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)
At Kavana, since our inception, we have described "risk-taking" as a value of our organization. However, we've always meant that in the entrepreneurial sense... in that we have taken risks in our approach to Jewish education, ritual, community-building, and more. Where we have NOT taken risks -- nor do we care to do so! -- is in any situation where thesafety and well-being of our community members are on the line. (Jewish law supports us in this, and incidentally, the value of "pikuach nefesh," "saving a life" was the topic of our last Havdalah Club event... among other things, the kids talked about proactive steps we should take to ensure the safety of ourselves and others.)
Last Shabbat, Jewish communities everywhere read Parashat Yitro, which tells the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments and describes revelation at Sinai, a peak moment of closeness between the Israelites and God.
It's easy to get caught up in what's NOT working these days... from the "via-doom" traffic situation here in Seattle, to the Federal government's partial shut-down. We know that these situations are real and that their effects can be felt... mildly, by some, and much more severely by others. Gridlock, whether physical or metaphorical, is painful.That said, at Kavana, we have always prided ourselves on our ability to focus on what IS working, what possibilities there CAN be, and where there is potential for FORWARD MOTION.