National and international headlines continue to report far too many stories about antisemitic incidents and attacks. Locally we have been relatively fortunate so far, but we are not immune from these concerns. The inherent danger of this Jew hating monster cannot be underestimated as it can rear itself suddenly and without warning. Current statistics reveal a disturbing climb in the problem, but the hatred itself is as old as time. The Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee has been active in providing education, resources, and programming to create productive response to the growing problem. We are now joined in the work to address the current crisis by the Task Force on Israel and Domestic Antisemitism chaired by Leslie Kirby.
Over the past year and a half, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we presented large scale community programs with two of the leading voices on the topic, Deborah Lipstadt and Bari Weiss. On August 1 we will host Oren Jacobson, Project Shema Founder, for a virtual community presentation, followed by a small, focused workshop, to specifically address in productive, meaningful, and effective ways the antisemitism and anti-Israel comments which are sometimes communicated in progressive circles. On October 5, we will host Israeli author, Noa Tishby, for a presentation on her book, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Complicated Country on Earth, which has received rave reviews from both conservative and progressive voices.
In addition to these community programs, we have and will continue to work closely with families dealing with antisemitic incidents at their children’s schools. We have supported these families in efforts to get school personnel and administrations to deal with this problem head on, and to provide real and timely response to the concerns. The growing number of these cases led us to create an online reporting form to streamline this process. The form will be launched in time for the opening of the 2021-22 school year and will be accessible on the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee website. The form can be used by parents, students, educators and concerned community member to report incidents and receive support and resources to respond quickly and effectively.
The Task Force on Israel and Domestic Violence is still in its early phase, but the group has already established some goals which include promoting Jewish pride and Jewish unity within our community. The Jewish community of greater Nashville is growing, with a wide range of opinions, backgrounds, perspectives, and aspirations. We will only be successful if we maintain our Jewish unity in the quest towards eliminating the fear of antisemitism, even when we disagree on exactly how to reach our desired outcome.
We are blessed that our Jewish tradition teaches us how to engage in constructive disagreement, or makloket l’sham shamayim, where the goal is to learn and to strengthen relationships, rather than to win an argument.
The Mishnah offers tips on how to engage in “arguments for the sake of heaven,” as interpreted by Rabbi Daniel Roth:
Debate issues without attacking people and damaging relationships.
Check your motivations for engaging in the conflict. Debate to solve problems rather than to win.
Listen to the other side and be open to admitting that you may be wrong.
Consider that you might both be right, even if you hold opposite opinions.
This tradition will be important as we continue to decide how and what to do in the face of this challenge.
Additionally, we in the Jewish community cannot solve the problem alone and will need to work with other partners to fully address the situation. Rabbi Joshua Kullock of West End Synagogue, a Task Force member, wrote in a recent piece published in the Tennessean that, “Overcoming antisemitism is not easy, but it begins by denouncing it whenever we see it. At the same time, we must rise above partisan politics and avoid fueling the growing polarization in our midst. We need to come together, Jews and non-Jews alike, and strengthen a thoughtful and compelling center that can hold us all. We need to create a multicultural community that will be capable of celebrating what we have in common while recognizing that we have things that may set us apart.”
David Harris, American Jewish Committee CEO, echoed this sentiment in his keynote speech for the International Scholars Conference on Antisemitism, urging, “to respond and not just talk about it (antisemitism) requires involvement and support from government, family, faith leaders, schools and educators, media, civil society, and law enforcement and the criminal justice system. To be serious about this allows no room for partisan politics. Antisemitism comes from multiple sources and must be addressed in all forms. It is not a partisan issue and should not be allowed to be co-opted for political means.”
Both Rabbi Kullock’s piece and the link to Mr. Harris’ keynote have been share through our weekly e-newsletter, and we will continue to share comments, resources, and opportunities for engagement on an ongoing basis. To learn more or to get involved in these efforts please contact Deborah Oleshansky, email@example.com