This Monday, the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island received a bomb threat and had to evacuate its facility. And then this morning, I was supposed to have a phone meeting with a colleague in another city but it was cancelled when her child's school received a bomb threat.
Fortunately these threats seem to be simply threats, and everyone is physically safe; over 81 Jewish organizations have dealt admirably and professionally with over 100 scary and disruptive situations like these over the last two months. But, taken together with the large-scale cemetery vandalism incidents in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and scores of reports of anti-semitic graffiti and hate speech, many of us in the Jewish community are feeling understandably wary, scared, and/or angry. (To get a sense of these anti-Semitic incidents at a glance, check out this analysis from the Secure Community Network.)
First, I want to share with our community that at Kavana, our approach is to do everything within reason to ensure security and safety... but at the same time, we don't want to let those who are trying to terrorize the Jewish community win by capitulating too much to fear. Compared to other Jewish organizations, we feel relatively protected in that our physical address and phone number are not listed on our website, and locations of programs are only made available to people we know. This has always been the case for us (it's the legacy of Kavana having been founded in the summer of 2006, in the same month as the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation). Kavana staff members receive updates, alerts, and training through SAFE Washington, a Jewish community network that is used to alert participating agencies of imminent threats, dangers, and response protocol in real time. We have emergency plans in place for all of our educational programs, and positive relationships with local law enforcement. That said, there are no guarantees in life... and the feelings of vulnerability are still very real.
... our approach is to do everything within reason to ensure security and safety... but at the same time, we don't want to let those who are trying to terrorize the Jewish community win by capitulating too much to fear.
Unfortunately, the sickest part of the story in my eyes is Trump's suggestion yesterday that perhaps these bomb threats against the Jewish community are "the reverse," made up to "make others look bad." These claims are not silly (as many would like to believe); as my friend and legal historian and professor Jed Shugerman explains here, it seems that the president has imbibed a "false flag" trope that's common on white nationalist/ supremacist blogs, and quite insidious. So much for his claims that he is "the least anti-semitic person you've ever seen" -- oy!!!
Meanwhile, what can we do, and how should we respond?:
May Esther and Mordecai continue to win out over the wicked Haman and his followers -- and let's all do our part to help right this inverted world!
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum (& the Kavana Team)
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.