Twenty Years Later, How Much Has Changed?

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, July 1, 2022 / 2 Tamuz 5782

Summary: We are living in a time of heightened extremism and the violent actions that stem from unchecked hatred. In this week’s Oasis Songs, I reflect on my own encounter with terrorism and notify you about an upcoming event on July 31st.

Reading Time: Three minutes

In the beginning of June, a story came to light about a website called the Mapping Project. It lists almost every Jewish institution in Massachusetts and effectively claims they are each responsible for the continued impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians. The creators of the website have remained anonymous, even as they have created a single address for anyone upset by conditions in the Middle East to conveniently find Jewish organizations in Massachusetts. When the story first became public, numerous Jewish organizations decried the site, arguing that if it wasn’t directly inviting violence against American Jews, it was at the very least making it easier for others to do so. Shortly after those responses, some other media voices, including some fringe Jewish groups, argued that the site was not antisemitic.

In the wake of increased gun violence (the Buffalo shooter had published an antisemitic screed) and rising incidents of hate and violence against Jews, it is understandable that our proactive American Jewish community denounced the anonymous Mapping Project. At the same time, after millennia of persecution, we Jews are extremely sensitive to any speech or behavior that might be construed as antisemitic. History has taught us that it is important to react early and often to any antisemitism so that it doesn’t escalate into more dangerous forms of extremism. Yet that tendency can sometimes lead us to overreact. How can we tell the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and behaviors that lump all Jews together and, in some way, demonize us? How can we tell when our historical hyper-vigilance is preventing us from reading things accurately?

These are questions I have thought about quite a lot over the past two decades. This July 31st marks the twentieth anniversary of a Hamas attack on the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria at Hebrew University. Nine people died in that bombing, including David (Diego) Ladowski, who was a friend of Cantor Bitton. Janis Coulter, Marla Bennett, and Ben Blutstein also were murdered that day; Laura and I knew them. In addition to the nine who died, scores of people were injured. I was one of them and was sitting five meters from where the bomb exploded. I am lucky to have survived.

Given that both the Cantor and I were impacted by this terror attack, we deemed it appropriate to commemorate the anniversary. I will be sharing some personal remarks about the effects the bombing had on me, both in the immediate aftermath and even many years later.

At the same time, the primary reason to look backwards is to glean lessons that apply today. Toward that goal, we have invited a couple of experts on extremism and terror in America and Israel to speak to us and help us better understand when criticism is justifiable, how extremism spreads, and the state of hate in America today.

I recognize this is not a pleasant topic, even as it seems increasingly urgent for American Jews to pay increased attention to the spread of extremism in America today. Many of us are agitated by what we see as the breakdown of society and its institutions. Gaining more perspective about these forces can only be helpful as we all struggle to adjust to our country’s contemporary challenges.

I want to personally invite you to join the cantor and me, as well as our subject matter experts. Please look for future communication about this important event. In the meantime, please hold the date of Sunday, July 31st at 4 pm.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. How much of a concern is American extremism to you? Have you or your loved ones been touched by it directly or indirectly?
  2. What ways might we all work to combat extremism and hate in our own spheres of influence?

Links for Sensible Gun Control: IP-17 and IP-18.

Link for my sermon after Uvalde, Texas.

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.

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