William Hamilton

How to respond to antisemitism

“The unique sadness and terror of anti-Semitism for the Jews” wrote Taffy Brodesser-Akner last June, “lies not just in its violence, but in the people around you pretending that the violence doesn’t even exist.”

Last Shabbat, we received the grim news of another strenuous Jew-hater seeking to harm our people, this time in a Colleyville Texas Sanctuary. The motives and lessons from the attack vary widely, depending on the stories people wish to verify. Long ago, we learned that any justification will serve the hater.

The courage of Rabbi Charlie and the three other captives, how they implemented their training and their own inner qualities, inspire us greatly.

It’s time that we establish a better way to communicate what we witness. Otherwise, we’ll remain frustrated by proclamations that dissolve into tossed-salads of empty phrases.

Let’s consider a modest, four-step proposal in honor of the four survivors and the four positive leadership traits that are highlighted in this week’s portion of Torah. Jethro urges his son-in-law Moses to “Seek out capable leaders, God-revering, truth-upholding, bribery-hating” (Ex. 18:21).

Our four-step formula might go something like this: 1) Declare unapologetically the nature of the hate-crime. 2) Internalize it by committing to do something about it. 3) Full stop, in order to allow the first two steps to sink in. 4) Only thereafter, is it time to turn toward our ideals, toward our vital aspirations of inclusive-dignity which we won’t permit to be defeated by harmful wrongs.

Steps two and three are often missing. What’s more, the steps cannot be rushed. Moreover, they cannot be taken in perfect sync with our neighbors. These factors make what’s already a difficult task, all the more difficult. But the grave nature of what we face, requires that we acquire new skills of communication and initiative-taking.

When Moses implements Jethro’s good advice, he stresses the first trait, choosing “capable leaders” (Ex. 18:25). One commentator translates the Hebrew word for capable, chayil, as people who take initiative (Me’am Lo’az).

As we feel relief and admiration for the four who survived last Shabbat’s attack, may their example, along with Jethro’s advice to Moses, inspire us to strengthen our responsive fibre and to model moral clarity.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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