Last Thursday I attended a webinar organized by Faith in Public Life Ohio called “Counteracting Anti-Semitism and Dangerous Narratives in the Time of COVID-19.” The call included several rabbi friends from the Columbus area with whom we partner in BREAD. After the call I had an email exchange with Rabbi Rick Kellner. His congregation, Beth Tikvah, is just up the road from where we live. I asked him how rising antisemitism has impacted the congregation. With his permission, I share what he wrote:
We have been trying to figure out what we can do to support Dr. Acton. She has worn her Judaism on her sleeve (see press conference around Passover) and then a week or so later the attacks started rising including that awful image of the Israeli flag with a Jew depicted as a rat being the source of the virus was incredibly upsetting and horrifying. To paint us in that way raises our own fears about how to function.
Moving beyond COVID, we have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Jewish community locally (more beyond) to hire security. We have had police officers (off-duty uniformed) every week for services since November 2018. We have them for Religious school and the preschool has them all hours we are in session. There is incredible fear of being attacked again. We have had a number of incidents where “questionable” individuals have shown up and caused trouble. One in particular who likely, meant no harm but his behavior caused us to send him a no trespass letter.
We have taken all service times and program times off of our public access to our website. We have a private log in page so our members can see that.
I think the worst is actually what happens in our schools. When I talk to our teens, they are victims of antisemitism all the time. It is more subtle comments, for example in 2016 when Bernie Sanders was running, one of our kids overheard another saying that Bernie should just go to the gas chamber.
Rabbi Kellner also shared with me a Rosh Hashanah sermon he gave last year which included a statement that it was important to be more than anti-anti-Semitism. “We have to fight an affirmative battle for who we are,” he said. “We fight for our values, our ancestors, our families and for the Jewish future.”
These are our neighbors and friends and co-laborers for the common good. In our own always-ongoing antiracism work, and our quest to be more than anti-racist, may we join with this affirmative work wherever it presents itself.
The good news is there are so many opportunities, and that anyone can challenge an anti-Semitic statement, write a note to a friend living in fear, or show up to various events that represent the “affirmative battle” Rabbi Kellner calls us to.