The past two weeks have been a whirlwind — I spent an inspiring week in Israel, had the opportunity to gather in Chicago with thousands of my colleagues at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, and watched with anticipation as Israel went to the polls for the fifth time in four years. There is much to process as the results of Israel’s election become clear, and as our community figures out how best to work with Israel’s new government.
From Israel to Chicago to right back here in Boston, I have been inspired by the Jewish people, even as I have been reflecting on some of the immense challenges facing us. One specific experience from last week stands out to me. This past Sunday, CJP was proud to co-sponsor ADL New England’s The Good Fight — Forum on Confronting Antisemitism Today & Tomorrow. I had the privilege of opening the event by commemorating the Tree of Life massacre of four years ago and reflecting on our need to face antisemitism in all its forms. We are witnessing startling numbers of antisemitic incidents from different people and places, including cultural icons like Kanye West, local football teams, and college campuses.
With this week’s elections in Israel and next week’s here in the U.S., the tensions and toxicity in our cultural climate and political discourse are rising. As we see the very real possibilities of extreme and dangerous figures rising to positions of power, let us remember that extremism in all forms often leads to demonization of and violence toward the “other,” especially of minorities, which is precisely what has fueled antisemitism throughout our history. Let us use our voices, our values, and our collective action to combat antisemitism and hate, and promote healthy democracies and caring, compassionate, and just societies where Jews and all inhabitants can live and thrive.
Below is a shortened version of my opening remarks from Sunday’s ADL event.
Rabbi Marc Baker
Four years ago, everything changed.
Everything changed for the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Pittsburgh Jewish Community. Everything changed for the families who lost their loved ones and for the 11 precious souls who were brutally murdered. Everything changed for American Jews, and everything changed for me, a Jewish Bostonian, witnessing antisemitism growing in my own backyard.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that “whoever takes one life, it is as if they destroyed a whole world.” Worlds were destroyed at the Tree of Life Synagogue four years ago.
So, as we discuss and strategize about rising antisemitism in this country, and this community, let us keep these 11 precious souls in our hearts: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
My grandparents were physically threatened on the streets of Chelsea and East Boston for being Jews. My wife’s grandfather was not permitted to deliver babies in local hospitals because he was Jewish. Yet just two generations later, the Jews of America are thriving in one of the most tolerant and accepting societies we have ever known. I feel blessed to have grown up in what felt like a post-antisemitic America, where the horrors that Jews have experienced in so many places throughout our history could not happen here.
We learned four years ago, and we have seen over and over again since then, that it can, indeed, happen here. Jew hate is alive and well in America today and right here in Boston, and we must face it.
We see the horrific attack in Pittsburgh and Poway, the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, and Kanye West’s hateful social media rants. Let’s make no mistake that this “rhetoric” incites violence. We see the obsessive demonization of Israel — the only Jewish state — in politics, the media, in schools and universities.
Right here in Greater Boston, we see the stabbing of Rabbi Shlomo Noginski, the Duxbury football team calling a play named “Auschwitz,” and we see the Mapping Project. We see the trafficking of antisemitic tropes on some of our most prestigious university campuses, and the shaming and marginalizing of Jewish students.
Antisemitism can happen here, and it is happening here. And despite that, I continue to feel at home as an American Jew and a Bostonian, and I continue to believe in the promise of this country.
CJP is proud of and grateful for our deep partnership with the ADL and the many other organizations — locally and nationally — with whom we stand shoulder to shoulder in this important work. Through these partnerships, we respond and fight back when we need to, whether against swastikas in schools or BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel) in Cambridge. Together, we are building bridges with allies, communities, and leaders with whom we need to stand with us, just as we stand with them against any form of bigotry and hate.
Our work includes supporting, educating, and empowering our next generation, especially those on college campuses — giving them the tools to build joyous Jewish communities and to stand up against Jew hate and the vilification of Israel when they need to. We are also working with the administrators and educators to ensure that there are safe and welcoming environments where our children can learn and thrive as proud Jewish Americans.
We won’t see antisemitism eradicated in our lifetimes. But we cannot and will not be passive as it morphs, grows, and threatens our lives, our future, and our home. With upcoming elections — especially at this time of extreme polarization and political toxicity — we cannot afford to blame only the antisemitism coming from the political side with which we disagree. We cannot let those who hate us turn us against one another.
We need to work together, to raise our voices, and to act. The hatred and the violence can happen here. Whether it will, is up to us.