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What to Do in a World Turned Upside Down by Anti-Semitism

03/21/2019 09:40:40 AM


Rabbi Sam Shabman Trief

Recently, I have heard from friends, family, and congregants alike with a disturbing confession-they are experiencing anti-Semitism in a way they never have before. The stories are chilling, and may fill us with many emotions: anger, fear, and uncertainty, among others. And while these are emotions that have accompanied Jews throughout history, for many of us in this country, these are new and surprising emotions. Of course, we all know that anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon. It has plagued this world for thousands of years and has taken different forms throughout the ages. During our holiday season now, we see it working clearly as it rears its ugly head throughout the story of Purim. 

This Sunday at Temple Sinai, we will celebrate Purim, and our victory over the villainous Haman, one of the world's most infamous anti-Semites. As I read the Purim story anew this year, I wonder-what does this story tell us about anti-Semitism today AND what does it teach us about ourselves? 

On Purim, we dress up because like Queen Esther, who had to hide her own identity, we too conceal our own identities. On Purim, nothing is as it seems. Reality is inverted, and the world turns upside down. Purim teaches us that history repeats itself. It also reminds us that we have no choice but to try and make sense of a world turned upside down. We move on with our lives, and strive for happiness, even as we see the darkness swirling around us. 

At this moment in time, it feels as though we are living in a world turned upside down with anti-Semitism. We have grown desensitized to its cowardly echoing from Europe, a hatred so deep not even the Holocaust could quench. We have seen UN-sponsored anti-Semitism where blind hatred of Israel becomes the grounds for an all-encompassing hatred of an entire people. 

Closer to home, acts of anti-Semitism have occurred in our schools, synagogues and universities. Particularly, we have seen vicious and murderous anti-Semitism surface in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. And now, incomprehensibly, we have even seen anti-Semitism in our country’s capital of Washington DC. Congresswoman Omar has doubled down on classic anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. Indeed, those in Congress unable to support a simple statement condemning her have only served to empower her.

Though this hatred has existed for thousands of years, it is the world’s most versatile, able to change forms and features, even as its essence stays the same. Often it hides, like Esther had to; often it feels emboldened to re-surface, like Haman does. 

So, what can we do to address this? 

Should we reverse the hatred, and direct it at those who hate us in a similar way as the story of Purim plays out? Of course the answer to that question is, NO. We see where such unbridled hatred led the world a few days ago in Christchurch, New Zealand. The murder of innocent people is a stain on world history. Islamophobia must be condemned just as anti-Semitism is condemned. 

And so, we look to our sacred synagogue community to help guide us. This Shabbat we will turn to the incredible work of the organization StandWithUs. In partnership with the Tzedek Council and our Israel Pillar led by Garry Sobel, StandWithUs representatives will be speaking during Shabbat Evening Services to inspire and teach us to stand up to hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism in our world. StandWithUs describes its mission as...

“an international nonprofit Israel education organization... inspired by our love of Israel, our belief that education is the road to peace, and our commitment to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people when they are publicly attacked or misrepresented. That is why we are dedicated to educating of all ages and backgrounds around the world while combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distort the issues.”

Inspired by this organization and by the lessons of Purim, what a perfect wish this gives us for Shabbat: May we join together in learning, reflection and prayer to summon the strength to stand up to anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred of all forms. In so doing, we bring peace to this world and to ourselves. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Thu, August 13 2020 23 Av 5780