This January 15th, a gunman held four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The hostages were able to escape, in large part because the coolheaded rabbi had undergone years of security training. Synagogues have long been acutely aware of threats, especially since 2018, when a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
It’s a scary time: Antisemitic hate crimes in New York have increased by nearly 50% since 2020, stated the state’s police department in December. One in four American Jews said they experienced antisemitism in the past year, reported NPR in October 2021.
I wanted to check in and stand in solidarity with our Jewish readers. To create a dedicated space for discussion, I spoke to five Jewish women on the phone — including an Orthodox mother of four in New Jersey; a Cup of Jo writer in L.A.; and the editor of a prominent Jewish news organization — about how they are feeling these days. Here’s what they shared…
What is your emotional temperature right now, after the Texas hostage crisis and overall rise in antisemitic acts?
“I’m so angry and frustrated. A lot of Jewish people have been trying to raise concerns about growing anti-semitism for YEARS, and no one takes us seriously. We grew up knowing Holocaust survivors, and there was this belief that next time we’ll see it coming and we’re not going to let it happen — and now to watch rising antisemitism and feel powerless is really, really hard.” — Shoshana Batya Greenwald, self-described as an Orthodox progressive feminist, educator and design historian
“The danger definitely feels closer than it ever has before. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anybody who had experienced much antisemitism aside from my fourth-grade teacher, who had been asked, seriously, by his college roommate, ‘Where are your horns?’ I knew that kind of thing happened, but it wasn’t part of my own life back then. But that has really changed.” — Leah Koenig, cookbook author, newsletter writer and CoJ contributor
What are some things you love about Judaism and being Jewish?
“The ritual of Shabbat has become a grounding force over the past two years. I wake up happy on Friday mornings because I know I can start my challah for my family to eat at the end of the day. A challah takes many hours to make — the yeast, the proving, the many rises, the folding, the baking — and it can’t be rushed. And the process alone is a way to mark and respect time. I feel like I’m tapping into an ancient ritual that has been carried for centuries by people who were going through much worse. Challah has become an offering during the pandemic, too; I give it to friends and neighbors, and it’s where I find joy during this isolating time.” — Abigail Rasminsky, writer, teacher, editor and CoJ contributor
“My favorite element of Judaism is the idea of making and sharing meals. When we were living in Jerusalem, our friends had a Saturday lunch that was an open house. We went at least twice a month. Sometimes it was 10 people, sometimes 20, they didn’t care. They made a bunch of food and people brought stuff, and we would sit on the floor or wherever. Whenever anyone is traveling there, I hook people up with that lunch.” — Jodi Rudoren, editor in chief of The Forward, the Jewish independent news organization
Jewish friends have told me that they’re nervous to attend services or that they don’t consider buying apartments next to synagogues, etc. Does this type of caution/fear factor into your life these days?
“I am heartbroken that I never feel fully safe attending synagogue services. I’m always thinking, Where are the exits? Where are my children? What would I do? It makes me emotional to talk about it.” — Leah Koenig
“In late 2019, a survey was put out with two shocking numbers: one in four American Jews said they were afraid to go to Jewish spaces/events and nearly a third of American Jews were afraid to wear a yarmulke or Star of David or something that marked them as Jewish. Personally, I have not felt this way. I feel that you can be conscious but go forward and live your life.” — Jodi Rudoren
“Yes, I feel that fear. Visibly Jewish people are getting beaten up on the streets. Last year, one boy was beaten up, and he was the same age as my son on the same bus route. I am also nervous to attend big gatherings; we had an antisemitism rally and I was really scared. I felt like a target as a Jewish group coming together.” — Shoshana Greenwald
“Jewish preschools have upped security because of bomb threats — can you imagine dropping off your toddler at school with multiple guards with guns? The thing that’s weird for me, growing up in a very Jewish area in Michigan, I never felt fear at all. Friends’ grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and when I was younger, I felt like, okay, now we’re on the other side! But holocaust deniers seem more prevalent now. Seeing the January 6th attack on the Capitol last year — with all the Nazi symbols and ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirts — reminded me of the rhetoric and violence during the Holocaust. The scariest part for me is that these antisemitic attacks are growing.” — Leah Fink, coach and founder of B’nai Brooklyn
“Shul is a place where I am always aware of danger. But it is a place I go with my family and friends and community to pray and laugh and cry and schmooze and mourn and drink coffee and just BE. I feel like if anything happens at my synagogue, I know I will be with my family and friends and people I love.” — Abigail Rasminsky
What do you wish non-Jewish friends would do or say?
“After news like the Texas hostage crisis, it’s really nice when non-Jewish friends text and check in. And seeing friends speak out about it on social media feels supportive and validating.” — Leah Fink
“I wish people would acknowledge it and not make us feel like we’re crazy. Just to check on Jewish friends and say, wow, antisemitism is rising at a dramatic rate. After the Pittsburgh shooting, the media was talking about gun control and Trump, but no one was talking about antisemitism. That’s when I first saw it so clearly. Just use the word! Say the word antisemitism! Recognize what is happening! Our lives are in danger! Everybody should start with People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn; it’s such a crucial read. ” — Shoshana Greenwald
Is there anything you’re hoping or planning to do, moving forward?
“I started wearing a Jewish star a year ago, after an attack in upstate New York. As an act of solidarity, I wanted to be more visibly Jewish, so I put on this necklace. Sometimes, when I’m out, I see someone notice it, and it’s such a good feeling. People get a layer about who I am. It feels like the right thing to do.” — Leah Koenig
“I have two children, and my philosophy of parenting is to cultivate curiosity. Kids are bombarded by a lot of information. We need to encourage them to not just accept the often biased or inaccurate sources, nor to cover their heads and hide, but ask, what does the other side say? What is the nuance and context? Encouraging them to ask questions and then answering those questions forthrightly are the most important things we can do as parents.” — Jodi Rudoren
“We have four children — from 6 to 17 — and it’s so important to us that they love being Jewish. With previous generations, there was this idea of, it’s really hard to be Jewish, which is obviously still very true, but as a community, we’ve realized that we need to focus on the positive and instill the pride of being Jewish in our children. It was something that was consciously taught to me — when you have children, build your Judaism into something that’s positive. Our family has Shabbat every single week. We disconnect from technology completely; for 25 hours, from Friday sunset until the stars come out on Saturday, we don’t turn lights on, we don’t cook, we don’t write, we don’t take elevators. I could be stressed about a million things, but once I light the candles, I’m not in that anymore. We’re able to distance myself from all those mundane worries, and we can eat and pray and nap and hang out and be together with friends and family. I love being Jewish; it’s everything.” — Shoshana Greenwald
How are you feeling these days? I hope our Jewish readers are doing okay; sending love. xo
(Photo by Luciano Spinelli/Stocksy.)