Hoaxes, Vandalism, and Real Courage

After hearing the news of the bomb threat at the OFJCC, my daughter said, “Will Kehillah be next?” How is a loving and honest parent supposed to answer that question? My younger daughter, who attends public school, asked a similar question, “Will Kol Emeth be targeted?”

I tried to answer honestly. Kehillah may be targeted. Other schools have received bomb threats, but all the threats so far have been hoaxes. They are meant to scare people, to take a cheap and seemingly risk free opportunity to express hatred. No synagogues have been targeted this time around, so I suppose it is less likely that Kol Emeth will receive such a call.

My son called me last night. He wanted to talk about the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries. Josh isn’t the most Jewishly active right now, so I was surprised at how upset he was. He asked what one is supposed to do. He had said kaddish: was that the right thing? I told him I thought it was an amazing response.

I was at a learning session last night for an interfaith trip to Israel I am taking in the Fall along with Pastor Smith from University AME Church. When I got there, Pastor Smith asked how I was doing with all the threats. He commented on the desecration of the two cemeteries, saying, “Who does that?” I just nodded in agreement to a question that none of us know how to answer.

We are all asking ourselves questions that don’t have answers. Why are small minded people cowardly disrupting the lives of others? How is it possible that attention grabbing hate can be so motivating? And: how do we as a community respond?

I am reminded of Pharaoh’s efforts to disrupt and destroy the Jewish people. The more he did, the more we increased. One response, then, is to double down on what we are doing. This threat to us reminds all of us how connected we are, how much our Jewish commitments and connections really mean to us. That’s why #IstandwiththeJCC, and that’s why my son was motivated to say a kaddish.

The hatred is also bringing us friends. The Muslim community has donated tens of thousands of dollars to help rebuild the cemeteries. Pastor Smith knows what it’s like to live in a community receiving bomb threats and these haters have only deepened our connection and friendship.

I can’t predict what happens next. But I will say this: threats like this only remind us of our strengths and our friendships.

There are many responses, including rewards being offered for the capture of these vandals and prank callers. Law enforcement is working diligently on their end. Hopefully we can make these crimes expensive for their perpetrators and so deter others from more such copycat actions.

We also are called up in this moment to stand together. Synagogues, schools, JCCs, camps- all of us share a common mission to be a light in this sometimes dark world, to provide community and warmth and learning in a myriad of ways. Now is the moment to stand up and together for who we are and what we believe.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi David Booth

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