I write this amidst another tumultuous week in what has been a tumultuous year for the American Jewish community. As I write, the President has questioned the loyalty of Jews who choose not to vote for him; two Congresswomen with a reputation for criticizing Israel have been denied permission to travel there; and the American Jewish community has been in response/crisis/media mode, with the heads of the ADL, Reform and Conservative movements, and other leading institutions showing up in newspapers and on CNN. In conversations and online, there has been much fighting; amongst voices inside the Jewish community as well as against non-Jews who claim to know what's 'best for the Jews.' Much of the rhetoric has been bitter, and charged. The word 'antisemitic' is popping up everywhere.
It has been an exhausting week. It is only Wednesday.
And I imagine, even though it will be another week and a half until you read this, that there will be another controversy or political battle about Jews in America between now and then. Or two. Or three. Such has been the nature of 2019. It makes me want to curl up under the covers and hide.
It becomes even more complicated when I think about what, as a rabbi, I am supposed to do. Should the synagogue be the main point of address for these nasty fights and angry battles? Am I not duty-bound to help us, as a people, contextualize and frame the debates that are raging? Is this battle over antisemitism occurring at the highest levels of our nation a pressing crisis that we must contend with as a community? Or, to paraphrase the Jewish Forward's Opinion Editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon, are the Jews tired?
Tired of being political pawns.
Tired of hearing angry divisive political rhetoric from Jerusalem and Washington DC.
Tired of listening to another sermon about another topic that just boils the blood or depresses the soul.
A synagogue must serve both as a place of outrage and refuge. We must discuss the topic of the day but also be a place to seek solace from the wars that are raging. I do my best to help facilitate both - to make Brith Shalom a comfortable place for spiritual recharge, but also to make it be a beacon of ethical right and a place to clarify the moral teachings of our tradition, even when that takes a political tinge. Finding that balance is just trickier now than it has ever been before.
The Jews are tired. But we can neither be too tired to fight, nor must we battle on wearily without stopping to refresh and reboot ourselves spiritually on occasion. The Jews are tired. Together, we must make our shul be an oasis of peace and contemplation.
- Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.