other. It is sad that it has to be disturbed by people who have to find something they can put down to make themselves feel better. Thank goodness little of that happens here.

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  5. I was horrified to read that someone would leave such vileness on your blog. I’m not surprised though. You put your finger on it perfectly with “It is so easy to blame someone, some group, some minority that you don’t identify with, when things start to fall apart. It’s so easy to project your own self-loathing and guilt and fears onto someone else who is not you, when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And it is shockingly easy for a leader in trouble, or seeking more power, to target vulnerable groups and aim societal anger and fear like a fire hose in order to gain even more power.” Take care. Basing ‘opinion’ on such factors as religion or color or race shows the person with that opinion doesn’t think for themselves, nor base their thoughts in reason. The thinking and caring folk still outnumber those awful people, and we can take comfort in that. I’m glad you spoke out about this subject.

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  6. I echo the sentiment of others that I am sorry to hear you had this experience on your blog. I have always believed that people are essentially good and although this may be naive, I think that hateful behaviour is the minority. However, it saddens me that there are those that will try ruin the human experience for others by spreading their hate and fear.

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  7. I’m very sorry to hear you’ve had this experience Rachel, in what always seems such a supportive community here on WordPress.

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  8. I am so sorry to hear that you were the target of hatred. There are trolls who are intentionally provocative or offensive for reasons most rational people cannot fathom. Worse still, there are white supremacists and members of other hate groups who actually believe the garbage they spew. But there are many of us who do not. I believe it was Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Those of us who oppose such evil must take a stand against it. The times are growing darker.

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  9. I’m so sorry that you experienced this, Rachel.

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  10. I’m so sorry someone left a hateful comment on your blog! We do live in scary times, and to me, the scariest thing is how easily we are able to believe that some group, any group, is solely responsible for all our troubles. Sometimes I think we haven’t learned a thing from history. All we can do is take comfort in the fact that most people know better, and continue to stand up to any attempt to scapegoat any group of people.

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  11. To be honest I know so little about what Jews face…maybe because in Australia Jews are few and far between? Maybe they aren’t and I’m ignorant, maybe it’s because I hear more about people hating Islam. This post was both sad and frustrating but also so educational and intelligent. Why do people resort to blame and pointing fingers and hatred rather than taking the time to learn the complexity of a situation. I’m sorry you had to deal with trolls. Keep posting Jewish content! I like learning about things I haven’t experienced (raised a Catholic).

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  12. It is easy to forget the people who are hate filled and now seem to have been given an opportunity to spew their hate through social media. Then they get to you–someone I really care about. I am outraged. I want to hurl invective back. Then I remember that that is just the response they want. They want to rile me and get me to act as shameless as they are. So I am calmed down and just sending you loving comfort.

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  13. I’m so sorry to hear about the offensive comments on your blog. I wish I could say I was surprised but I’m not. Keep speaking your truth, you have a lot of friends here!

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  14. I usually hate to add a comment when there already are so many, yet I feel I must add my voice in support. Growing up, I always saw anti-Semitism as something old; surely we knew better by now. I am so naive! But hate is real, and so easily directed by the ignorant against anybody different. I do not witness much direct bigotry in my day-to-day life, but I will be vigilant in calling it out and arguing against it.

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  15. Oh Rachel this makes my heart hurt! One of the things I love about your blog is how you seamlessly incorporate your Jewish heritage and culture into your writing. Adi and I send hugs (well Ask sends more of a Labby lick) your way and encourage you to keep writing what is on your heart knowing you are giving your followers a greater appreciation for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

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  16. Rachel, I’ve experienced antisemitism in different ways throughout my life. I was talking to a nonJewish friend this morning about it and she was surprised by some of my examples. All that being said, the current world situation has brought on new levels of hate. The Charlottesville chanting was vile. It was made worse by the response, “very fine people on both sides” WTF? Sadly, this isn’t limited to the US, but it’s been worse here. I’ve spent considerable time in your town and Crown Heights over the past 4 years. I’m afraid for my loved ones.

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  17. I am so sorry you were the target of someone who is hate filled. I never judge a person by their color, religion, if rich or poor . I judge their character by their actions and how they speak about people , how they treat people there are good and bad people in all categories you just need to weed the ones out that are toxic.

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  18. very interesting views…there will always be a first time and you learn to fear…unfortunately this is the everyday life in Europe today. stay safe and sound in Long Island and hopefully a country with a new president!

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  19. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. How such small voices can make sound terrifically terrible noise is beyond me. (As a piggyback off of this, do you know how to block such comments? And prevent comments from being posted before you get a chance to see them?).

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    • Thank you! I get email notifications of all comments on the blog, but new posters seem to need my approval before they can actually be posted. It’s been so rare that I’ve had to decline a comment, though, so I haven’t paid close attention to the mechanics involved.

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      • That is in your settings. It must be set that first time commenters must be approved before their comment gets posted on the blog (which is what I have mine set on, and sounds like yours is). That can be changed. You can change it so all comments will be automatically posted (my preference is to NOT do that on mine) or you can even set it so that every single comment needs approved by you before it shows on the blog.

        Again, I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

  20. Love your blog and your writing. So sorry to hear that story. Sending you warmest wishes from Ireland.

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  21. I’ve been trying to think about what to write to you for the past two days since I read your post. I’ve not come up with anything that fully expresses the sorrow I feel for you (as well as all others who suffer under the weight of such hate) and the disappointment that only grows as this kind of vileness persists. In these times of evermore disheartening circumstances I wish you strength, love, and hope for better days.

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  22. I’m so sorry to hear this. We bloggers put ourselves out there when we write and to have hatred written back at you is very upsetting. There is no room for racially motivated anger like that.

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    • My experience of the blogging world has been so positive that the one incidence of hatred glowed red, but I have been so overwhelmed by the kindness of this community in response…I had no idea this much kindness existed.

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  23. I was always more worried that I would alienate readers by writing about Jewish stuff on my blog because it would be too niche, or boring, than I was worried about facing antisemitism.

    I’m new at this blogging thing, but if being Jewish is part of who you are, then be that. Besides, we’re hardly boring 😉

    (and I’m really sorry that you had to deal with that. I would be super upset about it too.)

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  24. ” white supremacists carried their tiki torches in Charlottesville, to protest the removal of confederate statues (that shouldn’t have even been there in the first place), and they yelled, “Jews will not replace us.””
    Yeah, I’d not heard this, either. 😦
    And it is starting, again, it seems.
    A local Syrian (sorry, Aramaic? not Armenians, but they often have functions with the Greek and Armenian churches) church in east San Diego was vandalised, with Swastikas and “WP” painted everywhere (I’ve never seen the WP before…). And for me, it was a realisation that while my shuls (I attend two different Masorti shuls in teh area) can afford to pay for security guards, this little refugee church cannot.

    Reply
    • The hatred seems to keep growing as the fear grows. Here’s hoping we can find some stability, very soon.

      Reply
      • I’m afraid it may get worse before it gets better: the hatred is not growing, merely showing itself more. This is why leaders need to denounce hate groups, not tell them to “…stand by.”
        Also another reason I’m starting to promote my (free) book Stayed on Freedom’s Call, again: people need to remember the examples of cooperation against the kindred evils of anti-semitism and racism, and remember how to cooperate again.

      • Fingers crossed that we really are moving towards cooperation.

  25. I am so sorry that someone did that. That is awful. Thanks for your posts. Your blog is terrific and your posts are always interesting.

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  26. I am so, so very sorry for the ignorance of frighten people. It breaks my heart and I just don’t understand or can imagine how much brain damage a person has to have in order to attack someone for their religious beliefs, and one that is so beautiful, It’s all so… ignorant. Please be well… my best to you Rachel.

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  27. I am sorry you had to deal with this issue. It is not fun, I know, have been there myself. Stay strong, even through the rough moments. Peace, comfort, hugs. -Lorri

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  28. I too am sorry you had to go through that kind of harassment. But the outcome – this posting – deserves cheers and thanks.
    Very well done 🙂

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  29. Not to minimize the intrusion, because it’s terrible, but I hope you keep in mind the many, many positive comments that outweigh one ignorant jerk who decided to take his bad day out on you. You’re a talented writer and your blog connects with people.

    I’m a fellow New Yorker and, like you, never saw or heard of much anti-Semitism growing up. The first time I saw a swastika was when I was a teenager working as a golf caddie at a local club summers and weekends. Another caddie was fired and took out his anger by scratching a swastika on a toilet stall in the clubhouse.

    But as I got older I started to understand that not every place is like the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, and people in other parts of the country may not have neighbors, friends or co-workers who are Jewish. Knowing people, I think, is the best way to eliminate ignorance and fear.

    Anyway, I hope all the positive feedback here makes you feel better. Cheers.

