This week has been a busy one on the domestic Jewish front. On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order that will make Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also apply to anti-Semitic acts. Specifically, it is meant to protect Jews on college campuses facing the anti-Israel fanaticism of the BDS movement. Lauded by the ADL and other Jewish groups, it has still elicited harsh criticism as a presidential attempt to dictate the identity of Jews. Contrary to the claims of the New York Times, the executive order does not re-define Judaism as a nationality; rather, it simply protects Jewish students from the rapidly-mutating virus of anti-Semitism ravaging college campuses around this country.
At the same time many were condemning the presidential move on social media, we had a tragic reminder of the hatred many people feel toward Jews this week. In what appears to be a targeted, anti-Semitic attack on a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, two assailants opened fire killing three civilians in the store, as well as a police officer.
As this week reminds us, hateful fanatics have always targeted Jews, whether for religious, racial, or social reasons. In recent years, this Jewish hatred has shifted to Israel, the Jew of the Nations, and to anyone who dares to support her. This much-needed executive order attempts to close that loophole of hatred.
Of course, the question of the week remains: So…as Jews, what exactly are we? This is a complicated question that the Reform Movement has waded into at various points in the past two centuries. Many of you know what my answer is, but what is yours? I invite you to spend time this Shabbat discussing that answer. Are we a religion? A people? An ethnicity? A race?
Our Torah Portion this week, Vayishlach, has some insight to give as well. As Jacob completes an epic wrestling match with an angel, he (and we) receive a new name. No longer will his name be Jacob, but Israel, one who has ”striven with beings divine and human, and has prevailed.” The Jewish People has always wrestled with God, and we have earned our place no matter the geography in which we find ourselves.
As we say at the end of the amidah, to all those who wish us harm, may God cancel their designs and frustrate their schemes, and may we continue to merit God’s blessings.
Even as darkness persists, may this be a month of light and love.