March 19, 2021
Two weeks ago, I posted an article that has [by far] received more attention than any other to date. What was so special about this particular column? Honestly, while writing it I did not think it would gain the traction it did. It simply highlighted the centuries-long struggle Jews have faced to find “normalcy” and “acceptance” in the greater society. The desire to simply be supported in pursuing our beliefs without accusation or blame. My suggested solution to this perpetual phenomenon was to educate our neighbors, educate our children, and educate anyone and everyone about our history and responsibility.
And yet, in the last two weeks, I have been reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famed poem authored during the Holocaust to express the obvious nature of what happens when one does not stand up to the evil around them occurring to other people.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This poem has been quoted with many groups interchanged because Pastor Niemöller himself often edited it to personally relate to the audience to whom he was speaking. However, the sentiment of the poem has never wavered and is in fact part of the permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The very definition of being a minority is that your voice can often be dulled or even dismissed amidst the collective majority. BUT, this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, is a reminder to everyone who has ever felt small, inadequate, unimportant, or even unrecognized, that being different can be an asset that distinguishes you from the crowd.
In this week’s parsha, in the first word of the first sentence of the third book of the Torah, we see a rare visual anomaly in the actual scribing of the text. The letter aleph that concludes the word Vayikra is smaller than all the other letters. At first glance, it might seem like the scribe’s error and an attempt to squeeze in a forgotten letter. However, when you look closer, and when you have confirmed that it is written this way in every Torah in every synagogue for as long as scribes have been trained, we realize that there must be more to this letter than simply meets the eye.
Scholars throughout the ages have taught us that the meaning of the word with and without the aleph expresses the difference between the phrase meaning “And Gd called [to Moses]” and “And Gd happened [upon Moses]” respectively.
There is SO much that can be learned from this linguistic nuance. However, in today’s COVID-world, during the most isolating times in recent history, with hate crimes on the rise, especially those aimed at the Asian-American community, I believe we need to draw every shred of our attention to that small aleph and “call out” the atrocities as we see them. We must not pretend the aleph does not exist and that these events are accidental or of happenstance. It is our responsibility, just as Pastor Niemöller taught his listeners during the Holocaust, if we ignore the terrible crimes against our neighbors there will undoubtedly come a day when those crimes will be carried out against us too!
This week I ask us all to consider what it means to build community, the foundational principle of the Jewish Federation’s purpose and mission. How can we build our Jewish community without ensuring the survival of a larger community whose values and morals we hold in sync with our own? If you are called to action by these events, we encourage you to reach out to our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to see how you can help.
The Jewish Federation is…