Focusing on Unity, Israel and Antisemitism in 2024

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Regional Jewish community leaders offered predictions on how antisemitism, Israel advocacy and community engagement will play out in 2024 after last year’s unprecedented show of unity against a global hatred toward Jews.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner of Kesher Israel Congregation (The Georgetown Synagogue) in Washington, D.C., said there is a silver lining to the Hamas-Israel war and rampant antisemitism that shows no signs of ebbing in 2024. He sees a year ahead of Jewish people being more unified and more connected to Judaism and the Jews of Israel.

“Many Jews who were disconnected before are now wanting to connect with their Judaism and Israel,” Shafner said. His Modern Orthodox synagogue was recently the target of an antisemitic threat, prompting a renewed need for security in 2024, he said.

“People are realizing you can’t just blend in. You’re always going to be a Jew. There’s fear but a sense of solidarity.”

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In this past year, antisemitism has grown to out-of-control levels, said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, leader of the Conservative Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac. “There’s a far more sense of vulnerability than I’ve seen in my lifetime, but Jews are recognizing the importance of a community. We can hope that things will get better in 2024, but there’s certainly a reason for concern.”

Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of the Reform Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church said that Jews will need to be more accepting of a diversity of opinions while retaining a meaningful connection to Israel. “We are looking at a new paradigm for all these fundamental pieces of our identity of what it means to be an American Jew.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, expects the war in Israel will last a long time and that antisemitism is only expected to rise in 2024. “The Jewish community will need to spend a lot more time focused on security and its institutions. That includes sensitivity and diversity training that faces facts that Jews are a minority, not the equivalent of the white majority in this country,” Halber said.

“I think the challenge is to ensure that our young Jews understand that their Jewish identity is just as important as their progressive politics. We want to create the situation where they don’t have to make that choice, so people can understand you can be pro-Israel and still be on the forefront of fighting for civil rights,” he added.

Jeff Dannick, executive director of the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, said heading into 2024, “it’s a very challenging time for the Jewish people. I also think it’s a real opportunity to turn a page and write a promising future.”

Political tensions, he said, have led to a tremendous amount of apprehension and anxiety in the community. “That’s not a healthy way for us to live. We hear about people taking the mezuzah off their doors; they used to wear a Star of David and decided that they don’t want to do that anymore. My hope is that people do what they want to do, not what they fear they have to do. I’m hoping that we can be resolute and continue to wear our Judaism with pride.”

Alan Ronkin, regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C., said resilience is going to be especially relevant for this coming year. “I think it will be critical for us to not be afraid. There are going to be times where we’re going to have to stand up for what we believe in and it may not always be the most popular thing. Keeping lines of communication open across political divides in an election year is going to be important and having an attitude of openness to one another.”

Ronkin also said that “we will need to keep our eye on the ball to make sure that antisemitic rhetoric doesn’t become further normalized. We’re going to have to weather some difficult times with making the case for Israel and making it strongly. There’s going to be a lot of detractors out there that are going to try to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Gil Preuss, chief executive officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said 2024 will bear out that “we’re still in the early stages of understanding the impact of the Hamas attack on Israel both in terms of Israel’s response not only to Hamas, but to Hezbollah and other threats that they are facing. We’re also early on in seeing how antisemitism and anti-Israel activity continues to play out.”

This coming year, Preuss said, large segments of the Jewish community are going to be very focused on maintaining American support for Israel. “We’ll see it play out within the presidential campaign, which is always a time when different parties pull at the Jewish community to get the Jewish vote,” Preuss said.

“The vicious attack on Oct. 7 brought people to the Jewish community and strengthened their Jewish identity in a way that we had not seen in decades. Now, to what degree will that continue to exist? Will people continue to go to synagogue or want to send their kids to Jewish programming or engage in Jewish life more actively? I believe that that’s going to continue. People will find community and meaning and not just a response to antisemitism and violence against Jews.”

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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