When All Jews Are Being Threatened
Our mission is to always illuminate the world, no matter how dark it has become.
The Texas synagogue hostage crisis forces us to take a moment and contemplate what is happening before our very eyes. Most headlines focused on the security workshops that helped end the dangerous standoff while completely ignoring the horror of the attack. It took a while for the FBI to even label the assailant’s actions as antisemitic. The first tweets from the AP and the BBC informed us: “Texas synagogue hostage standoff not related to Jewish community-FBI.”
My boys want to know why they should identify as Jewish if antisemitism won’t touch them if they stay away from anything that has to do with their faith?
Really? As if Malik Faisel Akram would’ve just walked into the local liquor shop or CVS and demanded the same release of a convicted terrorist. He just ‘happened’ to pick a Jewish target and say, “I know President Biden will do things for the Jews”, but no, there was no antisemitism involved.
A witness who watched the events on livestream tells us that he heard ranting and raving about Jews and Israel, and that he chose his target because “America only cares about Jewish lives.” The lack of recognition about the true nature of this attack is mind boggling.
Coupled with this growing wildfire comes this headline from the Wall Street Journal:
“The Growing Risk for Jews who Show Their Jewishness” subtitled: A hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue shows that today’s antisemitism is most threatening to Jews who are religiously observant.’
Alarm bells are ringing out to all Jews.
The WSJ article goes on to say that
in the past quarter-century, most American Jews have become almost completely liberated from the effects of anti-Jewish bias in school, work, social life, housing, and even romance – 61% of Jews who married in the past 10 years took a non-Jewish spouse. Simply put, Jews who go to synagogue are terrified of antisemitism right now. Jews who don’t, have no reason to be. The Jews at risk of anti-Semitic attack will include the small but growing number whose clothes make them targets, like many Orthodox, including Hasidim. Then there are the teachers at Jewish schools, the kosher butchers, the nurses in Jewish homes for the aged. And of course, there will be those eccentric holdouts: Jews who continue to enter places like synagogues, having decided that praying with fellow Jews is worth the risk of dying with them.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a mother whose sons attend university. “My boys want to know why they should identify as Jewish. This whole BDS, anti-Israel, antisemitic movement doesn’t touch them if they just stay away from anything that has to do with their faith. Where does Judaism fit in to their lives?”
My heart hurts. Where are we going as a people?
If we truly want to live a life filled with meaning, at some point we must stop and ponder: What is my life about? Why am I here? How do I overcome the mundane, the pain, and the challenges? How can I bring purpose and joy to my days?
From the very first moment that our forefather, Abraham, walked this earth and discovered his Creator, we – his children – were given a mission. “Be a blessing.” This has been our mandate, our sacred mission. Beyond pleasure-seeking thrills, discovering the next app, or the quest to be a famous TikTok star, is the spiritual quest for meaning. Celebrities, sports stars, royalty, political figures and business tycoons, become fallen idols in the blink of an eye. “Things” come and go. Time slips through our fingers. What remains?
Within each of us is a spark from Above. At times we may believe the spark is dormant, even extinguished. But we have been given a promise, and this is the promise of the Jew. The spark of faith that lies beneath is waiting to be ignited. This spark illuminates the darkest of nights, carries us across oceans of tears, and gives us the strength to climb mountains of pain. It never dies.
Candlesticks from the Holocaust
I know this to be true. I see the spark every Friday night when I kindle my Shabbos lights. My candlesticks have a story to tell. There is one that calls out to me and whispers my name. “Slova Chana, I am with you. Remember, always, the miracle of you.”
Winds of war were blowing over Europe. In the middle of the night, my great grandmother, my bubby for whom I was named, Rebbetzin Slova Chana Jungries, went with my grandfather, Rabbi Yisroel, the chief rabbi of Nadodvar, Hungary, to the courtyard of their synagogue. There were hideous rumors of Jews being made into soap and lampshades. My great grandparents buried their silver Judaica. Their precious Kiddush cups, menorah, and their Shabbos candlesticks, all hidden under the cold hard earth.
I am the last surviving Jew of Nadodver. The only thing I found was your mother’s Shabbos candlestick buried in the ground.
Soon after, the Nazis came and took my bubby and zaidy away. They were last seen on line at the crematoria of Auschwitz, holding their youngest grandchild in their arms. Their last words heard were the Shema.
After the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust, my mother, her two brothers, and parents made their way to America. One night there was a knock at the door.
“Rabbi Jungries?” a man asked. “I am the last surviving Jew of Nadodver. I thought I would find my family but there was no one left. The only thing I found was your mother’s Shabbos candlestick buried in the ground. I made a promise that I would not rest until I returned the candlestick to its rightful heir.”
My grandfather wept as he held his mother’s Shabbos candlesticks in his hands.
The candlestick that my grandparents buried in Hungary.
“My children,” he cried, “a voice has come to us from the ashes. Our mission is to always bring light into this world, no matter how dark it has become. Shabbos is our time each week to rediscover our faith, our blessings, our connection with our God, and our people.”
I shared this story with the mother and her sons who had asked about why identify as Jewish.
This is not simply my story. It is our story. We each have been given this hallowed mission of illuminating the world, no matter where we come from. Living with purpose means that we stand for truth. We cannot possibly remain silent when we witness the targeting of our people. We must recognize that an attack on ‘them’ is an attack on ‘us’. Because we are one people. Whether in a synagogue or on a college campus, the soul is alive, asking us to join forces with all that is good and pure in this world.
The stench of Jew hatred, aimed at every type of Jew, observant or not, is once again filling the air. We cannot cower in fear.
Today we are experiencing the horrific rise of Jew-hatred around the world. The new antisemitism is the same old vile revulsion of the Jew, often mutated as anti-Zionism. The stench of Jew hatred, aimed at every type of Jew, observant or not, is once again filling the air. We are living in a time of hate and violence. We cannot look away.
Nor can we cower in fear. We must realize that forfeiting our Judaism means that we forfeit a life of blessing, of creating sacred space and time, of living with faith and wisdom that has allowed us to endure for thousands of years. When roots are cut off, the tree cannot possibly stand.
Every Friday night I light my candlesticks and know that no matter how difficult and frightening the world has become, my Judaism sustains me and uplifts me. Beyond clothing or place, it is our legacy of light and love that will fortify our body and soul.