Tag Archives: antisemitism

On being a force for good

"Stars of Hope" painted by teens on JCRC's MLK Day of Service

On Monday I had the honor of joining Governor Baker as he signed legislation releasing an additional $1 million in funding for non-profit security grants; a budget item that we at JCRC have prioritized. Afterward, a member of the press asked me if I was “happy” to be at the State House for this solemn occasion. “No,” I replied, “I’d much rather be here for other reasons, to advocate for the values and issues that we work on every day.”

I never imagined that confronting antisemitism would become a significant part of my daily reality in 2020. I came to this work over 20 years ago informed by a sense of my own purpose; to build Jewish communities that inspired engagement and activism for future generations, rooted in the same values, culture and traditions that enriched my own Jewish identity.

As violent Jew-hatred comes roaring back into our domestic American reality, I worry that as we fight against antisemitism, we’re going to lose our focus on the meaning and purpose of Jewish community. “Because, antisemitism” is not enough of a reason to evoke a commitment to living proudly and Jewishly in the world. “Because, they hate us” is not the foundation on which thousands of years of enriching Jewish culture is built.

Rather, I find meaning in the notion that our mission ought to be - as individuals, as Jewish organizations and as communities - in the words of Avraham Infeld: “to advance the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

So yes, I’m proud of the work that we at JCRC do every day, building relationships beyond the Jewish community, resulting in the support of allies who are with us as we confront this new reality. I’m proud and grateful that our Christian friends and partners, many of whom have played significant leadership roles in the work of JCRC, took it upon themselves to write a powerful statement on antisemitism last week, which has now garnered upward of 1,000 signatures. And I’m proud of the partnership we’ve forged with legislative leaders to fund non-profit security grants and anti-bias training in schools.

I’m also proud that we are a Jewish community in Boston that is committed to living our values in the broader civic space, affirming our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors; a commitment we’ll be honoring in just over one week when we come together for JCRC’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

This year, JCRC is offering a record 13 partner sites with the capacity for 900 volunteers. Members of our community will be painting and making interior upgrades to the Catholic Charities/Haitian Multiservice Center in Dorchester. This facility serves a crucial role in the Dorchester community and is in desperate need of repairs that Catholic Charities cannot do on their own. This Center provides a multitude of services to local residents, including food and housing assistance, English language classes, teen enrichment, and afterschool programming.

We will also be at St. Stephen's Youth Programs at the Blackstone Elementary School, a longtime partner of our ReachOut! program. Volunteers of all ages will be working on beautification and revitalization projects throughout the elementary school. After volunteering, there will be a lunch and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and why this day has become a day of volunteering.

I’m looking forward to being back at the State House on January 24th for the Safe Communities Act legislative hearing. We, along with many of our member agencies, are deeply committed members of the coalition working to pass this bill to protect the rights of our immigrant neighbors and create standards for law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And our team will be back at the State House to lobby on January 28th for Election Day Registration, a basic reform that would expand the franchise to more eligible voters, thus strengthening our democracy at a time when it is under assault.

I hope that you’ll join me for any or all of these activities. I also hope that the Governor’s actions this week will, as I said to him on Monday, help “give us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”

Because, as I concluded to that reporter at Monday’s bill signing, “these times are what they are.”

So yes, we’re grateful to our partners, including to the Governor for prioritizing our safety and including us in this week’s ceremony. And, I hope that because of our efforts to confront antisemitism and work for our community’s security, we will thereby strengthen our continued ability to be a force for good in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

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

 

CJP, JCRC on Spate of Violent Antisemitism in New York

We are sickened and horrified by the attack Saturday night on Jews gathered to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah at a private home in Monsey, New York, a suburb of New York City.

According to media reports, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a man wielding a large knife attacked celebrants at the home of an Orthodox rabbi. Five people were injured and hospitalized. Shortly thereafter, the New York Police Department arrested a suspect.

This attack is the latest in a string of violence targeting Jews in and around New York City. And it comes on the heels of numerous antisemitic incidents in other parts of the United States and Europe.

