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Rabbi's Week In Review - 4/19/2021

04/19/2021 01:30:14 PM


The famous quote from Rabbi Hillel goes, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?” I have tended to focus more attention on the second tenet: “If I am for myself only ...” 

I firmly believe we should show up for others simply because it is the right thing to do.  Related to this idea, I have avoided the idea that we know the suffering of others because of our own history of being persecuted. This is something that I would characterize as macro countertransference. Countertransference is the mistaken idea that if someone has gone through a similar crisis to my own, I can simply use my experience to understand what they are experiencing. An example of this may be that we think we understand the experience of African-Americans based on our own biblical slave experience and our own centuries of subsequent persecution. They are different experiences requiring different responses to rid our country of its shameful 400-year history of racism.

Yet, there also are important intersections in our respective histories. Both Jews in the United States and African-Americans are the targets of many of the same white nationalist and white supremacist groups. American Public Square presented a program on Black-Jewish relations via Berkeley Conversations — University of California, Berkeley. The program presented a wealth of information, a significant portion of which focused on anti-Black racism and white nationalism.

Eric Ward, the director of Western States Center and a leading expert on authoritarian and white nationalist movements, described the ideology behind white nationalism. Even when these groups’ targets are African-Americans, Latinx or immigrants, their ultimate theory is that there is a Jewish conspiracy behind all that threatens their world. A recent example is Charlottesville, where white nationalists and neo-Nazis, ostensibly rallying to protest the removal of Confederate statues, chanted that “Jews will not replace us.” Josh Hawley’s speech, about ending the cosmopolitan experiment, is a not-too-veiled reference to the same Jewish conspiracy and an all-too-common anti-Semitic trope.

I still maintain that it is our obligation to show up and stand up for all who are marginalized and who live under threats of racism and persecution. At the same time, we as Jews must be vigilant about the threats to our own well-being. Hate seems to know no bounds, and in our long history, we have never ceased to be a target of those who hate.

Sat, May 8 2021 26 Iyyar 5781