When the pandemic began here, right after the unveiling of Mom's headstone, I remember feeling an odd sort of gratitude that she was already gone. Her lungs were already compromised. If she'd gotten Covid, she would have wound up on a ventilator. Her death would have been far worse than it was.
When a mob stormed the United States Capitol, I remember feeling deeply grateful that she was already gone -- and that my dad was by then in the grips of some dementia, which meant he wouldn't read about it in the paper, or if he did, he'd forget. They would both have been so horrified.
Today in New York Times headlines, there's this: Between Kanye and the Midterms, the Unsettling Stream of Antisemitism. Surely this is only "news" to people who are not Jewish. My grandparents fled from Hitler in 1939, with my mother in tow. This country was their safe haven. And now...?
For Jews in America, things are tense indeed. Next week’s midterm elections feel to some like a referendum on democracy’s direction. There is a war in Europe. The economy seems to be teetering. It is a perilous time, and perilous times have never been great for Jews.
In some way maybe this makes my rabbinate more like others throughout history. (Aside from, you know, things like my gender.) Was it an anomaly to grow up at a moment when it seemed as though antisemitism were disappearing? I don't want to believe that, but I can't rule out the possibility.
Today it's normal and expected for rabbis and synagogue leaders to enroll in active shooter trainings, so we have a better chance of protecting our communities and perhaps surviving if an antisemite with a gun finds his way into our synagogues. (And it's usually "his.") It's just part of the job.
"This isn't why I went to rabbinical school, but here we are," I joke. "I'm learning a new skill eleven years in!" It's an attempt at a whistle in the dark. My friend and colleague R. Mark Asher Goodman wrote recently, "Should I feel creeping dread about next Tuesday? Is that normal?" I replied, "It is now."
And I thought: living with dread has become normal. Antisemitism continues to rise. Trans lives are under attack. Election denial -- "if we lose, it must have been rigged" -- is rampant. Most Americans believe the founders intended this to be a "Christian nation." These are not "good for the Jews."
A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2021 found that almost a quarter of Republicans agreed that “the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child-sex trafficking operation.”
By now we all recognize that as QAnon propaganda, which is deeply antisemitic. We all laughed at "Jewish space lasers" because laughter is a defense mechanism, but as those views become less fringe and more mainstream, it's become harder for many of us to laugh around the clench of panic.
As a child, I used to lie in bed before sleep and think about what I would take if we had to flee in the night. (My diary. A lovey. Could I find a way to save my cat?) That's not particularly healthy, but it seemed normal, at the time. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank more times than I could count.
My mother loved this country fiercely. She believed in the dream of America. And yet she also insisted that every Jew should always have a passport in case we need to flee. I used to tell her she was being paranoid, that would never happen here. I wouldn't say that now. But where would we even go?
Europe is again war-torn. Israel's elections this week returned a right-wing government to power. If this nation isn't safe for us, I'm not sure anywhere really will be. And besides, what about those who don't have the resources to flee? Don't we have an obligation to stand up for them?
"[Our area] is a place people are going to flee to," a local pastor remarked to me a few days ago. "Get that air mattress now." We were talking about the climate crisis at the time. But it might be true for other reasons too. Bodily autonomy. The freedom to practice one's own religion -- or no religion.
I think what I really want to say is, if you're feeling anxious, you are not alone. Meanwhile, having written this, I'm letting it go before I make challah. I can't wait for Shabbat: an opportunity to tune out the anxiety and tune in to something deeper, something that endures even in the worst of times.