“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
When FDR uttered these words in March 1933, I imagine he did so out of conviction that the world, or at least the United States, would be a bastion of safety and security for its citizens. But, even immersed in the depths of the Great Depression, the Jewish community was subject to prejudice and conspiracy theories heaping blame upon them for all of life’s ills.
Over nine decades later, it is impossible to miss the ever-present sense of fear presently shared among Jews of any and every country. It would be easy to label it as a product of the recent war between Israel and Hamas. However, I believe we Jews have been feeling uncomfortable for quite a while. Incidents at Tree of Life Synagogue in Philadelphia, chants of “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, and many other recent examples are not forgotten so easily. The recent fighting in the Middle East, though not the initial cause, provides more fuel for anti-Semitic flames, more justification for hate.
Many in the Jewish community are feeling vulnerable, targeted, and most of all fearful. Security measures and stationed armed guards have increased, including here at TBE. Each week, there are reports of harassment, graffiti of swastikas and the like, and threatening statements called in or emailed to synagogues and JCCs, especially in Suffolk County.
If I were able to compose a letter in time, I might begin it with “Dear President Roosevelt, there might be a little more to fear than you think…”
As I write this, I know various people who have reacted in different ways. Many are fearful, choosing to hide their Jewishness from the world. Stars of David and other Jewish symbols, once proudly displayed, lay beneath layers of clothing so others might not see them. In some homes, mezuzahs have been removed from doorframes so neighbors will not be reminded “Here lives a Jew”. It is reminiscent of times in Eastern Europe when pogroms and vehement antisemitism were expected occurrences.
Yet while some have gone into hiding, others have opted for the opposite response – becoming LOUD and PROUD, announcing their Jewishness to anyone and everyone they can. Many are displaying banners and signs openly and taking any and every opportunity to be out proclaiming their Jewish heritage as a badge of honor and distinction.
I have an admission – I don’t know the right response. It’s a very personal decision. Besides, it is unfair to expect a diverse group of individuals, such as the entirety of the Jewish community, to all think or react the same way.
However, I do know that regardless of anyone’s choice, we should not let all that is happening – the war, the surge in anti-Semitic acts, the undercurrent of mistrust and prejudice – none of it should lessen our commitment to the Jewish values we embrace. Staying true to what we value, how we act, and the way we believe all humans should be treated cannot be jettisoned. Just the opposite – we need to cling to them tightly if we hope to emerge from the quagmire we all find ourselves in.
These are scary times. We have weathered them before and ever the optimist, I believe we will emerge this time as well. How confident and secure? Well, we can hold onto each other and hope. That’s a start.