Parashat Vayigash

Friday, January 3, 2020 /6 Tevet, 5780
Parashat Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:27

Dear Friends,

A student recently came into Professor Deborah Lippstadt’s office, wearing a kippah. He explained “There have been so many attacks on Jews recently. I’ve decided that every time there is an antisemitic act, I am going to wear my kippah to show the anti-Semites they can’t frighten me.”

Professor Lippstadt is the Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies professor at Emory University. She is best known for her books Antisemtism: Here and Now, and Denying the Holocaust. She listened to the student’s explanation, and smiled. She said, “I admire his moxie, his chutzpah, his desire to show his identity and not to cower in fear.”

Lippstadt went on, “But at the same time, inside, my heart was breaking – because he had allowed the antisemites to determine when he felt Jewish. They were controlling his Jewish identity. He had ceded to them the power over his Jewish identity. In short, he was motivated by the “oy” and not the joy of Jewish life.”

The student’s impulse was a good one. When someone hurts us, we should respond. We should send the message that we are present, that we are proud and that we will stand up to hatred time and time again. After what happened in Pittsburgh and Poway, many of us felt compelled to go to temple to be present with our communities. Our sanctuary was full during a commemorative service to mark the anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, earlier this year. We know how to bring community together. We know how to respond to tragedy. None of these things should be taken lightly.

Professor Lippstadt’s point, however, is an important one. Ours is not a Judaism of victimhood. Let’s ensure that it does not define us or our Judaism. Our Judaism is a Judaism of life, and celebration. It is filled with heartfelt prayer, food, and spirituality. Ours is a tradition of learning and debating. It can give us faith and courage when we are struggling. It can give us a means to mark the biggest moments of our lives. It is a tradition of uplifting one another, of standing up to hatred in all its forms, and of looking out for the most vulnerable members of society. Ours is a tradition of thoughtfulness, friendship and love.

So when antisemitism strikes, let us respond in any way that feels meaningful to us, but let’s not stop there. Let’s delve ever more deeply into our Jewish identities, year round.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail