What a difference a year makes!
Just one year ago, days before my annual mid-January Yeshiva Week (-and-a-half) trip to Israel, I reflected in these pages on my concerns about my stopover in Zurich and the increasing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe.
To quote my sentiments at the time, “I’m sure the city is beautiful and the chocolate is delicious, yet it will be an instant reminder that the comfort and pride I felt in being overtly Jewish just a few hours earlier now must go undercover (literally, as I trade kippah for hat). No Jew can travel in Europe without giving thought to the problem of renewed anti-Semitism. It’s almost like taking a trip through history in reverse, going from the safety and security of Israel to the lingering insecurity of Jewish life in Europe.”
Europe! This year it is Brooklyn, Monsey, Jersey City and more and more. In just one year our focus has been wrenched away from other, more vulnerable communities and now is here at home. Baseball caps on! Armed guards front and center! A machete-wielding attacker just three miles from my Rockland County home! A trip from Israel feels even more like a trip through history in reverse, and the trip there is starting to feel like a journey into an alternate future where attention to chefetz chashud (suspicious packages) and armed guards at restaurants and schools might feel more secure than riding a Manhattan subway or walking a side street in Brooklyn.
Last year my prayer in these pages was “we will pray that neither we nor the Jewish people will forget that for all of our blessings and advances we still have so far to go to fulfill the dream, a dream whose birthplace was Israel, whose residence is Israel, and whose future — as promised by God — is Israel.” This year, I pray for peace and security not only for Israel and the Jews of Europe, but for consolation that in a new environment of fear and overt hatred directed at Jews in America there can be a return to a sense of security for us and for our children. That security will come at high price — updating a woefully inadequate security infrastructure; determined advocacy for protection by law enforcement, the justice system and our politicians; and an active self-defense of our persons and our communities.
Last year, as I left Europe I breathed a sigh of relief. This year, as my El Al flight from Newark passes over the Statue of Liberty, perhaps it is a sigh of disappointment.
What a difference a year can make.
Elchanan Weinbach is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarey Israel in Montebello. He has been a pulpit rabbi for 13 years, a school head for 15 years, and a consultant, presenter, or scholar in residence in New York, Kansas City, and Florida, and at LimmudLA.