This most recent incident occurred less than 24 hours ago; the investigation is ongoing. We do not yet know the motive of the suspect or many other crucial details relating to precisely what took place. We are in touch with federal, state, and local law enforcement, and at this time there is no indication that this incident in Monsey, New York has any direct connection to people or institutions in eastern Massachusetts. However, this is another in a long string of apparently antisemitic events that are cause for grave concern.

These attacks do not fit any one narrative. The perpetrators over the last year have been of different backgrounds and have expressed different politics. But what all these individuals share is their antisemitism; the inclination to blame Jews — and take action against us — for their own troubles and for the evils they ascribe to us.

The latest victims have been Orthodox Jews, those who are “visibly” Jewish to perpetrators of hatred. Make no mistake — these assaults are attacks on all Jews. We are all under attack. Today and always, we stand with our brothers and sisters of all denominations and affiliations. No one should feel intimidated to “hide” their Jewishness.

For the Jews of America, this moment is one in which our country is not living up to its promise, and it is a moment that requires leadership and support. As Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s executive director, wrote recently, antisemitism is not a Jewish problem; antisemitism is an American problem and a global, human problem. We need action — from within and beyond our own Jewish communities — to fight against antisemitism in all of its forms. We need governors, mayors, city councils, faith leaders, and our president to convene and help find solutions.

We refuse to normalize this. We will not become numb to Jewish people being victimized because of their identity.

We also want to remind everyone that security is a collective responsibility. CJP encourages leaders and members of the Jewish community to take proactive steps to improve safety and security at our institutions. Furthering relationships with law enforcement, enhancing physical security, and attending training are key components. The CJP Communal Security Initiative (CSI) continually provides free training and support. Please speak to the leaders at your institution about what they have done to improve safety and security, ask if they have attended or hosted a CJP training recently, and request that they sponsor and attend training. Find out how JCRC, CJP, and partner organizations invest to rid our schools, workplaces, sporting venues, and religious institutions of antisemitism.

If you witness antisemitism or are the victim of an act of antisemitism, report it to the ADL.

As we light our eighth Hanukkah candle tonight, these dark times challenge all of us. We pray for the recovery of the injured in Monsey and across New York City. We demand real, effective solutions to the scourge of antisemitism and hate that plagues our country, and we pray for a time when our holiday celebrations allow us to rejoice in our families, our traditions, and our faith, rather than sending messages of support to the latest victims of hatred and violence.

JCRC Statement on Non Profit Security Grant Program

The organized Jewish community welcomes the action by the Massachusetts legislature to reach an agreement on a supplementary budget for FY19. In particular we take note and express our appreciation that the legislature allocated an additional $1 million toward non-profit security grants as proposed by Governor Baker. This comes after legislative leadership, led by Senate President Karen Spilka, Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senator Eric Lesser and their colleagues in the House and Senate seeded a pilot to provide initial funds over the past three sessions.

“While the Jewish community is still reeling in the wake of what appears to be the third deadly attack on our institutions and places of gathering in this country in less than 14 months, it is commendable that our legislature has acted in support of protecting vulnerable communities,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “This is a time of vulnerability and crisis, and a time for action. Massachusetts is joining other states in protecting non-profits that may be targets of antisemitism and violent extremism. We will continue our work with the Governor and our strong allies in the House and Senate to promote policies that combat hatred in all forms.”

Should American Jews Stop Trying to Defeat Antisemitism?

This blog post was originally posted on Times of Israel.

Should we, American Jews, stop trying to defeat antisemitism?

It is a question I’ve been pondering as I recently spent a month traveling through Europe and experiencing Jewish memory. And it is a question I’d love to hear from others about: Should we, as an American Jewish community, stop carrying the fight to “end” antisemitism in our country?

Why do I ask this question?

Because antisemitism – prejudice and hatred targeting Jews – has been a reality of Western Civilization going back for the better part of 1,500 years. As James Carroll laid out in his monumental Constantine’s Sword some twenty years ago, antisemitism is an enduring and defining feature of Western Christian civilization. To experience Europe’s history is to be reminded that antisemitism is our civilization’s constant, ever-evolving vehicle for defining what it means to belong to the West by defining the “other” within, i.e. the Jew, as something else.

