Friday, November 4, 2022

Response to Anti Semitism

It’s deja vu all over again. So declared the baseball sage Yogi Berra in a different context some time ago. Our national and local Jewish Community is experiencing this sentiment with very public expressions of anti-Semitism by a famous (or infamous) artist and athlete depicted in our local stadium during a prominent football game. A small group of individuals also displayed anti-Semitic banners at overpasses on various major highways in Jacksonville. The sentiment of let’s call the police to remedy any societal injustice clearly faced a limitation and challenge that is rarely acknowledged but it’s essential to be reminded. Vile hate speech is perfectly legal and a protected constitutional right. In multiple conversations with members of our local law enforcement, they articulated that only a call to actual physical violence will cross the line into illegality. If that wasn’t unsettling enough the official report of the JSO of the officers interacting with the individuals who displayed vile Jew-hatred on the interstate should be raising the hair off your back. The JSO officer wrote on his report “thanked the group for their cooperation and apologized for taking up so much time”. This is a local police officer thanking a group of Neo-Nazis for their cooperation and apologizing for taking up so much of their time! The JSO in an official statement confirmed the accuracy of this report! Can anyone imagine if individuals were targeting members of different ethnic groups or minorities that the local police would be so deferential and polite? To suggest this is a shocking disappointment would be a massive understatement. An alternative reaction could have been along the lines of “ we understand that hate speech is not illegal but we don't appreciate you singling out members of the city with hatred and we will watch you very carefully”. I attended a vigil last night that was organized by One Jax to call out anti-Semitism and hate and was heartened to see many non-Jews attending. I still don’t believe that the hateful incident is reflective of our city despite the underwhelming response from JSO. I believe this is a time for some serious reflection. Anti-Semitism has been a plague our people have been confronted with for thousands of years and millions of our brethren have been killed as a result. At this moment, I recall the sagely advice of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin who said “If a Jew doesn’t make kiddush, the non-Jew will make Havdallah”. The message is that if a Jew doesn’t lead a life of holiness and sanctifying G-d the alternative will be for him to try to assimilate into general society by not acting overtly Jewish. The non-Jew will make the Havdala and remind us that we are different and don’t belong. History is filled with too many tragic examples of this Havdala. I believe we need to embrace our identity that we are different and should be filled with pride in our identity and heritage. That can translate differently for different people, but if anything I believe this has been a rude reminder that we can avoid no longer. It’s time for all of us to make kiddush! Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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