Ten Responses to the Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks… and Shalom

The recent horrific attack in Monsey was only one of numerous anti-Semitic attacks in New York this past week.  On December 23, a 65-year-old Jewish man was attacked in Manhattan by an assailant who cursed the victim.  On that same day, a group of teenagers attacked two Jewish children in Brooklyn.  On December 24, a group of individuals yelled anti-Semitic slurs and threw a drink at a man in Crown Heights.  On that same day, a 56-year-old Jewish man in Crown Heights was attacked by a group of individuals.  On December 26, a woman hit a 34-year-old Jewish woman in the face with a bag while cursing at her.  On December 27, three women were slapped by a woman who later admitted she had attacked them because she thought they were Jewish.  And then there was the attack in Monsey.  And we all wonder what should we do.  And I have read no less than 10 responses which resonate with me:

  1. Lobby political leaders to utilize significant time and resources to determine why anti-Semitic attacks and violence have increased and then take concrete steps to address the problem.
  2. Increase security protocols in our shuls, schools and communities, including ensuring that every synagogue and school has an armed guard and all doors are locked at all times.
  3. Train ourselves in self-defense and train ourselves to effectively use a gun in active shooter situations.
  4. Broaden the legal definition of anti-Semitic speech and lobby for tougher laws against this type of speech.
  5. Change the nature of toxic discourse in this country which has fueled hatred and hateful acts against both Jews and non-Jews.
  6. Stop viewing every anti-Semitic act through our own partisan lens. Be honest with ourselves and be willing to call out those from our own political worldview who have contributed to the rise in antisemitism.
  7. Repent and engage in introspection.
  8. Pray to God.
  9. Be compassionate and express empathy to those individuals, families and communities who have been victims of these horrific attacks.
  10. Be proud Jews. Continue to wear our religion on our sleeves and practice our religion and religious values publicly and with even greater passion.  Do not let the anti-Semites win by hiding our Jewishness.

In response to violence and hatred, it is the Jewish way to pray for “shalom,” or “peace.” It is our constant refrain. We beseech God, asking He who makes peace in high places to please bring upon us, and all of Israel. But what do we mean? Does “peace” simply imply the absence of war?

In his work Akedat Yitzchak in his comments to the birkat kohanim (priestly blessing), Rav Yitzchak Arama argues that peace should not be defined in a negative manner, as the absence of conflict, but it should be understood as having positive content.  Peace should not just be thought of a passive state, but rather an active pursuit. Shalom means the harmonious working together of distinct and individual parts in such a way to form a unified and integrated whole.  The Gemara in Brachot 58a states that just as every individual’s face is different so is every individual’s personality different.  We achieve “shalom” when we combine and coordinate our strengths, our passions and our talents into a united entity.  We achieve “shalom” when each person complements each other and when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  “Kulanu k’echad” – all of us as one.

And this is how we respond.  Some of us are more passionate about certain responses than others.  And each one of us does something, that which speaks to us.  At the same time, we appreciate everyone’s unique contributions to addressing this issue.  We will prevail and we will do so as a harmonious group of diverse individuals, pooling our efforts to create a stronger whole.  In doing so we will define for the world the true meaning of “shalom” and the true meaning of unity.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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