Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, May 28, 2021 / 17 Sivan 5781
Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs continues our community discussions about antisemitism.
Oasis Songs will not be published during the month of June when I will be taking some time off. I will look forward to reconnecting with you in July.
Tonight Pastor Victor Alvarizares of Casa del Padre will speak on the Power of Unity, using a selection from the Book of Psalms to inform his talk. I hope you can join us at 6:15 and remain after services to have a discussion with the Pastor.
Reading Time: Four and a half minutes
Strange thoughts occur during a pandemic. Early on, in the first weeks of shutdown when we didn’t know much, we placed a container of bleach water outside the house and dipped our shoes in it before reentering the house. The panic and concern were so heightened back then. At the same time, a segment featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta demonstrated how to wipe down food containers after a shopping run. For a while we did that until it became clearer that surface contact wasn’t a primary source of transmission. What we continue to do, however, is wash all of our canned food just before opening. I inherited this practice from my mother, just like my siblings and I were taught to wash our hands when we came inside and again before a meal. For Mom, this was both a sanitary and a Jewish habit.
What I noticed over the years is that few other people did the same. This was particularly true during my chef days when it was my responsibility to ensure that my staff washed their hands multiple times during a shift to prevent cross-contamination and foodborne illness. One guy, Dal, had a difficult go incorporating this measure into his workflow. It took a great deal of prodding before it became second nature to him. Eventually, however, it did. That’s important.
What these past weeks and, of course, the Tree of Life shooting have demonstrated is that we American Jews had largely forgotten how to live with antisemitism, in the same way that many of the sanitation practices of a previous generation fell to the wayside. We didn’t need to keep up with the protocols of an earlier time, just like overall improvements in public health and sanitation removed some of the onus from individuals.
The same could not be said of other parts of the world. Nearly twenty years ago, Laura and I traveled to Istanbul. To attend the synagogue there, we had to submit a copy of our passports and visa several days in advance. Even once we arrived, they were slow to let us in the gates as they confirmed our identities. Once inside, however, the Jewish community was warm and welcoming. Their security measures hadn’t diminished their sense of hakhnasat orchim, of welcoming the stranger. Antisemitism was just something they had learned to live with, the same way many of us get a flu shot each year. The flu is not going away, so it just is logical to engage in sensible measures.
As we have all witnessed horrendous acts of antisemitism spike at home and abroad, these lessons and memories have resurfaced. What also comes to mind is the way that Black mothers and fathers teach their children how to negotiate a sometimes-hostile world. They teach their children how to respond if the police should stop them. Even as America works to make things safer for Black communities, enduring social change takes more time than we’d like.
None of us wants this to be the way the world is. No Black parents should have to instruct their children in the best practices to avoid harm. And yet here we are. We must deal with the world we find, even as we work towards the world we want.
I believe the same can be said for Jewish Americans. The oldest hatred is alive and well. While the recent surge in global attacks occurs under the cover of anti-Israel sentiment, there is a good chance that the hatred won’t recede just become we have entered a period of calm between Israel and Hamas. That is because Jew hatred is accelerating, and throughout our long history, it has sought one pretext after another.
What that means is that we will need to develop new habits and recover old strategies. At a recent staff meeting, we committed to addressing antisemitism in various ways throughout our synagogue community. We will continue to meet with parents who want to know how to help their children, and with adults who encounter antisemitism and discrimination on the job. Programming about antisemitism may not always be on the front burner (that would be sad), but I suspect we will need to keep awareness of this ancient scourge on the CNS stovetop.
Just like our ancestors in the ghettos of Europe, or the Jews of Istanbul and Europe, we will do what we need to do, learn what we need to know, and act in the ways that keep our spirits strong so that we can live with joy.
The most important thing we can all hold firm to is a sense of pride in our identity. We possess a marvelous culture, religion, and moral teachings. Let’s not allow the haters to make us cower in fear. Let’s all remember what we say on Shabbat about our holy Torah: “It is a tree of life to those who cling fast to it and all its supporters are happy.”
If there’s one thing I know about Jewish history, it’s that we have always been stronger than our enemies.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What can you do to live joyously as a Jew?
- How have the last weeks of disheartening news impacted you? Have you experienced any incidents of antisemitism yourself? (If you have, I would appreciate being informed so we can have an idea of what you are dealing with.)
- In what ways can you help in the fight against hatred?
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.