We Jews attempt to adapt and conform to evolving European projections of belonging within the larger collective, only to experience a consistent response in which the collective is redefined in order to ostracize and exclude Jews. The examples are endless: When we considered ourselves to be as authentically Spanish as the Catholic Monarchs themselves, they determined Catholicism to be a defining feature of Spanish identity. When Enlightenment Protestants defined the modern nation-state, and relegated religion to the personal and private sphere, we adjusted our public identity accordingly, categorizing Judaism as religion (an ahistorical primary definition of Jewish identity) so that we might belong to the nation. But then, in Germany and elsewhere, we experienced, with devastating results, the re-centering of a racial national identity, with the Jew as the outsider once again. And, when Jews unified around the political nation-state as the fulfillment of our national being, post-nationalist elites made Israel, “the Jew amongst the nations,” the singular target of their anti-nationalist fervor.

We as Jews in the Western diaspora have always experienced and lived with antisemitism. If we think we can defeat it, we are deluding ourselves. As American Jews, we’ve become complacent in recent decades, when we embraced the notion that antisemitism was behind us. We did so because for a very brief moment in this nearly 2,000 year old civilization – from sometime in the mid-1980s to the early part of this century – and in our one truly exceptional country, antisemitism ceased to be part of our lived daily experience; it was largely banished from social acceptability and from the laws of the land.

If the current moment feels abnormal for a generation of American Jews who came of age in the last quarter century, what we are experiencing is in fact a return to the normal we’ve known for over a millennium.

If this is an accurate assessment, then what is to be done?

First and foremost, we must continue to insist – as we must insist for any oppressed minority – that we are the only ones who get to define our oppression. Others have no right to tell us what is antisemitic, nor how we should feel in response to it.

We as Jews need to be honest with ourselves about the enduring nature of Western antisemitism (and yes, I’m fully conscious that there is also non-Western antisemitism, including that within Muslim civilization. But the taxonomy of that antisemitism differs from that of the West. Since I’m writing specifically in the context of our US domestic challenge, to the extent that it is socially and politically tolerated, it is done so within the context of the larger challenge of the West. So, I’d like to defer and unpack that challenge on its own another day).

But antisemitism ought not and need not define us as a Jewish people. What should define us is our work of advancing the continued renaissance of our people as a force for good in the world (to paraphrase Avraham Infeld).

Antisemitism is not our disease. It’s the disease of our larger society. It is not we who need to visit the doctor and take the antibiotics. It is the society in which we currently reside.

This is not to suggest that we should stand down. Nor should we shut down our defense organizations. Far be it. We have a particular role, as a Jewish community, in tracking incidents and identifying the problem; in providing education and support to those who seek to eliminate its expression in their schools, workplaces and other settings. And, we as a Jewish community need to be focused on the specific challenge of securing our institutions and spaces so that we may gather as Jews in safety; our partnerships with government and law enforcement must be leveraged to that end.

But it must be the work of faith and civic leaders beyond the Jewish community – our elected officials, our Christian neighbors, and others – to root out this virus. The emergency strategy meetings within our community about fighting antisemitism (of which I have attended many) need to be supplemented by the emergency meetings of the leaders of every Christian denomination, by special sessions of legislatures, by the urgent and sustained action of our society’s leaders.

Jewish tweets and statements of condemnation will not beat this hate (though there is value in our articulating to others what we are experiencing and why we feel the fears that we do). What is needed is the amplified public voice of others amidst this rash of violence and targeting of our people.

I am reminded of the words of French prime minister, Manuel Valls, in 2015, following the attack on the Hyper Cacher market. He said that: “If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”

If the US would be judged a failure for no longer being a place where Jews can live in safety and security, then who will be judged and who will be the failure? It is not us, the American Jewish community. It will be the failure of the nation as a whole, and of those who stood idly by as expressions of this ancient hatred flourished once again.

