Workshops, seminars and courses that inspire full-hearted living

Combating Anti-Semitism

Dear Friends,

You are likely aware that anti-Semitic incidents are on a dangerous rise around the United States. Most prominently there have been dozens of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, and Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized and desecrated. I have unfortunately also been receiving reports about anti-Semitic taunts and posters in our own Mid-Hudson Valley region.

While of course very distressing, none of this is surprising to me. Human beings tend to follow the cue of their leaders, and when hateful speech and intolerant behavior is modeled and championed from our national leadership, tacit permission is granted to everyone who is so inclined to exercise their own hateful speech and impulses. Hatred can breed in every human heart, and a healthy society’s role is to marginalize, suppress, and ideally undo that hatred, so that we can have a civil – as in civilized – society. We need look no further back than the Nazi regime to understand the human potential for evil, and the terrifyingly slippery slope that allows the container of civilized behavior to be upended. We also need look no further today than to Syria, where once again human savagery – led by Syria’s dictator Assad – has swept away the human values that uphold civilization. Jewish tradition names this recurrent wave of human depravity “Hamashchit” – “The Destroyer”, and the 11th century sage Rashi points out, “When the Destroyer is let loose in the land, innocent and guilty suffer alike.”

We are living in a dangerous moment.

I think it is important for us Jews to remember that despite our historic role as scapegoat, here in the United States at this moment we are not first in line for the forces of bigotry. Muslims and Hispanics appear to be closest to the crosshairs, and people of darker skin shades in general are the primary focus of bigoted hatred. But we are certainly all in this together, and the truism “What affects one, affects us all” is as true now as it has ever been.

Fortunately, that awareness of our need to look out for one another is being dramatically awakened in response to these developments. Perhaps you followed the heartening response to the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emet Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour of MPower Change and Celebrate Mercy’s Tarek El-Messidi, immediately launched a crowd-funding response to their Muslim communities in order to raise $20,000 to repair the cemetery. Within hours they had surpassed that goal and raised $100,000!

Then, as my colleague Rabbi Yael Ridberg reports, “less than a week later, when the Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated, Tarek El-Messidi abandoned his travel plans and was one of the first people on the scene, helping to lift toppled stones, and pledging to use funds from the now $130,000 collected, to aid in restoration efforts in Philadelphia, and anywhere else they might be needed.

Many members of the American Muslim community gave of themselves — their money, their verbal condemnation of the attacks, their physical presence to volunteer at the cemeteries and stand together with Jews against such anti-Semitic actions.” Read more of her excellent post here.

Our Muslim allies’ response is precisely what is called for from all of us at this tenuous moment in the United States and around our planet. We can contain and subdue the forces of division and hatred with our determined efforts to remain connected and to offer support across group boundaries. I think that one of the goals of terror is to get folks to shrink back and close ranks with their own kind. I implore us Jews to resist the contracting imperative of fear, and instead to reach out determinedly to the countless people of good will from all corners of humanity who understand that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan