I have been debating this question a lot over the past month. The Jewish Community Center where my daughter attends dance class and where I (sometimes) work out has received two bomb threats. The JCC where I worked for almost eight years has received several more. I feel like it is only a matter of time until my daughters Jewish Day School gets a call and she and her friends are evacuated from the building.
Spirituality is biography. Jewish spirituality and Jewish biography both demand a duty to speak out, reject silencing, and stand up against any power that would silence another. Such is the call of Hanukkah and this moment of meaning for Jewish life.
The Book of Genesis is nothing if not a story of dysfunctional families.
When I studied for my PhD in Jewish studies, I often had occasion to engage with antisemitism as a historical subject and intellectual exercise. However, since the election of Donald Trump, antisemitism has become a contemporary concern with practical implications and a frequent topic of conversation.
I see the sirens appear in my rearview mirror as if out of nowhere. I quickly scan the road ahead of me, looking for the errant motorist who was being pursued, but it is empty. It takes me a few seconds to realize that the police car was actually intended for me. Had I been speeding? Did I accidentally run through a stop sign? Panic sets in as I pull my car over to the side. Awash in adrenaline, my mind racing and my hands shaking, I barely hear the policeman when he demands my license and registration. I say a quick prayer for the registration and insurance information to still be in the glove compartment, which, thank God, they are. As I hand the materials over to the policeman, I ask him, politely, why he had pulled me over. He tells me that he saw me looking at my cellphone while I was driving.
The sanctuary of Temple Kol Emeth is completely filled. Judges, lawyers and rabbis who will address the crowd sit on the bima, ready to be introduced. Next to the choir, there are rows of seats with names of local clergy. I find my seat and introduce myself to my neighbors.
When I was in high school, I boarded a bus every Saturday morning to take extracurricular classes on topics like law and debate. One of my debate teachers was a Yale student at the time, and his name was Mark Oppenheimer. When I ended up doing my undergrad at Yale, Mark was getting his PhD there in American Religious History.
Growing up, my favorite day was the annual Israel day parade in Philadelphia. It was a celebration of belonging and identity. We sang Israeli songs with pride, waving our Israeli flags. The crowd converged on Independence Mall, celebrating at the cradle of American democracy. In the late 60’s/early 70’s, Jewish pride was “in,” and it felt completely American.
I used to think that there were two different mindsets when it came to living Jewishly: the experience of those living in Israel and the experience of those, like myself, living in the Diaspora. But the virulence of anti-Semitism that has erupted over the past few few weeks in response to the Israel-Gaza conflict, as I will describe below, has shaken this paradigm in my mind. And it has caused me to think about a brand new question: What does it mean to be a Jewish-American at a time when Israel is strong and secure but when fellow Jews in other parts of the world are being persecuted for being Jewish?