This morning I was on the phone with a board member from my synagogue and mentioned that I was about to start writing my sermon, and that I planned to talk about antisemitism. She asked me if I had read this morning’s Sarasota Herald Tribune, which I had not.
On the opinion page was a superb column by Dan Ceaser, head of the Community Day School here in Sarasota. I highly recommend it.
Dan pointed out that antisemitic hate speech is on the rise, getting more virulent, and receiving more publicity than ever before. We all know this. When antisemitic voices include well-known celebrities and former presidents, you can be assured that their message is going to be widely distributed.
But it’s not just them. The man who wanted to break Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps and attacked her husband instead, a Catholic couple, had written antisemitic screeds on social media. Just two days ago the FBI reported that there was a credible “broad” threat to synagogues in New Jersey. The FBI’s Newark office released a statement urging synagogues to “take all security precautions to protect your community and facility.”
Yesterday the FBI located the individual, but synagogues throughout the state of New Jersey have remained on high alert. The editor of the Forward, Jodi Rudoren, reported that this morning, only 40 of the 102 students at her New Jersey synagogue’s preschool showed up. She commented, “[it] makes it hard not to feel like the terrorists are winning.”
A friend and former colleague of mine, a Presbyterian minister who moved to St. Louis, sent me a text this morning that said he is “praying for Jewish communities in New Jersey.”
I wrote back and said, “Thank you. I am praying for Jews everywhere.”
But prayer is not enough. We need to do more. We need to stand up.
We need to write letters to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in support of Dan Ceaser’s article. We need to drown the newspaper in letters supporting Dan’s message.
We need to talk to our neighbors and friends openly about antisemitism and about our fears. We need to wear Jewish symbols in public and respond when people want to talk to us about them. As someone who does so regularly, I can tell you that I have never received a negative comment, only friendly and warm responses, sometimes questions asked kindly with true curiosity.
We need to show up as Jews, here at our synagogue, and in synagogues around the nation.
I have never liked using the word temple to describe a Jewish house of worship, because synagogues are congregations, places where people congregate as communities, as like-minded folks, who support and care for one another. Now more than ever, it is necessary to show up. To stand up and be counted. To tell the world that we are a community, that we matter, and that we should matter to them.
Remember, although Jews took the brunt of the horror of the Holocaust, other minorities also were singled out. We need to stand up for ourselves and for them, and we need to teach them to stand up for us. We can’t do that as individuals. We must do it as a community.
November 9, next Wednesday, is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass in Germany in 1938.
For the first time in my adult life, I am actually considering the possibility that things like that could happen here in the United States. I am shocked to find myself thinking this way. But as I turned to the newspapers this morning, I saw again and again articles about the prevalence of antisemitism in this country.
I saw the picture of a banner hanging over a Los Angeles highway saying, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” I saw an article in the New York Times with the headline, “Between Kanye and the Midterms, the Unsettling Stream of Antisemitism.” I saw an article by the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, my alma mater, which stated flatly, “antisemitic tropes have found fertile ground in public discourse.”
This might be a good moment for me to tell you about my plans post-retirement, beginning in January. Many know that I am taking up the mantle of the Dean of the Liberal Yeshiva, begun by Larry Deutsch z’l 12 years ago, and carried forward by Marden Paru until his death last year.
But I’ll also be working as a rabbi. I’m changing my focus from congregational rabbi to community rabbi and will reach out to Jews who are unaffiliated with any Jewish institutions.
Recently a neighbor quietly asked if I could provide something to the Jews scattered throughout the neighborhood. Earlier this month I held a Shabbat celebration in our clubhouse. Just candles, wine, challah, and munchies. No advertising, just a notice in the monthly calendar. Ten adults showed up, with a posse of Jewish teens in tow. Two weeks later we had 17 adults, with their teens. We’re anticipating at least 30 people at our Hanukkah party in December, and I’ve promised to host Shabbat once a month.
The lesson is that people are hungry for Judaism. They just don’t know where to find it or how to create it, and for a variety of reasons won’t venture into an established synagogue. It’s up to the Jewish community to throw open our doors, to demonstrate to them that we welcome them just as they are. We need to seek out the people in all of our neighborhoods and invite them over for Shabbat dinner. Nothing fancy. Or even overtly religious. Just Jews being Jews together.
We can’t let the antisemites shut us down. If we don’t show up, they win. If we abandon our synagogues, they win. If we don’t stand together, they win. If we blend in among the Christians and hide, they win. We can’t let that happen, and I won’t let that happen.