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Thank God for Antisemitism: A Hanukkah to Remember, by Dr. Terry Harman, November 2023

Updated: Dec 11, 2023


The LORD will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be smitten before you; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. 

Deuteronomy 28:7, JPS 1917

 

The Jewish 911

Did I hear you correctly? Thank God for antisemitism? Yes, I said it. Friends are equating the deadly attack of Hamas on Israeli citizens on October 7th as the "Jewish 911." Just as 9/11 was a wake-up call for Americans, October 7th has become a wake-up call for Jews worldwide. "Never again" has happened! Has anything good come out of this tragedy?


I realize I will disappoint some of you by not discussing Israel's response to Hamas. I understand the debate on both sides of the issue of "proportional response," what constitutes a "just war," "eye for an eye," and whether should there be a "cease-fire." Those debates will never end. My question is this: Is there anything good to be found when there is so much loss of life on both sides of this war? My thoughts will focus on what I am eyeing within the circles I move about.

 

A New Day Living in Infamy

Suddenly, September 11, 2001, replaced FDR’s statement about the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as "a date that will live in infamy." 9/11 became the new day of infamy. After 9/11, I was deployed to provide mental health support and pastoral care to specified airlines and banking firms in the Chicagoland area. I witnessed a unification of diverse people and an outspoken pride in the country like I had not seen before. People set aside petty differences and political affiliations, uniting in aid of one another. "Love your neighbor as yourself" was on full display. We stood behind our first responders and the military.


Soon Forgotten

In the first few years after 9/11, it was easy to gather people for memorial services and dedicated events remembering the sacrifice of the fallen. I have friends from different countries, and unfortunately, they share a common belief about Americans: "America soon forgets the past and moves on." My concern for the United States? What is the next "date that will live in infamy?" I pray that October 7th is not a forgotten day, and we do not just move on until "never again" happens again.


I've observed and experienced the same outpouring of acts of kindness in my relief work after natural disasters such as airline crashes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados. People come together despite their differences and help their neighbors. Often the best comes out of people amid tragedy. My prayer is we sustain the goodness and not return to things as normal.

  

Antisemitism on Full Display

The loss of life is always tragic. We should mourn those who lost their lives and pray and work towards the safe return of the hostages to their families who wait with anxious hearts. The tension and strife in our streets and universities is disheartening. But why be thankful at the same time? I tend to look for the silver lining even in the darkest cloud. To maintain my sanity I must have hope. For me, hope can be found even in the darkest times. If you look for it, you can see some acts of kindness that offer some hope that all of humanity is not circling the drain of despair.

 

Hamas intended to strike fear into the heart of Israel and humiliate the country as a whole. I am sure there is one thing the Hamas attack and the antisemitic events throughout the world did not plan to happen: a resurgence of Jewish pride and identity like the world has not seen, not just in Israel but with Jews worldwide. If it was not clear before it is now. Antisemitism, especially in America, never went away! The hatred of Jews is on full display in America from the streets to our highest institutions. It is another wake-up call. At the same time, the hatred displayed by some is being countered by goodness by others.

 

Combating Fear with Acts of Kindness

The October 7th attack in Israel sent a shockwave through American Jews. The response? A surge in Jewish pride and acts of kindness. Jews are coming together worldwide. Antisemitism is on full display on the streets of America, but it is not getting Jews down. Instead, Jews are responding with a special kind of kindness (mitzvot) that is turning things around by "loving your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

 

Jewish folks who might have been discrete about their Jewish heritage are stepping up with acts of kindness that not only fight hate but also make them proud of being Jewish. People who were laid back before are now getting involved, whether it is setting up events, talking with folks from different faiths, or pushing for positive change. Acts of kindness are becoming a force to reckon with.

 

The Tribe Coming Together

The "Tribe" is also coming together in other ways. Synagogues and Jewish community centers are not just places to talk; they are spots to get support and kindness. Acts of compassion are becoming part of everyday life, creating a network of understanding that goes beyond whether one is affiliated or unaffiliated with a synagogue or Temple, regardless of being observant or nonobservant.

 

"But if you indeed hearken unto his voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy unto your enemies and an adversary unto your adversaries."

Exodus 23:22 JPS 1917

Tradition!

Jewish traditions and customs once stored as childhood memories have made a comeback. Pictures of Bar and Bat mitzvahs, stored away in a parent's dusty photo album, are now the subject of dinner talk with a new generation of children. Adults who have not darkened the door of the synagogue or Temple are finding their way back to the hallways to of pictures celebrating lifecycle events. ‘There’s my picture with the Rabbi at my Bar Mitzvah.” Cherished memories have found new life and are reconnecting Jews to their history.

 "When they go low, we go Chai."

Closing Thoughts

If I have disappointed you. I apologize. There is a silver lining? The recent increase in antisemitism is not bringing Jews down. Instead, it is bringing out acts of kindness in a big way. The hidden or laid-back days are over, and Jewish folks are proudly commemorating and reclaiming their heritage with a ton of mitzvot. This open display of Jewishness is not just keeping Jewish culture alive; it is spreading understanding and unity in the diverse tapestry that is America. In a world where hate tries to divide, you can make a difference by offering acts of service. It is light in the midst of darkness.


Sorry Antisemites. You lose, once again. What Hamas meant for evil is sparking goodness in Jews around the world. A big shout out to the Antisemites. Thank you for reconnecting and reinvigorating the Jewish spirit that has lain dormant for too long. A blessing in disguise.

 

Credits

Israel flag adapted from https://www.publicdomainpictures.net

 

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