Jewish fears were front and center this week as the tide of bomb threats against JCCs and other institutions continued to roll across the country, disrupting communities, and sowing seeds of dread and anxiety. The desecration of hallowed Jewish ground at a cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri traumatized us as well. As buildings were evacuated, as members of our community reeled in horror at the violation of loved ones’ final resting places, many of us struggled to make sense of this new reality where Jews living in the United States in 2017 experience personal threat and fear; and it’s one that we are still trying to wrap our minds around.
On a larger scale, fears of various kinds have become the predominant experience for too many in our society. To some, this will be read as a partisan political statement. It is not. The fears are multiple and widespread, and are experienced across the diverse landscape of our nation.
The slow economic growth in recent decades (compared to the more dynamic U.S. economy in the latter half of the 20th century) has led many to fear for their security in our economy and for the prospects for their children’s futures. There are fears for personal safety in a world where violence of various kinds seems ascendant. There are fears of losing civil rights that we – incorrectly –assumed, once expanded, would not be reversed. There are fears that come from the experience of hatred and bigotry of all kinds.
But amidst the fear, we’re witnessing signs of hope as communities band together in solidarity. There was power in Vice President Pence’s surprise visit to Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Wednesday where he joined in the cleanup alongside Muslim activists who had pitched in to quickly raise the funds needed for repairs, while offering messages of condemnation and solidarity. And there is power in the many expressions of care and concern we receive daily from our Christian and Muslim partners here in Boston.
We know we’re being targeted in this moment – but we’re far from alone. One need only talk to members of other communities –Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, among others – to understand the very real fears gripping them as well. We’re all grappling with the same dilemmas: How to resist giving in to the fear. How to keep getting up every day and going about our lives. How to make our communal spaces safe enough to invite people in, while not allowing them to become fortresses that deepen anxiety and alienate people who would otherwise seek community.
And in appreciating the power that came from acts and expressions of solidarity directed toward the Jewish community locally and nationally this week, we recognize the power of our acts of solidarity with others; the folks who rushed to airports a few weeks ago; the Bostonians who reacted to the assault on a Quebec mosque by forming a “chain of peace” outside a local mosque.
The choice we have is between living in fear or embracing a more hopeful way forward; succumbing to victimhood or acting powerfully with the agency to not only take care of ourselves, but to join with others in repairing what has gone so wrong with society. We can live in despair or we can choose to act with resiliency. Resiliency requires solidarity – coming together in a powerful, shared endeavor. Resiliency includes rejecting the false choice between standing up for ourselves or standing up for others, because by doing both together we create a greater force to do all of the necessary and urgent work of repair that is so desperately needed right now.
I keep stepping out with my kippah proudly on. Every day, all across this country, parents continue to take their kids to JCCs, where we celebrate our heritage and explore our rich Jewish culture. We leave the mezuzot on our doors for all the world to see that we are here, living proud and joyful Jewish lives. We do so in the confidence that in moments like this week, when it really mattered, we stood up for ourselves and our neighbors stood up for us. And, we are reaffirming that, when our neighbors need us, as they do right now, we stand up for them too.