In the past month, two anti-Semitic incidents impacted me personally – two more than in my entire life, and I am 58. The first was the bomb threat at school, and this past week, the Jewish cemetery that was desecrated in Philadelphia, which was not far from where I grew up. When I heard about the cemetery in Philadelphia, my first thoughts were to my parents, in-laws and other family members. The incident was atrocious, and I was personally relieved that it did not occur at the cemetery where my loved ones are buried.
These hateful acts, whether they are bomb threats against JCCs and Jewish schools, or vandalism to Jewish cemeteries and synagogues – they are as cowardly as they are despicable. They are intended to instill fear and insecurity in us. While it is sad and unfortunate that anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in ways that many of us have never experienced, or have not experienced in decades – it should not be a surprise that in this politically-charged climate it has surfaced – for it is never far beneath the surface. In fact, even in “quiet” years, Jews usually top the FBI list as the number one religious group subject to acts of hate in the United States. (Yes, there are more incidents against Jews than Muslims.)
As an individual, I have never defined my Judaism by the tragedies that have befallen us – the Shoah, pogroms, and expulsions through the centuries. Rather, I have always embraced Judaism for all that is positive and beautiful about my religion, culture and people. I love being Jewish for all of the joy and meaning it brings to my life.
There are times, though, when we must speak up and resist those who seek to marginalize us, terrorize us, or even physically harm us. Bomb scares will not force Jews into the shadows again. Vandalism against our sacred spaces will not cause fear. Anger, yes – not fear.
Our job is to live our lives normally, proudly display and express our Judaism, and speak out against anti-Semitism and against all hate perpetrated against others – regardless of religion, race, or sexual orientation.
I will continue to wear my kippah, proudly, in public. At Hillel we will remain vigilant, as always, and we will proceed as usual providing a safe, nurturing and proud place to be Jewish and express our Judaism. I will let my politicians know that silence in the face of vandalism is completely unacceptable, and that action must be taken.
And, when appropriate, I will use this blog as a forum against hate as we strive to raise the next generation with values reflective of the Torah, God and our people.
I will also be sure to take note and to share stories about all of our wonderful fellow Americans who are just as appalled as we are about these recent incidents. Like the police chief, William Dial, in Whitefish, Montana, who placed a mezuzah on the door of the police station as an act of protest against the rise of anti-Semitic incidences in his community, perpetrated by local neo-Nazis. Or the passengers on a New York subway car, who upon entering the car noticed swastikas on every advertisement in the car. A guy took out hand sanitizer, passed it around, and the passengers removed the swastikas. Or the Muslim community in St. Louis that got together to raise money to help repair the Jewish cemetery in their community that was desecrated.
We cannot ignore the rise of hate in our country and against Jews. And sadly, we cannot hide it from our children. We need to speak to them about this, in age-appropriate ways. We have addressed it in school with the older students, and will continue to do so, as needed.
The P.J. Library recently tackled this topic and provided resources for speaking with young children about hate and anti-Semitism. Here is the link to their resources; I encourage you to read and utilize it: Talking to Children about Anti-Semitism/PJ Library
Finally, we all can do something now: The ADL has a link for each of us to sign a request demanding that the Attorney General take immediate action to reassure American communities, to act on his commitment to uphold justice, and to keep our children, our places of worship, and our civil society safe and protected by law. Click the link to sign the request. Tell the AG: Respond to anti-Semitic threats and hate crimes.