Sadly, the words that begin this week's Parasha, Achrei Mot, "After the Death", is all too fitting for this week's message.
As we went into the Yizkor prayer last Saturday, the last day of Passover, I expressed the fact that we needed to pay attention to violent attacks upon people who were peacefully praying. I referenced the Tree of Life Synagogue (it was the 6 month anniversary of that evil event). I also mentioned the attack on churches in Sri Lanka on Easter, and the attack on mosques
in Christchurch, and in other churches in the our country.
I told the congregation that we can no longer remain silent and must, as Jewish people are want to do, take action. I said that we needed to include all who were killed while praying, regardless of their religion. It was a meaningful, and necessary, Yizkor.
It was later that day that we learned that there was, yet, another shooting in a synagogue. This Time in Poway, California. One person, Lori Gilbert Kaye (May her memory be for a blessing and may her family be comforted) was murdered while protecting the Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein who was injured together with others.
So what happened to me "Achrei Mot", "after the death"? I sadly admit that my initial reaction was not shock and horror. Instead, I breathed a heavy sigh of resignation. I was angry and saddened but, in truth, I also felt an unnerving sense of being numbed to the fact that these murderous events have become a part of our lives.
In front of our very eyes, this world, which we are charged with overseeing, has become home to increasingly frequent attacks on houses of worship and schools. The very places where we are supposed to feel safest have become the easy receptors of the evil people seek to do. And, yes, I believe that we have become complacent.
It is no accident that incidents of anti-Semitism are proliferating. The New York Times' failure to recognize the blatant anti-Semitism of a "cartoon" depicting a blind Yarmulke-wearing President Trump being led by a Netanyahu Dog with a Jewish Star collar, is a symptom of the disease infecting our world.
In an environment of toxic public discourse, the dehumanizing of the "other" again and again will always translate into bloodshed. This is the history of the Jewish people. (For a 6 minute look at this history, watch Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' whiteboard video
Today's anti-Semitism is as likely to come from the right as it is from the left. Why is this so problematic? If you take a look at pre-holocaust Europe, you will find that there was virulent anti-Semitism in both, fascist, Nazi Germany and in communist Russia (and the rest of the world as well). The right and the left back then could agree on nothing except for the fact that they both hated the Jews.
It seems that today the same dynamic exists. There are those on the left who refuse to recognize anti-Semitism when it emerges from progressive circles. And there are those on the right who turn the other cheek when those on the far right strike anti-Semitic chords. Far too many of us have chosen to stand pat despite the clear evidence that we are surrounded by trouble.
Silence in the face of today's facts will put us in continued peril.
Achrei Mot, after the deaths this is what we must do:
The silence must end. Anti-Semitism, from the right, left, or from anyplace, is evil and a threat to our people's well being. But it goes beyond the Jewish people. If history has taught us anything, it is that this hatred may start with us, but it will not end with us.
Our politics should not guide our reaction to the oldest hatred in the world. Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we must demand that our elected officials respond forcefully against bigotry and we must support law enforcement officials in their response to hate crimes and their efforts to prevent them.
Most of all, and I do not say this lightly, it is time to be hyper-vigilant about anti-Semitism in our media, in our workplaces, and in our private lives.
Now is not the time to be silent.
Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Michael S. Jay