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Erev Yom Kippur - old becomes new

09/30/2015 10:30:18 AM


           So I know that our society has been completely obsessed with millennial’s and their effect on our culture, but this evening I want to talk about a different generation: generation X. Remember us, the kids who grew up on the Brady Bunch. In particular, I want to talk about music. How many of you here remember “The Metal Hair Bands?” Come on, admit it, you remember those loud crazy bands that created that perfect genre known as the power ballad. These were bands like Cinderella, Ratt (2 t’s), Poison, Motley Crew, and that awesome named band, Dokken. And yet, while I bring up these “whalers of the microphone,” you should know I hated these guys. I was more of a Depeche Mode, the Smiths, and the Cure, kind of guy. Therefore, when these bands hit the trashcan and their sound dissipated, I for one, was quite happy.

           And yet, I recently heard some of my daughter’s music. We were listening to Fall Out Boy or Sleeping with Sirens or one of her other “alternative” bands, and I kept on hearing extremely loud overpowering rhythmic guitar, surpassed only by the screams of the lead singer. (Rachel tells me her “Fandom” says that the lead singer steals other people’s lungs, so that he can reach these piercing notes – I don’t know.) Anyway, so there I am, 30 years after the death of Metal Hair Bands, and I’m hearing those same sounds coming out of my speakers. I’m sure you can imagine my utter disappointment in coming to terms with that all too important proverb: what was old becomes new. Even if I don’t want it, it’s inevitable that the stuff that once was, now becomes what is.

In preparing for the holidays, Cantor Jamie and I had a conversation about the High Holy Days of our youth. Both of us grew up dreading that seminal moment of each High Holy Day service - the sermon (ironic, isn’t it). One of the reasons why we didn’t like it was because the sermons, year after year, seemed to have the same themes. Yes, there was always a sermon about personal growth, but every year our rabbis had a sermon about Israel. And every year our rabbi had to have a sermon about anti-Semitism. With these topics coming year after year, we both felt that their importance and relevancy seemed to lose their strength. As young people, we found that these sermons seemed pointless and meaningless, yet, they were there - every year.

I’m not saying that I, as a generation X’er, thought that anti-Semitism was eradicated. No, many of us grew up with the understanding that anti-Semitism was a latent cancer. Something that would never be completely removed from the world, but, because of the Holocaust and because of what our people had been through, the world would know that outright anti-Semitism would never be tolerated by the grander society. I grew up with Skokie, Illinois where neo-Nazis tried to march, but the entire state spoke against it. I grew up with hundreds of thousands of Jews and non-Jews marching together for Soviet Refusniks in Washington DC. Heck, I grew up in a time when the Mi Chamocha was sung in the middle of the major animated feature, the Prince of Egypt. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that the latent cancer of anti-Semitism was clearly in a dormant face.

           However, we seem to have reached a moment in our history where anti-semitism is an important topic, again. What was old, now has become new. This topic is imperative for us on a year like this past year. As more and more Jews turn farther and farther away from the organized Jewish community, farther away from synagogues and federations, the “dormant anti-Semitism” now seems to have unleashed itself on our world. Whether from the Anti-Defamation League, the Hillel organization, or any of the Jewish institutions, they all speak of a rise in anti-Semitism. This is a reality that we can’t escape. Whether we are reading in the newspapers or even listening to the stories of our children at school, anti-Semitism is definitely a reality for us.

    On the international stage, no place embodies the reality of anti-Semitism more than in France. After Israel and the United States, France holds the next largest Jewish population. Yet, attacks on synagogues and Jewish agencies have become a regular occurrence. For many of us, our eyes were open to this reality during the Charlie Hebdo crisis. During this attack on free speech, as the assailants tried to escape, they specifically went into a kosher market, knowing that the carnage that they would create would be at the cost of Jewish lives. But for me, the most telling of examples about anti-Semitism in France is about the vandalism of the statue of Marianne. This statue sits in the center of one of the major squares in Paris. It represents one of the important symbols of liberty for its capital and the country as a whole. It is like the French Statue of Liberty. During a recent rally this past year, in plain sight site, for all to see, a protester spray-painted a swastika at Marianne’s base, just under her feet. This symbol of freedom for all, became a symbol of not only hatred, but of brutality against the Jewish people. Oh yes, anti-Semitism is alive and well on the international stage.