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  30. I am so Sorry that you have been made to feel afraid. Anti-Semitism is on the rise here in Europe and it sickens me to my soul to see it.
    I cannot even begin to understand it but I know that only magic thinking can pretend that doesn’t exist. Your blog and your comments are very important, to help non-Jewish people understand how frightening anti-Semitism is.
    Stay strong, stay true to your religion much love Cathy

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  31. Anti-Semitism and Racism are experiences that no one should have to endure. People of color share the feeling of fear you experienced every single day just because of the color of their skin. Ignorance often dictates the actions of those who do not understand we as humans have more in common than we have differences. Stay safe and keep the faith!

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  32. Hmm. ‘Foreshadowing’. Big word for a small dog, but I suppose it would be a big word for a big dog too. Not so much for a smart dog like Cricket (or is it Ellie), but I digress. Sorry to hear about the rude (I’m being kind) commentor. I trust you recorded the offending email and IP address from your comments list, before blocking the user, and will consider reporting future offenders to WordPress. I’m not sure one has any obligation to attempt dialog with such a person, thus blocking and moving on might be best. I myself am a plain vanilla WASP who somehow avoided an upbringing that instilled religious and racial discrimination and hatred, thus I’m mystified how both continue to rear their very ugly heads in these modern times. (Lest we forget though, not so long ago, Hitler was an Austrian.) I hope psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists continue to plumb the depths of such hatred. I trust there are more of ‘us’ than ‘them’ and ‘our’ numbers will grow as we are all better educated. I must say, though I consider myself ‘world familiar’, it wasn’t until I read the first half of Yeshiva Girl that I was fully aware of how rigid and rule-based was Judaism as compared to my world. Very alien to me, and quite an eye-opener. Nothing wrong with that. Hang in there, and move on as best you can.

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  33. I’m so sorry to hear about the anti-Semitic comments, dear friend. I’m infuriated just hearing it happened! So thank you for covering well this topic you hoped never to have to blog about. “And he (Elisha) answered, ‘Fear not, for they that be with us are rabbim (many) more than they that be with them.'” ~2 Kings 6:16

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  34. So sorry to hear this

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  35. I’m horrified to hear you were targeted online. I’m a yeshiva girl from Brooklyn, who now lives on Long Island, and I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a few arguments with authors in my Facebook groups, but nothing blatant. I’m able to block these people online. I hope our country never reaches the bigotry and horror of Nazi Germany.

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  36. I can see this has shaken your confidence Rachel. Ignore it. (Easy to say and hard to do I know). I find it very helpful to hear about what goes on in other cultures and your posts are interesting and illuminating.

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  37. I’m so sorry you experienced online abuse. I loving learning about different religions, rituals and cultures. Your blog is so interesting and I’ve learned so many things from you. I’ve even added a few movies to my watch list like Disobedience. Thank you for your honest and brave blog.

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  38. What a painful and powerful story you have shared. I so appreciate your depth and honesty.

    And I’m grateful you have such menacing protectors (😉) to watch your back.

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  39. This was an excellent article and it’s also a valuable reminder of the thin line many of us easily draw between “us” and “them.” It’s wise to remind ourselves that to someone out there we are “them.” I’m so sorry for your experience. Please keep writing. I always look forward to what you have to say and I love reading the puppies point of view also!

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  40. So sorry for that horrible experience. I wish I could undo it for you, but since I can’t – I’ll just pray for the Lord to help you get over and past it. God bless.

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  41. Rachel, keep writing. Keep writing about this. It was very eye-opening to me, and I thank you for the history lessons. I am so very sorry you had to endure hurtful comments. But, they’re meant to intimidate. Keep writing…

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  42. Brexit and Trump seem to have given certain groups of people permission to crawl out of the woodwork. They are hardly likely to be intelligent enough to understand the complexities of history or our rich inheritance of many cultures and religions. I find it hard to believe that Jews in Britain could experience antisemitism, because many are leaders in business, medicine, science and the arts and their contribution invaluable. Most of us wouldn’t even know if many of these folk are Jewish and are surprised when they reveal they have experienced antisemitism.

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  43. I’m sorry that happened, and wish it hadn’t.

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  44. Thank you for sharing your experience, Rachel. How awful that antisemitism exists, let alone that you had to experience it personally by someone writing on your blog. But it will not be silenced. There are odious, ignorant people out there who have been taught to hate us Jews. That will not go away. Both my husband and I have seen it firsthand. Keep writing. I enjoy your posts and the Jewish content!

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  45. You are brave enough to write about things that interest you, and which may interest others. I’m sorry you were trolled, and I hope you reported that troll’s antagonism so that he’s not left free to fly his flag of hatred over others.

    Reply

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