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Empowerment vs. Anti-Semitism

06/04/2021 12:18:09 PM


 Ever since last week’s Shabbat message, I knew what I wanted to address in this week’s Shabbat message: the recent outbreak of anti-Semitic acts across the United States.  I had no idea what the content of the message would be, but I wanted to say--no, needed to say--something.  Over the course of the past week, I consulted a myriad of sources and people to try to come up with a something to say.  Secretly, subconsciously, I hoped to find some magic formula that would give you all hope and strength and answers.  In the end, I had to recognize that I am not going to solve anti-Semitism or be able to contextualize it in one Shabbat message.

Rather what I chose to do is to see how my core principles might be able to lend a hand, not a solution, at this difficult time.  The inspiration came to me in the form of a picture frame in my office.  In my office encased in frames, are five key values of mine. These values serve as reminders of what I can and should be doing as a Rabbi.  They are my personal mission actions.

One of those values is to “empower the individual” congregant.  This idea of empowerment comes from a teaching in Pirkei avot 1:17:

Shimon, [Rabban Gamaliel’s] son, used to say: all my days I grew up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence. Study is not the most important thing, but actions; whoever indulges in too many words brings about sin”.

These lines remind me that while I might not, to my regret, be able to fix anti-Semitism, I do believe I can send a message of empowerment to all of you.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be on a webinar with the head of Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt.  While Jonathan Greenblatt taught us all a lot in his talk, it was his final words that I wish to share with you.  When asked what we individuals can do to combat anti-Semitism he offered three suggestions:

  1. Speak up: Call out all forms of hate.  Call our leaders to speak up and out against any and all anti-Semitic attacks.  When I say leaders, I wish to include our federal and state senators, our governor, university presidents, and congressional representatives.  Call their offices and send a message that you want them to speak out in public.  The more of us who speak up, the more our voices will cause anti-Semitism to be called out and appropriately vilified.  We can influence the national discourse, but we must be willing to speak up to those in power.
  2. Share facts: The only way to combat misinformation is with facts.  Read articles, get statistics, ask questions.  We cannot allow misinformation to pervade the discourse about what it happening.  We must listen to the other, and must engage in dialogue with the other. However, oversimplification and misinformation make for more confusion, not less.
  3. Show strength:  This is an important one for me and Jonathan Greenblatt.  When he says show strength, he means do not be afraid to be proud to show you are Jewish.  Do not be afraid of your status as American Jews.  Do not hide your Jewish star necklace, or kippah, or even the less tangible markers of Judaism.  Jews are strong.  We are not only survivors, but we are also thrivers.  Do not let the bigot, the racist, or the anti-Semite ever take away your power or make you feel afraid of your identity.  We are proud Jewish Americans and nothing they say or do will change that.  They do not have the right, nor are they capable, of taking our strength unless we let them.


I hope these three suggestions are helpful.  My hope is that these words have been empowering.  In the words of our tradition Hazak, Hazak, V’Nitzchazek, be strong and you will be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom 

Tue, June 22 2021 12 Tammuz 5781