Equal Opportunity Hate: The Sad Reality of Contemporary Anti-Semitism
With this week’s Torah, Shemot (“Names”) we begin the second Book of the Torah, Exodus. Basically, the first Book, Genesis, is an introduction to the other four books of the Torah and with Exodus, we meet Moses who, along with God, are the two main characters throughout the rest of the Torah. In Shemot, we also encounter an early example of genocidal anti-Semitism. The new Pharaoh “knows not Joseph” and is afraid of all the Hebrews in his country. As the text quickly tells us, the more he oppresses them, the more they increase in population until the Pharaoh decides on the infanticide of all the newly born Hebrew babies.
Unfortunately, the killing of the Hebrew baby boys was not the beginning and the end of anti-Semitism, but rather a first instance of a long legacy of hatred. Expulsions, Crusades, Blood Libels, Disputations and ultimately, the Holocaust, all have been central to the Jewish story. For the most part, the situation of Jews in post-World War II America has been a period of improving Jewish-non-Jewish relations and the steady retreat of anti-Jewish practices. Compared to a hundred years ago, 1920, Jews as a group are infinitely better off. Restrictive covenants, school quotas, social ostracism, and entire industries, which rejected Jews, have been replaced with acceptance of different degrees. Not that anti-Semitism ever fully went away. There was always discrimination. Always anti-Jewish jokes. Always suspicion. There were even neo-Nazi groups and the Nation of Islam. As one observer put it, anti-Semitism became a light sleeper.
Now globally and in America, anti-Semitism is awake, public, violent and dangerous. Everywhere I go, everyone I talk with is talking about the new anti-Semitism. The situation has changed. We have been compelled to add new and serious layers of security to our synagogue. The situation in places like Poland and Hungary are worse. Eastern provinces of Germany are showing upward spikes in anti-Semitic activity. It is awake and it is everywhere.
The events in and around Hanukkah this year revealed how dangerous a weaponized form of anti-Semitism has become in the African-American community. Black Israelites, but not Black Jews, have “upped” their game. White Nationalists embrace wild conspiracy theories about Jews trying to “replace” White control of American society and anti-Zionism as exemplified by the BDS movement seeks to not only discredit but also ultimately destroy Israel, the largest Jewish community in the world. It is a time for vigilance and courage.
It is also a time to regroup with our friends and allies and this is why I invite you to join us at one of our many programs this coming Shabbat honoring the memory of Dr. Martin King, Jr. who gave his life trying to make America more inclusive for all of its children of all faiths and all hues. We will be honoring Dr. King, tonight at our 6:30 p.m. Family Service and 8:00 p.m. Shabbat Evening service. At the 8:00 p.m. Service, we will be honoring a Jewish associate of Dr. King, Bernard Dinkins and listening to an African-American and a “white” rabbi. On Sunday morning, our students will study about Dr. King and social justice and on Sunday Afternoon, led by Dr. Arlene Holtz, we will learn more about the legacy of social justice in America at the conclusion of JQuest. There will be something for everyone.
Today, hate in America is an equal opportunity enemy of peace and justice. Hate, however, is very much a “minority” position. Acceptance and inclusion is the majority path. Come and walk that path with us. Let us exhibit our pride in being American Jews without fear and demonstrate our belief in the worthiness of our tradition and the true moral character of our country.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.