That's me right after a conversation of about half an hour last night with a few members of the Proud Boys, who have become an unfortunate fixture around meetings of Nashua's Board of Education. Knowing they would be there I could not stay home. This is my family's school, and my community, and people I know who are being harassed by them.
A few thoughts:
I was prepared, if the controversy about "critical race theory" was brought up in the Board of Ed meeting, to make a speech based on what I think democratic education is about. I have a pretty good speech, if I say so myself -- it's not the usual stuff, I think it's original, and I'll publish that at some point or maybe use it at the next Board of Ed meeting. I left the meeting inside pretty quickly because I'm not ready to be inside with a group that way. So I don't know what happened after I left, and I have to catch up.
Why did I bother with this? I wasn't going to change anyone's mind. But more and more, I think that when a group like the Proud Boys projects themselves, the important thing is to meet them not just as protestors, but as "I am the reality here." I can feel a change here in town; I could feel it in my body. My heart was not in any way pounding, as it usually is in these situations. That's because of this coalition that is coming together here in Nashua with confidence and dare I say love. It's the early days and it's not a uniform coalition who agree on everything when it comes to justice. Usually, the handful of times I've talked to activists like the Proud Boys I leave feeling frustrated and like I didn't come close to doing my part well. This time I knew I had the better of the argument, and they were far more tired of talking to me than vice versa.
Why did I bother? This makes me stronger and sharper. It tells me that the time I have spent slowly getting to know more people from religious and cultural groups outside my own is in fact making a difference. There are answers to some of the divisive questions today that are not just compromises or safety valves. I am proud to be in the mix, which is all that I am, and I would be proud to bring any of you who are local along with me.
This is the D'var Torah I gave on Saturday, July 17, Shabbat Chazon -- the Shabbat preceding the fast of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans.
I want to tell you a story from the Talmud often taught at this time of year, around the fast of Tisha B’Av. But first I want you to take a minute and think about the Jewish person who is most unlike you as a Jew. The Jew or the Jewish group you find it hard to admire, or who is hardest for you to feel connected to as a fellow Jew.
Here is the story (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 55b):
Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.
It happened this way: A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The servant went and brought Bar Kamtza.
When the man who gave the party found Bar Kamtza there he said, “See, you are my enemy; what are you doing here? Get out!” Said the other: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”
Said the host: “Absolutely not.”
“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”
The host refused.
“Then let me pay for the whole party.”
Still the host refused, and took him by the hand and threw him out.
Said Bar Kamtza, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the government.”
He went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”
Said the emperor, “How can I know that this is true?”
“Send them an offering,” said Bar Kamtza, “and see whether they will offer it on the altar.”
So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip (or some say, on the white of its eye)—in a place where we Jews count it a blemish but they Romans do not.
The rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the government. Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas to them: “People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.” They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?”
Rabbi Yochanan thereupon remarked: “Because of the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land.”
This story from the Talmud is retold often around Tisha B’Av, part of the idea that the Second Temple was destroyed because of gratuitous hatred among Jews, sin’at chinam.
There is a lot here in the story and I’m not going to give you a complete analysis. But a few things stand out particularly to me this year:
The last issue is particularly worth our attention, always and especially this year. Jews argue and Jews don’t all get along always. Conflict is built into Torah and Talmud, and into Jewish culture. The good version of this is called machloket l’shem shamayim, disagreement and even division for the sake of Heaven. It goes hand in hand with Ahavat Yisrael, love of the Jewish people and love of Jews generally, beyond one’s own community and the Jews at your own Shabbes table or your own synagogue.
I do think what happened here is that a Jewish fight got turned into a Roman one, and the rabbis stood there and let it happen. They didn’t ask what Jewish ethics had to say about these two people in an uncomfortable situation, who maybe were enemies for a good reason. The rabbis got stuck on technical rituals questions and didn’t see the bigger human picture. So the Talmud here doesn’t blame the destruction of the Temple on the Romans; or on Bar Kamtza, the Jew who sold out Jews to the Romans; but on the rabbis who could have turned this around.
Bar Kamtza didn’t act well but we understand he was hurt. The rabbis didn’t act well because they didn’t put ritual and relationships together. And they got so focused on Bar Kamtza that they forget the Romans were a much worse enemy, a much bigger issue. The rabbis and Kamtza and bar Kamtza could have all gotten on the same side of that.
I’m very much feeling like our Jewish community’s conflicts today are being Romanized, so to speak. Americanized. And this story and the Tisha B’Av fast day are reminders to deal with our conflicts Jewishly. Ahavat Yisrael for me has always been about forcing myself to ask: Who is the Jew who is least like me, whom I have the hardest time feeling connected to. Then looking for a connection of friendship or admiration with someone in such a group. For me it’s a nice long list of Jews different from me who are hard for me. It’s charedi Jews, and West Bank settlers, and completely secular you-can’t- possibly-lure-me-into-shul-no-matter-how-good-the-music-or-food-or-your-sermon. I have to work at that. That’s not what modern day Romans do. Rather than get sucked in more to American-style conflict, I can find ways to love and connect that don’t sell out my integrity. I might even find something that my own Bar Kamtza and I both care about, a moral issue that we can work on together.
There is a tremendous example of Ahavat Yisrael that took place recently, from the new Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett. The speech he gave in the Knesset introducing the leaders in his new government was a like mashup of announcing the starting lineup for the Celtics at the Garden and a book club summary of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.
Prime Minister Bennett presented by name, with affection, the leader of each party in his government and the specific good each one was going to work on for Israel. More of these partners than not are ideologically opposed to him in some profound way. I know this was politics, but he turned a moment of just enough votes in the Knesset to an expansive and generous and forward-looking, hopeful moment. It went even beyond Jews, as the new prime minister even gave a shout out for Mansour Abbas of the Arab Ra’am party.
Bennett did this while the country was hardly out of war with Gaza and just beyond fighting in the streets between Jews and Arabs. He did this with all the emotion in the air around former Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he did this while death threats were being made members of his political party and the new government. I would say you should read the speech, but it’s not soaring, it’s not a great read. It’s just the fact of it. Prime Minister Bennett found a way for Kamtza and Bar Kamtza to fight the Romans instead of each other. And the Romans are worth fighting together even if you’re not going to be actually friends. In my proudest, Jewish-egotistical way I would say only a Jew could have pulled this off.
So we might all learn from that. We should try to find a way to say something true and sincere and generous about Jews we’re not like. And as part of that, we have to love ourselves as Jews – you for your own Jewish life, us for our shul’s Jewish life. We have to do better at making sure that there are many good and admirable things that a Jew so different would say about us.
There is a cost to Ahavat Yisrael, to putting this much value on loving all other Jews. Whenever you set aside even for a minute an ideological debate, you are putting on hold a belief you hold because other people’s wellbeing depends on that core belief. There’s a cost, no doubt.
But Ahavat Yisrael is a model not for when to give up our principles, but for how to enlarge our world. For saying: there’s a person unlike me who isn’t only my opponent, who isn’t all the timeworking against what’s important to me, and who I hate to say might be a role model for me in some way.
When I think of the charedi community or the settlements, I know there’s a tight-knit quality and a commitment to taking care of each other that I want more of in our community and that I want to imitate. When I think of the most secular Jews I know, I often find an honesty, a straightforward path toward moral commitments, that I want to work at more.
We Jews have more history than anyone of suffering because of our divisions -- losing life and losing our land and losing each other. We also have more history than anyone of enduringbecause we figured out how to be divided. We are resilient because we’ve learned to be at the same party, as Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Our divisions have not destroyed us; sometimes they have helped us grow. I know my own Judaism is stronger because of the Orthodoxy I reject in my own life, because of the Reform I reject in my own life, because of the Israeliness I chose not to pursue in my own life.
Who knows if this is the gift we’re supposed to find for our time. To find our Ahavat Yisrael, our love of Jews, and machloket l’shem shamayim, division focused around things that matter. Who knows, we could spread this out to the Romans, to the Americans. At least we can try not to be swept up on other people’s terms in the divisiveness of the moment.
So as we go into Tisha B’av, let’s each think about the Jew who pushes our buttons, whether that’s here locally or anywhere in the Jewish world. Find something to admire or like or chuckle about. Find an idea from them that challenges you in a good way, and be thankful and gracious. Imagine a party we can all be at together -- or at least a Kiddush after services.
I've had fun making these, and hopefully you'll enjoy learning a bit about Purim and the month of Adar, one short bit at a time. A couple more are coming in the next few days. "Hamentashen for thought"!
You can click on the video and watch it here, expand it, or click on the three horizontal lines toward the top that appear, which will reveal the whole playlist.
For my NH undecided friends, and for people out there in states voting soon who haven’t picked a candidate:
I’m not registered as a member of a political party, but on Tuesday I am going to take a Democratic ballot and vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
I didn’t decide finally until about a week ago. I’ve been thinking about a small number of candidates, some of whom aren’t in the race anymore and some of whom are. I just posted about how it is that I go about choosing whom to vote for in general, and hopefully this post will look like an application of what I wrote there.
I have heard Senator Klobuchar speak twice now in person. Apart from the policy proposals, which she shares with some of the other candidates, Sen. Klobuchar has a combination of intelligence, forcefulness joined to openness, and humor. She has a record of accomplishment on matters large and small, first in her (my!) home state of Minnesota and then as a Senator in Washington in the most challenging legislative environment in recent memory. She feels a connection to people whose lives are affected by what public policy has and has not done, and that connection seems rooted in her biography and the story of her family. She has a record of building coalitions beyond the Democratic Party. She projects in her words and her public manner the qualities of decency, dignity, and empathy that belong in the Oval Office.
One of the hardest things in the campaign is going to be battling with President Trump and talking about divisive issues and where division is coming from, while also staying connected to as many Americans as possible. Even without President Trump, the political environment would be polarized. Solutions in Congress to complex problems like health care and immigration reform have been elusive. I am looking for someone whose whole package of leadership skills and experience under fire gives her a fighting chance to detoxify our politics and also make an impact. Of the candidates remaining, Sen. Klobuchar strikes me as the one with the best chance to do all of that.
It also means something to me that she has the support of people in my community whose wisdom and fundamental values I know and trust such as Joe Foster, Helen Honorow, Bill Barry, and Rep. Latha Mangipudi.
For people in the Jewish community who wonder about issues of special concern to us, Senator Klobuchar has a record of supporting Israeli security as an American national interest, and being part of what has been and should be a bipartisan consensus on Israel’s right to self-defense and the desire for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She has spoken out against anti-Semitism in our society.
I like to think I am not voting for Sen. Klobuchar just because of the Minnesota connection (though it doesn't hurt!)
I have thought about Mayor Buttigieg, whom I admire particularly for his reflectiveness and his willingness to talk about faith and about moral dilemmas in leadership. I think it says a lot about him that after Harvard and other experiences he chose to go back and try to make a difference where he came from even though it’s a small city, not the center of the world. Executive governmental experience is very important to the job of president. I think Senator Klobuchar has more experience and mettle for the job at hand in all its dimensions today.
I admire Sen. Warren particularly for her work on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was one of the most important actions with teeth that was created after the financial crisis. Exploitation in finance isn’t as easy to talk about as health care or education. The lessons Sen. Warren draws from her personal history are also compelling. What has put me off have been some of her attacks on people or groups who disagree with her. There is a way to disagree and to work strongly from one’s principles without mocking people or painting all opponents on an issue with the same brush, whether it’s a social issue or an economic one. Right now, we need a leader who is especially good at both winning and not-demonizing.
There is a lot of good in Vice President Biden’s record and his long experience, and also some bad policy judgment in that record. I admire the clarity of Sen. Sanders, and have been thinking more and more about his take on wealth and inequality and poverty than I have in a long time. I have in the past had less of a black-and-white approach about wealth (see my previous post, referring to philosopher John Rawls), but even if I agreed with Sen. Sanders, this is a moment when a politics that rebuilds the center is also necessary if we are really going to make headway on issues related to inequality (also see my previous post). Because of that, I haven’t done a lot of looking into his record or story.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts or blogs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it won’t surprise you that I have issues with recent statements from both Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren.
I thought briefly about taking the Republican ballot and voting for Governor Weld to make a statement about the president. But as I wrote in the other post, I do not vote for symbolism but to make an impact.
So I have made my choice. I will be voting for Senator Amy Klobuchar this Tuesday, after being undecided for longer than I can ever remember being. Good luck making your choice well, and see you at the polls.
This is an attempt to write down something I’ve never written out before: how I decide whom to vote for in elections for national office. This is how I understand what I am doing. There’s plenty here to discuss or argue about.
Voting is in one way the most morally consequential thing we do. The outcome of a vote, especially for national office, has far more of an impact that the generous or committed acts of most individuals (myself, at least) or the money we give to nonprofits.
It’s worth approaching the vote in the spirit of Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ teaching that we should always regard the world as in a perfect balance between merit and guilt, such that our next act will decide whether we will earn a judgment of merit or a judgment of destruction. While most elections are not decided by our single vote, we know well that they can be. It’s important to vote with the thought that your vote could be the one that decides about budgets and military actions and how laws are implemented and enforced. Who will eat and who will go hungry, whose illnesses will be researched and treated, whose lives will be risked in battle, who will live or die in another land because America does or does not act in those places.
I am writing this as an American patriot, a lover of my country, who is also a Jew trying to follow the spiritual and ethical teachings of my Torah and aware of my place in the long history of the Jews. I have for a decade not been registered with a political party. Political acts and decisions are religious acts for me; the parties are practical instruments.
If I had to put this into a flow chart, this is how I break it down. I’m going to do all of this in theory, conceptually.
At the root for me is an idea that the political philosopher Michael Walzer puts this way: “[T]hink of the welfare of the most vulnerable people in the country. And then vote, gladly, for the candidate who minimizes their vulnerability.”
There is a lot here. Walzer (who is worth knowing a lot about, and I should write about him separately sometime) says right before this quote that it’s not about whether you like or inspired by a candidate, or whether you judge the candidate to be a good person in some fundamental way (more on this below). It’s about what that person can deliver in terms of the most vulnerable.
I think this would be an ethical imperative for me regardless of my Jewish principles. For me it’s a fundamental part of Torah. I generally apply this in the spirit of the political theorist John Rawls. Rawls argued that inequality, or something that increases inequality, can be justified morally so long as it also benefits the most vulnerable in society.
And Walzer argues that today, the first part of that is to minimize vulnerability. There is also a step beyond that, which is transforming the conditions that allow anyone to be vulnerable – but first, who minimizes their vulnerability.
The vulnerability I have always thought about first is economic vulnerability – whether it’s not being able to afford adequate shelter or food, or not being able to afford adequate medical care. With that, I have thought about economic vulnerability that comes from discrimination, on the basis of color and other bases, and the discrimination itself. More lately, I have come to think much more about the vulnerability of refugees.
1. So first I want to know – does the candidate even care? And not just about certain vulnerable groups, but about all of them. Everyone has blind spots, and many have come up through the ranks on the basis of work on behalf of a particular group. But caring only about vulnerable whites or vulnerable people of color, to the exclusion of other vulnerable people, isn’t enough.
This isn’t only about policies. I think certain policy approaches show more caring about vulnerability. But I’m always open to the candidate who argues for why another approach is also caring and is effective. Anyone who is sincere makes my first cut. Even if the policies being offered have been associated in the past, or are associated today, with people or groups who clearly don’t care about the most vulnerable.
2. Walzer argues specifically about our era that ‘[w]hat the most vulnerable people need right now is the protection afforded by a strong constitutionalism. The defense of civil liberties and civil rights… -- this is a centrist politics.” I would add another element to this “centrism”, which is a defense of the idea of America as a whole, made up of different groups with different origins and with different philosophies.
Some of this is about policies and the ways laws are enforced. It’s also about a political culture – the responsibility not to divide. I look for a candidate who speaks about America expansively and inclusively in her or his rhetoric, and who can disagree with passion without demonizing.
3. There are two things I think about next: Are the candidate’s policies reasonable approaches to minimizing vulnerability? Is the candidate someone who could actually accomplish something that minimizes vulnerability?
While these two don’t come in a particular order, I have been thinking more and more about the second question, the leadership dimension. One candidate might have a better set of policy ideas, but be a terrible leader – ineffective, bad at mobilizing people, wilting under pressure, and/or polarizing. Having that person in office hardly minimizes the vulnerability of the vulnerable.
The “How To Be President” initiative I helped found is about aspects of leadership beyond policy choices. I am looking for a leader who is clear-eyed about things like failure and compromise; who has forcefully, driven-ness and humility; who knows that not all your allies are good people and not all your opponents are evil; who has a way of thinking about how decisions at the top affect everyone; who has a way of knowing how to ache when policies fail or ignore some Americans, and when to push through in the face of that pain.
4. There are also Jewish issues, meaning issues of the interests of the Jewish community. A lot of Jewish issues are covered already in the earlier passes -- particularly with regard to hate, bias, discrimination, religious freedom for minorities. But other things being relatively equal, the candidate who has a blind spot about anti-Semitism will fall back in my line.
Then when it comes to Israel, I am looking for the candidate who believes Israel is a fundamentally democratic country; who understands the dangers Israelis live with in their region; who supports justice for both Jews and Arabs in Israel-Palestine and does not place the responsibility for the conflict solely on Israelis; who knows that most Jewish-American supporters of Israel have no truck with Muslim-haters, racists and the religiously intolerant just because those people might also support Israel.
5. Usually, these cover everything for me in the decision tree. Sometimes, in a given election, there is a specific issue of the moment. I reserve the right to figure out where it should fit in my general scheme.
I never get someone who is perfect on all these criteria. Elections are always choices between two or more actual candidates. Each time, I try to assess who is best overall on these criteria, and I figure out how I am going to weigh each consideration as I go. If the choices each have serious flaws, I don’t know how I am going to “dock” for them until I do it.
I don’t vote to feel good about what I believe or to have the satisfaction of “being right.” Lives are on the line. As long I keep my eye on why I am voting, whose lives depend on my vote, I believe I am doing the best I can.
I am almost up-to-date in my studies, but a bit behind in posting reflections. The first chapter of Massechet Berachot ends with a discussion of two kinds of things that are linked despite being experienced or named differently. One is the series of persecutions and exiles of the Jews. The other is the names of biblical figures.
The Talmud discusses the issue that new experiences of persecution might drive older ones from Jewish memory or salience -- the exile to Babylonia might replace the slavery in Egypt as the focal point of memory, mourning, or even inspiration. There is a sense in the text that we have to integrate all of them, possibly into the original Exodus consciousness.
The rabbis look for insight into that by noticing that some of the renamed people in the Torah have their names permanently changed, but some like Yaakov/Yisrael seem to keep both names. Even for someone like Avraham, the name Avram is remembered later, which the Talmud says is to remind us of the moments that occasioned the spiritual transformation that made him into Avraham and Sarai into Sarah.
I wonder if this is meant to be the final comment on the Sh'ma itself, the foundation of the whole chapter -- oneness of the divine. Transformations in the world, transformations of us spiritually, historical progress and setback and backsliding, personal progress and backsliding -- these all have to be integrated. When we recite Sh'ma, it's to remind us to bring all of these things together, or to guard against burying some of them or forgetting. Or it's just to remind us of the mystery that someone all of these are one in the mystery of the workings of divine energy in our human universe.
A reflection on myself the Talmud student, after a chapter: When I began, I would have said and still say that I'm not really a Talmud person. For years I hardly cracked a volume, and only recently have I found myself doing so more often. I'd have assumed that I had learned maybe 1 percent of the Talmud ever. Now I realize that before I started this, I probably already had, I don't know, 3 percent, which isn't a lot but almost 1/30th!
And I also realized that even though I hadn't studied this chapter in sequence as a single chapter, a lot of it was familiar. It was thrilling to see things in their original composition and order, and to share knowing virtual glances with other people doing the same. I actually didn't have to rely nearly as much as I thought on translations, and the basic argumentation structure was fairly familiar to me. I know when we get into other technical areas beyond theology and prayer I'll need the study aids much more.
My goal right now is just to know what's where. I'm not a great memorizer -- but so far, I could probably without much effort rattle off a lot about what's in the first chapter of Berachot. We'll see if it sticks. But if it does, it's because of the genius of the rabbis and editors, and the community who are subtly learning in sync.
This was my column in the December 2019 bulletin for Temple Beth Abraham:
I love Chanukkah. I love the row of chanukkiot, the special menorahs, set up by the window for each member of the family. Just the simplicity of light and then a bit more light every day, with a bit of color, and before you know it the difference between one candle for each and eight. Hope, lights kindling more lights, a simple melody for blessings with voices of different ages.
What I have really come to love about Chanukkah is that the story itself is actually about having a holiday when other people are having another holiday. That’s not a new thing, an American thing, even a Judaism-and-Christianity thing. It’s way back at the beginning. Chanukkah, like Purim (stay tuned in a few months), is the festival about us.
The simplest Chanukkah story is about King Antiochus outlawing Judaism and defiling the Temple in Jerusalem, until a band of Jewish priest-warriors said no, fought a battle for four years, drove out the king’s forces and purified the Temple. A story of religious freedom instead of tyranny, and self-determination in our land, and miracle.
