The past weeks have been distressing for the Jewish Community, as mega-stars pressed the boundaries of antisemitism. To be Jewish historically, and in America today, is to be part of an all-too-often misunderstood minority. Perhaps because most of us are white– or because many are powerful members of business, entertainment and politics– we are perceived as a dangerous ‘other,’ but safe to condemn, criticize and scapegoat without seeming to be ‘racist.’
First, from a safety perspective, I want you to know that the HBHA site is more secure than ever. Last year’s addition of the front door “man trap” and the cameras and buzzers at both back entrances to the JCC added another layer of protection. I regularly meet with Chuck Green, the director of security for the J Campus– and I feel we are under a very professional eye. Chuck has strong relationships with the Overland Park Police, the FBI and the National Association of JCCs. As a parent of an HBHA student, with another at the CDC, I feel safe and confident in the security of our campus.
What can we do?
I believe that we, and all Jewish day schools, are already part of the solution, and I wish there were more of us. What we need are proud, well-educated graduates who have strong identities and are ready to engage the world. We need more Jews who can talk about what Judaism is and isn’t, and who can counter the flow of ignorance and misinformation.
I didn’t go to Jewish day school. I had a strong Jewish identity, but I really didn’t know enough about it. I recall one year at Rosh Hashanah services, the rabbi told the story of the boy who showed up at Yom Kippur services and played the flute, because it was the only way he knew how to pray. When he was scolded by the shammash (or synagogue helper- the shammash always gets thrown under the bus in these stories), the rabbi scolded the shammash, telling him, “his prayer from the heart opens the gates of heavens more than your prayer.”
The moral of the story is that you don't need to know the prayers to pray from the heart. Be present and keep an open heart. Don't focus on what you don't know. Years later, the rabbi told the same story. But when I heard it this time I thought, “This kid again? It's three years later and he still hasn't learned how to pray? He’s still coming to synagogue once a year disrupting the community with his flute on the holiest day of the year, while pleading ignorance?”
I resolved then to learn more about Judaism and my quest has never stopped.
On another note, a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook- “I am ready to overcome my shame of a Jewish birth. Can anyone recommend a Kabbalah class?” His comment got over 200 replies. When asked about the “shame,” he said, “Perhaps because I never had a bar mitzvah, and I didn’t understand my own identity.”
It is hard to carry Jewish identity without really understanding what it means.
When the creators of the United States imagined our country, their dream was that there would be many strong identities living together, sharing common values, the same space and culture. Like a hearty stew – here a potato, there meat -- but all working in harmony. I do not believe their dream was that we would all be the same, or have diluted identities in order to get along.
But what is a person to do, who is born Jewish but doesn’t know about the richness of our history and culture, our language and holidays, our laws and traditions? When facing antisemitism, a person without knowledge might be angry, or ashamed-- but how might he/she internally or externally fight the waves of ignorance and misunderstanding that run through our world?
As we live our lives in our beautiful multicultural America, we need more pride and less shame. We need more learning and less ‘winging it.’ We need more strong identity and less blending in to get along. This is the gift of a strong Jewish education. To know and love who you are without fear, shame or confusion. This is the American dream and the hope of our people.