“It feels very much like 1937 all over again” my 89-year-old father often would say following anti-Semitic incidents that began popping up around the United States.
My 30-something year-old son would then roll his eyes as if to say, “Grandpa’s seeing something that’s not there, exaggerating the situation out of fear of the past repeating itself.” This was a recurring theme between my father and my son during the last few years.
Then, on Friday, my grandson’s preschool was closed because of disturbing anti -Semitic graffiti scrawled on the walls of the synagogue where the 2-year-olds meet. So I ask myself — does my son view things differently now that an incident has impacted his own child’s life? And I wonder if my father would have been correct in thinking that these attacks are similar to the ones that led to 1937 Nazi Germany.
I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, but these types of incidents are unsettling, particularly on the heels of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Therefore it was especially comforting to host the groundbreaking and innovative Peace of Mind program this week at the East Hill Synagogue of Englewood. Our shul community provided 16 released combat IDF soldiers with appreciation, respite, and therapy for psycho-trauma related to their military service. Eight congregant families welcomed 16 mostly secular strangers into their homes and treated them like family, while the larger community came together to organize barbecues, Shabbat meals, and trips to NYC. The communal feeling during the week was inspiring; teaching us all the true meaning of kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze — all the people of Israel are responsible for one another.
While we began the week as strangers, separated by geography, language, and life experiences, we became united through our shared history, culture, identity, and sense of purpose. The IDF soldiers and the community bonded immediately, and we became one big family.
The Peace of Mind soldiers were grateful though overwhelmed by the generosity of our community. They could not comprehend why a diaspora Jewish community would be willing to devote a full week of time and resources to them. We tried to explain that one week pales in comparison to the three years of service that each of them has given, not to mention the reserve duty that they each continue to serve.
Having the IDF soldiers in our midst, during this uniquely difficult time for American Jewry, offered us a measure of comfort we could not have anticipated when this program was planned several months ago. The presence of the IDF soldiers among us reminded me that we are no longer homeless, no longer nationless, no longer helpless victims at the mercy of a world that can turn its back on us.
The Peace of MInd soldiers searched for words to thank us for our hospitality. Throughout the week they told us that they were “in awe” of how our community was tending to their every need, providing creature comforts (food and shelter) and fun activities in the evenings, so that they could have eight hours of therapy a day to process and heal from service-related pscyho-trauma. We in turn searched for words to thank them for providing us with safety and security and a place to call home.
The presence of the IDF, representing Israel’s existence and Israel’s strength, reassured me that it can never be 1937 again.