Breathe in…and breathe out. If you’re anything like me, reports of rising antisemitism have you speed-dialing your therapist and questioning everything you know about the world.
As Editor-in-Chief of Jew in the City, it’s literally my job to stay up to date on the latest antisemitic events. We haven’t been able to go a day without a new one popping up in states all over the U.S.
Swastikas are being drawn on New York City statues, in a Stanford University dorm and on flyers being thrown outside Florida homes, just to name a few examples. Liz Mair, a political strategist and commentator, just spoke out about the visible discrimination she saw toward Orthodox Jews (and non-Orthodox too) at JFK airport.
Internationally, students at an elite school in Istanbul performed a Nazi salute at a soccer game against the city’s only Jewish day school. A literary fest in Australia invited two Palestinian writers with a known history of extreme antisemitism to address audiences, and continued to spew hate when they got there. I don’t even need to mention the violence and murder going on in Israel from terrorists toward innocent Jews.
We have already written about how antisemitic incidents in the United States are at an all-time high since they started to be reported by the ADL in 1979. Then, this week, the FBI released new hate crime statistics that shared Jews are the most targeted minority group per capita in the U.S.
Things are getting crazy fast. It feels like we’re living in pre-war Germany and it is flat-out terrifying.
Then, this Tuesday, I went to a Torah class — a consistent antidote against fear. This particular one was a weekly class by Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz. She spoke about a lot of the recent events and explained how we can combat them from the inside. She shared that the time we’re living in is connected to both Purim and Pesach — we can use these holidays and cling to them in new ways to pull us through.
First, when word broke out that Farrakhan held court at an event with the sole purpose of spewing hate about the Jews to thousands of people, which happened to be right after Purim, the only thing I could see was Haman addressing the audience. It was Amalek in the flesh. As scary as it was, I didn’t feel fear. It felt futile. Yes, his words do something — they have a negative effect that we need to try and stop, but ultimately, Hashem is the only one with the real power.
As we learned from Megillat Esther, when Haman shared with his wife, Zeresh, that Mordechai was a Jew, she said, “If this man of whom you speak is of Jewish stock, you will not overcome him…” Even she knew that we Jews have G-d on our side.
See, Kanye, Farrakhan — they’re just characters in the story. They represent darkness. The trick, according to the rebbetzin, is that we can’t get stuck in that muck. If I ruminate and feel constant fear and anxiety, I’m stuck. I’m letting the yetzer hara take over and hurting myself spiritually in ways that even these evil people can’t.
The way that the Jews experienced the miracle they did on Purim, is because of the way they came together. When Esther was about to approach King Ahashverosh, she asked Mordechai to gather all the Jews and fast for her. They needed to be gathered because they were separated. It was that togetherness that painted the spiritual backdrop Esther needed to succeed.
So too, we need to become closer to one another now more than ever. In the Holocaust, no one cared if you were Orthodox or secular. I’m currently reading Eddie Jaku’s book, The Happiest Man on Earth. He’s a Holocaust survivor and says he always felt that he was a German first and a Jew second. Did the Germans care about that? Absolutely not. Underneath the differing externals, if you’re a Jew, you are connected to all the other ones around you.
Maybe uniting amidst our differences — even making a small internal shift in the way you looked at Jews more or less religious than you — is the spiritual backdrop that will help us get through this and soar.
If you’re not Jewish, taking one small step even to defend the Jewish people — post about it (which takes .2 seconds), stand up for us, speak about ways you can be an ally, all of these things will help in huge ways.
The night before Pesach, we search for our breadcrumbs in the dark with just a candle or flashlight. It may seem strange, but that little ritual represents the exact thing we need to do in the greater world. Night and darkness represent the pain of this world. The light represents the truth that will come out in the world to come and the way we need to combat any and all of our current pain.
The secret (which isn’t such a secret) is by getting closer to Hashem — in whatever way that resonates. There are so many different ways we can wear our Judaism. The important thing is to wear it with pride. Will you ever see a Jewish person standing in front of a giant hall spewing hate? No, because it’s not a Jewish value. They can continue to tear us down, but we won’t ever stoop to that level.
Whether it’s standing up for ourselves, extending kindness toward another, lighting Shabbat candles this week or saying a single prayer, there are infinite ways you can bring more light into this world and get closer to the Source of it.
To be honest, this time of year can feel a little stressful. There’s a lot to do with cooking, cleaning and preparing all of the details that Pesach requires. Instead of feeling the stress and resentment, look at it like this: Hashem is clearing things out and giving all the Jews an opportunity for extra mitzvot, Rebbetzin Schwartz explains, because it’s exactly those mitzvot that will get us through.
Not only do they connect us to Hashem further, they have a spiritual impact. All our prayers, mitzvot, learning and kindness aren’t for nothing. They create a positive effect in this world. They can (and often do) change the course of nature.
Try not to let the darkness overcome you (talking to myself here too). As Jews, we are a piece of Hashem’s light and He will always get us through.