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The Call is Coming From Inside the House

03/24/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar24


"The call is coming from inside the house. " That line, made famous in horror movies,  was literally and metaphorically true this week. We’ve known for some time that many of the threats against JCCs  and other Jewish institutions over the last two months were spoofed electronically to seem as if they were being made from inside the institutions under attack.   More distressingly, it turns out that many of the calls were made by troubled Israeli-American teenager.  The relief that comes with an arrest leads to a deeper discomfort.  What wisdom can Judaism offer us?
There is much that is still to learn about the facts of the situation.  What was the young man’s motivation?  Was there some twisted ideological agenda related to the relationship between American and Israeli Jewish communities? Was he seeking to settle a personal score?  Attract attention?
There will undoubtedly be “I told you sos,"  a backlash, and a backlash to the backlash.  Some will second-guess the investigation, asking why details were not released earlier.  Others will promote conspiracy theories of one type or another.
I am among the many who must admit that we jumped to conclusions about this particular attack.  Right wing, white supremacist anti-semitism tends to have a particular profile, distinct from that of anti-semitism from the left, and both different from radical Islamic terrorism.  Is the intent to kill, to intimidate, or to embarrass?   Is the goal physical or  emotional harm,  or reputational harm through abuse of the mechanisms of a free society?  Is the attack hidden, or is responsibility claimed proudly? These hoaxes did fit a profile.
One of the lasting negatives of this episode is that it will make it far more difficult to address real threats to our community.  There have been many other incidents, not as well publicized, but all too real, that will now be questioned or swept aside. This outcome has also created uncertainty within our own community.  
The approaching holiday of Passover which we announce in this synagogue with the special “HaHodesh” reading offers some wisdom for how to manage in a confusing, even frightening time.   The Israelites are told to slaughter a lamb and put the blood on the doorpost of their homes, purportedly as a sign so that the angel of death will not attack the firstborn in their homes.  A number of the commentators ask why this should be necessary.  Surely God knows which homes are Jewish homes and can divert His destructive force away from them without any special marking?  
Some, like Maimonides, suggest that the blood was placed on an exterior doorpost as a sign of bravery, a visible affront, a psychological attack on the Egyptians. In contrast Rashi cites the early rabbinic commentary , Mekhilta, to explain that the opposite is true.  The verse says “it shall be a sign to you”  (and therefore not to the Egyptians) implying that the blood is placed on the inside of the home. It a private reminder to the inhabitants to remain strong in their faith, and to remain unified despite terror in their midst.  Is it possible that the destructive force actually entered the Israelite homes to see this sign before sparing the inhabitants? In any case, the Israelites certainly had every cause to need reassurance, hearing the cries of all of Egypt outside their walls.
The Jewish people today live in a world of threats and dangers internal and external.   Few of them are truly new.  Some are merely more or less visible than they once were.  Sometimes the danger is coming "from inside the house," if you will, and we need an internal sign to combat it.  That does not change the fact that there is danger that requires protection from the outside.  At the very first seder, the Israelites lived in a a terrifying time and place, but that meal was delicious because it was eaten in faith and freedom.  We are certainly better off than our ancestors in Egypt.  When we eat the seder meal this year, let’s recognize that despite the terror within and without, we, too eat as free people.

Fri, July 19 2019 16 Tammuz 5779