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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - January 2020
From the Rabbi - January 2020 PDF Print E-mail

I have just returned from a week visiting family in London.  As we lit the candles in the last few days of Chanukah I was aware of the great joy of being able to face a new secular year with such love and support.  But at the same time, I was seeing in the news much that was dark and ominous.  In New York a rabbi’s house was attacked by a knife wielding anti-Semite and people were seriously injured for just being Jewish.   And in London, not far from my family’s home and in an area I had spent much time when I lived in the UK, a spate of antisemitic graffiti was left on many buildings, threatening the safety of Jews in the area and beyond, who wondered if they were as safe as they had previously believed themselves to be.  This is a reality that is being experienced all around the world as hatred of Jews is rising, making all of us feel less safe than we had before.  

Why is this happening now?  That is a question beyond the scope of a bulletin article but two recent and insightful books, “How to Fight Antisemitism” by Bari Weiss and “Antisemitism: Here and Now” by Deborah E Lipstadt are essential reading to explain the modern causes and reality of this worrying rise in anti-Jewish hatred.  They both make it clear that this is not an issue of only one side or group, not a problem exclusively of the left or the right, or of the Western world or the Islamic world alone, as so many have tried to argue.  Sadly, blaming this antisemitism on just one source or as being as a result of just one reason is too simple and comes from an understandable desire to have easy answers.  The current threat is not simple and will not be resolved by easy answers.  What is clear is that many in the world have found themselves distressed, confused and frustrated by the perceived collapse of previous cultural, ideological and economic certainties, and these frustrations are being exacerbated and made more hateful by social media and the dark side of other modern realities.  On the internet, age-old conspiracy theories are spread like never before straight to peoples’ computers and phones encouraging hatred in far too many.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes: “When bad things happen, good people ask, “What did I do wrong?” They put their house in order. But bad people ask, “Who did this to me?” They cast themselves as victims and search for scapegoats to blame.” That scapegoat isn’t always just the Jews but the Jews are always among the list of scapegoats.  

And what do we do in response.  It is meaningful that these recent attacks on the Jewish people were over Hanukah, a time when Jews fought back – physically and spiritually - against hatred, and won. Like our ancient ancestors we can fight back in a variety of ways.  First, we must do what we can to strengthen the physical security of Jewish sites.  We have had armed professional security at our congregation for many years and we are grateful for those who contributed to our High Holy days appeal to further secure our building and protect our people against attacks we dearly hope will never come.  We are immensely grateful to Mike Trimyer for all he has done to keep us safe for many years and for continuing to lead efforts to make us more secure in the future. Secondly, we must recognize that, unlike many Jews of past ages, we have friends as well as enemies.  Unlike in previous eras, each of the hateful acts in recent years has been responded to not only by Jews, but by Christians, Muslims and others who act to protect Jewish sites, repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries, and raise money to help the victims.  We are not alone but we must continue to do more to foster these friendships and to explain how what happens to the Jews never ends with the Jews and how it is everyone’s best interest to quash anti-Jewish hatred whenever it raises its ugly head.  

We must remember the message of Chanukah – to fight for our Judaism not just physically but spiritually, to be proud of our Judaism and to redouble our efforts to create places in which we can be Jewish without fear. And we must learn from the festival to show the light of Judaism publicly and in all we do, the light that has ensured we survived every empire and mob that has sought to destroy us and kept hope in the darkest ages. 

In the words of Rabbi Chaim Stern – “When evil darkens our world, let us be the bearers of light… When the earth and its creatures are threatened, let us be their guardians. When bias, greed, and bigotry erode our country’s values, let us proclaim liberty throughout the land. In the places where no one acts like a human being, let us bring courage; let us bring compassion; let us bring humanity.”
Rabbi Ilan Emanuel



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