Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Blog

 

June 2021

 

Dear Friends,

Wherever antisemitism rears its ugly head – whether on the left or on the right or anywhere in between – we must name it, call it out, and demand that our allies and public officials condemn it.  Just as we have in moments past, the last few weeks have invited us to again rise to that challenge.

Over the last several weeks, we have seen more and more acts of hatred and aggression directed at the Jewish community around the world. And, whatever we think about the Israeli government’s actions, too many people are using the cover of the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian Territories to express deep held antisemitic beliefs. This has manifest itself in the shouting of “Death to Jews,” calling for the expulsion of all Jewish Israelis from the land, and worse. It is the same kind of hatred that led to physical violence that simply took our collective breath away over the last weeks. Across Europe and the United States there are people who are taking to the streets to target Jews with death, rape threats, or other physical violence.  We simply cannot accept this as our reality.

As I have said before, disagreement with the Israeli government on any particular issue – whether about security or religion or education – is not inherently antisemitic. People have the right to disagree and I believe that Israel holds a special place in the heart of global Jewry and we are uniquely invested in Israel’s future. However, it IS antisemitic for Jews in or outside Israel to be “held accountable” for the actions of the Israeli government or to be blamed for them, particularly when those doing the blaming are using those actions as a pretext for an existing hatred. It is also antisemitic to erase Jewish history, refute the connection to the land of Israel over centuries, deny the humanity of all Jewish Israelis, and promote the nefarious belief that Jews are the root of all of society’s evils and the influencers behind all world events. All of which we are presently seeing play out in multiple spaces and ways.

In the first parshah of June, we read Shlach Lecha.  It is the story of the 12 spies.  Although most of the spies are burdened by their fear, Caleb and Joshua are able to see past their fear to the possibilities of the land of Israel. Even though they saw something that the others did not, they were not blinded from the realities of their circumstance. They knew that the journey would be difficult and painful. But, they saw the potential for a land flowing with milk and honey. I see the potential today – for a people that is free from the hatred and anger that antisemitism represents.

It is our task to be like Caleb and Joshua and see the possibility of a world without hatred – to call out the antisemitism in our society and to decry it at every turn, especially when we witness it personally and even when it might be uncomfortable for us as individuals. It is always hard to name the victimization of our community and asking our neighbors to stand with us. One of the beautiful things about Jewish tradition is the very fact that we are here. We have endured so much throughout our history and our people has been resilient and creative, surviving and thriving through it all. I believe we will move past this moment too.

While antisemitism will remain a source of pain in our world, we can push back against this kind of hatred and drive it back into the darkness.

The parshah ends with the laws of tzitzit. These fringes that serve as a reminder for Jews around the world about the ties that bind us together, and the commandments that call us into community. When we recite the shema, we gather our tzitzit together to represent the bringing together of the disparate parts of the Jewish world in this call to unity. I hope that this sense of community can remain with us as we navigate the pain of this moment. In the midst of the darkness of the antisemitism we have witnessed, the community can serve as a source of light and joy.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),

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Rabbi James