I hope you had a meaningful Hanukkah, and I pray that 2020 will see our community grow and flourish in safety. However, as 2019 comes to an end, we have seen a very real and disturbing spike in anti-Semitic incidents and violence. Closer to home, in the town of St. Albans, there have been a series of anti-Semitic flyers put up around town over several days. The Police Chief of St. Albans asked that we try and avoid giving more celebrity and attention to the person responsible” during the course of their investigation. Please consider carefully when choosing whether to share these images on social media.
On Monday, I spoke with the Chief Taylor at some length. He reassured me that he has assigned a very high priority to these incidents and that he has involved the Joint State-Federal Task Force, led by the FBI, to investigate this matter. They planned to meet that afternoon to review and consider some additional images to determine if the act rises to the level of a significant criminal charge. Until today, the signs had not risen to the level of criminality. Therefore, the perpetrator would only face small fines for posting illegally on public property. At this time, the investigation is active and the police have suspects.
With regard to the statement last week on WCAX by a St. Albans detective stating the signs were not “directly racist or anti-Semitic,” the Chief agreed the signs are obviously anti-Semitic and that the detective misspoke, and had meant that the signs hadn’t yet met the criteria for charges of a hate crime or other federal crimes. Chief Taylor reports he has been in touch with some of the members of the Jewish community in St. Albans, and welcomed my involvement, or that of the ADL, if training on anti-Semitism is needed.
In terms of the images, one requires a bit of context. The “109” and “110 and never again” refers to an anti-Semitic trope of white-supremacist and other anti-Semitic organizations believing that the Jews have been (rightly) expelled from 109 nations, and that the US should be the 110th. For more information, here is a link to the ADL explanation of this trope.
Here at Temple Sinai, we have been in touch with the local police and anti-Semitism and general polarization seems like it will not soon end, our Spiritual Committee and our Social Action Committee are going to be working with me and the Board to consider how most effectively to respond over the long haul. What alliances do we need to strengthen? What actions do we need to take? How can we work with the mosque on our mutual safety? What sort of services and spiritual practices are needed to keep us grounded, smart, and connected to the larger good around us that is so easy to forget when we are worried and feel attacked? If you would like to be part of shaping our responses, please consider getting involved in those committees. If we create a more specific working group to consider this, we will let everyone know.
There is a value in Judaism that is, in Hebrew, “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh ba Zeh,” or all Jewish people are responsible for one another. While the particularism of this might rub some the wrong way, I think it is important to remember that being responsible for one another need not mean “circling the wagons” or giving in to the instinct to withdraw. Instead, we must reach out and include others in our work even as we stand up for others. We must connect, not disconnect. One upcoming opportunity for just such connection is the HIAS National Refugee Shabbat which we will be celebrating March 20th, an event that will include connection with our new neighbors. Mark it on your calendars.
One thing I will be adding to services is the song “Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael,” which is a prayer and song for when members of our community are missing or threatened. It is a prayer for safety whether on land or on sea. Here is a link to some students at a Solomon Schechter School singing it, and below are the words and translation. This song has always moved me to tears, and one of the most meaningful moments in my life has been chanting this with hundreds of others when people were missing during the floods in Israel a few years ago. I will also look for other prayers and songs that can comfort and give strength in the face of hatred, whether toward us or others.
|Acheinu kol beit yisrael, han’tunim b’tzara
uvashivyah, haomdim bein bayam uvein
bayabasha. Hamakom Y’racheim Aleihem v’yotziem
mitzara lirvacha um’afaila l’orah
umishiabud lig’ulah, hashta ba’agala uvizman
אַחֵינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַנְּתוּנִים בְּצָרָ
וּבַשִּׁבְיָה, הָעוֹמְדִים בֵּין בַּיָּם וּבֵין
בַּיַּבָּשָׁה, הַמָּקוֹם יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם, וְיוֹצִיאֵם
מִצָּרָה לִרְוָחָה, וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה,
וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְאֻלָּה, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן
As for our people, the whole house of Israel, who are given over to trouble or captivity, whether they abide on the sea or on the dry land: May the All-Present have mercy upon them, and bring them forth from trouble to flourishing, from darkness to light, and from oppression to redemption, now speedily and soon.
Rabbi David Edleson, December 31, 2019 Temple Sinai, S. Burlington, Vermont