Today is May 22, 2017 -
Dear Congregants and Friends ~
I have just returned from a Southern Poverty Law Center board meeting, which serves, in part, to explain the subject matter of my column this month.
I want to begin my column, however, by first noting the commemoration this month of 3 important but lesser known Jewish Holidays, all of which are related and of relatively recent vintage. The first, Yom HaShoah, commemorates perhaps the most tragic event in the 3000 year old Jewish Tradition, the Holocaust. Yom HaShoah is followed by Yom HaZikaron, “The Day of Remembrance”, the Holiday honoring those, who have given their lives to defend the State of Israel, a reminder that gaining and maintaining freedom does not happen without significant cost and effort. Yom HaZikaron is then followed by Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, “The Israeli Day of Independence”, celebrating the founding of the modern day State of Israel.
The chronological order of these 3 Holidays teaches a subtle but very important message, that being, that whether we are talking about the well-being and future of the State of Israel, the Jewish Tradition, or of our own synagogue, all depend on our doing our part, as Jews and members of C.B.I. community, our best to fulfill the responsibilities resulting from our covenantal relationship with God.
Returning now to the first matter to which I referred in my opening paragraph, I was saddened and disturbed to read, this past week, that a recent study has borne out a fact that I suspected but was reluctant to admit to myself–that harassment, vandalism, and other hostile acts against the Jewish people in our country has increased by 86% in the past 4 months. The SPLC, which tracks hate groups in our country, has similarly documented a significant increase in hate groups in the U.S. over the past 6 months.
That hate and anti-Semitic behavior has become far more acceptable in our country is poignantly illustrated in a lawsuit just filed by the Center against the leader of the neo-Nazi hate web-site, The Daily Stormer. For the past several months, he, along with his followers, have been sending hundreds of hateful and threatening communications to a Jewish woman, her husband, their 12 year old son, as well as to the rabbi and other members of the Jewish community, all of whom live in the small but scenic town of Whitefish, MT.
What did the woman and her family do to bring on this spate of anti-Semitic hate mail and calls? The mother of one of the leaders of the alt-right movement–the mother and her husband also live in Whitefish–got into a dispute with the Jewish woman. While most of the attacking statements are too scurrilous and hateful for me to include in my column, suffice to say that the defendant in the case distributed to members of the town and the Jewish community pictures of the woman, her husband, their son, and two other Jewish residents of the town, which pictures were superimposed on the entrance to Auschwitz.
In addition to the lawsuit filed against the leader of the neo-Nazi web-site, the good news is that most residents in the Whitefish community have come to the support of the family, the rabbi, and the Jewish community.
Quoting the great 20th century Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, “While only a few are guilty, we are all responsible.” That we are all responsible to take action in our own way, that we cannot rely solely on others, including God, to fight injustice and bring healing and justice to the world, is made clear in the following midrash from our Tradition.
The Israelites in the Torah are caught between the proverbial “rock and the hard place”–the Sea of Reeds is preventing them from moving forward, and they can hear the sound of Pharaoh’s charioteers approaching them from the rear. They are understandably frightened and shout out to Moses, their leader, for help. Moses, in turn, seeks to reassure them by telling them that God will provide relief as God has done up to this point in time.
This time, however, God responds by saying that I have done my part getting you to this point; it is time that you and the Israelites start taking some responsibility for your own well-being. It is only after one of the Israelite leaders, Nachshon, enters the water, and then takes the risk of wading deeper and deeper into the water that God finally intervenes and parts the water.
The message is clear–that while we Jews can and should call upon God to protect us, should look to organizations like the SPLC and the ADL to fight anti-Semitism in our country–we, too, have a responsibility, through our words and actions, to ensure the future well-being of the State of Israel, our Tradition, and our own synagogue!
Sending Peace and Blessings! Rabbi Mandell