Last week I wrote about the challenges of anti-Semitism and our commemoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). This week we remembered the over 23,000 Israeli soldiers and victims of terror who have lost their lives since the founding of the State of Israel on Yom Hazikaron. And the following night we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut as the State of Israel turned 71. May we only experience wonderous days ahead.
Last Monday night, New York Times opinion writer, Bari Weiss, spoke at our Women’s Philanthropy IMPACT event. And did she ever have an impact! Over 250 women heard a powerful message of how we can fight anti-Semitism in this world (which is the subject of Ms. Weiss’ forthcoming book).
Bari Weiss grew up in Pittsburgh and became a bat mitzvah at the Tree of Life Synagogue where the tragic shooting took place last November. From there she provided her thoughts on the threat of anti-Semitism today and what we can do to fight it.
Ms. Weiss cited Dara Horn, a scholar of Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and her view that anti-Semitism has two forms. This is what Ms. Horne wrote several years ago:
“Of the many varieties of anti-Semitism, or anti-Judaism, that have plagued the Jews over the centuries, two recurrent general patterns can be identified by the holidays that celebrate triumphs over them: Purim anti-Semitism and Hanukkah anti-Semitism. In the Purim version, exemplified by the Persian genocidal decrees in the biblical book of Esther, as well as by more recent ideologies like Nazism and today’s Iran and Hamas, the regime’s goal is unambiguous -- Kill all the Jews. In the Hanukkah version, as in the 2nd -century B.C.E. Hellenized Seleucid regime that criminalized all expressions of Judaism, the goal is still to eliminate Jewish civilization. But in the Hanukkah version, this goal could theoretically be accomplished by simply destroying the civilization, while leaving the warm de-Judaized bodies of its former practitioners intact. For this reason, the Hanukkah version of anti-Semitism—whose appearances range from the Spanish Inquisition to the Soviet regime—often employs Jews as its agents. These “converted” Jews openly renounce whatever aspects of their Jewish identity are unacceptable to the relevant regime, proudly declare their loyalty to the ideology of the day, and loudly urge other Jews to follow them. These people are used as cover to demonstrate the good intentions of the regime—which of course isn’t anti-Semitic, but merely requires that its Jews publicly flush thousands of years of Jewish civilization down the toilet in exchange for the prize of not being treated like dirt or murdered. For a few years. Maybe.”
To counter this, Ms. Weiss described five ways we can fight anti-Semitism today:
1. Reach out to all Americans and share that if you live in this country it is in your interest to get rid of anti-Semitism. Our country should live up to its ideals and values. Americans, like the community of Pittsburgh did following the shooting, must take a stand and say “this will not be acceptable here.” Inherently, any attack on the Jewish people is truly an attack on them.
2. Fight the nature of hierarchy and do not check your identity at the door.
3. Call out anti-Semitism when you see it. Silence is not the answer. We must use our voices and loudly stand up for what we believe in.
4. Jews have political clout and must use it.
5. Never allow our Jewishness or Judaism to be defined by those who hate us. We must make Jewish unity and ahavat Yisrael (love of all people) a top priority. And the way to do this is for us to “do more Jewish.” As I wrote last week, “The b est response to anti-Semitism is to fully embrace our Judaism and Jewish life. This is the best way to frustrate the well-laid plans of anti-Semites. We can each undermine the plans of anti-Semites by committing to become the finest Jews imaginable.”
Bari’s thoughtful comments made a true impact on everyone in the room!
It is awards time once again in our community. The Jewish Women’s Round Table will hold its annual luncheon on June 2 recognizing outstanding women volunteers at 17 different Jewish organizations with the Song of Miriam Award. Click here to register for the lunch or here to see this year’s honorees.
I am pleased to announce that Carmella Ettinger is this year’s Jewish Federation honoree. Carmella came to Portland in 1953 when her father accepted the position of Executive Director of the Portland Jewish Education Association. Carmella is currently the chair of the Jewish Federation’s Overseas Special Projects (OSP) Committee, which directly funds programs in Israel, and she serves as board secretary for A Wider Bridge, a North American organization that works to support the LGBTQ community in Israel through education, advocacy, relationship-building and grants. Mazel tov, Carmella!
Eve Levy is the recipient of the 2019 Laurie Rogoway Outstanding Jewish Professional Award in recognition of her contributions and leadership in the Greater Portland Jewish Community. A Toronto native, she has been the Director of Women’s Programs at the Portland Kollel for the last 5 years. In that role Eve has taken nearly 250 women on spiritual trips, mostly via JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) to Israel, but also to Poland and most recently Thailand. Eve engages Jewish women of all ages, backgrounds and life stages in the beauty of Jewish tradition. She will be transitioning into her new role as Rabisa at Congregation Ahavath Achim shortly while continuing to inspire women in Portland and beyond.
Please join the Jewish Federation on Wednesday, June 5 at 4:30 p.m. at Congregation Neveh Shalom for our 99th Annual Meeting. We will honor Ed Tonkin for his three incredible years of leadership as Chair of the Federation’s Board and welcome Lauren Goldstein as our next Chair. We will also recognize our Rogoway Award and Sussman scholarship award recipients. Please join us!
Shabbat shalom and happy Mother's Day,