How do we respond to hatred and violence? In the wake of rising antisemitism, what can we do to express our deep concern? In addressing any issue, we might first attempt to answer the question, “Why is this happening?” Unfortunately, this is not a question we can answer. That is the thing with Anti-Semitism; it is an irrational form of hatred. To paraphrase Rabbi Splansky, “It has taken many forms over the ages, but at its core… it is baseless.” One hateful person can do a lot of damage. Though I believe the actions taken and love shared by good people can overwhelm this hatred.
We are a people of prayer, of faith, and of action. Reflecting on his protests with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American Civil Rights Movement, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” Fifty-five years ago, Rabbi Heschel taught us that our actions can be prayerful. This past Sunday, an estimated 25,000 people echoed Heschel’s sacred footsteps by participating in the “No Hate. No Fear Solidarity March” against Antisemitism in New York City. In attendance were Jews of every denomination, inter-faith partners from various communities, politicians, philanthropists, teachers, and allies. This march served as a beacon of hope in a challenging moment in our history. We, along with our non-Jewish partners, made a powerful statement: We will not be intimidated. We are proud of who we are and will not be moved.
At the conclusion of the march, Bari Weiss, a New York Times columnist shared her powerful truth. Her speech has taken social media by storm, being shared by thousands. With audacity and pride she spoke:
(CREDIT: TALI BLANKFELD)
My name is Bari Weiss.
I am a proud American. I am a proud New Yorker. And I am a proud Jew.
I am not a Jew because people hate my religion, my people, and my civilization.
Not for a single moment does Jew-hatred, like the kind we are seeing in this city, make me a Jew.
I am a Jew because of the audacity and the iconoclasm of Abraham, the first Jew of all. The whole world was awash in idols and he stood alone to proclaim the truth: There is one God.
I am a Jew because my ancestors were slaves. And I am a Jew because the story of their Exodus from Egypt, their liberation from slavery, is a story that changed human consciousness forever.
I am a Jew because our God commands us to never oppress the stranger.
I am Jew because Ruth, the first convert to Judaism, told her mother-in-law Naomi, “your people will be my people and your god will be my god,” reminding us of the centrality of the Jewish people to Judaism.
I am a Jew because of Queen Esther, who understood that she had attained her royal position in order to save her people from destruction.
I am a Jew because the Maccabees were the original resistance. Because they modeled for us — and for all peoples — how to resist the temptation of self-erasure.
I am a Jew because when Rabbi Akiva was being tortured to death by the Romans he laughed. He laughed and he told his students that he could finally fulfill the commandment to love God with all of his being.
I am a Jew because even after the heart of Judaism and Jewish sovereignty were destroyed my people refused to accept the logic of history and disappear. And I am a Jew because some of our greatest renewals took place in exile.
I am a Jew because my people has been targeted and despised and murdered by the Nazis and Soviets.
I am a Jew because evil hates my people.
I am a Jew because, because my people managed to turn destruction into redemption by returning to their land after 2,000 years.
I am a Jew because our Founders saw themselves as new Israelites.
I am a Jew because the biblical words on the liberty bell — proclaim liberty throughout the land! — rang out from the righteous mouths of this country’s abolitionists as they fought for universal freedom in this New Jerusalem.
I am a Jew because it was Emma Lazarus who etched the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger onto the consciousness of America when she wrote the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
I am a Jew because of the martyred of Tree of Life and Chabad of Poway and Jersey City. And I am a Jew because of the courage of those who fought back in Monsey and who then, immediately after the attack, gathered together to sing. And I am Jew because my brothers and sisters in Crown Heights and Boro Park and Williamsburg who refuse to hide their Judaism.
I am a Jew because of students across this country who refuse to be smeared and denigrated because of who they are, who are standing up against humiliation, pressure and abuse to affirm the justness of Zionism.
I am a Jew because my brothers and sisters in England and France are battling the anti-Semitism of populist thugs and the anti-Semitism of politicians in parliament.
I am a Jew because I refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice. I am a Jew because I have no patience for leaders who speak boldly while failing to take the actions necessary to protect our community. Or for partisan hacks that claim anti-Semitism is the exclusive domain of their political opponents. Or for leaders who believe they can fight Jew-hatred while making political alliances with anti-Semites.
I am a Jew because I refuse to lie.
I am a Jew because Jews are of every color and class and politics and language. And I am a Jew because hatred of us has no color or class or politics or language.
I am a Jew because Jews do not cause Jew hatred. Ever.
Today, as in so many times in history, there are many forces in the world insisting that Jews must disappear or die. Some say it bluntly. Some cloak it in the language of progress.
But I am a Jew because of I know that there is force far greater than that. And that is the force of who we are and the force of our world-changing ideas.
The Jewish people were not put on Earth to be anti-anti-Semites. We were put on Earth to be Jews.
We are the people whose God never slumbers or sleeps, and so neither can we.
We are the lamp-lighters.
We are the ever-dying people that refuses to die.
The people of Israel lives now and forever.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Among her many ideas, perhaps the most moving for me is the line, “The Jewish people were not put on Earth to be anti-anti-Semites. We were put on Earth to be Jews.” Bari Weiss models for us exactly how we respond to violence and hatred. We stand up, march together, speak our truth, and live as Jews!
This past Shabbat, Rabbi Splansky addressed Antisemitism from the pulpit. She delivered a powerful message of concern and of hope. She encouraged us to “lean into our Judaism” and reminded us that we all have a shared responsibility to draw the line between what is OK and what is not OK. That is how communities and civilizations rise and fall; by the moral character of its citizens. She quoted from an article written by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, titled “I Hate Talking About Anti-Semitism”. If you have not yet had an opportunity to read this important piece, I encourage you to follow this link and do so!
Lastly, perhaps you saw that I was interviewed on Global News to speak about this growing hatred and violence. It was an honour to represent our community in the media. I am saddened by the necessity to answer this call, and hopeful that Holy Blossom will continue to be a leading voice against hatred in all of its forms. To view the interview, follow this link. If you have growing concerns and would like to speak to someone about them, I hope you will reach out! The clergy team at Holy Blossom is here to support you and to be your ally.
Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel Live!