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Welcome to Sha’ar

"My success as a rabbi isn't going to be measured by how many people I inspire to live my Jewish life, but by how many people I can inspire to live their own authentic Jewish life."

Rabbi Adina Lewittes

Shabbat Shalom 

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת׃ 

Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand (Bamidbar, Beha’alotekha)

Hevre/Friends,

Jews beaten up and spat upon on the streets of New York City and Los Angeles. Synagogues defaced and Jewish businesses vandalized. More than 17,000 tweets from May 7-14, 2021 using some variation of the phrase, “Hitler was right.”

No wonder many are thinking twice before leaving the house with a kippah on.

It’s no coincidence that antisemitic attacks often target Orthodox, especially Ultra-Orthodox, Jews. They are the most visible Jews in the world in spite of their insularity, wearing their Jewish identity for all to see - men in kippot, black hats, shtreimels, long black coats or bekeshes, beards and peyyos, tzitzit hanging out; women in modest dress wearing sheitels, tichels, shtipels or snoods. 

For many, these are the markers that create distinctions, if not divisions, between their Jewish world and ours. But in the wake of rising, violent hostility toward Jews in our country, they have become reminders of our shared vulnerability. Those of us whose manner of dress and speech and whose engagement with the broader world often feel as if we blend in seamlessly with people around us are now fearing for our safety as well. 

A couple of years ago during a different wave of antisemitic violence, Professor Deborah Lipstadt commented, “When Jews feel they need to go underground, there’s something terribly, terribly wrong in the world.” 

Protecting our physical safety is paramount, but it’s also dangerous to hide our Jewishness from the world. Let’s not be naive: while it might delight some antisemites to rid the world of Jewish presence, it will not address the root causes of their hatred. Nor will it enable us to fulfill our calling to live lives of exemplary compassion and empathy. If you’re invisible, you cannot be exemplary. And our calling goes further than that: it is also to live life with deep gratitude, pride and hope. None of those are possible when we diminish our light. 

Yes, these are frightening times. We have to take steps to protect ourselves. Sometimes that means taking cover. But sometimes that means standing taller.  

If we hide or downplay our Jewishness, what purpose would there be to it? Judaism is not only for the Jews; Judaism’s ultimate goal is the transformation of the world -- the healing of the world’s pain, the celebration of the world’s beauty. Judaism is our particular framework through which we contribute to universal redemption. If we conceal it, it’s not only we who will suffer; it’s everyone.

Several decades ago, a Jewish community leader appealed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe not to have Chabad rabbis erect menorahs on municipal grounds during Hanukkah. He was concerned about drawing too much attention to the Jewish community and losing the public’s goodwill. 

In his reply, Rabbi Schneerson reminded this leader that the American Jewish community is as old as the country itself. While prejudice exists and we have to be alert, displaying the menorah has inspired many Jews to claim their Jewish identity with pride. Proudly proclaiming our Jewishness is hardly contrary to American life whose richness derives from the myriad ethnicities and cultures who call it home. An American Jew, the Rebbe argued, is a Jew who’s confident about their Jewishness in the diverse, if sometimes contentious, American public square. Putting a public menorah up is a deeply American act.

Thirty years later, it took days of Andi and me pounding the streets of Jerusalem searching for the Magen David I wanted until I found the one that hangs around my neck every day. As Debbie’s parody of me at our Purim gala suggested, it’s on the bigger side. Exactly how I wanted it. It is, for me, my kippah. 

And though the other night, as our family walked to dinner downtown, I wondered if it would risk our safety, there was no chance I was removing it. Not in spite of the age-old bigotry that is raising its ugly head once again, but precisely because of it.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Dini

Final GroundWaves Session : Monday, June 14 at 8:30pm EST

Special Guest Jonathan Ornstein

Jonathan Ornstein is a public speaker and the executive director of JCC Krakow, the focal point for the resurgence of Jewish life in Krakow, which he has served as since its opening in April 2008 by HRH, The Prince of Wales. He is also the originator of Holocaust Survivor Day, a new Jewish calendar holiday to be observed for the first time this month.

JOIN GROUNDWAVES ZOOM HERE.

Sun, June 13 2021 3 Tammuz 5781