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Responding to antisemitism

Friday, 3 January, 2020 - 1:29 pm


Early this week the world was shocked to learn of a sadistic antisemitic attack at a rabbi's home in Monsey during a Chanukah celebration. Coming on the heels of many more attacks throughout New York and New Jersey dubbed a "slow-rolling pogrom" many are asking Jews, especially those who are easily identifiable as Jews, how they feel about continuing to advertise their Jewishness.

Here in El Paso the media asked me if I ever felt threatened due to my mode of dress, and I emphatically responded that in El Paso I have received nothing but respect.

But the heightened antisemitism in various pockets of the world is deeply troubling and the question is how to handle it.

Today I choose not to wrangle with the question of how to deal with antisemites,  because I believe it is more vital to first determine how a Jew should absorb the situation, creating a context with which we can go forward in crafting a plan.

In this week's parsha we learn of the dramatic showdown between Yehuda and Yosef. Yosef was the viceroy of Egypt, credited with saving all civilization from a raging famine - the most powerful man alive. When Yehuda and his brothers came to Egypt to purchase food they were unaware of the viceroy's true identity and when they were unjustifiably detained and falsely accused by the viceroy of spying, they were in serious trouble.

Their situation became intolerably dangerous when their youngest brother Binyomin was framed with stealing the viceroy's goblet and his becoming an Egyptian slave forever became inevitable. There was no good way out of their predicament and all seemed lost.

At this moment of complete despair Yehuda bravely approached the viceroy and delivered an ultimatum: Either Binyomin is returned to his family or there will be war. Although it later was revealed that he was speaking to his long lost brother who would never allow for such a thing to happen, for Yehuda at the moment the danger was palpable and the risk of such a confrontation was real.

Nevertheless, despite being surrounded by the mightiest warriors alive and in the presence of a man who had the legal authority to do anything, Yehuda projected the essence of Jewish pride: Judaism and Jews will never be held captive to any outside force.

Jews are called Yehudim because we each have a streak of Yehuda's bravery embedded in our DNA. When challenged we must remember that hiding under our covers and becoming invisible will never work.

There are haters out there and we must protect ourselves while helping society purge itself of this menace. But until our world is cleansed of all evil we must respond by bravely increasing our own personal Torah learning and Mitzvah observance and making ourselves more identifiable to the world. Instead of becoming captive to outside pressures and intimidation we have the ability to rise above the fray and take responsibility for our Judaism and our future.

We must respond to the darkness of hatred by increasing in the light of Torah and Mitzvos.

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