A “Rally Against Hate.” What a lovely idea. I mean, we all hate hate, right? And it was, in fact, a really lovely event, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia but designed to be interfaith, bringing together the entire community together to support Jews in the wake of all the bomb threats. Really lovely. And we need to love and be loved right now, to support each other. But I’m not quite sure if we can–or should–love the haters. And in the end, that was a message I had a hard time swallowing.
People came. Mostly Jews, to be honest, but it was still a really nice camp reunion atmosphere. I saw a lot of people I know. I smiled at the large groups of teenagers bussed in from the various Jewish high schools in the region. I hugged people. I waved. I sang along to the gentle songs and clapped along to the gentle beats and niggunim (traditional melodies). All that gentleness, in a way, was a nice change from the aggressive tone of the protests that have been dominating my life.
In a way. But it also felt a bit…flat. I don’t mean to criticize—again, this was an important event, and it was heartening to see so many politicians, community leaders, and religious figures stand in solidarity with the Philadelphia Jewish community.
But it was non-partisan. I get why that is a good idea, and why people of all political commitments should be protected against—and opposed to—the targeting of the Jewish community. I get that the statement we were making is that these threats are wrong, no matter who you voted for. And I get that it was important to create a space that allowed people to express that–publicly and without hesitation–regardless of what they did on the voting booth on November 8th, even if their actions that day (and I insist on this) directly caused this.
But it did mean that the rally fell a little anemic. It’s hard to get a crowd riled up with gentle, non-partisan, rather vague statements about the opposite of hate. It’s hard to get a crowd riled up about loving each other, although, of course, that is the only solution, the only way to meet hate with love.
Also—and here’s the thing that was hard for me—“interfaith” was really tricky, because while the people on the dais came from a range of faith backgrounds (well, mostly Judeo-Christian-Muslim ones), the crowd was, basically, Jewish.
It wasn’t that big a crowd, comparatively. I get that people are busy and tired and that this was a vague call, but for the purposes of this rally, it was essentially Jews who stood against hatred of Jews. Jews, and the political leaders elected in part by them, and the religious leaders invited by them. I was so touched and moved by the hijabs in the crowd, by the signs of support from people of all faiths and backgrounds. I don’t want to negate that. It meant something. But there were just a lot more Jews.
Here’s where it got really rocky: one of the speakers, from another faith community, asked those assembled to make a pledge and repeat after her. Well. I’m pretty hesitant to make pledges (and repeat them in public) without knowing what they are first. Partly because I want to be sure that I am on board with what I’m about to say (and that’s kind really important, actually) and partly because pledges, vows, are a really big deal in Judaism. Like, really big. So big that we have an entire prayer service, Kol Nidre, devoted to nullifying any vows we make in the coming year, in case we fail to fulfill them.
So I didn’t quite repeat the pledge with full-throated, rallying cry enthusiasm. Which was good, because as a pledge, well, it wasn’t very Jewish at all. While it was carefully and respectfully phrased, it operated under a particular framework that, simply, wasn’t mine. Wasn’t, if I may be so bold, ours.
It asked us to pledge to oppose violence. To meet violence with kindness. To greet hate with love.
Some hate should not be loved. Some actions don’t deserve kindness.
I’m not saying never. But I am saying (with full-throated rallying cry) that Judaism as a religion is not a pacifist one. It couldn’t and it can’t afford to be. Minorities usually can’t. And I am saying that at an interfaith event designed to support one particular faith community, it is particularly important to examine the underlying assumptions of your own framework if you come from outside that community. I’m saying that while we heard no references to deities that fall outside the Jewish approach to divinity, and no particular traditions and rituals that are not our own, the pledge was not for us.
And again, that’s fine. As long as you don’t ask me–ask us–to repeat it.
While we as a religion, as a community, as a culture, as a faith, are strong, we are not many. We are also, still, and alongside many others, vulnerable. We are getting more vulnerable.
Don’t support us by, even unintentionally, coercing us to make a commitment to your ideology. That’s not solidarity. That’s not understanding. That’s not interfaith. And it’s not who we are.