Lessons from a child for the greater community

Lessons from a child for the greater community

My speech at the No Hate, No Fear rally

Rabbi Shais Rishon
Rabbi Shais Rishon

My wife and I have a 6-year-old who is far too smart for our own good.

Once, when our daughter was 2, my wife and I got into an argument, as you do. It was one of those angry whisper arguments, because we didn’t want to wake our daughter up in the next room. We went to bed angry, we woke up the next day angry and not speaking to each other, but we continued getting ready for our respective days.

As I’m brushing my teeth in the bathroom, who should come in but my 2-year-old. I say “morning.” She doesn’t say anything, but she takes my hand and leads me out of the bathroom.

My daughter leads me into her room, where my wife is getting our daughter’s things together for daycare. She bring me as physically close as possible to my wife, then she taps my wife’s leg. So there were are, the three of us, awkwardly staring at each other.

My wife and I look at our daughter and ask if there’s a reason she orchestrated all of this, and she looks at us … and then she turns around and walks out of the room.

And closes the door behind us.

Apparently she was like, “‘Look, imma y’all two need to work some stuff out, all right? I ain’t got the time for your shenanigans today.”

Right now, my Jews, we are all my wife and me in that story. And this rally is the room we’ve been brought into.

We have Jews from the right and the left, with very different ideas on the sources and causes of anti-Semitism. We have Jews of color, who are often dismayed that the discussion of race around anti-Semitic attacks too often devolves into racism, traumatizing us repeatedly as we’re simply standing with our fellow Jews, regardless of race or ethnicity.

But we are all here because anti-Semitism is an evil that does not differentiate between Reform or Conservative, between left or right, or between black or white. And to have any chance of beating it, we must do it together, in solidarity with both our full, diverse Jewish community with whom we share a faith and a peoplehood AND with the non-Jewish communities with whom we share our neighborhoods, our streets, and our subways.

That is the solidarity that will truly keep us safe.

But if we as Jews expect those in other communities to address their anti-Semitism and their bigotry — as they should — then we need to be addressing the harmful attitudes that exist in our own communities too. Not because those attitudes are the reason for anti-Semitism, but because they’re equally as morally wrong.

If we as Jews are asking for solidarity from the broader community, we must also be in solidarity with the issues that impact other communities as well. And since we as a Jewish community are black, white, and indigenous; able-bodied and differently abled; rich, poor, and middle class; gay, straight, and trans, all those other issues affect us too. There is no issue that doesn’t somehow impact some community of our Jewish family because our families are nearly as diverse as America itself.

These are difficult conversations, and the moment demands that they be had. But we can neither let these conversations become apologetics for terror, or devolve into racist tirades. No community — Jewish, black, immigrant, Muslim — should have to endure attacks against its existence. Ever.

Together, let’s all work toward eradicating those words and deeds of hatred, of violence, and of fear. Our safety lies not only in our solidarity within our Jewish community, but outside of it as well.

Rabbi Shais Rishon leads the New City Minyan and is author, most recently, of the National Jewish Book Award finalist “Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi.”

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