           But we must not be so naïve to think, “Anti-Semitism is only across the pond. Perhaps, it is only in Europe.” No it is right here, rallying strong on our college campuses, where our children attend school, alone, and are extremely vulnerable. This past year I was told the story about how one of our students went to hear a guest speaker on her campus. She went because the author was someone that she respected in her particular field of study. Once the Q&A section of the presentation started, it did not take long for someone in the audience to ask the author her feelings about the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Our student was shocked, because she came to the session to learn about science, not anti-Semitism. According to our student, even the speaker did not want to address the questions. Yet, because the speaker at one time had made a comment or two about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, she was now thrown into a discussion with the student body, a group which clearly did not support Israel and the Jewish people. Imagine how our student felt, sitting in a filled auditorium with her fellow students, only to realize that many of them did not respect or have compassion for her opinions and her identity. This came as a complete shock to her.

Our student reached out to her parents and they, then, reached out to me, but this instance taught me some very important lessons. One is that anti-Semitism is very much a part of our kids’ college experience. And two is that we cannot be alone. Just think about Jewish students on campus, whose parents left their Temple when their children turned 13. We must use community and education to stand strong with others, those who will stand with us to fight against this bigotry and hate.

And still, we might think that the anti-Semitism is only on our liberal college campuses. But we would be wrong. Just this past year, I received a phone call from a newspaper reporter who had recently attended a Kennedy High School’s musical performance. They did a performance of The Sound of Music. The reporter wanted to know my thoughts about a picture that she saw in the playbill that was passed out to all of the attendees. The picture was in the dedication section of the playbill. A mother clearly had taken a picture of her son with his friends and wrote a special message to publically celebrate her son’s accomplishments. So what was on the picture? It showed four High School boys in their Nazi uniforms from the show. Each of them was posing with smiles on their faces, clearly excited for the coming performance. Each boy was pointing directly at the swastikas on their arms; smiling faces pointing at swastikas. For me, this is a total act of negligence on the part of not only the mother, but the school that put together the playbill. How could no one in this entire system look at that picture and see that boys smiling, while pointing at swastikas, sends a certain message to the Jewish people? Do I think this is an action of hatred? No. But I do believe that this is the type of anti-Semitism that our kids experience in our schools. You bet I do. I hear stories of pennies being thrown. I hear stories of names being called. It is deplorable.

Things that our baby boomers used to have to deal with when they were in high school are now the things that our high schoolers and middle schoolers have to deal with on a regular basis. What was old is now new. And, we must remember what we did when anti-Semitism was old. We did not stray from our synagogues and our Jewish institutions. We did not fight the fights on our own. We must share the stories with our communities of what our children are going through on college campuses. We must discuss and come to discussions about what is happening in the world around us. And we must support and fight with one voice as a large Jewish community against any and all acts of anti-Semitism. Whether they are happening in Europe, on our college campuses, or in our backyards, we must speak up and fight against this very much alive cancer of anti-Semitism. As your children go off to college and experience hatred, tell me about it. As your kids go on to their buses and hear a little jibe, tell me about it. Only if we realize that anti-Semitism is a reality by sharing what is happening to us and to our world, can we actually fight for the freedoms and liberties of our people. Next year, after the bar or bat mitzvah, or now is not the time to leave the Jewish community. Now is the time to join together. Please continue to be connected to our synagogue and reach out to the Anti-Defamation League because the fight has only just begun. Despite that many of you fought anti-Semitism on the front lines decades ago, it now needs to be fought again, because the old has become new.

May it be God’s will that this coming year of 5776 be the year where acts of anti-Semitism on the local, national, and international level lessen because of our actions as a united and bonded Jewish community.

May it be God’s will, Amein.


Fri, April 10 2020 16 Nisan 5780