Standing Up to Antisemitism
May 13, 2022
When I reflect on my early days as a young child growing up in Great Britain, I remember the fun times playing sports, the perpetually rainy and overcast British weather, and the rise of antisemitism that began as “innocent” jokes on the playground. Unfortunately, this grew into the murder of a friend’s father while he was on his way home from synagogue on Shabbat and where a swastika was drawn on the sidewalk next to his deceased body.
One memory I have of confronting antisemitism firsthand was while a group of us were on the playground simply hanging out and chatting when a classmate of my older brother walked up to the group and called him a “bloody Jew.” The whole experience was less than a few seconds long but was etched into my memory for my life since. It was not the boy yelling the vilification, rather it was my brother’s instinctive behavior to turn around and stand up to this bully.
So why do I share this story with you today? Because that brief memory has been brought to the forefront over these last few months due to the seemingly endless distribution of antisemitic flyers making their way around the neighborhoods of our San Antonio community. It has been a rare week if a member of the community, law enforcement, or even the media has not reached out to the Jewish Federation to let us know of another neighborhood being “attacked.”
Antisemitism has been around for as long as Judaism has existed. It is an illogical, irrational, and hate-filled behavior, and how each of us lives with it is as equally varied as the ways in which it rears its ugly head. Yet, in this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we are reminded of one of the most fundamental commandments of the Torah… chilul and kiddush Hashem (desecration and sanctification of Gd’s name). “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people.” (Leviticus 22:32)
Rabbi Sacks z”l, once shared a story he heard from Rabbi Norman Lamm z”l, about Mendel the waiter. “When the news came through to a cruise liner about the daring Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976, the passengers wanted to pay tribute, in some way, to Israel and the Jewish people. A search was undertaken to see if there were any Jewish members on board the ship. Only one Jew could be found: Mendel the waiter. So, at a solemn ceremony, the captain of the cruise liner, on behalf of all the passengers, offered his deep congratulations to Mendel, who suddenly found himself elected the de facto ambassador of the Jewish people. We are all, like it or not, ambassadors of the Jewish people, and how we live, behave and treat others reflects not only on us as individuals but on Jewry as a whole, and thus on Judaism and [Gd].”
As a lifetime educator, I chose a path to sanctify Gd’s name through teaching and learning. And although my brother chose a different path to equally sanctify Gd’s name, he was my hero for possessing an instinctive response to never let another person belittle someone or desecrate Gd’s name.
Sometimes we are thrust into a position of leadership, role modeling, or even ambassadorship. The question is how we will respond when faced with that occasion. Hopefully, we will rise to the moment and sanctify Gd’s name.
If you, a loved one, or a neighbor confront antisemitism know that the Jewish Federation team and our Jewish Community Relations Council are here to help you through your experience. We will be there for you as we have been for so many others in San Antonio. Whether it is a situation at work, at school, or in your neighborhood, we have experience in all and work with our partners in law enforcement if applicable, with the ADL to document the incident, and with all our other partners as necessary.
Being an “ambassador for Judaism” is sometimes a reactive role, however, if we do our part and build the relationships and outreach before any incidents occur then maybe we will achieve the outcomes of Nelson Mandela’s famous words, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
May our children be blessed to live in a world without hate and antisemitism and may we sanctify Gd’s name through our daily actions and the relationships we build. Because we are…