I woke yesterday to a bomb threat at the synagogue I serve. Thankfully we established security protocols after the hostage situation at CBI Colleyville a few years ago, and those protocols served us well. With prompt and thorough support from local law enforcement, we quickly determined that the threat was false. But even when a bomb threat is false, its emotional and spiritual impacts are real.
The clench of fear is real. The surge of adrenaline is real. If you've experienced a bomb threat at a school you know those feelings well. A bomb threat at a synagogue also activates other feelings too. We all know that antisemitism is high, these days, but a bomb threat hammers that home. After the panic and the fear comes a wash of despair, a cry of the heart: why do people hate Jews so much?
Trauma is "sticky," so the bomb threat feels connected with every antisemitic slur and insinuation and attack. We don't want to give the perpetrators the satisfaction of knowing that they impacted us. And yet, I know that many of you reading will go through this too, or maybe you already have. It feels important to honor the truth of how this feels, when it happens. And it happens a lot these days.
These days are activating for other reasons, too. This weekend the former president again referred to immigrants as poisoning the blood of our country. [Gift link.] Robert Reich notes that "claiming immigrants are 'poisoning the blood of the country' is the literal language of Hitler's Mein Kampf." It's so beyond the pale, it's hard to even write about without sounding hyperbolic.
Meanwhile we know that a lot of people who are angry at the Netanyahu government in Israel are misdirecting that anger at Jews worldwide. Shots were recently fired at a synagogue only an hour away. There's no connection between that and this bomb threat, but they may feel connected. Intellectual responses may not soothe us when our activation is in the realm of heart and feelings.
So what do we do? We honor our feelings (they are real, and pretending them away doesn't help anything) even as we remind ourselves that feelings aren't facts. We focus on feeling the truth that our friends and neighbors stand with us. When we really feel that, we turn the bomb threat into even more of a failure: it leaves us feeling stronger and more supported, instead of afraid.
And we continue to be Jewish. Honestly that's the best answer I've got. Our spiritual practices, like Shabbat and prayer, help us maintain equilibrium. Our mitzvot, like loving the stranger and feeding the hungry, give our actions meaning. Our values, like pursuing justice and repairing the world, shine like a beacon. The best response to antisemitism is continuing to live Jewishly.
And if that feels like a thumb in the eye of the antisemites who want to wipe us out, that's a bonus. I keep returning to this quote from Tolkien* -- the one where Gandalf points out that we don't get to choose the times we live in, we only get to choose how we respond. Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. These words feel extra-resonant to me now.
*I know that the far right loves Tolkien. Which is further proof of how detached from reality they are, because he hated Nazis and called Hitler a "ruddy little ignoramus." But that's a subject for another post.