Heads Held High

Dear Friends,
With this week’s Torah reading, we conclude the book of Vayikra with the promise that if we walk in God’s ways, God will walk with us:

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk komemiyut (upright).”

The theme we are reading about — liberation from Egypt — is certainly familiar. But the word komemiyut is understood in this context as sovereignty, along with the frame of mind that it represents, and provides a powerful image of freedom. This is the divine gift to live with a sense of security, agency, confidence, and responsibility with heads held high.

We bore witness to this freedom just two weeks ago during our historic, joyful Spark experience when we celebrated the miracle of Israel’s 75th Independence Day. After 2,000 years of wandering, often resulting in the yoke of expulsion or persecution, the Jewish People returned to our ancestral homeland and reclaimed the dignity of national self-determination.

The contrast from that joy has felt palpable in the last few days. It has been painful to see hundreds of rockets falling on central and southern Israel, once again reminding us of the precariousness of Israel’s security. Seventy-five years after Israel’s founding, we should not take for granted that a democratic Jewish state has the ability to protect and defend the safety and well-being of its citizens and Jews around the world.

I also think about what this word komemiyut means for American Jews. We are living in a time of unprecedented blessing and opportunity. In Greater Boston, CJP is almost 130 years old, and our community continues to innovate, dream, and build an even more engaged, inclusive, dynamic center of American Jewish life.

We are also seeing a frightening rise in antisemitism that many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. Massachusetts has seen a 41% increase in antisemitic incidents between 2021 and 2022. As our partners at the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (FCAS) have reminded us through their blue square #StandUpToJewishHate campaign, Jews are just 2.4% of the population of this country yet are the victims of 55% of all religiously motivated hate crimes. Sadly, many of our eyes are being opened to the reality that this 3,000-year-old hatred is alive and well here.

It's for this reason that CJP and our partners have created a 5-point plan to combat antisemitism and have partnered with FCAS and the Kraft family on their national public awareness effort. Building on these collaborations, CJP is launching our Face Jewish Hate mobilization and awareness campaign, created to shine a light on and put the experiences of our community members at the forefront of the minds of those who may have erroneously believed that it can’t and doesn’t happen here.

The stories they share are ones of resilience and perseverance. With heads held high, individuals have bravely chosen to come forward to share their experience with the hope that it will create greater awareness and inspire others to act against antisemitism. We are launching a website alongside the campaign with resources tailored to individual interests, designed to help our community members and allies discover how to take action in this fight.

As a proud and joyous Jewish community with confidence in our history, heritage, and values, we too will hold our heads high with a loud and clear message: The hate must stop. We will not tolerate it here in Greater Boston or anywhere. 

I am so grateful that we will be joined by Robert Kraft, Governor Maura Healey, Cardinal Séan O’Malley, and other friends, allies, and civic and religious leaders with whom we will stand side by side at our livestream campaign launch this Monday, May 15, at 11:00 a.m. ET.

A world in which we have one another’s backs is a world in which every one of us can experience it komemiyut, with our heads held high. That’s the kind of world we aspire to build — together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker 

P.S. Follow our social channels on Monday, May 15, for more information about the campaign.