June 4, 2021
Here’s a confession… I am an optimist. In fact, I’m not just one of those “glass half full” optimists, I’m a genuine “glass is a quarter full, and that’s at least something” optimist!
Now, to be clear, this week’s column is not to debate the virtues or benefits of being an optimist over a pessimist. When it comes to one versus the other, decades of research clearly show that both have value, meaning, and purpose. The fact is, that most of us lean towards one of the two types, and yet there is no specific evidence that one is “better” than the other.
The challenge is that in this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, the pessimists outnumber the optimists ten to two, which ultimately causes a forty-year delay for the Hebrews to enter into the land of Canaan. Of the twelve spies that Moses sends into Canaan to assess the situation, ten of them return to share the stories of great giants and impossible odds for survival, versus Joshua and Caleb’s perspective that the land is flowing with “milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27).
In my role as executive of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, I often find myself in the position of needing to evaluate the views of both perspectives. Rarely is one side’s feedback overtly right over another. More often than not, it is about the sense of confidence that the moment projects. Is the opportunity for a favorable outcome greater than the odds for an undesirable result?
Right now, the global Jewish community is experiencing an extraordinary rise in acts of antisemitism, especially across the United States. These include violent beatings against Jews in New York and Los Angeles, and graffiti swastikas appearing in Alaska, Florida, Colorado, Massachusetts, and more daily. In fact, in Tennessee last week a small business owner thought it was a good idea to have yellow star patches made to identify anti-vaxers. When given the opportunity to claim uneducated ignorance and plain-old stupidity, she doubled down with the position of free speech and the right to have a difference in public opinion.
What does an optimist do at such a time? An optimist, by the way, who ended up in the United States because of the rise of antisemitism in Great Britain that got our family sponsored to come to America in the 1980s. An optimist, whose brother was held down while having pork stuffed down his mouth to show that lightning wouldn’t strike and kill him because of eating pig meat. An optimist, whose Jewish friend growing up had her father murdered on the way home from synagogue one Shabbat with a swastika drawn on the sidewalk next to his dead body. So what can an optimist do when weighing today’s rise of antisemitism?
Well, the optimist reaches out to you to join me in taking on this challenge. The global Jewish community has for too long responded to antisemitism in a reactive manner. Unlike security, which the Jewish community proactively prepares for every day, acts of antisemitism are something that we have only addressed after the fact. That is changing, and the Jewish Federation of San Antonio is planning to be a leading agency in this change. We look forward to sharing more on the action items being developed to address this initiative, but in the meantime, you can always know that the Jewish Federation is…
HERE for you.
HERE for our community.
HERE for our Future.