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Parshat VaYera

11/10/2022 04:29:23 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

On April 20, 1996, I began a lifelong observance I had never considered until that day. I was in Warsaw, Poland and it was Shabbat. We were touring the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto when our group was harassed by a group of Neo-Nazis. They yelled at us and tried to get ahold of us, but our security was able to protect us and get us back to the hotel. That day, April 20, was a day of celebration for those with malice and hate in their hearts because it was Adolf Hitler’s birthday. On that day, as we were walking, some of us made a spur of the moment decision to rebel in a non-violent manner through visibly being Jewish… wearing kippot. So, it was on that fateful day that their hatred and anger pushed me to choose to become a visible Jew and to wear a kippah every day. When I returned home, I solidified this decision by going to school with it on my head and I have never looked back.

Over the years, I’ve been in very non-Jewish areas with a kippah on my head, just as I’ve been in very Jewish areas. I’ve endured harassment by Israeli sales people at kiosks in malls who know I’m an easy mark for their Israeli accents for whatever goods they’re selling. I’ve been stared at by random people. I’ve had people tell me they support Jews or Israel. At the same time, I’ve had people say ignorant things to me. I’ve been given strange looks. I’ve seen the world at its best and at its not so good. When I chose to wear a kippah, I did so because I wanted to be demonstrably Jewish at all times.

As a white male in America, I have many “privileges” I did nothing to earn. I felt, and still feel, that minority groups in our country don’t get to choose when and where to be a minority, and I rejected my ability to choose as well. Thus, as I did back then, I still feel today I’m obliged to show the world who I am. I wanted my minority status to be worn on my sleeve (on my head in this case). When I chose to wear a kippah at all times I did so because I wanted to have my behavior noted for its goodness by others and keep myself from bad because of what I was representing. I’ve walked past skinheads and I’ve walked past protesters opposed to Israel. I’ve done this time and again and I’ve never been worried. In fact, I recall a time when I was in Israel with AIPAC and they were taking us to Ramallah. They told us we could not wear kippot there and I was offended and annoyed. But I followed the rules for safety.

In this week’s portion, VaYera, we read the story of the binding of Isaac. I often speak about how Abraham damaged his son for the sake of his faith. How he destroyed his relationship with Isaac (and Sarah) for his relationship with God. Abraham looked his son in the eye and lied to him about what was taking place and then looked him in the eye again as he raised the knife in the air to slaughter him. I’ve often used this story to explain that our actions as adults and parents have implications on our children. Everything we do is being watched and learned from. Everything we do has a direct impact on our kids and those around us. We have an obligation to protect our children and to keep them from harm. We cannot choose other things over our kids… they need us and depend on us. We don’t get to select when and where dependency begins or ends (hopefully while they’re in college). It’s with this warning in mind that I share the following with you:

On October 31 while people were out celebrating, somebody or a group of people decided to deface property in Brookhaven with ugly and awful anti-Semitic words. This graffiti of hate was removed and the police are working on finding the culprit(s). We’ve been in communication with our friends at the Brookhaven Police Department and they have told us that no known threats exist to us or other Jews and Jewish institutions in the area. They’ve met with the FBI and the ADL about this act of hate and believe it to be an isolated incident to get attention. We’ve all been aware that there’s an enormous uptick in anti-Semitism in our country. We’re getting hit from the progressive and the conservative side of the spectrum. We’re being blamed for all sorts of falsehoods. This is not an easy time to be living in.

On Wednesday, I was on a Marta train home from the airport with Adam Kofinas when a man got on the train and began talking at me about how Jews are bad and I’m not a real Jew. He talked about how Kanye was right and that I better not mess with his brothers the Palestinians. I felt uncomfortable and I felt afraid and I also felt powerless. The saddest part of all was that I also questioned at that moment my decision to wear a kippah. I questioned if it was okay to wear it when out with Ayelet and Galit. I questioned if I was putting our faith and identity before their security and well-being.

After all these years, I found myself at a loss and wondering how is that it’s 2022 and I’m struggling with something so basic and simple? How is this all connected? When Avraham chose God over his human/familial relationships, he destroyed those relationships. We cannot allow ourselves to repeat his mistakes. We cannot choose the needs of the community and religion over the needs of our families. Now that sounds simple right. I should stop wearing a kippah??? No. That’s not the correct conclusion either. If I were to change who I am, I wouldn’t be a good father. The good thing to do is to wear my kippah in public with my family and to be aware that should we encounter a risk, I would remove us from that situation as quickly as possible. That’s what it means to put my family first and to remain true to who I am. That’s what it means to demonstrate to Ayelet and Galit to have integrity and pride in who we are and to help them grow. That’s how I can live in a way Avraham could not.

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784