Around that story is another story, and it’s longer. It starts in the 300s B.C.E., with Alexander the Great. He led a military campaign through the Middle East and established an enormous empire from Europe to Persia to Africa, including the Land of Israel. His conquests also brought a culture, the Greek-infused Hellenism that changed the language people spoke as well as art, architecture, athletics and ideas.
Jews, both in and out of Judea, wrestled with what it meant to live in a Hellenistic world. In the century or so after Alexander the Great, the Jews in Egypt translated the Torah into Greek, a version that is known as the Septuagint. They didn’t speak or know very much Hebrew and needed a Torah in their own language.
One of my favorite ancient Jewish stories is a legend about the writing of the Septuagint. The Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates is a Jewish text that invents a different origin for the Greek version of the Torah. The Letter of Aristeas says that the Hellenistic emperor in Alexandria, Egypt, heard that there was a book he was missing for his great library of all the world’s wisdom: the Torah.
In order to complete his library, he would need it translated into Greek. So he sent for a group of seventy scholars to come down for Jerusalem, and he threw them a kosher banquet. This story, written by a Jew in Greek, even presents the scholars as though they were excellent Greek philosophers!
By the time of Antiochus and the Maccabees, a lot of Jews were wondering whether they needed Hebrew, or even Judaism (much of it's opening chapters are different than our version, another story). There was social pressure to become like other people. Even the Jerusalem priests took on Greek names, like we generally have English ones. There was a fierce debate within the Jews of the time about how much to integrate with others, and how much Hellenism to integrate into Judaism.
So while Antiochus was a madman and a tyrant, his rise was also the catalyst for getting all of this into the open. In fact, one of the oldest historical books we have about Chanukkah spends most of its time talking about these debates among Jews, about our relations with others and about how much Greek culture to bring into Jerusalem.
Even the date of the start of Chanukkah is connected to these themes. We celebrate beginning on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar. The 25th of the final month of the solar year was, in the surrounding cultures, a pagan holiday already. Both Jews and later Christians took that festival of light period from others, and made it a symbol of our own lights. In the very act of claiming that day as our own, we remember that Jews of the time battling for their own culture.
The Hellenistic world that was Alexander the Great’s legacy is an analogy for our world, particularly for the Jewish community in America. So it’s absolutely right that we end up presenting ourselves to others, to the majority, at this time of year – explaining things, being ambassadors, talking about what connects us through the winter festivals and what is unique about us.
So embrace that. Be Chanukkah. Get ready when people ask you about Chanukkah and Judaism. Be ready with more than “Chanukkah isn’t our Christmas” -- your favorite thing about being Jewish, your favorite mitzvah or custom or story or idea. Your story of why and how you are Jewish in this modern-day version of a Hellenistic world.
Then you’ll be the candle that lights another candle. You can be a candle of pride that shines, and a candle that lights more understanding among other people who look at us, as we glow uniquely at this time of year.
Chag Urim Samayach – A Joyous Festival of Lights,
A bad week for anti-Semitism in the U.S., wrapped around a controversy about anti-Semitism itself. There was the murder of Jews at a kosher market in Jersey City, which seems to be an anti-Semitic hate crime. The president of the United States, addressing the Israeli-American Council, threw in some gratuitous remarks about the Jews in front of him (wealthy, real estate developers, "not nice people at all"), his own ambassador to Israel ("he loves this country, but he loves Israel"), and in general the ways Jews should love Israel. The president's rhetoric frames a question of how to assess a leader with power who says and does things that are good for Jews and also says and does things that are bad for Jews.
The bigger controversy has been about an executive order the president signed related to anti-Semitism on college campuses. The debate within the Jewish community has been about whether the executive order defines what Jewishness is in a way that is detrimental to Jews as Americans or simply counter to how we define ourselves. (There is another debate about the right of free speech; I'm not addressing that here.)
I'm posting here links to a number of texts that relate to how the concepts of "nation" and "religion" apply to Jews. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it's a suggestive one. These come from both inside the Jewish community and outside. One is not friendly.
There is an inside question for Jews of "what kind of group are we", and a number of outside questions including "how should our group be described in American law."
I may add to this list. I am going to speak about this on Shabbat morning.