I have struggled with what to write as we usher in the first days of 2020. I see many social media shares about people’s deepest hopes for a meaningful, healthy, and successful New Year. And yet, the Jewish community is once again confronted by an assault on its people at an alarming rate. Most recently, we witnessed the horrific stabbing attack at a Chanukah party in Monsey, NY, just days after a murderous rampage at a kosher supermarket in Brooklyn, one of 10 incidents of anti-Semitic violence in the last 2 weeks alone. Just a few short weeks ago, our own west coast Jewish community was devastated by an attack on a vital institution that brings together the Sephardic Jewish community in Los Angeles. Images of damaged Torah Scrolls, prayer books and hallways alert the senses to what amounts to nothing less than an onslaught of hate and anti-Semitism.
The leader of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Rabbi Doniel Hartman, wrote in a piece titled “I hate to talk about Anti-Semitism”, something that resonated with me:
…I was raised to hate to talk about anti-Semitism, and to simply ignore it. Talking about it, thinking about it, and engaging with it, recreated the spiritual, intellectual, and moral ghetto walls from which we had finally been redeemed. Talking about it shifts Jewish discourse inward, instead of upward, and makes survival the principal concern of Jewish life, leaving no oxygen for the critical work of meaning, value, and purpose.
While I hate talking about anti-Semitism, I hate anti-Semitism even more. I hate what it does to Jews. I hate the fear that it instills. I hate the pain and suffering that it causes. I hate the attention that it demands. And as we are experiencing with increased frequency, it does demand attention, even from those of us who hate to talk about it.
I, too, hate talking about anti-Semitism. I hate giving oxygen to the perpetrators, but feel the need to talk about our fears. To be sure, I didn’t agree with all of Rabbi Hartman’s comments, but the above statement perfectly portrays my struggle with how to respond to our current ‘state’.
How are we meant to integrate all of these attacks on Jews into our consciousness while also looking for meaning and inspiration within our own Jewish communities and lives? When one condition, arguably, must be stable for the other to flourish, a rational argument may be made that in order to focus on the future one has to feel safe. Others, like Rabbi Hartman, define this tension as a false choice in many ways. Rather, Rabbi Hartman argues, “The principle lesson of Auschwitz is “Never Again.” The principle lesson of Sinai is the challenge to become a holy people.” He, and I suspect many, believe we can do both at the same time. Indeed, two things can be true at the same time.
My fear is that we have become so desensitized to these incidents that they no longer cause a meaningful or substantial uproar by the masses. Our reactions are understandably angry and sad, but I simply wonder if the frequency of this onslaught of hate has made it almost impossible to stay in the fight as an entire Jewish community. Our brothers and sisters in Israel live with threats to their existence every day. Organizations like the ADL and Federation’s national Secure Community Network (SCN) are at the forefront, collaborating to combat hate, secure communities around the US, and provide expertise that can and should be availed by us all. We are so fortunate to have a local ADL that has carried this mantle for many years. That we now have access to additional national resources, like those through the SCN, bodes well for our future.
Just a few days ago, the ADL and the SCN put out a joint statement, demonstrating the type of partnership and collectivity that I believe will bind our Jewish communities together during these more trying times. I have placed a copy of their compelling and profound statement below. You can read in it a sense of urgency that MORE must be done to address this scourge. I couldn’t agree more. And, still, I pray that in the New Year our fight for safety and security will not define us completely. In fact, I am inclined to believe that we must continue to come together around a host of issues. Federation’s role of convening is as important today as ever. Just a few days ago, dozens of local community members joined by video with representatives of our partnership region in Sha’ar HaNegev to light the 7th night of Chanukah candles. I cannot help but believe that it is from our unity that we will find the strength overcome what is an undeniable and truly frightening specter of rising anti-Semitism in our world today.
Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network Statement on the Stabbing in Monsey, New York
New York Has A Problem
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|Contact: Dena Weiss
Phone: (317) 966-5646
(New York, NY - 29 December 2019) – ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) and the Secure Community Network (SCN), the official safety and security organization of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued the following statement regarding Saturday night’s stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, NY:
“We are horrified by the latest string of anti-Semitic attacks in New York, and the most recent attack against Jews in Monsey, NY. We are committed to surging our joint resources to combat the growing spate of anti-Semitic attacks, particularly those taking place in New York State. New York has a growing problem.
This is at least the 10th anti-Semitic incident to hit the New York area in just the last week. When will enough be enough?
It is time for leaders everywhere, Jewish and non-Jewish, to recognize that additional actions to protect the Jewish community are urgent. The Jewish community is under assault. All of America must hear our cry.
These heinous attacks make something abundantly clear: the Jewish community needs greater protection, and we are committed to stepping up and working together to do so.”