It has been a tough time these past few weeks for Jews in America. We are seeing antisemitism in every element of society, from academia to billionaires on social media, from sucker punches on the streets of Brooklyn to neo nazi banners on California overpasses. We've seen swastikas and vandalism on a dozen campuses, and every facet of our identity, from our religious practices to our loyalty, our institutions and our commitment to repair the world questioned or twisted to vilify us. We saw the 4th anniversary of the Tree of Life killings in Pittsburgh yesterday. Poway, Jersey City, Monsey and Colleyville are never far from our thoughts.
Challenging times, no doubt.
I first encountered antisemitism at a very young age. And like many of you, my family’s experience includes the impact of the Shoah, but as a student of Jewish history I am aware that that singular horror was built and predicated on the hate and violence of 1800 years of dispossession, exile and persecution. I have studied this particular aspect of Jewish history for almost my whole life. If it was all I studied, I would have run far and fast from identity informed only by an unending litany of hate and suffering.
It was not all I studied.
I was privileged to have a Jewish day school education, and to grow up in a strong Jewish environment. From that I took a love for the poetry and inspiration of our ancient texts, and an understanding that a blueprint for living a good & just life could be derived from them.
I watched people in my community from every denomination and of every degree of wealth exemplify giving, volunteering, taking care of those in need. I recognized the Jewish values they lived every day. First my son’s and years later my own very serious and sudden medical challenges brought out the best elements of Jewish care, love, and generosity, and we experienced an unparalleled embrace from our community.
I followed events in Israel even as a kid, and by the time I actually visited at the age of 18, I was committed to the miracle of a Jewish state with all of its imperfections. I watched with pride as a country mired in inflation and socialist torpor transformed into one of the strongest and most innovative economic engines in the world. And I fell in love with the land.
I reflected on the influence of Jewish values on our democracy, and the impact of Jewish scientists and the analytical thinking of our tradition on creating technology to better our world.
I read the works of incredible Jewish authors and see their influence on social conscience across the world.
So why am I sharing this now, when we are seeing and must act against resurgent hate?
Here’s why: Hate cannot and will not define us. We reject an identity predicated on these negative experiences. Our Jewish identity is rich, complex, and multifaceted. It encompasses the values of our tradition, the beauty of our homeland, the generosity of our spirit, the creativity demanded by our experiences, and the iron strength we lacked for so long. It is a source of pride for me and I hope for you. It has shaped our lives and our world for the good in every way.
Let’s remember - these Jewish values and experiences define us, and that is what we must exemplify as a community and pass on to our children. It’s our commitment as your Jewish Federation, and we hope you will support our work.