Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, June 2, 2023 / 13 Sivan 5783

I will be at Men’s Camp this weekend, which coincides with our monthly Meditation Shabbat. Meditation Shabbat is exactly like our regular service, with one exception. In place of a sermon, there is a short meditation. This month, I am pleased to share that Markabadi will be leading. He comes with a rich practice; I only wish I could be there to sit with you all. Please support him by attending.

Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs focuses on antisemitism and what we can do. Please, if you are made aware of any incident at work, school, or in the community, let me know. This is an age that requires all of us to be vigilant.

Reading Time: Three minutes

Four and a half years ago, on an ordinary Shabbat in October, Jewish life in America took a radical if historic turn. That was the day that an armed gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The evil gunman now stands trial—why it takes so long to hold someone accountable is a question I can’t answer, yet as a consequence, the organized Jewish and non-Jewish communities are discussing antisemitism in a much more robust way. It is once again part of the national conversation.

There’s a part of me that is saddened by that because it means we are in a period when everyone needs to take such hatred seriously. A decade ago, we didn’t need to spend much of our time or resources confronting this scourge; it was relatively quiescent. Yet as we all know, antisemitism had never disappeared. The historian Deborah Lipstadt once mentioned that antisemitism can be most likened to the herpes virus. It is always present, but when societal conditions are more stressful, it flares up. Like herpes, Lipstadt doesn’t believe that we can ever eliminate it, yet we can manage it. We can reduce the frequency and strength of its occurrence.

I think there are three main things that we are obligated to do. First, we can respond to antisemitism. Second, we can ensure that we don’t over-react to antisemitism. Finally, we can make sure that antisemitism doesn’t ever become the fulcrum of Jewish life. Third, antisemitism is ultimately about the antisemites and the haters, not the Jews. We, however, are the ones who must confront it.

When I note that we must respond to antisemitism, we all are familiar with the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Returning to the herpes metaphor, early treatment is best. For example, over the past month or so, there were a number of disturbing incidents of antisemitic hatred at Lincoln High School. Once it came to my attention, I reached out to the principal, who was very responsive and concerned. She has since been in contact with Bob Horenstein at the Federation, and she and I will be working together as well.

Being responsive to antisemitism means letting Jewish communal leaders know about incidents when they arise and making sure you speak up as well. Whenever I am alerted to this happening at a school or workplace, I take it very seriously and reach out. It is crucial that our educators and business leaders understand that we are paying attention and that we want to partner with them to address hatred of Jews when it arises.

That statement of partnering is important because we also don’t want to overreact to antisemitism. Sometimes a swastika on school property reflects ignorance on the part of the student who drew it, and sometimes it is the equivalent of “dropping an f-bomb.” Part of a child’s necessary development is pushing boundaries. It is our role as adults to lovingly stand firm and maintain those boundaries for the child’s well-being in a nonreactive manner.

If antisemitism is indeed viral and ever present, overreacting is unhelpful as it keeps us in an agitated state of “fight or flight.” We need to be both responsive AND dispassionate. There are two reasons for this approach. First, it allows us to better partner, as mentioned above. The other crucial reason for an active yet dispassionate approach is to ensure that our Judaism really is about joy. There is no doubt that in response to the attack on the Tree of Life, the Jewish community has invested billions of dollars to harden our facilities. Simultaneously, the reason to do so is for what happens within our communal centers. Our traditions, values, love of learning, passion for justice, and embrace of life are all deeply powerful. We want to celebrate those commitments by remaining loving, passionate, joyful individuals. That remains, ultimately, the most potent weapon against a hatred whose goal is our erasure.

Whenever an antisemitic incident arises, let’s respond, yes, but even more importantly, let’s double down on everything that makes our religion, culture, and ancient civilization a blessing to ourselves and the world. That is the truest revenge we can exact on our enemies, for it means each time they commit an atrocity, we strengthen the best in ourselves. Let’s all be prosemitic!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. When have you experienced incidents of antisemitism?
  2. What did you do in response?
  3. How did it make you feel? Do you think those emotions impacted your response?
  4. Who do you become when you encounter hatred? Who would you like to be in such moments?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.