This is being written a few days before the November mid-term elections. It is being written with a sense of concern after watching the parade of news stories about the rise in antisemitism here in the United States. It is being written out of a sense of some fear that, other than from the Jewish community, there seems to be silence. Our generation was, for the most part, raised with this idea that we have found a safe haven. The religious school stories and rabbinic sermons on the assimilation of Jewish immigrants, the eroding of restrictions in housing and professions and other issues gave us the sense that we were blessed to live here where antisemitic acts were minimal. The reality of the present has shaken our community. From Charlottesville to Pittsburgh, from the open postings of hate on social media and so much more, we are being given a reality check that for many is unexpected. Were we that naive?
We posted recently a Seekers of Meaning podcast with Dr. Andrew Goretsky, the ADL regional director for our area. He outlined, in detail, the rise in instances of antisemitism, the fact that so many of our young people are totally unprepared to go to college campuses and be confronted with antisemitic and anti-Israel biases. Likewise, he cautioned us on the “dark web”, the proliferation of hate speech there and the challenge to educate our children, who spend much time on their screens, on possible trolling. He added to these concerns at an adult education program this past week for a local congregation. Sadly, it was the same night that the FBI issued a “creditable threat” warning to synagogues in our area. The world political situation is in chaos and our economy is teetering on the brink of what may be months of concern adding to economic and social inequality. People, it seems, need someone or some thing or some group to blame. Sadly, as Dr. Goretsky pointed out, blaming the “other” has always been a default setting. It must be “those people” who do not look like us, come from where we come from or look or act in a different way. Too often that “other” has been us.
Why do we mention all of this? We do so because the Jewish older adult population does need to step up and be heard on this. It is a mistake to sit back and lament but fail to do soemthing. We cannot solve these issues by retreating to a social silo of miss-information, distrust and meanness. Antisemitism has been and continues to be a symptom of a greater illness, an illness that can destroy from within. If you are a member of a congregation, please get involved with the social justice group and local Jewish Community groups to raise awareness. Work with clergy to see if local inter-faith groups can be galvanized to speak up. Hate speech must not be allowed to be condoned as free speech. Given the climate of division and polarization, silence on these issues is acquiescence. Lobby the congregation’s education committee to see if they can include discussions on contemporary antisemitism in religious schools. Does your congregation have any program or discussion on social media for their youngsters? Given the time they spend on phones and screens, do we not need to orient them on how to report hate speech etc. Likewise, are their discussions with your Confirmation and post Confirmation age students on what they may meet at college and how to respond?
This is the time of year when the community remembers Kristallnacht. The language and social fabric that allowed for that is no longer just something to remember. It is a historic call to be vigilant.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.