In the wake of last week’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, it is natural to want to understand the motivations; so natural, in fact, that the New York Times yesterday published an editorial whose author consulted a pair of research psychologists to try to explain it. The article attempts to answer two questions: 1) why does antisemitism continue to exist; and 2) why does violent antisemitism seem to periodically explode in places we least expect?
These questions are interesting, as are the hypotheses that follow them; but I think they’re the wrong questions to be asking. I just don’t think they’re especially relevant these days. The question we should be asking isn’t why antiseitism exists, but how we can thrive in spite of it.
But before I dive in, just a quick disclaimer—I don’t really like talking about this subject, and I don’t do it very often. I tend to consider myself a human being first, and then an American, and only then a Jew. But I understand the simple fact that I am a Jew, that there are people in this would who will focus on that aspect of me to the exclusion of all others, and sometimes in a dangerously negative way. All Jewish people are all in that boat, and I think we need to calibrate a constructive, relevant response for this modern age.
It’s Their Problem
The way I see it, antisemitism is principally the problem of the antisemite; not the Jew. I’m proud of who I am, and I refuse to apologize to anyone for being Jewish. I consider it beneath my dignity and a waste of my time worrying about the depraved bigotry of lunatics. If they want to hate, let them hate. I intend to stand firm—confident in my identity, respectful of others, and ready to defend myself and my family by any means necessary.
My concern is not what these people think, or why they think it; only how I respond. And I intend to respond with an abiding love for my fellow human beings, tempered by a realistic strategy to defend myself in the event they choose to act on their hate.
Fortunately there’s an apparel company out there called Free to Be Kids that has both our backs and our battle cry. From their website:
Free to Be Kids battles negativity and gender cliches in children’s clothing with positive messages and stylish, on-trend design. We offer children the messages that big retailers don’t. For every “I’m Too Cute To Do Homework” shirt that tells our girls to focus on beauty over brains, we hit back with “Smart Girls Club.” For every “Troublemaker” or “Eat My Dust” shirt that portrays our sons as rowdy and insensitive, we design a “Mr. Nice Guy” or “Love Is My Superpower.”
Lots of great stuff on there, and they didn’t pay me to say that—this is not an endorsement. But this particular apparel item contains an apropos message—and not a moment too soon! That’s exactly what Jewish people need to do-Keep Shining! Through all the hate, the violence, the bigotry—Keep Shining! Synagogue get shot up? Keep Shining! Cemetery desecrated? Keep Shining! Let’s keep being the best friends, neighbors, colleagues and citizens we can be. Let’s look upon our tenacious, brave and brilliant history with abounding pride. Let’s take joy in our present accomplishments. Let’s look with profound hope toward a better future. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work building it, guided by Judaism’s core principal of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world), and let’s stay true to our covenant so that we may preserve it for our descendants and the world.
But above all, Keep Shining!
But Be Ready
As we shine, let’s make a promise to each other: that we’ll have the self respect to defend ourselves and each other. I do not consider myself a violent man, but I am a firm believer in peace through strength. We should keep our swords sheathed, but have them at the ready if necessary. I don’t know about you, but if I am going to die by my Judaism, I want to go down in a blaze of glory, and take the other SOB with me.
I will not fault my ancestors for their at times docile responses to the hatred we faced. I wasn’t living then, and I can only imagine how difficult they had it. They had nowhere near the range of options we do to respond to the challenges of their times. They were poorer and weaker. They were not backed up by one of the most powerful military forces in the history of mankind. They had nowhere near the economic, political, scientific and cultural resources that we can today draw upon.
But I know this—I will never be forcibly taken to a concentration camp. I will never be a passive victim to a pogrom. I will never beg a terrorist to spare my life. God forbid any of these scenarios I will fight with every ounce of strength I have, first to preserve my life, and second to destroy our enemies.
I mean to send a message to every antisemitic who wishes my death—it will happen over your dead body!
It’s a scenario I pray we never come to, but I am prepared for it if necessary. I hate no one, but I love my family, I love my ancestors, and I love my culture—enough that I am prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for it.
I think that’s the state of mind we ought to be in. We should stand with our heads held high, our chests puffed out, a strong and proud people with long experience of adversity, the courage to withstand it, and the determination to Keep Shining!
A Call to Action