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When the Ark Must Flee

03/16/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar16

Over the last two months we have seen the same horrifying scene repeated almost 100 times.  Children, infants in cribs, and seniors have been forced to evacuate from JCCs, as well as schools and other Jewish institutions around the country. Though a few of the bomb threats have been solved, law enforcement has not been able to identify the perpetrators of most incidents. There have been dozens more incidents that have not made our national radar, including graffiti and holocaust-themed valentines at local high schools, and a bullet shot through the window of a synagogue in Indiana. 
What these attacks have in common is that they are not random.  When vandals desecrated Jewish cemeteries, they did not touch non-Jewish cemeteries right next door.  These acts reflect targeted hatred.  They are anti-Semitism at its ugliest, because they are aimed at the most vulnerable. These are terrorist acts, in the classic sense, because they are designed to cause fear and disruption.  Not a single person need be physically injured for these attacks to have their desired effect, sowing panic and disruption and discouraging people from associating with Jews and Jewish institutions.  
What sense can we make of this challenging time?  This week, we will read Parashat Trumah, which describes the design of the Tabernacle, and all its implements.  They were made of gold and other precious materials.  Each item had gold rings through which staves would be passed so it could be carried.    In fact, we are told (Exodus 25:15) that the Ark of the Covenant, the gold-covered carrier of our most sacred items, could never have its poles removed.   It had to be ready to be mobile at a moment’s notice.  Even though it was in a privileged position, surrounded by opulent furnishings, it was never truly at rest.
Some commentators have suggested that the Ark’s lack of permanence is symbolic of the state of the Jewish people.  Throughout our history, we have always been prepared to leave our physical structures at a moment’s notice. Even when surrounded by opulence and comfort, even in our own land of Israel, there are always times when we found that we were not as welcome as we thought.
America’s Jewish community occupies a paradoxical position. On the whole, we are among the most financially successful and socially accepted Jewish communities in history.   We dwell in a very comfortable tabernacle.  According to a recent survey  (http://www.jta.org/2017/02/15/news-opinion/united-states/pew-jews-are-best-liked-religious-group-in-america) we are currently the most liked religious group in America.   And yet, we should not be surprised by this wave of hate. Given the fractured nature of American society, whatever some love, others will hate even more.  We live in a time when distrust or dislike of minorities, often held in private, has become easier to express in the open. 
How do we respond?  Many have offered suggestions: (For example, see http://www.kveller.com/5-things-you-can-do-right-now-to-help-your-local-jcc/ for some examples).  Communal statements are important for their symbolic value.  I am relieved that top levels of our US government have eventually come out to condemn the attacks, but I wish that they had done so sooner, and I am deeply concerned by some statements that seem to “blame the victim.”  The continued efforts of law enforcement are most essential, and we must call upon law enforcement at every level to leverage all possible efforts,  and provide additional protection as needed.   In addition. every Jewish institution must be mindful of security.  B’nai Torah constantly reviews and enhances security, and continues to be in close communication with law enforcement to ensure that we are following best practices.   Ironically, there are also unexpected opportunities for partnership.  Moslems have offered to repair and guard Jewish cemeteries while synagogues support the communities of the as many as 7 mosques that have been burned this year.
 Most importantly, as Jews we must recognize that, like the Ark, we can never be complacent, never truly at rest.  Even when we dwell in luxurious tabernacles, we must always be at the ready - staves situated in our collective arks.  Sometimes the Ark was carried off to flee from danger, or forced into exile.   That has been our lot at times in history.  Other times the ark was taken on its staves to lead the Israelites to battle and victory.  When we take the Torah from our modern-day ark, we sing the words that Moses sang when the ark went to lead the people “rise up, Lord, and may Your enemies be scattered.” May we have the courage to follow those words - to stand together, bravely, in the faces of those who would seek to intimidate us.

Fri, July 19 2019 16 Tammuz 5779