And so we Jews must go on doing what we’ve always been doing: Being a people of “joy and not oy” (as Dr. Deborah Lipstadt puts it), building communities of caring and meaning, teaching the Jewish ethical tradition to our children, and bringing its wisdom and power into our society.

We as a Jewish community should fight antisemitism in America because of what it means for this nation, of which we are a part, to which we pledge our allegiance, and that we love no less than any other Americans. We must, in the words of President Washington, “give to bigotry no sanction” because we are Americans and because it undermines the ideals of our nation.

But we need not be defined by antisemitism. And we should be taking note when the nation of which we are a part is failing to rise to its challenge.

I would welcome a conversation about this approach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

On Not Letting Fear Define Us

(L-R) Rabbi Avi Bukiet, Rabbi Claudia Kreiman, Rabbi Bill Hamilton, Rabbi Rachel Saphire, and Rabbi Marc Baker ⁩leading the Tree of Life Community Remembrance at ADL's "The Good Fight"

Nahma Nadich

This week, the last message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich. Next Friday, look for a special message from Jeremy Burton, who will be back from sabbatical.

One year ago, eleven Jews woke up on Shabbat morning, went to shul, greeted their friends, put on their tallitot (prayer shawls), opened their siddurim (prayer books), and prepared to immerse themselves in prayer. But shockingly, they were brutally murdered by a killer, proclaiming his hatred for Jews and all that we stand for. That devastating tragedy broke our hearts, shattered our sense – perhaps only an illusion all along – of our safety in this country. It stunned and terrified us.

Last Sunday, I joined with 400 members of our community to mark the first yahrtzeit of this calamity. We at JCRC were among the dozens of organizations co-sponsoring The Good Fight, ADL’s forum on confronting antisemitism, today and tomorrow. We recited kaddish in memory of the victims, learned about the many faces of this ancient and modern hate, and together – high school students and adults alike – we resolved to stand tall as a community in the face of this threat.

Among the speakers was Deborah Lipstadt, who recently published a seminal book on antisemitism. I heard the noted Holocaust historian speak several years ago, but now she sounded different, more somber. Now we had all lived through the unthinkable; violence taking the lives of Jews worshipping at the Tree of Life, and six months later, at the Chabad of Poway. Antisemitism in America was no longer limited to nefarious underground networks of haters; it was now on full display in acts of violence in the streets of Brooklyn, arson in our own community, and lives lost in shuls. We are at the point that, as American Jews, we are no longer concerned only with the welfare of our people in foreign lands – we are now afraid for ourselves.

All of which makes the message I heard from Dr. Lipstadt even more surprising – and more urgent. She told us that the prescription for fighting antisemitism isn’t to focus on the threat, or to barricade ourselves against the danger, but rather to “show the haters that I am a Jew.” It is on us to know what we are "the bearers of" worrying about the stranger because we were strangers, letting the land lie fallow and be rejuvenated, repeating the word justice to remind ourselves to run after it, earning the reward of a long life for honoring our parents.

At JCRC, we have a deep appreciation for the wisdom of that message. We respond to antisemitism not only by preparing for crises and ensuring that Jewish institutions have the means to stay secure, but also by engaging our community in myriad opportunities to act on their Jewish values: welcoming the stranger by standing with immigrants, valuing human life by combating gun violence, pursuing justice by addressing social and economic disparities.

Dr. Lipstadt’s message resonated for me for another reason; it is one I’ve heard my whole life. My father Rabbi Judah Nadich, z”l, was a distinguished rabbi who served the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan for 30 years after first serving as rabbi here in Brookline at Kehillath Israel. But the defining position of his life was earlier in his career, when he was appointed Advisor on Jewish Affairs to General Eisenhower immediately following the liberation of the concentration camps. His responsibilities included visiting Jewish survivors in refugee camps, discerning their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs and doing everything in his power to make sure the American army addressed them. He spent his days with his fellow Jews, who against all odds had escaped the unimaginable and were now faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of going on with their lives, in a world that allowed their near destruction as a people.

