Eliot Strickon (WI): ‘Anti-Semitism Has Had a Very Real Effect on Our Behavior’
Eliot Strickon (54), a Democrat from Milwaukee, WI, lives in an Orthodox Jewish and African American urban community and serves on his synagogue’s board. He is the child of anthropologists who were students of Margaret Mead, and he describes himself as a Bundist (a secular Jewish socialist movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s). His grandmother joined the hatmakers union in the 1930s. Following in her footsteps, Strickon, his mother and his sister joined teachers’ unions.
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How concerned are you about the rise of anti-Semitism in this country?
I’m pretty concerned. My rabbi was in Monsey, New York when the attack happened there. We’ve had someone hurling anti-Semitic epitaphs at everybody walking out of the synagogue. It’s happened a couple of times, and the cops responded quickly. We’ve increased security, and there are now armed guards on the Sabbath. It’s important for me to emphasize that anti-Semitism has had a very real effect on our behavior and what people do, and not just in the Orthodox community. It’s really been a sea change in the way we’re having to interact. We don’t let people come to the synagogue as much as we used to; we have to be more closed off. There are more members with guns in the synagogue, which is not a good thing, but it’s hard to be against it because, at least psychologically, it makes people feel better.
What do you think is primarily to blame for the rise in anti-Semitism?
Well, I think anti-Semitism goes back to Esau and Jacob. As for the last few years, this started happening as soon as Trump was nominated. Certainly, by the time he was sworn in, there was this dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. With the coarsening of dialogue, it gave everybody the opportunity to take a couple more steps, either “way to the right” or “way to the left,” and historically, both of those paths lead to anti-Semitism.
Do you think the problem of anti-Semitism is being addressed adequately by the presidential candidates?
It didn’t play so well in Iowa or New Hampshire, so we haven’t heard much about it from the candidates. For me, it comes down to addressing issues of domestic terrorism that haven’t been addressed in the current administration.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the current state of anti-Semitism?
The involvement of people like Lev Parnas is not going to do great things in terms of anti-Semitism. Some people will say, “He was working for Trump, look at this, you can’t trust the Jews.” And those on the right will say, “He’s a snitch. He’s no good and he was working for the Jews.” It’s not good for the Jewish people either way.