We are living in challenging times, times of uncertainty about the future of American democracy, times when so many different aspects of our society make us feel unsafe, from guns to financial insecurity to racism and xenophobia to extreme weather events to the government’s failure to address the causes of climate change. This all in the context of the mid-term elections next week.
This has been a particularly difficult week for the American Jewish community, following the shooting in a synagogue last Saturday during prayer. The gunman’s goal was to kill Jews and he ended the lives of eleven beautiful people, among them leaders of the community, two brothers with intellectual disabilities, and elders, including a 97-year-old woman. This tragedy hits close to home for me — I know a number of people who have lost loved ones and a number of people who live in that neighborhood.
This tragedy has also shaken our sense of safety as Jews living in America. Many Jewish families, including my own, came to this country from Europe about a century ago, fleeing anti-semitism. The Jewish community has experienced a “golden age” here in the United States— our culture has flourished, we have become integrated into society, and we have been free to worship as Jews. Yet there has always been an undercurrent of anti-semitism. Memories from my childhood in New Mexico include seeing a water tower with the words “Kill the Jews” painted on it, being told by a friend that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, and experiencing an effort to convert me to Christianity in the middle of chemistry class. The Charlottesville white nationalist rally in August 2017, the increase in the number of anti-semitic incidents, and now the shooting in Pittsburgh, have made my community nervous about what might come next. Like in the United States, Jews were integrated into German society when the Holocaust began and many educated, economically successful Jews were taken to the death camps. Could this happen here? Some friends of mine are thinking about the possibility of needing to flee the country to stay alive.
None of us know what the future will bring, but I thought that it was important to share some perspective on the fear that your Jewish neighbors might be experiencing. If you have Jewish neighbors and friends, I encourage you to reach out to them, let them know you’re thinking of them and that you stand by them. Solidarity at this time really matters. Visit a synagogue or attend a Jewish cultural event. It is also worthwhile to learn more about antisemitism. I highly recommend reading this article by civil rights strategist Eric Ward, which explains the role of antisemitism in American white nationalism: Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.
I’d like to share a piece that my teacher, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, wrote Sunday morning, inspired by a well-known quotation of German Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller, who was initially pro-Nazi and then resisted Hitler and ended up in a concentration camp.
Original quotation from Neimoller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Nancy's version, drawing quotations from the various rallies she has participated in over this last 2 years. The last quotation "we will outlive them" comes from a vigil this past Saturday night:
First they came for the Muslims and I was not a Muslim. But I said “Not on my watch!”
Then they came for the undocumented and my grandfathers were undocumented. I said “Refugees make America great.”
Then they came for Trans and non binary people. And I said “We are all created in God’s image, no exceptions!”
And then they came for women survivors of assault. And I said “Are you friggin kidding me?”
And they have been coming since before we were a nation for indigenous and black people. And I haven’t said enough.
And then they came for Jews. I am a Jew.
And friends of different faiths and races and sexual and gender identities stood with me and said “We will outlive them!”