Rabbi Stern writes that in America anti-Semitism is as dead as a door nail. I wish it were true. While the Anti-Defamation League recently reported that the number of anti-Semitic incidents were down by 12 percent from 2005, the Klu Klux Klan is experiencing a resurgence. Additionally, there were still 1,554 reported violent incidents in 2006, including the fatal shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation. Just this week the stairwell outside Chicago Alderman Bernard Stone’s West Rogers Park office was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti that included slurs such as “Death to the Jews.” If not for organizations such as the ADL on the national level and the American Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress on the international level, it is more than likely such incidents would remain below the radar and thus be allowed to fester and spread.
Many of the Jewish organizations in our community alphabet soup were founded around such issues of Jewish defense. As we have seen in the news, some of those organizations need to attend to internal organizational issues. I agree with Rabbi Stern that a Judaism built around the response to anti-Semitism does not carry the transcendent values that ensure transmission. That is why we need programs like birthright israel, Jewish Life Network, and Synagogue 3000 to help us find better ways to transmit the beauty and wisdom of Judaism to the next generation. However, that doesn’t mean we can neglect defense of the Jewish people here, in Europe, in South America, and in Israel.
Rabbi Stern is correct that our support of federations around the country support much of the social services the Jewish community provides to the poor, elderly, mentally vulnerable, and ill. These services are desperately needed, particularly in our current political climate. Supporting such efforts through our charitable giving is part of what it means to be a member of a Jewish community. Caring for others, gemilut hasadim (literally deeds of lovingkindness), is among the highest of Jewish values.
On the surface it is an altruistic virtue. However, more Jews should also understand that there is nothing altruistic about supporting many of the Jewish agencies that work for Jewish security at home and abroad. Their help can be surprisingly local. In my community, it was to ADL that we turned when Jewish students began experiencing a surprising number of anti-Semitic slurs in response to the release of the movie “The Passion” several years ago. It was in cooperation with our local Jewish federation that we were able to get our local Board of Education to move high school graduation off of Jewish holy days and friday nights.
I was raised to believe that what happens to a Jew anywhere is of concern to Jews everywhere. If we are better off here in America than are our brothers and sisters in Europe and South America (which is true on every level of our security), then it behooves us to do what we can from here to help them. The best way to do that is through the Jewish organizational structure that already exists.
–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman