In the short term, I am not sure there is anything we can do to solve the recent epidemic. Although more security and heightened awareness is a way to minimize and hopefully eliminate its impact, it is not a solution. There are too many individuals who have been inspired to hate us and, in the short term, there is no practical way that we can reach them and change their way of thinking. In addition to security measures, we must pray and do our utmost to increase our mitzvot and understand that ultimately the Almighty runs the world. There are those who would argue that prayer and spiritual introspection are indeed the only answer. However I believe that the Talmud and Halacha disproves that theory. In places too numerous to list, the Torah teaches us that we must go out of our way to ensure that we are doing everything we can to have peace and great relationships with those who might otherwise persecute us. While I believe that heightened security combined with spiritual interventions are our best approach to dealing with the acute rise in antisemitism, I believe that a sustainable solution lies in a long term grassroots approach.
A Quick Disclaimer
There are many people who have the means to go after antisemitism in a broad and sweeping way, for example see this article about Ronald Lauder who has just pledged $25 million to ensure that anti semitic politicians are outspent in their campaigns. However, while Ronald Lauder can have that kind of impact, most people who will read this post do not.
A Grassroots Path Forward
I think that there is one way that we can focus on our circle of influence that can have a significant long term impact. We each have dozens (if not more) of friends, neighbors, coworkers, vendors, retailers, servers, cashiers, etc. that we interact with all the time. We can choose to consistently model behaviors that shatter whatever evil stereotypes anti semites label us with. When my next door neighbor hears Louis Farakahn referring to jews as termites or blood suckers, her reaction could be, “my neighbor is a proud Jew and is a kind and decent fellow.” When my barber reads Joan Terrell Paige’s hateful rhetoric he will remember the Jew he knows to be positive, courteous and one who leaves a generous tip. When I always have a kind word for the postal worker, she will have a hard time believing Florida pastor Rick Wiles when he claims that there is Jew coup to overthrow our President. When Jews are accused of cheating in business, my vendor will remember that I always pay on time and go out of my way to be fair.
A Deeper Motivation
In truth, there is a far deeper and more important motivation that we can tap to model great behavior all the time and with everyone we meet. As Jews, we have a mitzvah to be “a light unto the nations (see Rav Ovadiah Seforno’s commentary to Exodus 19’5-9 ).” This is an obligation to teach the ideas and ideals of Torah to the world. What better way to teach Torah ideas of kindness and respect for every human being than by modeling it? There is a beautiful saying attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you are screams so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.” We can talk about Torah ideas, however modeling them is far more powerful.
If we consistently exhibit outward Jewish pride, and consistently model the character that we know we should, collectively we have a shot at creating a grassroots impact that can stop anti semitism at its source.
Please share your thoughts below as we continue this vital and unfortunately urgent conversation.