I marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in Sunday's Solidarity March because we face unprecedented times. Most of us have never experienced this level of antisemitism and most especially the violence that has accompanied recent attacks. We are struggling to make sense of this increase in antisemitic hate and violence. And so I would like to offer some advice and guidance for how we might approach these times and how we might fortify our souls.
1. We must fight antisemitism wherever, and whenever, it appears. We must expose it. We must label it as hate. We must never be deterred. Support the many Jewish organizations that help to lead this fight, in particular but not exclusively the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
2. We must not pretend that antisemites only target other Jews. We must never say things like ultra-Orthodox Jews, like those in Monsey, were targeted because they separate themselves from the larger, American society. Just because someone visibly identifies as a Jew and just because we have the luxury of taking our kippah off does not mean we should give ourselves the permission of separating ourselves from other Jews. We are one people whether we acknowledge this or not. Antisemites make no distinction between Jews. We should not, we must not, as well.
3. We must not allow the fight against antisemitism to divide us. We must stop seeing this struggle through our partisan lenses. Stop saying it’s all because of this person or that, this leader or that politician. There is plenty of blame to go around. There is plenty of fault to be found with Democratic leaders and Republican politicians. Can we at the very least get on the same team in our fight against antisemitism? Do you think antisemites care who you voted for or who you voted against? Again, we are one people and we are in this together, Reform and Orthodox, Republican and Democrat, synagogue going and synagogue denying. Fight the tendency to see each and every antisemitic incident as proof of your political leanings and ask yourself instead, what more can I do to protect the Jewish people, my people? Let’s stop fighting with each other and start banding together to fight antisemites.
4. We must not be afraid. We must not allow rising antisemitism, and in particular these recent violent attacks, to make us constantly afraid. Of course we should be cautious, but fear and caution and very different things. The latter is about making reasoned and judicious decisions (by the way, we have an expert security company at the synagogue who looks out for our safety and well-being). The former is about emotions. If everything is guided by the emotions of fear then we will never do anything new again. We will never talk to a new person or make a new friend or venture to a new destination. Yes, the world is a dangerous place, but it is also a wonderful place. And seeing that wonder, amidst all these terrors, is a matter of belief and something that you can train yourself to feel. I refuse to allow my soul to live behind closed gates and doors. The Jewish people have survived, and outlasted, far worse than our current travails. Of course, it’s hard to gain this historical perspective, or any perspective for that matter, when you are in the midst of a fight but Jewish history should remind us that while antisemites have often been arrayed against us, we have always persevered. Have faith!
5. We must not allow antisemitism to define us. We are Jewish not because of the names they call us or what they say about us, but because we belong to an extraordinary tradition that affirms life and provides meaning to our days. Our rabbis remind us that it is a commandment to rejoice. It is a mitzvah to dance with a bride and groom, for example. So important is this communal obligation that it even takes precedence over the demands of mourning. Rejoice! Shout God’s praises. Our tradition also offers blessings for lightning and thunder. Imagine that. That which conjures fear the rabbis said we should instead find there the inspiration to offer praise and thanks. There are many other examples I could offer that might further illustrate this point, but let’s always recall that we are Jewish because of the meaning and beauty Judaism offers us rather than how we might respond to those who hate us.
Stay strong. Remain focused. Have faith.
This week we conclude the reading of the book of Genesis. Most of the time we look at this book in the discrete units comprising the weekly portions. If we look at this first book of the Torah in its entirety we find instead a remarkable teaching. The book begins with two brothers, Cain and Abel. Cain of course kills Abel. We then follow the tensions between brothers Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau. In each successive tale the brothers come closer to repairing their fractured relations but never fully realize repair and reconciliation. And then finally, at the conclusion of this book, Joseph and his brothers are fully reconciled. Only a few weeks ago Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him. Now they forgive each other, are reconciled, and live the remainder of their days in peace.
We must always have hope. That is our tradition’s most important teaching. It was true then. It is also true now.