I don’t know about you, but over the past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m facing an angry, metaphorical ball machine filled with balls of antisemitism – and this machine is firing an apparently endless volley at my head.
Kyrie. Kanye. Chappelle. Walmart selling tallises as “beach shawls.” Signs over the freeway denigrating Jews. Bomb threats at New Jersey synagogues. Bomb threats at Jewish schools. Social media expressions of antisemitic tropes. Endless comments on all of the above. And that’s before we even get to the whole erasure of non-Christians in “the holiday season.” There’s a whole Facebook group called “The Jews Are Tired” that has over 7,000 members. It’s not just you.
It’s just too much, and frankly, there’s no sign whatsoever that it’s going to stop. You are not alone in being not only frightened by, but also exhausted by, all of it.
Maybe you feel like the world around you might be collapsing, that the pot of water you’re sitting in just might be getting hotter — but you’re also endlessly wondering, is it going toward the boiling point? And if it is, will we know before it’s too late? These are thoughts that are exhausting in every way. They are exhausting in a literal sense when they keep you awake at 2:30 a.m. wondering if your kid’s passport is up to date, and they are exhausting in a metaphorical sense when you grapple with thoughts like the idea that allyship against bigotry apparently doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to antisemitism.
So what do we do?
Standing in the barrage and not doing anything is an option, for sure, but to what end? I mean, sure, I guess you can just scroll by the stuff about this on Instagram, not post anything yourself and just post pics of you looking hot with your partner at the event of your choice. And I guess if you just don’t think about antisemitism, or the fact that every day more and more people are being taught to hate you, you’ll feel better than you would if you really thought about it.
I am a believer in option B, articulated nicely by Pirkei Avot, one of the most cited Jewish texts generally translated as “Ethics of Our Fathers”: “You aren’t obligated to complete the task, but you’re also not free to desist from it.”
That idea is SO JEWISH — the idea that yeah, you don’t have to solve the world’s problems, but sorry, you’re obligated to work on them.
Something in that sentence conveys every element of our current situation as Jews in America to me. Yes, where we are right now with antisemitism sucks. (One could argue antisemitism sucks across the board, actually.) And yes, it’s hard to deal with in every way, from convincing gaslighting and/or well-intentioned people that antisemitism exists, to figuring out how to put out fires of bigotry locally and nationally.
Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.” But the Jewish way of looking at that is preferable to me, because it’s not just that we can do hard things, but rather, that we must — that we are, by virtue of being Jewish, actually obligated to take them on. We don’t get to opt out. That’s one of the things that makes us so freaking great.
So when I’m feeling absolutely fatigued by antisemitism and not sure I can handle reading one more headline that casually refers to the hatred of my very people, I think about my obligation, and I act. I will keep calling out antisemitism — and the silence about it — wherever I go, online or in reality, even if it’s a lot like being in a constant, un-fun game of Whack-a-Mole. It’s exhausting, but hey, wherever we live, in whatever era of human history, apparently that exhaustion is part of the “being Jewish” package.
This “package deal” of being Jewish also includes being part of a heritage that venerates knowledge, sensitivity, art and insight. It’s thousands of years of questioning, of humor, of laws and of significant and awesome contributions to the world. It also includes a relentless motivation to pursue justice and the fierce, eternal belief that we can make the world a better place. I’m all in — and I’m really glad you are, too.