In a Jewish home, Saturday evening evokes a mixture of different feelings. For some, the end of the Sabbath means that they can use their cell phones again and text their friends or listen to music. For others this time means responding to work emails, looking forward to the next day’s commute, and confronting the beginning of a grueling week. Regardless, the end of the Sabbath is an auspicious time where the sweetness and holiness brought to the household makes a departure, and the mundane week arrives once more. We are meant to use the rest and holiness we experience on Shabbat in order to happily deliver us through the following week, which is why it is at this time we wish one another a “Shavua Tov,” a good week.
On Saturday August 12, however, the transition from the holy Sabbath to the world outside was all too quick. I was in Israel and as I breathed the spices our sages teach us to comfort our soul while we lose our Shabbat spirits, this ritual barely prepared me for the news that was waiting on the other side. I turned my phone on, only to learn that a rally of White Supremacists and neo-Nazis took place in Charlottesville, Virginia and that those in attendance were shouting that “Jews will not replace us.” I realized immediately that it was not, in fact, going to be a shavua tov.
At first, I had my own feelings to confront. I had feared for what this would mean for the country I live in and the nation with which I so proudly identify. I had concern for the members of the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE,) who undoubtedly have family members and friendship nets cast throughout the whole country. But mostly, I had anxiety for someone of great power to condemn this and assure me that all would be okay. The week had me yearning for the sweetness of Shabbat more and more as I realized that I would not have my anxiety squelched. Our president not only held counter-protesters to the same moral deficiency as the Nazis themselves but also claimed that not all people at the Unite The Right rally were antisemites. That might technically be true but not the kind of unequivocal condemnation of racism and bigotry we need to hear from the top.
In retrospect, I admit that as a Jew living in America I have been rather spoiled. Having just returned from leading MJE’s 18th annual trip to Israel I have always taught the significance of the Jewish State as a religious place of destiny for the Jewish people, where certain mitzvoth could only be observed and where one can be spiritually awakened as our trip demonstrates each year. I rarely speak of Israel as a safe haven also since America has been a safe option for Jews for as long as I’ve been alive. The 1800’s saw large waves of immigration to the land of Israel due to the pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe. The rising anti-Semitism reinforced in Europe by 20th century Fascism brought, even more, refugees to what would eventually become the Jewish State. But here’s the kicker: as a Jewish American, I never had to put myself in their shoes. After all, we live in America! But the images of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with swastikas in America in 2017 jolted me and got me thinking…maybe Israel is still needed as a safe haven even for us? Maybe I’m overreacting although I wonder how many of our grandparents also said that in 1930’s Germany.
Irrespective, it is our responsibility to confront racism and all forms of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism and stand together with our non-Jewish brothers and sisters who feel the same way. Besides speaking out we must continue to support Israel as MJE does through themed classes and Shabbat dinners, celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and of course, trips to Israel every summer. These programs not only strengthen our faith and bond to Israel but they play a critical role in bolstering the Jewish State as well. We Jews of America may be more like our ancestors who left Europe Jews than we like to believe. Let’s speak out against the bigotry surrounding us in America but at the same time continue to strengthen Israel.
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