Sunday, March 12, 2017

Anti-semitism and atonement

The synagogue I'm most familiar with --- home to Mason City's Adas Israel congregation --- received a threat a week ago today, recorded on its answering machine:

"We gonna spray your shitty synagogue with pig's blood. Watch the fuck out," spoken in a distorted male voice, apparently pre-recorded, and repeated three times. If you've never heard a threat like this, The Globe-Gazette posted audio in its report of the incident, which you'll find here.

The good news, reported in The Globe-Gazette this weekend, is that some 75 people --- Christian, Muslim and Jew --- turned out Friday evening for Shabbat services at the synagogue to show their support.

But Michael Libbie, who lives in Des Moines and has served as Adas Israel's spiritual leader for many years, told those gathered Friday evening that two other Iowa synagogues had received hateful messages, too, during the last three weeks.


I lived just two blocks from Adas Israel for a number of years --- attended Seder meals there; and as happens in relatively small towns, shared the general opinion that this was "our" synagogue, whether we were members, or not. So such things are disconcerting.

And I have many memories of Berniece Mahler and her son, Morrie, who in addition to their affiliation with Adas Israel were fellow members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of North Central Iowa.

And then there was the incomparable Justin Chapman, president of the Adas Israel congregation for many, many years until his death during 2012. As the various holidays neared, year after year, Justin would finally appear in the newsroom --- usually at the 11th hour --- and we would work together to make sure everyone in the community knew the background of the upcoming service and that Adas Israel was a welcoming place, open to all.

On the one hand, I'm glad that none of these wonderful people lived to hear the threat; on the other, I wish they could have seen the community support that resulted.


Anti-semitism is among the most absurd --- and deadliest --- of the horrors religious people have inflicted upon one another and I don't understand it. But then I don't understand white supremacy either, or homophobia, or Islamaphobia.

Ignorance, I suppose. Bad parenting --- hatred is learned. Mental instability. The worship of false gods. Certainly the poisonous political campaign of 2016 and the failure of the current administration to distance itself with any degree of enthusiasm from any and all who hate has helped bring these horrors to the surface again --- and kept them there.

I could tell you something, based on experience, about homophobia, but not necessarily about anti-semitism. Perhaps you have to be Jewish to understand.

Here's a piece of writing I found useful last week, entitled "When you make Jews afraid, all you prove is that we're human, too."

I'll go to church again today, but as always with the understanding that my religious tradition has been implicated in all of the above at one time or another. And that its most useful task these days is atonement; that lenten penance has less to do with an old catastrophe than it does with the ones involving our brothers and sisters in the here and now.

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