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Be the Subject

As a Rabbinic Fellow of the Hartman Institute, I had a chance to learn from Professor Deborah Lipstadt this summer. She taught from her latest bestseller, Antisemitism Here and Now. She began with a joke. Who is a Jewish optimist? Someone who thinks things can’t get worse. Who is a Jewish pessimist? Someone who thinks that it can. Who is a Jewish realist? Someone who knows that they are. No one laughed. Not even Lipstadt.

Temporary structure made of abandoned windows of Jerusalem. July 2019.

This summer we’ve seen things go from bad to worse. Last week a beautiful Israeli teenager was murdered on a day trip to cool off by a natural spring. This week brings the news of targeted assaults against Charedi Jews in Brooklyn. And we are still reeling from President Trump’s recent warnings of Jewish “disloyalty.”

I don’t want Jews to be the object of anyone’s attention anymore – not of the President or James Sears or thugs with rocks or tiki torches or AR-15s. I want Jews to be the subject of their own lives. As we begin the month of Elul and our preparations for the High Holy Days we must ask ourselves and one another: How can I be the subject of my own Jewish life? How do I get in the driver’s seat and choose the direction of my own family’s Jewish journey?  How do I write the next chapter of the 3,500-year-old story of my own people?

Professor Lipstadt admitted: “It’s a real problem. How do we fight antisemitism without letting it become central to our identity as Jews?” Part of the answer has something to do with love. Not sweet or romantic love, but profound and powerful love for our tradition and the values it demands of us. In our morning liturgy, just before the Shema, we praise God for abundant love, Ahavah Rabbah. “Abounding is Your love, Adonai Eloheinu, and great is Your compassion. Avinu Malkeinu, our ancestors were secure in Your Presence and You taught them the laws of life. Be gracious now to us, and teach us.” This prayer expresses a kind of envy for our ancestors who knew who they were, who knew to Whom they belonged, and therefore knew what to make of their God-given days. This prayer expresses our longing for that kind of clarity.

There is security in the kind of love which clarifies one’s place in the world and one’s responsibilities within it. In fact, love may be just another word for responsibility.

With the new year on the horizon, I pray that abounding love will be binding love and together we will write the next chapter in The Book of Life. L’Shanah Tovah t’kateivu.

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