By Gil Preuss
It feels odd to start the year writing of anger and frustration, but I know that is what many of us are feeling in light of the anti-Semitic attack during Chanukah in Monsey, N.Y. News of anti-Semitic violence is no longer surprising ― and I think many of us are disturbed by both the nature and frequency of attacks. It also seems that as much as our country and its leaders may condemn the attacks, there is still a long way to go when it comes to denouncing and pushing back against the ideology that motivates anti-Semitic violence in the first place.
What I want to emphasize, however, is that fighting against anti-Semitism is the responsibility of each of us. We all have a role to play in turning the tide of hate.
Know that we at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington are continuing to work closely with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the national Jewish community’s Secure Community Network (SCN), and local governments to ensure the safety of the Greater Washington Jewish community. Together, we have significantly increased the resources available to communal agencies, synagogues and institutions, and are now expanding and accelerating our efforts to help organizations conduct comprehensive assessments of their security plans.
Last year, Federation also formed a communal Security Task Force, which is in charge of assessing and identifying ways to improve our community’s security in light of shifting realities. The Task Force has the mandate and opportunity to determine key security issues, bring attention to any gaps that exist, and pursue a strategic and agile approach to doing what we can to meet our community’s needs now and in the future.
Still, I believe one of the most important things we can do is strengthen the relationships we have within and outside the Jewish community. I see three steps we can take without delay.
First, when it comes to fellow Jews, we must stand with each other in the face of anti-Semitism no matter the target or the source. There may be differences among the Jewish people in terms of how we practice Judaism and how we relate to Israel, to name just two examples. None of this should matter when it comes to standing against hate.
Second, we must condemn any and all anti-Semitic tropes. When we let anti-Semitic rhetoric pass by without comment, we are enabling anti-Semitism to grow and become legitimate. We cannot look past comments simply because we agree with someone’s political views or because the person may have done some good in another instance. We need to hold the people around us to a higher standard, just as we must hold ourselves to this standard. Particularly in highly politicized environments, it can be easy to ignore discriminatory rhetoric in service of other goals. We have to disrupt this habit.
Third, we cannot expect anyone to stand with us if we have not done the work of getting to know them, helping them to understand the oppression we have faced, and seeking to understand theirs in turn. We have to help more people in other faith and minority communities understand the ways in which anti-Semitism and discrimination of all kinds are linked. We must take it upon ourselves to do the work of reaching out and inviting partnership on critical issues.
Despite all that is happening beyond our control, our future, as ever, is ours to build. We must start with a focus on human connection. When we form meaningful, authentic relationships, we help take abstract concepts and make them real and relatable. This is, by far, one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. History has proven that the stronger our bonds with each other and with those around us, the more peaceful and promising our future will be.
Gil Preuss is CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.