Rabbi’s Corner – Creating a Covenant of Peace to Eradicate Antisemitism

These past few weeks have been difficult for the Jewish people as more and more antisemitic incidents have reared their ugly heads across the United States, have gone viral and exploded via social media. A sample:

  • On Rosh Hashanah four college campuses were attacked by antisemitic vandalism: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Rutgers University in New Jersey, American University and George Washington University both in DC;
  • Controversy erupted at the UC Berkeley Law school this fall over the decision by a handful of student groups to adopt bylaws that would ban Zionist speakers and some student groups have established themselves as a “Jews-free” zone.
  • The artist known as Ye (formerly Kanye West) posted vicious antisemitic hate, calling for death to the Jews to his almost 31 million twitter followers and 18 million Instagram followers (there are only 14.8 million Jews in the world). His words and actions spurred:
  • Antisemitic banners and hate on the overpass of the 405 in LA, on billboards, on worldwide social media and so much more.

One of my life-long friends, Tom, who happens to be Catholic, reacted immediately on his Facebook page: “Friends, it’s no longer a question of ‘It can’t happen here.’ It’s happening here. Now. And it will only get worse unless people of conscience stand up, speak out, and condemn it.’ Tom is exactly the kind of ally we need. We need good people of all faiths to stand by our side, good people of conscience to stand up, speak out, condemn the hate and work with us to educate others.

Jessica Seinfeld, the Jewish wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld posted this on her Instagram:

Jessica does not have the extreme large-scale social media following as Kanye West. My friend Tom does not have the social media following as Jessica. However, each of their posts has received tremendous response and following. Jessica’s post has gone viral. People have started to speak up and speak out, to share their ally-ship with us as a people.

As a Jewish community we need to “go viral” for ourselves: to strengthen our own commitment to our Jewish identity, to embrace and strengthen our Jewish communities. It’s incumbent upon each of us to figure out what this precious gift of our Jewish heritage means. We’ve been handed a sacred trust. It’s not enough to “take it out, brush it off and polish it” only twice a year at the High Holy Days, or when we are being threatened from the outside. Judaism as a response to antisemitism or hate or persecution will not last as an enduring legacy.

It’s important for us to understand Judaism’s place in our everyday lives, the meaning and value it adds to our life. When we know and understand our history, we don’t repeat that history and we’ll be able to take the best of that history to build an envisioned future for ourselves and our children. When we are strong in our own personal Jewish identities, when our Jewish communal organizations are strong, Judaism will thrive and endure.

When we share our knowledge and understanding of ourselves with others, through dialogue, education, and shared programming, we take steps to eradicate hate, misunderstanding, violence, and pain. When we take pride in ourselves and can share that with others, we hope that others will celebrate us and celebrate with us as well.

This week, we read parshat Noah: the story of how the world was destroyed because of baseless violence and hatred. When the waters from the flood recede, God produces a rainbow as a sign of brit Shalom: a Covenant of Peace to indicate that God would never again destroy the world. A covenant is an agreement between a minimum of two parties. All of humanity is God’s partners in this brit Shalom, this Covenant of Peace. How can we help in bringing this covenant to fruition?

One step at a time, one relationship at a time, dialogue by dialogue, strengthening ourselves and by speaking out. This is a Covenant that will take a long time to fulfill. However, that should not deter us from striving to achieve it.

Tonight we will gather together in our synagogue sanctuaries as one people. We will stand shoulder to shoulder in our sacred space to show that we are one united people with one heart. We’ll stand united for love, for peace and justice and equality for all. We’ll stand united against antisemitism, we’ll stand united against racism, against injustice of any type. We’ll stand united in our pledge that together we will work to make our broken world whole.

We hope our encounters with the Divine this evening and with each other will lift us up, will inspire us to be better people, will elevate our everyday actions and help us to see the Divine spark in one another.

I know that I, personally, and we, the Jewish community, have felt so embraced by all of our neighbors and friends in the most heartwarming, loving, and compassionate manner by those, like my friend Tom and others who have spoken out and stood up. These acts of friendship, outreach and compassion are proof that goodness and kindness are stronger than hatred, antisemitism, and violence. We know that we are stronger together. We know that together we can work to educate ourselves and our children to eliminate ignorance, to break down barriers of hatred, to eliminate the scourge of hatred and xenophobia so that antisemitism and racism will no longer afflict this beautiful country we call home.

Tonight, during our Shabbat service, we will pray – as we do every week, to help us understand God’s oneness, for freedom, for wholeness, for peace. And at the end of the service, we will sing  the prayer “Alaynu” – which hearkens to a time in the future when all will be perfect in the world, when all will be right, when hatred will be gone and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall there be war any more.” Our prayers will be meaningless however, unless we do something to bring them to fruition: how will we make freedom’s bell ring out? What will we do to ensure that wholeness and peace will prosper in our world? How can we, as an interfaith community of faith help other’s understand that all of us pray to the same one God?

The great humanitarian, social activist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” People of faith have a particular responsibility to speak out.  And there is no better time to call ourselves to action now – on Shabbat. A day that hearkens to a time of hope for a better world, when each and every one of us has done all we can to eradicate all that is wrong and work toward a better tomorrow.

This is a time of unprecedented antisemitism in our country. Antisemitism is one of the oldest types of racism and hatreds in our world. We are one of the smallest minorities – we make up .02 percent of the population. Studies show that anti-Semitism is an indicator of many other kinds of radicalism. We must work together to wipe out and denounce antisemitism, overt or covert, no matter where it comes from.  We must work together to make our country a sanctuary of refuge for all peoples, no matter their religion, no matter their ethnic identity, no matter what we look like or where we come from.

I hope you will join us tonight on Shabbat Noah, celebrating this Brit Shalom, standing up against hate, strengthening our Jewish community, as we sit shoulder-to-shoulder.

Join us for our last dialogue and adult education class when I’ll address  “Antisemitism and the New Left; and How to Fight Antisemitism” this Thursday, November 3rd, 7:15 PM (for information and to register, see below).

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom

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