The recent gathering in New York City to combat anti-Semitism was a noble effort to mobilize the Jewish community and all peace-seeking individuals, who believe that attacks against Jews represent an assault against all of us.
One rally, however, no matter how urgent the message or passionate the participants, represents only a small step in our ongoing response to the alarming and escalating attacks on Jews in Jersey City, Monsey, New York City and elsewhere.
Responding to anti-Semitism certainly demands serious dialogue between the Jewish community and all our neighbors (be they faith communities or otherwise). Our response will also demand serious, internal self-reflection from within the Jewish community; in terms of how Jews relate to other Jews.
Beginning with the latter: During my 40 years of professional service to the Jewish community, I have witnessed too much resentment between Jew and Jew.
Such animosity is conveyed between Jews of different backgrounds and practices as well as between Jews espousing conflicting ritual and cultural ideologies. Some of us even dismiss attacks on particular Jews because those Jews do not represent us: They are too ritually observant, not observant enough, or too something else.
Only an assault in ‘our backyard’ seems to arouse our sense of self-righteousness and indignation. The time must come for all Jews to put aside our differences and to recognize each other as being created in the image of God. Anyone has a right to reject my form of Jewish practice. Do not, however, publicly condemn me or belittle my Judaism, but then contact me unabashedly when you need me to support your particular cause. How can we combat antisemitism and BDS when we cannot even honor and respect ourselves?
On a global level, combatting anti-Semitism requires more than Jews marching, speaking passionately from a podium or preaching from a synagogue. Combatting anti-Semitism needs the support of priests, imams and faith leaders to reach out to their constituents to fight antisemitism in both word and action.
Effective dialogue means our sitting down with neighbors from other faith communities, ethnicities etc. to speak about Israel and other areas of serious Jewish concern. Alternatively, we in the Jewish community need a better understanding of Christianity and Islam.
We need a greater education in the history of our African American communities, our more recent Asian communities, and other groups that have blessed our area with a diversity so imperative and welcomed.
On our campuses: university leaderships need the wisdom and the vision to curb behaviors which-in the false name of free speech target Jews and promote anti-Semitism in the most vile forms.
As for our legislators: I appreciate and cherish officials on all levels of government service, who genuinely serve us with nobility and selflessness.
Nevertheless, I look forward to the day when politicians will boldly cast aside political partisanship and legislate for the greater good of all citizens. As an example, I look forward to a day, when officials of all parties stand up to the gun lobby and ensure that guns will no longer be pointed at synagogues, churches, schools and public buildings. Perhaps then, the enormous quantities of capital we spend on security to protect our sacred institutions can be better allocated to serve our minds and our spirits?
Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Israel as part of a small delegation of rabbis, accompanying leaders from a church in New York State. My colleagues and I had the rare and cherished opportunity to appreciate Israel from the perspective of devout Christians; to better understand Christian holy sites and to learn as well as to teach.
Eliminating anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred, racism and discrimination will demand an extensive effort on the part of us all; well beyond an exclusive event, march or mobilization of like-minded people. Anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred will end when we are willing and able to break the barriers of ignorance and intolerance which separate us and perpetuate our mutual suspicions and animosities.
It seems as if with each anti-Semitic or racist incident there is an initial outpouring of mutual support and solidarity. In a short time, emotions fade away and we return to life as normal. My hope is that together we will actively fight hatred on all fronts so that we can truly enjoy ‘normal’ lives; with mutual respect and honor becoming the global standard rather than the exception.
Rabbi Michael Klayman
Lake Success Jewish Center