As a new year on the Jewish calendar begins, we are well served to reflect on the year that was 5779. For the American Jewish community, it was unfortunately a year marked with trouble. Without question, the most devastating event that will be remembered this year was the terrorist attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Moreover, violent attacks against Jews were not limited to a single incident. A second deadly synagogue attack took place at the Chabad in Poway, California and New York saw hate crimes skyrocket, with the NYPD reporting that more than half of the city’s hate crimes targeted Jews and that the rate of such crimes marked a dramatic increase from just last year. At the same time, the year saw American political discourse repeatedly tread into deeply uncomfortable territory for the American Jewish community, with members of both political parties raising questions about the loyalty of American Jews to our own country. These incidences mirrored signs from our past that many hoped would not return.
With this context as the backdrop, the most common refrain in the commentary covering the state of the American Jewry has been one of despair. In private discussions, frustration caused by the increased prominence of such events typically elicits a similar reaction. Some even perceive themselves or our community as powerless to confront these tragedies and repeated transgressions.
However, this sort of lament fails to recognize a broader context related to the challenges we face and our ability to impact them. While there are challenges unique to our time, the opportunities we have today to confront them are ones our ancestors could hardly have dreamed of. In the United States we have been welcomed in a way entirely distinct from the way those who came before us were treated in their former host countries. We, as American Jews, can trust allies in law enforcement to protect us, are afforded the ability to defend ourselves against the aggression of others, have rights to engage in our political process and have non-Jewish allies that support us as welcome members of American society. While these facts may seem rudimentary at first glance, they are most certainly not when comparing the treatments we were afforded in our past. Recognition of these distinctions make today, despite its trials, among the reasons that today is the most fortunate time in modern history to be a Jew.
Today we have agency to impact our present and future condition. Politically we can canvass for politicians we support, organize our friends, donate to, and, most of all, show up to vote for candidates that are allies to our community. Violence towards Jews in America, is unfortunately not a new problem, even if it is worsening. It must be met with resolve to take steps to secure our places of worship and build personal readiness to mitigate the risks we face. Nevertheless, on both fronts the ability to do something still represents something of a historical rarity in our ability to impact what ails us. Resolving to improve our situation and capitalizing on the benefits that we are afforded offers us a better chance than any other strategy to move past those moments that have caused alarm. Moreover, taking action to engage productively is empowering. As the ability to impact our condition was not afforded to those who came before us, we would be doing a great disservice by failing to take affirmative steps that capitalize on the opportunity we have today.