I don’t like thinking of myself as someone where fear was a narrative thread in my life and yet, there have been moments in my life when I was taught to be afraid.
As a child of the 80’s, I was terrified of AIDS. I was told not to drink and drive. I remember Nancy Reagan telling us to “Say No to Drugs.”
I was nervous when Saadam Hussein invaded Kuwait, but that felt far away and, while I wasn’t conscious of the issue of privilege, I certainly understood that racism was certainly present in our midst and we needed to speak out against it.
Fear continued in 1999 when two boys walked into a cafeteria in Columbine and killed their classmates and set off decades of school gun violence that continues to this day.
In 2000, the second intifada would take center stage in Israel, killing and maiming thousands of Israelis, and continuing cycles of violence causing death to people of all backgrounds that we still can’t get out of.
Fear loomed large in 2001. We would watch as towers and planes and buildings would crumble, and the innocence and naivety that we had of us not being attacked on American soil would go away.
And that was just the beginning.
We never would have imagined that we would be confronting the assault on women that we are seeing in states with regard to anti-abortion laws or that our democracy is under threat or that we would be living through a global pandemic.
But the one constant was that I was never afraid of being Jewish as a child. I always felt safe as a Jew.
The fear of being Jewish was relegated in my mind to the atrocities of the crusades or the pogroms, and certainly the Holocaust.
I would take time to remember those moments and feel a connection to the Jewish people as we would recall our history at school and synagogue, as we would pay tribute to and honor the memory of those who were murdered throughout the ages because they were Jewish, and I was fortunate enough to hear first-hand testimony of survivor’s experiences.
So, I could never imagine that I would be a rabbi who would have to comfort a community when we had swastikas on our synagogue’s door, or worse, have conversations about what kind of active shooter drills we need for me to be safe standing on the pulpit as I witnessed attacks on Orthodox men in Brooklyn and New Jersey and watched news reports about murderous rampages in Pittsburgh and Poway and, most recently, watched with my eyes glued to the television as I observed SWAT teams trying to rescue four Jews in Texas – a Rabbi and his congregants – from his synagogue on a Shabbat morning as they were being held hostage by a man with a gun.
Never did I think that being a rabbi could be a dangerous job.
Was it possible that the echoes of the past, those that we recall this week, are more front and center than we could have ever imagined?
So, all of this has led me to do a lot of thinking about antisemitism and how we make sure that we take stock of the world around us. Not only where it might come from and what it might mean for us but also the lessons that we must take from it.
Here are the lessons learned.
First, as people, we must affirm what it means to be connected as a Jewish people, across time and space.
We must take comfort in knowing that, wherever one of us is in trouble, there are prayers from all of us to be safe.
The outpouring of love and fear and sadness that was witnessed on social media and phone lines on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, shouldn’t be understated. There was a sense that when we are afraid, we can be afraid, together.
Second, we must strive to be in relationship with those of all backgrounds as we gather our strength for the work ahead to remember the atrocities of the past and build a better future.
For Jews, this means looking out at history, knowing that we have survived for thousands of years, and we will continue to survive and thrive. It also means that there was a comfort that I know that I felt in seeing the messages of support from people of various backgrounds, not discounting the pain of antisemitism but lifting it up to work through it.
We won’t be able to negate the pain and fear in our midst that exists today but, in working with others, we must continue to cultivate feelings connected to, and supportive of, the Jewish people.
And we can also fuel our obligation to love humanity, for what is the purpose of survival, if we can’t live out our values of caring for ourselves and others?
One of the greatest experiences of my life was to serve as a Navy chaplain. I spent nine weeks in training in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 2000 between the first and second years of Rabbinical School.
I learned the motto of the Chaplains Corps: “Provide for your own, Facilitate for Others, and Care for All.”
This important approach, which allowed someone to be proud of their own identity but not impervious to the care for others, has guided me throughout my rabbinic career and has been a way that I have engaged in the community in which I live and sought to motivate others.
Staying connected to the interfaith world is another crucial anchor for me, and it is these connections that have anchored me in challenging times.
Having this approach has also been a guiding light as I create deep relationships with priests, ministers, pastors and imams from other faiths.
Being deeply committed to my religion doesn’t negate my ability to see the beauty in other religious traditions for its adherents and to speak out for all religions.
That is what is powerful about this week.
An international recognition of the unique atrocities of the Holocaust where we raise up the voices, memories and experiences of those who suffered and survived, also can serve as a platform for engaging in the world in which we live, offering a powerful message of what it means to not only survive but also thrive.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The previous article is:
Several Remembrances Needed on Holocaust Remembrance Day | Jack Moline