For my father to emerge from this trauma consumed with fear about the dangers inherent in being a Jew, or with desperate worry about Jewish survival, would have been more than justified. But the deep love he felt for his people, the passionate joy he derived in living a Jewish life – and leading his community to do so – were only intensified by his witnessing the possibility of it all being eradicated.

For the rest of his blessedly long life, wherever and whenever he could, he bore witness to all that he had seen, and he preached this essential message (excerpted from a 1980 Yom Kippur sermon):

“… it is not enough only to be concerned with the survival of Jews. That must not be our emphasis or we shall lose the struggle. Our emphasis has to be on the survival of Judaism, then Jews will survive. The Holocaust is a searing pain in our hearts, but to brood over it is not the purpose for being a Jew; the anxiety to prevent another Holocaust is not the essential incentive to Jewish activity.  To feel the tragedy and to talk about it does not in itself make us good Jews, for then the Holocaust becomes a surrogate rather than a reminder; then the Holocaust becomes the entire content of Jewish life, and it cannot be if Jewish life is to be. 

 “We exist not in order to prevent our own destruction, but to advance our special assignment, embodying the ageless values that are our raison d’etrefor Jews,“Never Again” is a poor substitute for the purposeful Jewish living as a potent driving force to promote Jewish vitality.”

I shudder at the thought of what my father would make of the current state of affairs in his beloved country, at the scenes of bloodshed in American synagogues. But then I recall these words, and I remember his unshakable faith not only in God, but in the Jewish people. I’m buoyed by his conviction that living meaningful Jewish lives will ensure not only that we survive, but that we are heirs to a vibrant future, one that will animate our most cherished values.

This urgent message was echoed last Sunday in the words of one of our community’s rabbinic leaders, Rabbi Claudia Kreiman, Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion and JCRC Board Member. As a young woman, Rabbi Kreiman lost her beloved mother Susy Wolynski Kreiman, z”l, an esteemed Jewish educator, when she was murdered along with 84 other victims in the AMIA terror bombing in Argentina. This profound loss has informed Rabbi Kreiman’s life as a Jew and her leadership as a rabbi. And like my father, she is driven not by fear or trauma, but by the possibility of joy and redemption. The message she shared at the ADL event last Sunday was eerily familiar to me:

“Fear cannot be the driver of our life instead, we need to lead with hesed, love, generosity, compassion, resilience and hope. I invite us today, in honor of the victims and in honor of our own lives to ask ourselves, again and again, how not to let fear define us and how to summon love and hesed, how to summon hope to be our guiding beacon.”

May we heed the words of Dr. Lipstadt and of Rabbis Nadich and Kreiman in meeting this moment to choose hope over fear, to embrace the fullness of our Jewish lives, and to renew our commitment to build a world of love, justice and compassion.

Click here to receive action alerts and updates on JCRC's work to combat antisemitism and hatred.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

CJP, JCRC Condemn Synagogue Attack in Germany

CJP, JCRC, and Greater Boston’s Jewish community are filled with grief for the victims of a brazen attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany. Timed to occur during Yom Kippur, one of the holiest and most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, the attack came as dozens of worshippers were inside the synagogue. More lives would have been lost if not for the secured doors of the building.

We join with the global Jewish community and the people of Germany in condemning the attack and in offering prayers for the victims and their families.

The aim of the attacker was made clear by statements leading up to and during the shooting and echoed the words used by terrorists and extremists who attacked synagogues and houses of worship from Poway to Pittsburgh to Christchurch.  Antisemitism and the ideology of hatred in its many forms are antithetical to our faith and an affront to humanity. We share with Jews and other minority groups around the world deep concerns over rising antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism in Germany, throughout Europe, and around the world.

For the victims, we will mourn. For the living, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world.

We pray for the recovery of the injured and hope that the families of those we lost find comfort in their sadness.

