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time will tell

07/15/2021 01:35:43 PM

Jul15

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I had the privilege of being invited by Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie Wiesel, to speak at the No Fear rally in front of our nation’s Capitol building this past Sunday, July 11. My immediate thoughts centered on the horrific conclusion that nearly three years after the massacre in Tree of Life, I have to go to Washington, DC, for this type of rally, as the disease of antisemitism refuses to go away. No pharmaceutical company can create a cure in its’ laboratories, yet we humans can cure it if we wanted to. Clearly there are people who do not want to.

I commend what started out as a grassroots effort of volunteers for their organization of the multitude of details necessary to create this type of event. While this list is not exhaustive, it would include: proper permits; security; sound system; cases of water; portable toilets; medical personnel on stand-by; a core of volunteers to direct people; arrangements for bus parking; deciding whom to invite to speak. In terms of organization, I think that they did a wonderful job, although I must admit that it would have been nice to have a tent or canopy over those of us in the speaker’s staging area. Sitting in 90-degree sun for two hours was draining.

While I have put together programs with a range of speakers, I have never faced a challenge such as the one this rally provided in determining whom should speak. In terms of a variety, I felt that they covered a wide range of people of different faiths, colors, ages, political affiliations, Jewish denominations and experiences, and I commend them for pulling together such a conglomerate so quickly. Permit me to digress briefly to share what for me was the most powerful moment.

One of the speakers was Rabbi Shlomo Noginski from Boston. If you do not recognize the name, perhaps you might recall that on July 3 of this year, he was standing outside a school when an attacker stabbed him numerous times and ran off. The attacker was arrested, and based upon what I understand, the attacker’s intended victims were the children inside the Jewish school. This Rabbi prevented a mass murder. He spoke in his native Hebrew as he was weak, with his brother translating. After he spoke, I had a moment to introduce myself. Since it was very noisy where we stood, I whispered into his ear ‘refuah shleima’ – may you have a speedy healing – and introduced myself. He pulled back in astonishment, and despite one arm in a sling, he put his hands on my shoulders as I put my hands on his. We just looked at each other and nodded, and it was as though I just officially welcomed him into the ever-growing club of victims of antisemitism. Our wordless stare was such a powerful communication that I will never forget.

Some speakers focused solely on antisemitism, and many conflated Israel and antisemitism. To me, that was a mistake. If we talk about Judaism being a big tent, then, much to the dislike of some, there are Jews who are very critical of how the government of the State of Israel continues to treat the Palestinian people. I will not engage in that discussion here, but offer the critique that the conflation of antisemitism and Israel lessened what I had thought would have been the true focus of this rally: the unacceptable increase in antisemitic acts in the United States. A narrow focus solely on this, and nothing else, would have produced an even greater range of participants and even attendees. I think that the diversity of messages watered down the potential for an even sharper message to all Americans.

Antisemitism is a symptom of an illness in America. Those who espouse it very likely will also express H against minority groups in the United States, irrespective of their color, faith or sexual orientation. We must partner will all who experience H, find meaningful ways to collaborate, and work to help America begin to realize its’ potential. I think that this may have been a missed opportunity. Time will tell.

Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782