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How Do We Meet Rising Antisemitism?  Let’s Beef Up Solidarity.

by Rabbi Dev Noily

Let’s talk about antisemitism.  Since the election I’ve felt more vulnerable as a Jew in the U.S. than at any other time in my life.  I’ve gotten to talk with a number of people in our community about how this shift in Jewish safety / Jewish vulnerability is affecting us.  There’s a wide range of experiences and responses, and I’m eager to talk with more people.  Whether we grew up Jewish, or have chosen Judaism, or are family with people who are Jewish, what’s happening has an impact on us.  One thing that’s been common to most of my conversations is that they feel like the tip of an iceberg.  There’s a lot here, and it feels very important to give ourselves the time and space to explore what’s going on – in the world we’re living in, and in our own inner responses and the ways that historic trauma may be triggered in us.  To help with that exploration, I’m including a list of resources below.

I was raised in an environment where the adults around me saw the world through antisemitism-tinted glasses—for good reason, as I would come to understand with time.  And over the years I’ve put on my own glasses, tinted by a lifetime of good relationships with my neighbors and colleagues in other faith traditions, rooted in mutual respect, curiosity, and love for the life and planet we all share.

Now the rise of President Trump is emboldening and encouraging public expressions of hate against minorities of every kind. Many people who used to feel vulnerable now feel terrified, and many who used to feel more or less comfortable now feel vulnerable.  Since November, I’ve felt more vulnerable because of my identities as a Jew and as a queer person than ever before.

Our Jewishness alone may not mark us for deportation, or make us more likely to be stopped by police, or to be harassed on the street.  But over the past several months we’ve seen more open gatherings of white supremacists, hate-filled trolling of journalists who are critical of Mr. Trump (including references to gas chambers and photos from Nazi death camps), dog-whistling in Mr. Trump’s speeches signaling his tacit consent for white nationalist antics, the eerie omission of Jews and antisemitism from Mr. Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Philadelphia, and a rash of bomb threats phoned in to Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Day Schools.

We’ve just learned that the vast majority of those threatening calls are now believed to have come from a Jewish teenager with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship.  At this stage there is speculation, but no clear picture, about his motives.

So the situation becomes more complex by the day.  Are we in danger? Am I overreacting? Underreacting? Am I ignoring the signs? Am I seeing signs where there aren’t any? Are my fears really about what’s happening now, and/or about our traumatic past?

A couple of weeks ago at a Kehilla staff meeting we were addressing another wave of threats to Jewish institutions.  Michael Saxe-Taller, our Executive Director, asked me if I thought we should beef up security.  And I said, no, I think we should beef up solidarity.  We should make sure that vulnerable and targeted people and communities know that we have their backs—including Muslims, people of color, immigrants with and without papers, and the indigenous Ohlone people of the East Bay who are fighting to protect their sacred ancestral burial grounds from further desecration.  And we should make sure that folks who are not part of Jewish communities have opportunities to come and get to know us.  It’s this growing web of relationships we have with each other that will ultimately keep us all safer and build the infrastructure of resistance to hate.

For now, that’s my strategy.  Let’s keep talking to each other, and talking to people who aren’t part of Jewish community.  Let’s share who we are, and invite people to get to know us better.  The next time you come to a Kehilla event – Shabbat services, a bar or bat mitzvah, the Community Seder, Tot Shabbat, Pop-up Shabbat, and adult education class – consider inviting someone in your life who isn’t Jewish to join you.

And let’s also beef up solidarity with ourselves. This is the season of our liberation.  Let’s take some time this Pesach, whether it’s at a seder or during the eight days of the festival, to talk to each other about what it’s like to be Jewish, to be part of a Jewish community, in these times. Let’s make some extra space for ourselves, and for one another, to bring loving curiosity to our fears, our anger, our denial, our history of trauma and violence. This Pesach, let’s explore this particular Mitzrayim, this narrow place, of our time, so that together we can walk through the sea toward freedom.

Some resources on antisemitism:

Anti-Semitism: A Teach-in For Our Times, April 18, 6:30 pm, CIIS in San Francisco.

“The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Anti-Semitism Part of All of Our Movements” by April Rosenblum, 2006.  self-published pamphlet.  (Ask me if you’d like a copy)

On Antisemitism, forthcoming.  An anthology of essays about antisemitism published by Jewish Voice for Peace.

Anit-Judaism, by David Nirenberg.  W.W. Norton & Co., 2013.  A sweeping new(ish) history of anti-Jewish thought and movements in western culture.

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