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From Rabbi David - Response to Recent Anti-Semitism

05/28/2021 02:56:50 PM


Dear Friends,

The recent anti-Semitic attacks and other incidents reported nationally arouse grave concern and prompt us to ask a number of critical questions about ourselves and our engagement as a Jewish community.  For each of us in different ways, such events may strike us either as unexpected or alternatively as familiar, but nevertheless they are shocking.  Looking to lessons learned over the past several years, I believe that our ongoing work as a community in the forms of workshops, conversations and actions around anti-Semitism and systemic racism provide some ideas for how we think about this moment and steps we may take in the future.

Honor Your Feelings - For many of us, the response to acts of anti-Semitism is deeply personal, whether those incidents are local or remote.  Some of us may carry a trauma history through our families or personal lives that powerfully shapes how we react to and process such events.  Whether by talking with a professional or a dear friend, spending contemplative time alone or with others, by reading and researching or turning toward practices that nurture your mind and soul, I strongly encourage you to take the time and space you need.  I also urge you to remember that we are not alone.  As we were reminded after the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we live among allies who care deeply about our welfare and safety, and who admire us for who we are and what we stand for as a Jewish community.

Ahavat Yisrael (Love of the Jewish People) - A couple of years ago, Cherie Brown had us verbalize how we see anti-Semitism affecting “my beloved Jewish people.”  The variety and depth of responses was astounding but not surprising.  Ahavah, love, is the central force of connection among Jews everywhere, and often drives our sense of deeper belonging.  At a time such as this, our expression of love for the Jewish people may take many forms: donating to organizations that help and protect Jews everywhere, connecting with a project in Israel that speaks to your yearnings, supporting Jewish social justice organizations, looking to synagogue for community, reaching out personally to friends and family.  Building on this sense of love not only feels good, but generates goodness beyond all measure of what we see and know.

Double Down on our Vision of Tikkun Olam - As Eric Ward, Lecia Brooks Cherie Brown have all emphasized in their presentations to our community, anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of hatred act as wedges to divide people from each other by playing on real vulnerabilities.  In this moment, we may feel that pursuing our work to promote peace and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians, to join with communities of color to end systemic racism, and to stand up for human rights everywhere are secondary to preserving the safety of the Jewish people.  Such a habit of mind strikes me as misleading either/or thinking when, in fact, our responsibility as Jews compels us to simultaneously stand up for ourselves along with all humanity.   As Hillel famously asked (Pirke Avot 1:15), “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  But if I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

Love for Israel as Dream and Reality - We are a community of many opinions about Israel and the future of Palestinians, and accordingly, we do not have any official position.  Whatever our individual stances on the ongoing conflict, we all know that this situation is deeply complex, ever changing, and viewed in a myriad of ways by Israelis and Palestinians themselves.  That being said, we have over the past 20 years highlighted and supported efforts to bring peace and reconciliation.  I am very proud of the array of speakers we have invited to prompt deep and meaningful dialogue at CBI, including Israelis working to build bridges, Palestinian peace builders, American activists supporting the peace work of Israelis and Palestinians, and scholars seeking the most nuanced and discerning perspectives.  

Each of these opportunities to learn and reflect has helped us deepen our understanding and connection to Israel as a refuge and homeland for the Jewish people while strengthening those who aspire for Israel to be a beacon of justice. Such an Israel is not merely a utopian aspiration but actually mandated by Israel's Megillat ha-Atzma’ut, its founding Proclamation of Independence.  From time to time, I take the opportunity to read that proclamation to remind myself of its imperative to fulfill the vision of the biblical prophets by ensuring “complete equality” for all who live in the land, guaranteeing “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”  Reading these words, at any time, always moves and inspires me.

Finally, I will close by emphasizing what our Sages from the Talmud said, that “Kol Yisrael arevin zeh ba-zeh,” the Jewish people are all bound up with each other.  Of the nearly infinite meanings of this phrase, today I affirm that when Jews are under attack anywhere, anything we do to uphold the twin values of Ahavat Yisrael (Love of the Jewish people) and Ahavat ha-Briyot (Love of Humanity) strengthens all of us.  

In the time ahead, I look forward to finding those paths to reflection, study and action together.


Rabbi Justin David

Mon, May 27 2024 19 Iyyar 5784