Every Friday morning I knead a batch of dough, large enough that it requires me to “take” challah with a blessing. It is customary to add an additional prayer of healing and wellness for those in need while reciting this blessing. And so every Friday morning I post a picture of my challah dough with a call for names for people in need of special prayers. And every Friday I get dozens of comments, DMs, and texts asking for healing prayers for loved ones. As it gets near to Shabbat, I braid and bake my challah – it is often the last thing that I do before Shabbat begins. After a taxing work week, there is nothing like going into Shabbat with a house that smells of freshly-baked challah and disconnecting from the world (and social media!) for 25 hours.
But the flip side of Shabbat brings the opposite energy. Every week, after Shabbat ends, I hold my breath for just a moment before turning on my phone to reconnect with the world. In that moment, as the peacefulness of Shabbat ebbs away, I worry what terrible news might await. This week, once again, my fears were realized. Colleyville would now be added to Pittsburgh and Poway. Targeting synagogues. Targeting Jews. Because people think that Jews hold some secret power to sway decisions on things over which they have no control. Because people think Jews are responsible for all the complexities of the Middle East. Or just because. Antisemitism doesn’t truly depend on a rationale.
But here is my truth, something I don’t typically acknowledge or share. Every Friday night or Shabbat morning when my kids walk to synagogue where we live in Silver Spring, I worry about what might happen to them on their way there, on their way back, and while they are there. And in the meantime, we move through the world as though we are safe, a façade, as there is no way I can actually guarantee them any kind of safety.
Here is my other truth. Every week when I walk by my synagogue, I am both sickened and reassured in equal measure that there is a police presence outside, often supported by volunteers patrolling the perimeter. And while I am assuaged in the moment, I know that there are more lasting steps that can be taken to protect the safety of our synagogues and Jewish community members.
A word of Torah. At the end of this week’s Torah reading, Parashat b’Shalach, we read about Amalek’s attack on the Israelites. Tradition tells us that Amalek was the first nation to attack the Israelites, who were just redeemed from slavery. Exodus 17:11 tells us that when Moses, their leader, felt strengthened, the Israelites felt strengthened and when he felt weakened, so too did they. At the end of this parasha, we are warned that our war with Amalek will reoccur in every generation. These messages go hand in hand. First, the only way to fight evil is to both stand strong and to strengthen one another when needed, especially when we are feeling at our lowest. With all of our divides and differences, the Jewish community must stand as a united front against those who would hurt us or prefer that we not exist. And second, there will always be evil in the world, always those who seek to hurt or destroy us.
We live in a world where we treasure our freedom. We also live in a world where antisemitism is real in all of its subtle and not-so-subtle expressions and often impedes Jews’ experience of that freedom. Today’s attack on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas is an act of terrorism on American soil. It’s time for the U.S. government to signal to its people and the world that it takes antisemitism seriously by finally confirming the president’s nominee of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. In our generation, we see lives endangered by political games. To continue to play politics with Jewish lives is to be complicit with antisemitism.