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At the end of a difficult and frightening week...

01/03/2020 08:24:11 AM


Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

As we head toward this first Shabbat of 2020 I, like you, am struggling to adjust to our new reality of violent anti-Semitism within the United States. Like you, I have been reading, thinking, worrying, and reflecting. And while I am deeply thankful to our president Duke Helfand and to our security committee that never rests and never stops working, I think we'd agree that the questions in the air go beyond "how do we secure our institutions?" What we really want to know is: "What is this hour? And what does it call upon us to do?"

The possible answers here are numerous and varied. Mine are certainly no wiser or better-informed than those of any others. I offer them simply - and briefly - in the spirit of family conversation.

My thoughts have been shaped in good measure by developments like the one out of West Virginia a couple of days ago. In response to a late-November incident in which 30 cadets of the state's Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Academy were photographed doing a Nazi salute at the direct order of an instructor, Governor Jim Justice fired the cadets and the instructor, and suspended-without-pay other instructors who failed to report the incident.  Perhaps even more significantly, the state will begin training its corrections department staff about the Holocaust using material prepared by the regional chapter of the ADL.

The West Virginia story is significant to me because it is one data point among so many over the past year. My personal experience of having stood with people of all faiths at Lori Kaye's funeral at the Chabad of Poway was emblematic of the response to all of the most terrible anti-Semitic incidents of the past 14 months, and to many of the less horrific ones as well. Public figures and private citizens alike have stood with us. (In fact, the City Council of Poway last month renamed a street to honor Lori Kaye's memory.)

Yes, we're in an awful and alarming moment. And yes, this a moment for requesting and receiving the special attention of law enforcement. And yes, this is a moment for drawing close to our Jewish brothers and sisters both locally and around the country. But no, this is not a moment which requires us to see potential danger everywhere and in everybody, or which demands that we surrender our belief in the good-will and friendship of the great majority of our neighbors.  To follow that instinct, while understandable on some level, would not only cut us off from sources of potential support and assistance, it would lead us down a path that is both false and Halachicly improper. The injunction to favorably judge every human being ("כל אדם" as the Mishna states it) is not only the just thing to do, it is the faithful thing to do. The entirety of our faith rests on the premise that human beings are endowed with Divine image and possess the capacities for righteousness and love of the other. As a matter of foundational religious principle, our vision for the future of humankind is the one we express in our Yamim Noraim davening, "and they will all make one pact, to do Your will with a full heart". When we surrender this vision, we surrender ourselves. This is true even when we experience legitimate fear and anxiety, and even as we take measures to protect ourselves from the truly bad actors out there.

And we also cannot forget the collateral damage that results from a withdrawal inward, namely the loss of recognition of - and concern for - others who also suffer hatred and its violent consequences.

We cannot blame our forebears who endured near-total abandonment by their non-Jewish neighbors for developing suspicion and hostility toward everybody. But we need to recognize - and to be grateful - that this is not at all the situation we face here today. As much as we are called to vigilance, we are also called to spiritual fortitude, to embracing friends, and to building the infrastructure of ethical optimism.

Rav Yosef

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784