From the Rabbi’s Desk

 From the Rabbi’s Desk December 2022

Rabbi Carla Freedman

In recent weeks, the ugly old beast of antisemitism has been present in all kinds of situations, raised by all kinds of people. It is beyond frustrating that this is happening in the post-Holocaust world of 2022. How did this come to be?

The answer seems to be that, when stress is exacerbated, for whatever reason, some people lose the capacity to be sensitive to others. For example, when some people feel that the economy is working against them…think: Depression
of the 1930s…they search for someone to blame. Or when some people feel that others are gaining the upper hand, which must mean that they are losing it (as in a zero-sum game), they search for someone to blame.

The “someone to blame” must be an outsider, a person or group unlike the blamer. And of course, the Jew has been made into the “outsider” over and over again in history. In its drive to control all of Europe, the Roman Catholic
Church made the Jew an outsider by denying to him or her the right to own, or even to work, land. At the same time, Jews were denied admission to craft guilds (think: closed shop unions), so Jews of necessity created the middle class, between the “haves”, the wealthy nobility, and the “have-nots”, the serfs. But the middle class became synonymous with commerce, which both the church and the nobility considered dirty and demeaning, so the Jew remained “the
outsider”.

Fast forward, past all the expulsions of Jews from various countries, past the Spanish Inquisition, the various wars, the Bubonic Plague, the pogroms and even the Holocaust itself, and we once again find that certain people in this country
need a target for their rage. Why? Because women are rising in positions of authority and responsibility, because the color balance in this country is shifting and whites are no longer dominant, because immigrants are prospering. Those who feel that they are left behind by the rise of all these groups need someone to blame. No need to reinvent the wheel: antisemitism comes with a long history and a ready vocabulary, for those who want to blame “the outsider”.

This is especially galling because we Jews have been very comfortable in America for decades, trusting that the post-Holocaust taboo against antisemitism would hold forever. But some public figures have recognized the conducive
quality of our particular moment and have chosen to violate the taboo, thinking that they could make carefully phrased statements to reach those people who feel disadvantaged, displaced, and otherwise abused by “the outsider”. They
thought that these slyly worded slurs would go unnoticed by the general public, or that they would be accepted without comment, opening the doors for more unfiltered and obvious attacks on Jews.

In the recent elections, that strategy seems to have failed, as those who used antisemitism in their campaigns were themselves defeated. And public figures who use antisemitic language have quickly found themselves abandoned by their supporters.

But the beast is on the prowl. Once words are uttered, they cannot be erased, withdrawn, cancelled. And receptive ears are tuned to this channel.

Notice that, above, I italicized the word “feel”. When people are feeling abused, defeated, displaced, and therefore fearful, angry, resentful, there is no point in trying to be reasonable in response. Some people play to those feelings;
we must find a way to show them that the prosperity and success of some people benefit the prosperity and success of the whole community.

The other thing we must do, in the face of open antisemitism, is remain strong in our commitment to our Jewish heritage. We must sustain our synagogue as the public face of Judaism and Jewishness in our community, and
we must welcome others to our services and programs.

Beth Israel has enhanced our security measures recently, in an unobtrusive way. And we remain in touch with local and regional authorities regarding plausible threats to us (they continue to assure us, currently, that there are no such
threats).

And the third thing we can do is become informed about antisemitism in its 21st century incarnation. To that end, we will make this the subject of our Thursday afternoon (at 3:00 pm) Jewish studies class (via Zoom). Beginning in December (watch my “this week” email for the exact date), we will read and discuss Antisemitism Here and Now,
by Dr. Deborah Lipstadt. Professor Lipstadt teaches History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and is the U.S. Envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism; her position has been elevated to the status of Ambassador, giving her greater access to other governments. This book is available from various vendors, both new and used, and is also available electronically. Even if you have not participated in these classes before, you will be welcome, and you can share this information with others in the community who might want to participate.

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