Fighting the Good Fight
Over the last few weeks I have repeatedly been asked to write and speak about Anti-Semitism. This is rather unusual for me; as a Jewish Educator I want to encourage members of the community to identify with that which is positive, empowering, joyful in their Judaism. I don't want a community drawn together by fear; this strikes me as a cheap and short term way to build a sense of togetherness and mutual support.
I've always resisted, where possible, teaching about the Holocaust, or about Anti-Semitism - these are things our non-Jewish friends need to know about, we need to know about Shabbat, and what it can contribute to our lives, or to the world. We need to teach about our responsibilities to stand up for those on the outside of society. We need to feel confident in our Judaism, not worried about misconceptions of it. Yes we remember our history, and it has moulded us, but it is not who we are.
Earlier this year I attended a conference in Italy looking at the future of European Jewish life, and I was struck there by how powerfully other Rabbis and educators are doing the same thing - in arguably much more difficult circumstances. The rise of the far right in Hungary, for example, is not something to be easily dismissed, and while we met groups trying to tackle media messages of Anti-Semitism, we also met people committed to ensuring Jews have plenty of reasons to celebrate their Judaism, not be fearful because of it. They are on the front line of serious halakhic issues around status and the future of Jewish life in their towns and cities. And in response they offered some of the most creative, loving and human halakhah I have encountered in a long time. Alongside these Rabbis Europe is filling up with graduates of a school I spent a year in nearly 14 years ago - Paideia - the European Centre for Jewish Studies in Stockholm. Communities are being blessed with empowered academics, artists, teachers who have been given the tools of Jewish literacy, and a love of Jewish culture and wisdom.
So while lots of people have been asking me what I think about Anti-Semitism, and it would be glib to pretend we can ignore it totally at the moment, as a Jewish educator I don't want us to be thinking about it. I want us to pour our energies into creating a community who love what Judaism has to contribute to their lives, their societies and to the world. Perhaps this is the best answer I have to Anti-Semitism. I wish I controlled the media, I wish I ran a bank. But more than anything I wish to see a Judaism that lives and breathes joy and learning and life.