Rav Bar Oz* (From Strength to Strength)
The State of Judaism Today
by Rabbi Jeremy Barras
Each morning when I wake up and turn on my phone I scroll through social media and am immediately alerted to a variety of anti-Semitic incidents that took place somewhere in the world. As I write this article, the conflagration with Gaza that led to the death of four innocent Israelis is just winding down. I woke up this morning to a report that in England there are advertisements hanging around London which read, “Israel’s Killing Children Again – Enjoy Your Weekend.” Shortly after that, as I scrolled through Facebook, I read about how Williams College in Massachusetts has voted against allowing a pro-Israel movement from existing on campus while the equivalent Palestinian group is welcomed with open arms. This was just one day’s headlines.
I admit you have to be careful in blowing headlines from social media out of proportion. One could see a headline and conclude that a certain institution is anti-Semitic when in fact there is much more to the story. Yet, we should note that even the Anti-Defamation League reports that the U.S. Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018. Incidents in Europe continue to rise and more and more European Jews are leaving and making Aliyah. This is a serious time that requires serious thought and action. This coming High Holy Days our theme will be "The State of Judaism today," and we will begin an internal discussion about what it means to defend our values and our people, to speak openly and forcefully for the safety and security of Jews around the world.
Earlier this year I helped lead the 5th Grade Day School trip to New York City and Philadelphia. On the trip we visited the Tenement Museum, where we saw the conditions that early immigrants lived in after arriving to the United States. While the apartments were cramped and crowded, the residents were beginning to realize the American dream and provide a better life here for their children, grandchildren and generations yet to come. As we walked through the old tenements, I couldn’t help compare the conditions in my mind to a place I visited last year on the March of the Living: the Warsaw Ghetto. I remember walking by one of the few surviving apartment buildings from the ghetto and imagining how the residents there had their hopes and dreams stolen from them. Not only would they no longer have a chance to make the lives of their children better, they would not even see their families survive the plague of anti-Semitism.
I have always seen my role as a rabbi not only as a teacher of Torah and carrier of our tradition, but as a defender of my people. This is a moment in time I have always known was possible but never really expected. Anti-Semitism has once again become main stream, and that is unacceptable. I pray for the day when no Jews will ever see their hopes for their futures dashed as did our holy ancestors in Europe. I yearn for the day when we will see only a glorious road ahead as did the immigrant dreamers who brought many of our families to these shores. But I am not so naïve as to think that our thoughts and prayers will bring about the change we demand.
It is time to start the discussion on how to best eradicate this ancient and despicable hatred one battle at a time. It is time to discuss what we can do to best defend our people and educate our neighbors and community about the evils that lurk behind such baseless and evil hatred. As we look towards the new year of 5780, I believe it is time for us to engage seriously in this discussion.
* The Barras family name was created during the Ellis Island Experience. Originally it was Bar Oz, meaning strength in Hebrew.