I want to ask you to join us tonight on our Zoom link at around 8:15 after minyan for a special presentation by the Washington Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee.
A few months ago the American Jewish Committee released a report on antisemitism in America. According to AJC, 80 percent of American Jews believe that antisemitism is increasing in this country (75 percent in the Pew survey). However, the AJC report has additional data which shows that only 40 percent of non-Jews believe that antisemitism is increasing in the United States.
This data is significant because, as someone who worked in the field of interreligious and intercommunal regulations for a time, I have long believed that Jews alone cannot fight antisemitism any more than LGBT people alone can fight homophobia or people of color alone can fight racism. In order to win the battle for a better country we have to have allies, and people will not join us to fight something that they don’t even believe exists.
The American Jewish Committee is an organization that I truly admire and one that does tremendous work in fighting not only antisemitism but all forms of racial and religious discrimination. They have designed an interactive, zoom friendly presentation, “Antisemitism, You and Your Neighbor,” to share the data and engage congregants in a robust discussion about the report and what it means both for the Jewish community and others who suffer discrimination. This presentation will take place on our Zoom link right after minyan tonight. I really hope you will attend and encourage others to do so as well.
On another note, we are finalizing plans to resume at least some in-person services in our building. As of this past Sunday we have sufficient Internet bandwidth in both the Sanctuary and the Chapel in order for us to do hybrid services (i.e., in person and on Zoom simultaneously) from either location. We’re now in the process of analyzing the data from last week’s survey of the congregation to come up with a plan that will allow as many congregants as possible to attend while feeling comfortable with the precautions still being taken. We’re also figuring out what equipment we need and where it needs to be placed in order that the “Zoomers” can see and hear the “Roomers” and vice-versa.
As we move forward I would ask you to remember a couple of things. First, that it is always possible to act more strictly than you think is necessary in order to allow for more people to feel comfortable. By analogy, community Jewish organizations understand that not everyone in our community keeps kosher. However, even people who don’t keep kosher can still eat kosher food, but the reverse is not true, and thus most Jewish organizations make sure that their meal functions are kosher so that everyone can feel comfortable. If we come up with protocols that are stricter than you think are necessary, I would ask you to understand that some of your fellow congregants might have different needs than you do and we are trying to make it possible for as many people as we can to participate.
The second thing that I would ask you to bear in mind is that our response to providing services and activities during the pandemic has been constantly evolving. We’ve made many changes in our Shabbat services, for example, as our understanding of both the needs of our congregation and of the halacha has evolved. Because the High Holidays are so early this year (the first night of Rosh Hashanah is Labor Day) we want to get as much experience with hybrid services as we can before then. As we move into hybrid services, we will no doubt make changes as things evolve and your feedback and assistance is always welcome.
Finally, as I was writing this message news comes from Israel that Yitzhak Herzog has been elected by the Knesset as Israeli’s 11th President. I had the privilege of meeting him in Israel in 2014 when he was the head of the Labor Party and met with the delegation of Conservative rabbis of which I was a part. Yitzhak Herzog is the son of Chaim Herzog who was the 6th President of Israel and the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog who was the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel and before that was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. The new President went to high school at the Ramaz School in Manhattan when his father was Israel’s Ambassador to the UN; he speaks English fluently, is familiar with the US Jewish community, and as Housing Minister broke precedent by providing government funding to construct Conservative synagogues. Congratulations President Herzog!
As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian