A Message from Rabbi Berkman in Response to Recent Antisemitic Incidents

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

Dear Friends,

On this eighth day of Hanukkah, we are to carry with us the bountiful, beautiful light we created during Chag Urim (the Festival of Lights) and bring it outward into the world; and yet today, we also hold the anguish and anxiety of a time of increased antisemitic violence in the US and throughout the world. In the New York metropolitan region alone, there were at least 10 antisemitic incidents during Hanukkah, including the stabbing which injured five people who had gathered at their rabbi’s home in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Monsey, NY. According to the ADL’s Tracker of Anti-Semitic incidents, since the December 10th massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey there have been 19 antisemitic incidents in the U.S., including 16 in New York and New Jersey.

Antisemitic attacks have increased steadily over recent years, and along with so many other current events that are equally shocking these days, it is easy to feel numb and overwhelmed. This can come alongside a deep, visceral fear as these incidents trigger the traumatic memories embedded in the stories that have been handed down to us through the generations, and possibly even in our DNA1. For most of our lifetimes, we thought we were to be the “rememberers.” “Never forget” was one of the slogans of the Jewish people for the generations since the Holocaust, and we took that imperative seriously, though most of us never imagined that we would experience a time when we had to take an active role in ensuring the safety and security of our people, particularly in America; we couldn’t have dreamed that this kind of vulnerability, both for our people and for the many other minority groups regularly targeted when authoritarian tendencies and white nationalism sweep through nations, would become reality.

Solidarity—with other vulnerable groups and with the diverse parts of Am Yisrael – the Jewish people – is essential now. Creating and nurturing strong relationships across all divisions is the foundation for resisting this new wave of bigotry and violence. We have seen this before, and though we couldn’t have imagined living through it, here we are.

As we blink against the harsh light of this new reality, let us both be both gentle and demanding with ourselves as we get our bearings and strengthen ourselves and one another for what this moment calls us to do. We may despair, but we must not let despair extinguish the light of hope, love, compassion, and justice that has survived through the generations and that lives within us. We must stay informed, stay vigilant, and most importantly, stay connected—to our inner strength, to one another, to all who are threatened now, to our tradition and our people, and to the Source of all life and light.

To stay informed, here are some articles, statements, and even a bit of music which I have found helpful in framing or navigating this moment.

A statement from Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP – Boston’s Jewish Federation) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)
A statement from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) – the union of Reform Rabbis
A piece by leading Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt
A piece by the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston
A Piece from the Atlantic Magazine

A musical inspiration – this rendition (composed by a friend and rabbinic colleague, Rabbi Yosef Goldman) of “Gesher Tza’r Me’od” (a song of strength in the face of fear, with words inspired by Rabbi Nachman of Braslav).

To stay vigilant, I remind you that we have strong security measures in place at TOS. Our strong relationship with law enforcement, locally and on the state level, is an important component of keeping our facility safe today and in the future. I also remind you that you have an important role to play in helping us to remain secure. Please do not hold doors open for anyone without a key card, and if you see anything suspicious such as an unattended bag, please alert staff immediately.

To stay connected, please consider TOS as a wellspring of strength and spirit for you and for all who wish to draw from it. Please come to services or programs, learning opportunities and schmoozing opportunities, or connect with our many committees. Visit www.ohabei.org for the most up to date information. Please come to speak with me or Rabbi Schaefer about anything that is on your mind or heart, or just so that we can get to know one another.

Let us hold on to the light we created and shared this Hanukkah, and resist the waves of hatred and terror that hurt us and so many others, by bringing light wherever and whenever and however we can. A Hanukkah song called Banu Choshech L’gareish (We have Come to Banish the Darkness – Words: S. Levi-Tannai; Music: Emanuel Amiran) declares: Banu choshech l’gareish B’yadei-nu or va-eish, kol echad hu or katan, v’chulanu or eitan: “We have come to banish the darkness. We have light and fire in our hands. Each one of us is a small light, but together, we are one strong and steadfast light.” We need each other, our community, our connections, more than ever. May we extend our hands, our hearts, and our light to others within and beyond our community, holding each other up as we march forward into a new decade.

With gratitude to each of you for the light you bring to our strong and steadfast community,

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman