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It is a Tree of Life: Reflections on anti-Jewish violence in America on the Tree of Life Anniversary

When I was a young adult, my home synagogue, where my father was rabbi, was shot up by a machine gun. Behind the gun: Chris Lord, a new-nazi associated with Volksfront and American Front. No one was in the building, and my parents were out of town. But I was home, just a quarter block away, taking care of my little sister. We heard the gunfire. We received a call from the police, and we were told to hide in a back bedroom. The synagogue had been attacked; We were in danger.

A few years earlier, neo-Nazis associated with the same groups also stole our Torah scrolls. They intended to destroy them, but the police found them (in a rental house in our neighborhood) just in time. The Torahs were saved.

I learned as a child: if they can't get ahold of your body, they will go after our sacred texts and the synagogue itself. I did not need Shoah images to scare me as a child: Nazis were real and in my own neighborhood.

Decades later, I find myself, like my father before me, a rabbi in the Pacific Northwest. American Front is still active, as are 18 other hate groups in Washgotnin state.

The ideologies and violence of those who tortured my community as a child are still active and present today. Little has changed over the past 30 years in the hate network in this country, with one exception...the fuel that was added to the fire by former President Trump. There has been a distinct cultural shift in this nation that has propelled hateful views and hateful speech into the open, the mainstream. Hate has become more visible and empowered. This is a change that always leads to increased violence.

Another important change has happened in our society since my young adulthood. I have noticed a strong shift within my own people, those on the ideological Left, in that they have become increasingly desensitized to anti-Jewish hated violence and have become increasingly quiet. Too quiet. Too passive. What I have noticed, and I am not alone, is that those non-Jews who claim to support peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights have stepped back from being vocal about Jew hatred. The last time any real support or alliances were shown in regard to anti-Jewish hatred was in the aftermath of the horrors at the Tree of Life Synagogue. When blood is shed, we get calls of support. People show up. But otherwise...mostly silence.

After the synagogue attack in Texas last year, I made a commitment to myself: I will only participate in interfaith work and organizations if they address antisemitism. I do a lot of interfaith work. But less today than this time last year because rare is the group I work with that has been willing to address antisemitism. It is not on or near the top of any of their agendas. I am often invited to share all the beauty of our faith, wisdom, and stories. But to educate and inform and discuss hatred towards Jews, historical and in the present times? Nope. I have been rebuffed.

And this is my reality...

I stand in front of the congregation and watch the sanctuary door for hours weekly while leading our worship. Given my past life experiences, it is understandable that I would imagine again and again a shooter coming in and killing me and those who cannot see the shooter because they are facing me- and not the doors. I am not anxious or afraid. I am not obsessed with security. I simply live in the full presence that my children could lose either parent to being shot on the bima. I live in the reality that renting space as a small synagogue means that we as a community do not fully control our security situation and that those with whom we share sacred space are not living in the reality of the potential violence they expose themselves to by hosting Kol Ami. We share a building but not a common reality regarding hate, violence, and personal safety. Because of this, I still feel at times like a stranger in a strange land. Like I do not belong, or we do not belong. I am not afraid, but neither am I completely comfortable.

I am sharing all this with you because I know that right now, it is important for all of us to raise awareness around antisemitism. And be vocal about how to confront it and eradicate it. This means speaking up and out when interacting with people who are not Jewish. It is the work of all of us to confront antisemitism. Not just professionals. Not just the ADL or the Southern Poverty Law Center. We must stop hate in its tracks. And the best way to do that is to make yourself known-visible.

I know that sounds counterintuitive and maybe scary. To be more visible? But it is essential if we want this country to be a safe place for us. We are pinched in a pinch, and we can create more space and security through our visibility. We cannot hide.

Therefore, on this anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre, I want to make you an offer. To Kol Ami members. I will give you a Magen David to wear. I will give you a kippah/yarmulka to wear. In public. At work and school. At the gym and in your book group. I will assist and support you in being more visible as a Jew. This is one way we can show up for each other and make an impact in our environments. Greater visibility. That is my response. Show up for each other by being visible. Let the world know that they should care not just about dead Jews but the living too. Let the world know we are not going anywhere. Antisemitism might be the longest hatred, but we are a people who can survive anything. When we show up for each other.

We will also be providing continuous learning opportunities for combating antisemitism. And, of course, we are always thinking about and planning for how to make our communal space safer.

Remember that when Jewish children see a Jewish adult wearing a Jewish symbol, it makes them feel like they belong. When someone at the grocery store who is new to the area sees your Magen David, it makes them feel safer. When I see someone wearing a kippah or Magen David, I feel more at home in America. And when an antisemite sees us, they will know we are here to stay. We will not hide. We will not disappear.

It is a tree of life, our ancient civilization. We have held onto it through the harshest storms. She has given us food and shade, and comfort. We honor our ancestors and the legacy of the Jewish people when we stand up for other oppressed people and when we stand up for ourselves.

For a Magen David pendant or Yarmulkah/Kippah, email me, and I will send you a gift from my heart to your heart! To honor all those who came before us

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