Rabbi’s Corner: Proud and Jewish – Especially in Difficult Times

 

My heart breaks for Israel, the world, our country, our town, and especially our children. It seems as if our world is overflowing with violence, hatred, and pain. Often, these seem distant from us and we can almost turn aside. However, the pain is right here in our own backyard and we cannot, we should not, turn away. Some examples:

Last night I received an email from one of our congregants who has a child in high school. The parent wrote to me: “This is how our evening began:” and then shared the message they sent to the school administration: “I write with much sadness tonight. I am on campus for (program) and went to the restroom. The first stall has ‘Germany 1942’ and some scribbled out things. My child told me they have seen kids ‘heil Hitler.’ Seeing this tonight utterly scares me. Antisemitism is at an all-time high in the world and as a Jew and parent of a Jewish student, I do hope the school will act quickly to get this removed.”

Our TBS teen is bright, thoughtful, outgoing, inquisitive, and proud of their Jewish identity. This teen, as well as others in our Senior School, have all experienced antisemitism on a regular basis at school. It begins as early as Middle School. Is this the type of world we are bequeathing to our children: a world where school is a place of bullying, xenophobia, racism, and hate?

I experienced profound hatred and antisemitism at the Santa Ana City Council meeting in December (and observe as this continues in both Santa Ana and across North America.) Groups of anti-Israel protesters, who are paid to be present, prepped with scripts and grotesque slogans, and bused in from out of town, shouted violent antisemitic tropes and screamed through megaphones as they left: “Kill the Jews! Kill the Zionists!” I have been targeted on social media and doxed ever since. Interfaith work has been the pillar of my rabbinate for decades. My parents taught me to be proud of my Jewish identity while speaking up for those who are unable to speak for themselves. Is this where it leads: ugliness, narrow-mindedness, death-threats?

One of my rabbinic colleagues here in Orange County, a long-standing prominent and well-respected rabbi in the community, known for their strong interfaith partnerships and interfaith work is now being targeted and harassed with antisemitic hate, being called out as an “Islamaphobe” for standing up for Israel, and is being asked to resign from boards on which they have served with distinction. Is this what it means to be a proud Jewish leader who stands up for both the Jewish community and reaches across boundaries to others: harassment, negation, more ugliness, and baseless hate?

One of my dearest friends is the Vice President for External Affairs and General Legal Counsel for a major, national Jewish organization. He has been working non-stop since October 7th, dealing with extreme antisemitism, violence, racism, and hatred. He sent me a text message yesterday: “I feel horrible. I am under so much pressure and am feeling totally overwhelmed for the first time in my life.” Is this what it means to devote oneself to one’s country, the Jewish community, and Israel: experiencing such pure evil that it becomes almost debilitating?

Not too long ago, I visited one of our congregants who is an octagenarian. He expressed to me that he has never felt so anxious as a Jew since WWII. We hope that as we reach our “golden years” they are filled with travel, family, pleasant avocations. Is this what we want for our beloved elders: to live out their final years in fear and worry?

We all feel that we are carrying a heavy burden, there is anxiety, weariness, unease, and uncertainty about the future. At the same time, as a Jewish people we believe in never giving up, in the promise of tomorrow, in the prospect of hope.

One way we keep our hope alive is to affirm life, to persevere by taking action, concrete steps that will lead to positive change. Here are a few suggestions:

The ADL (Antidefamation League) and other organizations can help bring  the program “Hate Has No Home Here” (and other similar progarms) to students and parents in our school systems, to build bridges of education, dialogue, and understanding.

We can speak up loud and proud for those who are being targeted and help them know that they do not walk this path alone, that there is a strong, supportive community joining them/joining US on this journey. We will not stop until the hate ends.

We can watch for posts from our newly-formed ‘TBS Kulanu: Synagogues in Action Against Antisemitism‘ Task Force. TBS is proud to have been selected as one of a number of synagogues to participate in this special ADL program. Kulanu, meaning “all of us” in Hebrew, is ADL’s self-directed national synagogue engagement program that empowers synagogues to fight against antisemitism and hate in our own communities. In its first year, 220 synagogues participated, representing a variety of denominations and sizes across the country. TBS will be doing the critical work of combatting antisemitism and hate in partnership with the ADL. As a Kulanu synagogue, we will learn how to have critical conversations about antisemitism and other forms of bigotry and cultivate the tools to fight them. Our Kulanu group will be initiating at least two programs to help us achieve our goals – we hope you will join with us, because we are stronger together.

We can exemplify the meaning of our name “Beth Sholom – House of Peace/House of Wholeness” – with our words, actions, and deeds, both within our own TBS community and in the greater community. When we partner with our friends and allies with actions, words, and deeds we have even greater potential to change the world.

At times like these, I take solace from many sources. This week, I take solace from this poem:

Unknown (written during WW2, on the wall of a cellar, by a Jew in the Cologne concentration camp)

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God,
even when He is silent.
I believe through any trial,
there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter,
to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying hold on
my child, I’ll give you strength,
I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there’s no one there
But I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace….”

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May that day of peace, love, happiness, and sunshine come soon. I will never, ever back down from being a loud and proud Jew.

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