As we write this we have two images in our minds: On one side of the screen in our heads: delight. We see the 70 members of The Village Temple, half of them children, who spent a recent Sunday morning volunteering to clean up Washington Square Park. It was a wonderful occasion, welcoming spring by doing an act of Tikkun Olam in the community where we live.,
On the other side: horror. We can’t shake the image of a crazed, hate-filled man murdering innocent people present at Jewish institutions in Kansas City. The facts that the killer was a self-proclaimed anti-Semite, that his victims were not Jewish, and that the heinous act was perpetrated on the eve of Passover and the Sunday before Easter, added symbolic weight to havoc wreaked by a madman.
As we send our condolences to the families of the innocent people destroyed by the madness, we search for a way to process the irrationality. The violence has become the catalyst for many responses. Two were especially compelling. Frank Bruni wrote a disturbing Op-Ed piece in The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/opinion/the-oldest-hatred-forever-young.html?ref=opinion) about contemporary anti-Semitism. Here is an excerpt:
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.
Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.
Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.”
We share Bruni’s article not to promote fear but awareness. The question, especially pertinent on Passover, is how do we respond to ignorance and violence? Joel Braunold, a liberal blogger on Jewish issues, wrote a thoughtful piece in Ha’aretz
Braunold offered this rumination on how we should respond to the kind of hatred promulgated by the Kansas City killer.
“One can look at Jewish history and know that the line from the Haggadah “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us,” is true.
Yet what should our response to this be? We are within our rights to be hostile to the outside world, to close ourselves off and be suspicious of all those around us. Yet by doing so we would be failing in our duty to be an or l’goyim (a light onto nations.)
Being Jewish is not easy. We need to be able to deal with the tensions that our traditions demand from us. We need to understand our own particularism while being open to the universalism of the world around us. Sadly, even today, there are those who rise up to destroy us, but we cannot allow them to destroy our way of life.
Our resilience is shown by not withdrawing from the world and enclosing ourselves in the comfort of our particularism. Nor is it found in assimilating into the universalism of all of that around us. Rather, our quest to demonstrate what it means to live as a happy and free people, celebrating our traditions and impacting those around us, is found in balancing the wonder of the cosmos and the glory of our rich history together.”