As a child, I had a recurring dream that I was in the Holocaust. Twenty-five years later, much of it is hazy, except for the intense fear of trying to escape from pursuers who considered it a crime to be Jewish. I wondered if this was a common thing. “Do you think most Jews have ‘the Holocaust nightmare?'” I asked my husband the other night.
“Dunno,” he said, “I never did.”
“Oh,” I responded. “I guess it was just me.”
“My nightmares were about the Spanish Inquisition,” he interjected.
We both burst out laughing. (Laughter is the best medicine.)
Although I’m feeling more and more unease as I witness the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, there is something else I find myself feeling: comfort. Believe me, I too am baffled and even embarrassed by this emotion. Then again, maybe it’s not so hard to understand.
Over the last several weeks as the war in Israel has raged on and the reports of anti-Semitic protests have popped up in city after city around the globe, nearly every Jewish person I have spoken to has indicated that they too have been glued to the news. It doesn’t matter who the person is, where they come from, or what their level of observance is. Being Jewish has been enough to unite us in our growing concern. There is an unspoken sense that we’re in this together.
Eerily enough, exactly one week before the three Israeli boys, Eyal, Gilad, and Naphtali, were kidnapped and killed – the event that kicked off this summer of Jewish terror – I met with an outspoken member of the “off the derech” (formerly religious) community. As he and I were talking about the challenge of finding common ground between different Jewish groups, I noted that unfortunately Jews are best at sticking together when there are anti-Semites chasing us.
The rise in anti-Semitism doesn’t just make me feel a stronger bond to my Jewish brothers and sisters in this time. It makes me feel a stronger connection to my Jewish brothers and sisters throughout all time. There is the Jewish narrative of irrational hatred and persecution that has stretched across millennia, and seeing it rear its ugly head once again reminds me that I am bound to the story of the Jewish nation just as the Jewish nation is bound to me. It is terrifyingly familiar, but somehow the familiarity comforts me.
Besides connecting me to my people and my history, this hatred connects me to ancient Torah wisdom. The Talmud (which was written down in 500 C.E. but is comprised of sections that originate with the giving of the Torah over three thousand years ago) was well aware of how hated the Jews were and would be. “Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai? Because the great sinah (hatred) aimed at the Jew – emanates from Sinai.”
To be Jewish is to be hated. Even though we Jews have attempted to be less deplorable to the world by adopting various political, socioeconomic, and religious permutations throughout our history, we cannot seem to shake the anti-Semitism. So seeing ancient Torah ideas play out today comforts me too.
Life has a way of being filled with stupidities that we focus too much on and pettinesses that we get too caught up with. Having an existential threat removes the silly distractions which remind me that there is no way to ever truly blend when you’re a Jew. It is not PC to be “chosen” in this day and age. It is uncomfortable to talk about in mixed company, yet with the way the world criticizes Israel and holds it up to a standard no one else is expected to uphold, it is hard to argue that there is not SOMETHING different about us.
Perhaps I’m comforted like Rabbi Akiva was comforted upon seeing the destruction of the Holy Temple. In the Talmud there’s a story which recounts the time during the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and how when Rabbi Akiva arrived at the scene of the destruction, he saw a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies – a place in the Temple that was so sacred, that no person (except for the high priest on Yom Kippur) could traverse, lest he die by a heavenly hand!
Upon seeing the fox, Rabbi Akiva began to laugh. When the other rabbis he was with asked him why he was laughing instead of crying, he explained that there were two prophecies in the Torah concerning the Temple – the first was that the Temple would be destroyed and the second was that the Temple would be rebuilt. Rabbi Akiva said that before then, he didn’t know if the first prophecy was actually going to come true, but now that it did, he knew the second prophecy would happen as well. For me to see the pain of exile play out as it has been prophesied thousands of years ago gives me hope that the Utopian days that our prophets spoke of will come one day (please God, soon) too.
To be clear – I do not feel comforted when innocent people are harmed or killed. My hope is that this rise in anti-Semistim will just be a fear that will spark something in us and call out to us like the shofar:
“Awake, you sleepers from your sleep. Arouse you slumberers from your slumber and ponder your deeds; remember your Creator and return to God in repentance. Do not be like those who miss the truth in pursuit of shadows and waste their years seeking vanity. Look well to your souls and consider your deeds; turn away from your wrong ways and improper thoughts.” (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah)
May we all finally “wake up,” unite, return, and help bring about the world we’ve all been dreaming of.