How the Jewish community can respond to antisemitism – with agency

This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.

During my first career as a psychotherapist, I worked with people recovering from trauma. Though the details varied from case to case, my focus was supporting each person to face the reality of what she or he had endured, to know in their hearts that they had not caused it, and to marshal the resources needed to reclaim their lives. Though I switched fields over twenty years ago, in recent weeks and months as our community is reeling from the ongoing and escalating trauma of antisemitic attacks, I am drawing once again on the skills I learned in my first career.

In his powerful message earlier this week, Jeremy underscored the reality that “antisemitism is not and has never been about anything we as Jews do.” This is an essential truth for us Jews to absorb, not only because of its historical accuracy, but also for our own psychological wellbeing. Blaming one’s self for being victimized can lead down a rabbit hole of despair and paralysis.

I remember another important lesson from my clinical days about what it takes to heal from trauma; a sense of agency. While it is never fair, accurate, or helpful for victims to bear the brunt of responsibility, it IS essential for them to be crystal clear on how they can act to increase their own sense of strength and power.

Here is the question: while we may recognize today’s antisemitism as an American problem that those in positions of power beyond our community must take ultimate responsibility to resolve, what can we as Jews do not only to protect and defend ourselves in this moment, but also to realize the promise of our future?

A few suggestions:

  1. Prioritize unity within our community

When families or groups experience trauma, a common response is for those victimized to turn on one another. We are no different. The recent acts of terror yielded disheartening accusations leveled across the ideological divide, about who doesn’t care enough or who is not vocal enough in expressing just the right kind of outrage or mourning. Even worse, there were dark insinuations about who among us may be exacerbating or even causing the problem. Resisting this toxic temptation is essential. We are a small minority. If we add to the onslaught by tearing each other apart, we will be lost.

  1. Invest deeply in relationships beyond our community

Our pain is made more bearable when we know we’re not alone. The horrific news of the Monsey attack was followed almost immediately by messages of heartfelt support from our interfaith friends – as it is every time we are targeted. Our Christian clergy friends were moved to release this powerful statement, which quickly gathered over 700 signatures. We’ve built these friendships over years, with people who share our deepest values and with whom we work every day to enhance and improve our community. These are people we trust, with whom we can have honest, and sometimes challenging, conversations. We can be vulnerable with them, as they are with us. We reach out to them when we are hurting, knowing they will show up for us as we do for them.

  1. Learn about the history and dynamics of antisemitism

Nothing can truly mitigate the shock and horror of learning about an attack on a Jewish house of worship or place of gathering. But knowing how antisemitism has manifested over time and how it operates can provide a broader context for understanding – and for teaching our partners about this oldest and most enduring form of hatred. Identifying antisemitic tropes in speech can help us understand and give language to our discomfort. Take advantage of the excellent resources available through ADL, which provide guidance on how to challenge what you hear. And read Deborah Lipstadt’s seminal Antisemitism: Here and Now for a comprehensive understanding, both historical and current.

  1. Deepen your connection to and embrace the fullness of Jewish life

Given our current state of chronic alarm about our safety, it is all too easy for fear to dominate our Jewish lives. Fear must never be allowed to define us. If we allow that to happen, then the damage to our Jewish souls, and the compromise of our collective future, will be as devastating as the physical harm done to our people in these violent attacks. If you notice that most of what you are reading and talking about is content-related to threats against us, make a conscious change in how you spend your time. Connect with the community and live your Judaism through the joy of Jewish observance, study of our rich texts and traditions, immersion in arts and culture, pursuing justice, or any of the infinite ways our people have animated Jewish values through the millennia. Just as prior generations were challenged in not having Holocaust survival define their Jewishness, so too must we center our Jewish experience on something other than surviving the current antisemitic attacks, virulent and frequent as they are.

I wish I could end this message on a note of hope – that we have reason to believe this terrifying chapter will soon be drawing to a close. History proves otherwise. Yet we’ve survived earlier such chapters by drawing on the profound wisdom of our sages. In debating the order in which the Chanukah candles should be lit, the prevailing view was that the order should be an ascending one, with an additional candle lit each night, culminating in a brilliant display of light. This year, just one day after reeling from a vicious attack on our brothers and sisters, we all lit full menorahs in each of our homes, following the command to display them proudly in our windows, as we affirmed the power of our collective light to drive away the darkness.

May we seize this moment to unite our community and deepen the bonds with our friends and neighbors. May the darkness continue to diminish, and the light of a vibrant future shine bright.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma