We are a people who have wandered. The Jews of our community have made our way to Boca Raton over the past few generations, and our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before us made their way to the US. They were descendants of Jews who went back and forth across Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East, going all the way back to our days of exile by the Romans. In fact, our sojourning began with the first Jew, Abram, who was told by God to leave the land of his birth to be made into a great nation, to be blessed and to be a blessing.
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha, after God tells Abram to begin his journey, God says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse the one who curses you.”
Unfortunately, we seem to be living in a moment when too many around the world feel the need to curse the Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League has noted a significant increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in the past year, which include acts of graffiti and vandalism, threatening signs and social media posts, and physical violence. Just in the past two weeks, two high-profile celebrities, musician Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving, have expressed support for or explicitly shared antisemitic tropes and ideas. They have followerships in the millions, and when they share ideas, others listen. Case in point was the disgusting banners that were displayed at last weekend’s Florida-Georgia football game, claiming that “Kanye Was Right About the Jews.”
It saddens me to be thinking about these events, to have to discuss them with members of our community to calm our nerves while remaining vigilant. It pains me to have to shield my kids from news reporting for fear that they would feel the sting of those remarks without the emotional maturity to process them. At the same time, however, I am grateful for the blessings that surround us that help us temper our fears and protect us in this moment of concern.
The rabbis wonder what the Torah means when it says that God will “curse the one who curses you,” and they remind us of the story of Balaam. Balaam was a Moabite prophet, who was tasked by his king Balak to curse the Israelites. But, when he opened his mouth, words of blessing came out, “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel!” In this reference, the rabbis guide us not only to be aware of those like Balak who wish harm upon us, but also those who speak out for us.
One blessing was that last week we were able to welcome Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, to our synagogue to share with us the work they are doing, but more importantly how he personally is handling this moment. He gave us an insider’s account into the process by which the ADL and other organizations exerted pressure on Adidas, Kanye West’s major sponsor, to end their relationship with him, a relationship that was generating $2 billion a year in revenue for the company. It was not a small decision, and there were some who wondered why it took so long for Adidas to act. What was comforting to me, in that moment, was to hear Mr. Greenblatt’s satisfaction in the process, reflecting an understanding that as quickly as the world, and especially those who have concern for the well-being of the Jewish people, wanted to Adidas to act, they really did so as quickly as a large corporation can.
A second blessing is how, despite the rising frequency of these events, the general society’s reaction to this invective is a full-scale rejection. Companies are refusing to work with individuals who express antisemitic ideas, and Kyrie Irving’s team has suspended him for his refusal to recognize the harm he is causing.
We are a small minority in this country, and an even smaller one in the world. But in the globally connected society in which we live, the Jewish people rely on the empathy and concern from others for our safety and security. Thank God the past century has seen a significant spread in that empathic concern, and in many more places that Jews find themselves they find neighbors who wish to fulfill the first clause of the verse, “I will bless those who bless you.” Here in Boca Raton that is particularly true, as we enjoy good relationships with many of the other faith communities in town as well as the appropriate concern from law enforcement that we be free to live and practice safely. It truly is a blessing for which we should be grateful.
At Temple Beth El, we are blessed with a community and leadership who takes these issues seriously and is ready and able to do all that we can to keep us safe. Our President Wendy Walin, Executive Director Steve Kaufman, and our clergy work together to make sure that our security needs are met. We have open and productive relationships with our local law enforcement, who are willing and able to provide whatever presence and protection we ask for to make sure we both are safe and feel safe. Our community members cooperate with our security protocols to help ensure everyone’s safety. Our friends in Boca, the leaders of other faith communities and community partners, share their concern for our wellbeing and stand supportively beside us.
Entering into Shabbat, as we wish each other a Shabbat Shalom, may peace envelope us. May that peace be physical, psychological, and spiritual, and may our peace spread around us. May those who wish ill upon our people continue to be met with resistance, both from our strength as a community and from our friends and fellow Americans who celebrate the freedom we all enjoy. May those who offer us their words of blessing continue to feel blessed for the mitzvah they perform for our benefit, and may we all continue to seek a world of peace.
Rabbi Greg Weisman
Rabbi Greg Weisman