Saturday, October 29, 2016

Anti-Semitism exists but does not have to win

I had the pleasure this morning to speak at Temple Emanu-El in Closter NJ. What a wonderful and welcoming community!  After services, a smaller group of congregants met and had a question and answer session with my dad and I. I find that so many times, the conversation invariably turns to anti-Semitism. 

I was honored to meet other second generation, children of Holocaust survivors as well today. And as we all spoke, I found a common theme.  Our parents, the Holocaust survivors themselves, each seem to have emerged from this horrific time in history, and have gone on to lead wonderful lives, and each one of them does not live with hatred.  They usually walk around with a smile on their face, they are good to others, and the always look forward.  However, it is us, the children, that have a harder time learning this lesson.

Each one of us shared how we harbor more resentment, perhaps more unspoken "hatred" for what happened to our parents.  I know as a parent, when my child skins her knee, I feel the pain, but the truth is that our children feel our pain as well.  Yes anti-Semitism exists. It always has, and it probably always will, however, each one of us has to try to learn the lessons of our parents.  We must look forward, we must try to leave the world a better place.  My dad said today, these people will always hate us, but we must fight back with kindness. We can not become the people the accuse us to be. 

This past week, I witnessed and was part of an amazing evening in my little town of Norwood NJ.  A few weeks ago I had coffee with Michael Cohen. Michael is the Eastern Regional Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is also a councilman in the city of Englewood, NJ.  He was telling me about how NYC and Englewood had passed an anti-BDS resolution, condemning BDS (the anti-Semetic movement called Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions against Israel).  The goal being that if we can get every individual municipality to join their voices and stand up to intolerance and hatred, perhaps we can make a difference.  I immediately contacted our town council and the mayor agreed to put the resolution on the agenda for their work session this past Wednesday evening. 

There were a few of us that attended the meeting to show support to the council for their stance and approval of this resolution.  What I did not expect were the eloquent and heartfelt comments that each council member said.  This is not a very Jewish town I live in, and was hoping at best to just not have any opposition and that everyone would vote yes.  I never imagined that I would witness such understanding and acceptance. It made me so proud to be a Norwood resident, and so happy that as a Jew I actually truly understood why I feel so comfortable in my small town. Because I am surrounded by good people, people that understand all of our inalienable rights, including freedom of religion.  They spoke about how Israel is a democracy, one of the United States greatest allies, and how they have a right to defend themselves against terrorism.  What an evening!

I will leave you with how I ended my talk today.  My dad put it best – we can not live with hate in our hearts. No, we will probably never forgive and can not forget, but we have to learn and look forward.  Make sure we pass those teaching on. We can not allow the seed of hatred of any kind grow. There are good people in this world, there really are. And if we can get those voices to rise louder than the ones that spread violence and hatred, then we can try to make this world a better place, one where our children and descendants can hopefully live peacefully.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy New Year!

New Year - what liberating words. Those two little words bring such new hope, a clean slate, a new beginning.  For most, January 1st is the clean slate day.  At work, we joke about how we have to do it all over again, ugh! I know so many friends that say they will start their "diet" on January 2nd, or they will start going to the gym and getting healthier.  But for the Jewish New Year, it's not the same feeling. It is as if New Year holds a different meaning, this one is for the soul.

We go to synagogue, ask for forgiveness, and hope to be put in the book of life. What does all of that mean? For many, it is a time to reflect inward. I have to be honest, I don't attend synagogue on a regular basis.  For me I go at the very least twice a year, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In between, if there is a B'Nai Mitzvah to attend, or a special occasion, we will attend services.  However, I must say, during this time each fall, the holidays cause me to start reflecting on the year that just passed. 

This year has been a whirlwind and the one thing that sticks out in my mind is my individual awareness and recognition of how far we have come as Jewish people, yet how far we still have to go.  I have recently been reading so much and learning so much more about the BDS movement, the anti-Semitism that still rocks our world, and then all the violence that has ripped our country apart in the past year. It saddens me that this is the world we live in, the one I have brought my children up in. However, amongst all this sadness and violence, there are still good stories that emerge.  The young black child that went to his local police department last week to give the police officers "free hugs", the Ohio police officer that drove the young man over a hundred miles to his family after his sister was killed in a car accident, the passing of anti-BDS measures across New Jersey, these are the stories that bring me hope.

I do find it hard sometimes to feel hope, I think we all do when we are faced with tragedy after tragedy. But then we must remind ourselves, and each other about the goodness that exists.  People can be good if we just give them a chance. If we don't jump to conclusions, if we treat each other with respect, if we tolerate, and hopefully one day accept each of our differences, we can be the catalyst to making this country and world a wonderful place to bring our children into and raise a family. At the end of the day that is all I really want: I want my children to be happy and feel safe. May this New Year bring you peace, health and happiness. From my family to yours, Shana Tova.