This post is adapted from my weekly schmoozeletter.
When I was a kid, many of our religious teachers were first and second generation Holocaust survivors.
They shared terrible stories about our recent painful national history in Israel and Europe. And they warned us to "never get too comfortable in the United States- everywhere Jews have settled, the tides have eventually turned against us."
Even as a kid, I remember thinking they were only saying that because of their own terrible experiences in the past. I thought that America was a "good country"- the people here are kind and fair and reasonable. We're taught never to discriminate against others. Sure, no society is perfect- there are "bad people" everywhere, but as a whole, this is a land of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for all.
Slowly but surely - actually, last week didn't even feel so slowly- I'm seeing what feels like those awful prophecies of doom coming to life.
Not "just" the thugs in West LA who beat up innocent men literally for just being Jewish.
Not "just" the hooligans in London and Boca Raton, who drove through Jewish neighborhoods yelling "F- the Jews, kill the Jews, rape their daughters" (this is all captured on video).
Not "just" the fact that antisemitic hate crimes were up 438% last week.
Not "just" the Orwellian lynching attempts in New York City.
Because as awful as that is, violent crime is generally the outlier incident, condemned by the mainstream.
But lately, it's feeling different.
Rallies that were thinly veiled as "pro-Palestinian" have quickly turned "anti-Jewish." Comments and posts all over social media, which is arguably the most influential mode of communication in our times, are full of propaganda, distortions, and open hatred against Israel, and now Jews all over the world- regardless of their religious or political affiliation. This hostility is not the fringe- it's incited and perpetrated by many who are supposed to be political leaders, academic educators, role models, and influential celebrities. Personalities who would never even tolerate, much less promote, other forms of bigotry or racism.
I don't want it to be true, but it looks like my teachers may have been right. We are, often, largely, irrationally hated and maligned. We are not specifically safe in America, just because it's "the land of the free." We are not even specifically safe in Israel, which was literally founded for the purpose of offering traumatized survivors of torture and oppression, asylum from genocide and persecution. Our enemies simply want us obliterated.
I will say that I've seen, and even personally received, warm and supportive messages from not only other Jews, but also from Christian and secular influencers, friends and colleagues, who see through the mainstream media corruption. Who somehow recognize that "wokeness" turns a blind eye to antisemitism. I'm incredibly grateful to know we still have allies. There are even some brave Muslim voices speaking out against Hamas, at great personal risk, in some cases.
(The nature of moderates and peace-lovers is to stay out of the fray. Anger and hatred make more noise. It's scary to speak out against the dominant mob; it's easier to follow the herd, share lukewarm platitudes, or avoid the messy issues.)
When I get to feeling overwhelmed by this distressing reality, I remind myself that part of the heritage of being a person of faith is, well, the faith. We don't fight hate with hate- we counter with love, kindness, spirituality, and personal empowerment. As I say in my daily prayers, the verses taken from this week's Torah portion, and the priestly blessing:
"May the L-rd bless and protect you.
May He light His countenance toward you, and give you grace.
May He lift His face unto you, and bring upon you peace."
Like with so many other challenges, we can invoke the brilliance of the serenity prayer:
G-d grant me the serenity to accept what I can't change, the courage to do what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I can pray, I can spread kindness and truth, and stand as an example of what I believe I'm meant to do and be in this life.
I don't have answers as to why these things happen. But I know it's not the first time, and it probably won't be the last.
I do have some idea about the kind of human I want to try and be as we go through this next piece of history.
Wishing you blessings, safety, peace, and wisdom.