Responding to Haman in Our Day

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?:

  • Research indicates that different kinds of micro-aggressions and hatred correlate with one another: in other words, our Jewish community may be feeling vulnerable in this moment but we are far from alone in that.  It can be empowering to reach out to someone else from that place of our own vulnerability.  So, go online and make a donation to help rebuild one of the many mosques that have been burned in recent acts of arson, and while you're at it, donate in a multiple of $18 (which represents "chai"/life in Hebrew) to signal that you're donating as a concerned Jew.  Reach out to a transgender kid, or to one of their family members, and offer support and love in the face of the rolling back of protective legislation.  Or learn more about the work that's being done right here in Seattle to aid immigrants facing deportation. If it comes from a place of genuine love and caring, you can't go wrong.
  • Speak out against hatred. We cannot let these acts become "normal" or "acceptable"... not when they happen to us and not when they happen to other people.  Kavana partner Sarina Natkin wrote a beautiful piece about her family history and what it means when she says "I will not be a bystander."  Many of us could write such pieces or share similar sentiments from our own place -- go for it, and make combatting hatred a topic of conversation at work, at school, and in your many community circles!
  • Reach out to elected officials to let them know about your concerns.  We can join with the JCC Association of North America in calling on the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials to speak out forcefully against this scourge of anti-Semitism. If you can tell a personal story about how this climate of anti-semitism is affecting you, share it.  Tell them that actions speak louder than words, and urge federal officials to identity and capture the perpetrator(s) who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities.
  • Be in touch with us at Kavana if you'd like to help plan related programming for our community.  This past weekend, we held a workshop together with Kids4Peace about how to advocate for religious tolerance in times of crisis. Conversations are also in the works about a workshop to address anti-Semitism more head-on, and about another workshop specifically for parents around talking to your kids about these issues.  As a cooperative, we're always trying to be responsive to community interests and needs, and we count on you to help envision what you want to see and bring program ideas to life.
  • Celebrate Purim with us -- truly, the timing couldn't be better!  This is a holiday that acknowledges the topsy turviness of the world -- in fact one of the key themes of Purim is "v'na'hafoch hu" -- the idea that sometimes things feel completely upside down.  Details about Purim learning at LRL, Prep & Practice this Sunday, Megillah reading and family program on Purim itself are all below.  (Plus, if you are interested in thinking about the special relevance of the Purim story this year, you might enjoy Kavana partner Danyel Fischer's reflections on that here.)

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)