Yosef Merves
Forging New Perspectives on Jewish Identity

What Actions Should We Take in the Face of Tragedy?

Once again, I struggle to find the right words after the tragic news of another shooting in a shul leaves me sick to my stomach as I learn more details. How to adequately express the anger, pain, grief, confusion, and resolve to not allow this to happen again. Certainly quite eerie for a shooting to happen on Pesach, a holiday celebrating freedom from oppression by an immoral society, and exactly six months after the shul shooting in Pittsburgh and following recent attacks on churches and mosques worldwide. I hope that churches, mosques, and synagogues within communities are actively sharing resources and information to combat any possible security threats, including members of their communities who could be a threat to other populations.

Talking about the shooter and his white power manifesto is not the route to go down, no free publicity. White nationalists are only a small percent of the population. There is a much larger proportion of the population that concerns me- those who stand silently and do nothing and allow anti-Semitism to prosper and thrive. There is a quote attributed to 18th Century Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Even in a society that has grown more atheist and anti-religion, anti-Semitism remains as a holdover. Terrorist acts like this happen not just because of extremists, but because casual and blatant anti-Semitism is rampant and unchecked. The first step to combat anti-Semitism is to immediately oppose comments such as:

“Jews don’t work on Saturday because they are lazy”
“What’s the big deal about eating bacon and lobster? Who’s going to know?”
“You just made up that holiday so you can get out of work. What are you really doing?”
“You’re Jewish so you must have money”
“Jews can’t be oppressed because they control banks and corporations”

when you first hear them. Anti-Israel sentiment is strong as well and anyone who condemns Israel as oppressors without stating the atrocities the PA and Hamas inflict upon their constituencies should also be swiftly condemned.

The second step and uncomfortable truth is that I have also heard anti-Semitic vitriol within the Jewish community, one denomination bashing another. We must build bridges within the Jewish community and stand together, unified against hate and not be fragmented into our different sub-groupings. We must see the Divine Spark within each Jewish person and show them love and respect. Orthodox Jews should not denigrate Conservative Jews and understand that it’s very hard to struggle against the modern world when it surrounds you, and Conservative Jews should not label Orthodox Jews as archaic and should show respect for all their efforts in preserving Judaism as authentic and undiluted as possible.

We need each other to survive- JCC’s, kosher restaurants and supermarkets, Judaica stores, etc. are not specific to any one denomination. Even shuls depend on people with differing observance levels to come together as one minyan, such as the Chabad where the shooting occurred. We are only 2% of the US population and 0.25% of the world population so we can’t bicker among ourselves, especially when we have bigger issues to combat.

Coming together as the Jewish nation involves putting Jewish issues first, before other social justice issues. Until anti-Semitism is eradicated, we must focus on what affects us directly and closer to home. Many other social justice movements are not responsive to anti-Semitism, so there is no reason to support those who don’t support us. We must advocate for ourselves, as no one else will, and we are losing our place politically, with anti-Semitic speech increasingly tolerated on both sides of the aisle, and becoming more vocal in the Democratic Party, which many American Jews were proud members of for a few generations. If our response is tepid, it will be ineffectual and only embolden our accusers. We must proudly affirm our Judaism and show that we are not afraid or embarrassed about our religion.

These seven weeks between Pesach and Shavout are a special period of counting the Omer, the time period between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We should carry our inspiration from Pesach forward to perform more mitzvahs. Say a prayer, do an act of chesed, show kindness to someone else. But don’t do it because “you’re a good person” or “it’s the right thing to do”, do it because you are Jewish, do it because this is what Hashem wants you to do. Think about what being Jewish means to you, recognize what amazing freedoms we have in being Jewish compared to our ancestors. No heavy taxation, no limitations on employment, etc. Think about the people who gave their lives being Jewish, who put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others. What can we each do to show that we stand with them, that they are not alone in their struggle? Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox/Conservadox home in Miami, FL, Yosef first started to increase his Jewish knowledge while learning at Boston University. Afterward, he lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side for several years and was an active member of several shuls, including Manhattan Jewish Experience where he completed the Fellowship program. He spent the last two years studying full-time at Machon Shlomo in Har Nof, Jerusalem and now resides in New Jersey. He always had a strong Jewish identity and wants to encourage others to build and strengthen theirs as well.
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