Standing Together in Challenging Times

Shalom Chaverim,

It has been a long and emotional week. Ceremonies across the community — and the world — commemorated Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), which culminates with one more opportunity to come together this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Faneuil Hall.

Last Saturday, as we prepared to remember the horrors of the past, the Passover holiday ended with the latest reminder that anti-Semitism continues to plague our 21st century American society.

A deeply troubling New York Times International Edition cartoon was retracted after the editors somehow missed its overtly anti-Semitic images and tropes. This prompted numerous responses (Bret Stephens and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL offer two examples) as well as multiple apologies from the Times.

And our hearts were broken again by the shooting at the Chabad of Poway, California on the last day of Passover. I am grateful to our local Chabad rabbis who organized a meaningful vigil in solidarity with Poway and for those who want to support the Poway community, you can make a donation.

In light of the week’s events, I want to share below the remarks I offered at the vigil held at the New England Holocaust Memorial last Sunday.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

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Remarks by Marc Baker at Vigil for Poway, California

We are here again. Anytime would be too soon, too frequent. We are saddened, we are shaken.

Thank you to the rabbis and leaders who have brought us together, because this is what we do and have always done as a People in times of sadness, fear, anger, uncertainty: We come together. In solidarity, in support, in defiance, in love — for the victims of Chabad of Poway and their families and community, and for one another.

It's not lost on any of us where we are standing right now: here at the New England Holocaust Memorial, on the eve of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), which is coming up this week. We are a thriving Greater Boston and North American Jewish community with a strong, thriving State of Israel. This is an extraordinary time to be part of the Jewish People and we have much to be grateful for.

Yet, as we're seeing too frequently — every day, it seems — we have not eradicated anti-Semitism, hatred, violence. Humanity's dark side is alive and well, and our holy work to fight for goodness, justice, and compassion is as urgent as ever.

As we emerge from Passover, the holiday of freedom, I often ask myself: What do we do now? How will we use our newfound freedom, and the responsibility that comes with it, as we begin to make our way through a wilderness that can sometimes make us feel scared and insecure?

This period on the Jewish calendar is precisely about the slow process of taking responsibility for ourselves and our world.

What does this mean for us right now?

On the practical and physical levels, we will stand firm against anti-Semitism — in all of its forms —from wherever it comes. We will not retreat in fear; we will not allow ourselves to feel threatened. We will double down on our efforts to ensure that every member of our community can confidently and safely practice, pray, and celebrate in their own ways and in our houses of worship. I am grateful to my colleague, Jeremy Yamin, CJP's Associate Vice President, Director of Security & Operations, for his tremendous leadership and for the work he has done and will continue to do to ensure that all of our communities understand and pursue best practices in safety and security.

We also will stand together with our brothers and sisters here in Boston and around the world who are targets of any forms of hatred, racism, violence — in words or in deeds — for no one should live in fear for their physical safety. We are so grateful to the local police officers, elected officials, and allies who stand together with us.

But the battle does not stop there. Acts of terror, hatred, and violence threaten us on the emotional and spiritual levels as well. They attack not just our bodies but also our hearts and souls. And here we need to use our freedom to take responsibility for the character of our communities and the soul of our world. We need to be soldiers of the spirit. The haters will try to drive fear into our hearts — we will not let them. They will try to divide us and turn us against one another. We will not let them. We will stand together in spirit, united in compassion and love for one another, for the Jewish People and for all of humanity.

Ultimately, only love will drive out hate, and only light will drive out darkness. Who taught this more clearly than the Lubavicher (Chabad) Rebbe himself? Chabad strives to carry this torch every day and this is our collective mission. Our world is in serious need of tikkun (repair). Thank God we are in this together, because we have tremendous work to do.

Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.