Why the Accusation of “Dual Loyalty” Cuts so Deeply

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Early in my twenty-year tenure at JCRC, I had a neatly packaged description of our organization and its evolution from our original mission of 75 years ago. I’d explain that at our founding, antisemitism was an ever-present fact of life in Boston and in America, evidenced by hateful rhetoric on the airwaves, assaults on Jews in the streets of our city, and the exclusion of Jews from academia, business, and political and civic leadership.  And then I’d say that since, fortunately, antisemitism is no longer a major factor in America, we expanded our mission to focus more broadly on social justice and civic engagement for Jews in Greater Boston.

With the sobering realization that a virulent form of antisemitism has resurfaced in this country, my shtick – and our work – has fundamentally shifted.

The latest lesson that has been thrust on us as a community is about the allegation of “dual loyalty” among American Jews. This classic antisemitic trope was employed months ago by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, which was met by condemnation by many, including members of her own party.  Yet this week, when she and Representative Tlaib posted a cartoon by the runner-up of Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest (yes, you read that right) with equally troubling antisemitic imagery about the exertion of Jewish power, with the notable exception of Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrats and progressives remained silent.

Most shockingly, this week, the allegation of Jewish dual loyalty was uttered from the very highest halls of power, by the President of the United States. Once again, while we heard rigorous condemnation from some, there was an eerie silence coming from those who are sympathetic and politically aligned with the speaker.

What is it about the accusation of dual loyalty that is such anathema to us as Jews? Why are we so triggered when it is hurled at us?

Being loyal to the society in which we live, understanding that our destiny is inextricably linked with the well-being of our larger community, is fundamental to our Jewish tradition. The prophet Jeremiah heeded us to,” …seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah, 2:9).  The rabbis of the Mishnah understood how vital that message was to our survival as a People and included a more ominous formulation of this message in the Ethics of the Fathers, “… Pray for the integrity of the government, for were it not for the fear of the authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive”. (Pirkei Avot 3:2)

We as Jews have always known that a well-functioning government, and a strong and vibrant society are the best ways to ensure our own peace and prosperity as members of that community. So, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and contributed in every way we know how: serving in the armed forces, voting in consistently high numbers, lending our gifts and talents to a wide variety of industries and fields, and playing leadership roles way beyond our numbers in civic institutions.

Up until now, our participation in American civic life has served us well – which is why it was profoundly disturbing to be accused of “disloyalty” by a member of Congress and by the President himself. In the darkest chapters of our history, we’ve witnessed what happens to our people when we’re perceived as treasonous. It does not end well when we are made out to be “other,” shady foreigners suspected of being loyal to another master or sovereignty, or a secret cabal manipulating the levers of power in nefarious ways.

The contemporary take on today’s myths may be subtler, but they are no less damaging; that we are a monolithic group with a uniform set of beliefs and ideas, and with interests that are separate and apart from our fellow Americans. Jews are often conflated with Israel, and we are identified with every decision and action of each government. The lively and robust debates among us are erased, the multiplicity and complexity of ways in which we connect with Israel are not seen or acknowledged. And allegations such as the one made in the White House this week assert that America’s interests will never be ours, and that when push comes to shove, our loyalty is – or should be – with Israel.

But we know better. We are a gloriously diverse community, with fiercely debated opinions on Israel and every other topic we care about. Our political and ideological differences mean that we engage as Americans in myriad ways. Our interests cannot be reduced to a single issue and can certainly never be defined by an outsider to our community.

The fact that we occupy so many disparate political arenas also presents us with a valuable opportunity; to name and challenge antisemitic tropes in our own ranks, and from sources with whom we may find ourselves otherwise aligned.  We can interrupt the resounding silence.  We can marshal the resources of our friends and partners, so they understand the danger inherent in insidious dog whistles, and join us in speaking out against them, whoever they target. And we can resist cynical attempts to use antisemitic rhetoric as a wedge to divide us along religious and racial lines. We can stand united as Americans, in pursuit of the cherished values we share.

When I describe our work these days, I sadly must include working to combat antisemitism as a central part of our charge. But the essence of our work remains what it’s always been; building a strong and vibrant community of engaged citizens, protecting and defending its interests as Jews and as Americans, a community which will never stop seeking the peace and prosperity of our city.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma