As our thoughts turn to celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, we are reminded that the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock as strangers in a strange land. Throughout history, Jews have been the strangers in strange lands over and over again. Wandering, moving from place to place, has always been a part of our story. In this week’s Torah portion Vayeitsei, Jacob, after fleeing from his home, is also wandering as he looks for safe harbor, something he finds with his Uncle Laban in Haran.
In all our wanderings throughout history, from ancient biblical times until today, Jews looking for safe harbor have faced bias and baseless hatred. Even in the safe harbor of the United States, Jews have faced antisemitism. What differentiates the recent resurgence of antisemitism here in the United States is that it exists on both the political left and right, something that Holocaust historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt, discusses in her recent book, Antisemitism: Here and Now.
Yet, Jewish life in America is different from anywhere else in the world, and that is something we ought not to take for granted, especially given the recent rise in antisemitic activity. New FBI data shows that antisemitic hate crimes increased 14 percent in 2019 from the year before. Our hearts tear and our anger rises each time a community is degraded by an act of antisemitic violence or demeaned by the rise of white supremacist voices. We must learn about the forces driving these trends, work to prevent them, and respond appropriately when they occur. The ability to openly fight back against the dark forces of antisemitism is one of the blessings of living in America.
As we gather round our holiday (and perhaps “Zoom” tables) we will offer thanks for the many blessings in our lives. We should include our gratitude that here in the United States we are able to live freely and openly as Jews. Something that is, in part, due to the Pilgrims who reached these shores 400 years ago, in 1620, in search of religious freedom.
May we be blessed with bountiful blessings and a happy Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Sandra M. Bellush