In recent weeks, anti-Semitic events have injected ugliness into Las Vegas. The stir it caused disrupted lives, introduced naïve people to the fear of bomb threats and verbal slurs. Hateful actions and words are never acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to ignore or deny such actions exist. Who verbally assaults another person with an intolerable term? Who defaces a school or place of worship?
On March 17, Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Congregation Ner Tamid delivered a powerful sermon that reflected on recent anti-Semitic episodes and his experiences at the 2017 Holocaust Education Student/Teacher Conference. In the invocation that he had intended to deliver, he wanted to pose the following questions to all: How many of you here are aware of the dramatically increased rise in anti-Semitism that has occurred around the country? And indeed in our own community? How many of you are aware that nearly 200 bomb threats have occurred to JCC’s? That synagogues have been vandalized; and cemeteries have been desecrated?
Due to circumstances his invocation did not occur. However, his modified situation was no less impactful. A portion of his Friday evening sermon is excerpted here:
I am not sure what I expected, but I was going on a hunch. And usually my hunches are pretty good. But because I didn’t stand up to ask the question, I may never know for sure. But I decided to ask the kids at my table. Admittedly a much smaller sampling. The answer was, no one. No one heard of these incidents. Just as I suspected. Now, if I had asked the room I thought that there would have been some scattered hands. But for the most part silence.
Now, why did I want to ask this question? For two reasons. The “second” reason was to point out that some of these acts were done by teens. Kids who either didn’t understand the consequences of their actions or who were acting out some teen angst of broken relationship and anger. And perhaps some had sadly been infected with the disease of anti-Semitism. It starts early. And it is learned early.
The “first” reason though, was that the reason we have these conventions and educational seminars and have the students listen to firsthand accounts of survivors is to provide some inoculation against this disease. The idea that if we teach the students, that the world will be safe. That there won’t be another Holocaust. We love to say, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
All this has merit. And we must, must, must continue to teach our children. But, and here is the important “but”. Ultimately students, people, must pay attention to the world in which they live.
Frankly, our community cared little about what was going on until we were hit with our own local bomb scare at the JCC. Then all of a sudden we had security briefings, the police did drive-bys; protocols were examined and reexamined. And a hyper sensitivity made its way across the Jewish community in a way that caused the hairs to stand up on our backs.
Don’t say it couldn’t happen here. It has happened here. We cannot be silent. We cannot put our heads in the sand. We must do “something.” That is ultimately the core message that we as Jews have been taught since the time we were young. For we are the inheritors of history’s sadness.
The reality is that since the Holocaust, other genocides have happened. In many parts of the world. The reality is that silence continues to greet these genocides.
Can we really blame these kids for not knowing about what is happening in our community? We are hyper sensitive. But for them, other things are much more pressing. One student said that she heard on the news about a drive by shooting in her neighborhood. Another about the rise in gang violence. Another student goes from school to work and then to bed. He has to help feed his family. Another just doesn’t want to watch TV; gets his news on the internet. Another doesn’t watch the news at all.
Tune out. Tune off. There are times we are all tempted to do this. And let’s be honest, none of us our experts on all of the bad stuff that is happening out there to other communities. No one will care as much about our situation as we do about our own. That too is human nature.
Therefore, we must continue to educate. To hold such conferences. To begin the process of sensitizing students to what happened. But we fool ourselves if we think that this is enough. We may sleep at night a bit better. But the reality is that anti-Semitism is a persistent disease that adapts and changes shape and form. It always has.
Now don’t get me wrong. We are not at 1939. Nor do I think we are even in 1933. But yes, somehow, the world has changed. Frankly we don’t feel as safe and secure as we once did.
We must do those things we know we must do. Tighten our security. Work with law enforcement. Support organizations such as the ADL who fight intolerance. And we must also, educate our non-Jewish friends as to what is happening. Why we feel the way we do. Perhaps they will never get it. At least not the way we do. But, I have to believe, I have to believe, that saying something, is better than being silent. That somehow with every conference; with every conversation; with every teacher meeting and student program; and letter to the editor; and demonstration against hate; we are doing more than merely making ourselves feel better; we are “actually” doing something. For we know where silence leads. It is up to us to speak up and speak out. It is up to us to not over react, but at the same to respond. In short to be vigilant, and yet live our lives. To attend our services; to send our kids to religious and Hebrew school. To become involved in our community despite, and perhaps because of the Hamans of the world; for ours is a religion that does have a message, and we are the voice to that message. We are the voice…
To hear his entire sermon, including the invocation not given, checkout the “Live Webcast” at www.lvnertamid.org