- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 13, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat.
I want to write about hope, about something positive. But, this week it is difficult.
In the midst of another antisemitic attack in Jersey City at a kosher market, with hatred heaped upon bias, it is not easy to find light in this kind of darkness. CNN and others have reported that the FBI is investigating the shootings as an act of domestic terrorism. Isn’t that what hate crimes should be since they cause horror and dread upon the victims and us all? The murderous incident has added another layer since there have been reports of a connection to a sect of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a hate group recognized by the ADL.
The use of the name Israelite is a misleading association.
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob prepared to encounter his brother, Esau, after many years. The last time they had been together, Jacob stole his brother’s blessing and escaped with his life. The night before he would see his brother again, he wrestled in the darkness of night with some being. We don’t know who or what it was. An angel? Himself? His brother? The text leaves many openings. But, we do know that when the light of the morning appeared, they converse:
Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.”
But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”
Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.”
Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:27-29)
In that moment, the name of Jacob changed to Yisrael, the intra-text meaning provided as one who struggles. It is a name that has been carried through the generations to define the Jewish people, an all embracing description of those who consider themselves—ourselves–part of the community of Jews.
When a hate filled group claims the name of Black Hebrew Israelite, it misrepresents its identity and association. It is an affront to all Jews, no matter the color of our skin, where we are from, or the level of our Jewish practice. They cannot define us. We get to do that. The implication that this marginal destructive fringe group speaks for anyone other than itself and its misguided members is a slander we all need to reject.
I do want to write about hope, about something positive. This week I am in Chicago with thousands of Reform Jews at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial. The Jewish people feel strong here, so does our future. It has been a hub of creative ideas and energy, a beautiful antidote to the antisemitic tropes causing hate filled terrorist acts.
As I look around in the plenary sessions, in the spaces where prayer and song are happening, and in the halls and escalators, I can’t help but recite the phrase that is also an affirmation of our hope.
Am Yisrael Chai. The Jewish People lives.
Our ancestor, Jacob, struggled. We will endure and thrive.
Join together for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE.
Torah study starts at 9:00 a.m. with a short service followed by a lively discussion.
Mazal Tov to our Bar Mitzvah, Jadon Berkson . Service begins in the Atrium at 10:15am.
I look forward to learning of your reactions and reflections HERE.