After Shabbat last week, I turned on my phone and was horrified to see the news of the mass shooting by a white nationalist in El Paso, Texas. My unease only increased when I remembered that just the day prior, we had ushered in the Hebrew month of Av, and thus the Nine Days. This period of Jewish mourning commemorates some of the most tragic events in Jewish history: the breaching of the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem on the 1st of Av, and its final devastating and demoralizing destruction on the 9th, which is now commemorated with the holiday of Tisha B’Av.
My feelings of grief were augmented on Wednesday afternoon, when news emerged of raids authorized by the Trump administration targeting immigrant workers in Mississippi, the largest single-state raids in American history. These raids, which left local children separated from their families and were designed to terrorize immigrants, made it as clear as ever that Trump and his allies share the white nationalist goal of creating a culture of violence that forces immigrant communities to live in fear.
The Nine Days have always been a challenge for me. While I can mourn the holy place that was once so central to Jewish life and living, that original place was also something I never experienced. I observe this somber time by adopting Jewish customs associated with mourning the death of loved ones, as many other Jews do, but feeling a direct connection to this painful but ancient tragedy can be a struggle.
But these days, grief comes more easily. I mourn for the dozens of black, Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant lives taken by white nationalist violence in the last year alone. And I also mourn the America I once knew, troubled as it was and has always been.
White nationalism didn’t start with Trump, but he has done more than just usher it from the fringe to the mainstream. He has embraced it, put it into practice and policy, and actively incited the violent means that white nationalists see as central to their goal of a United States without Jews, black folks, Muslims, non-white immigrants, and Latinos — an “all-white ethno-state.” The violence we’ve seen so far — from Charleston to Pittsburgh and El Paso to Poway — is only a glimpse of their greater vision and should terrify every single one of us.
Despite the full embrace of white nationalism by Trump and his allies, I know that anti-Semitism is not solely a phenomenon on the political right; the progressive movement is not immune to anti-Semitism, just as it is also not immune to racism and sexism — and as a black Jewish woman, I can speak confidently to all three. Even though the overwhelming majority of Jews are not only progressive, but some of the Democratic party’s most reliable and influential donors as well as leaders of many left-leaning political and advocacy organizations, anti-Semitism still shows up in these spaces uncomfortably and frequently.
But one worry that has never crossed my mind in any progressive space — in a meeting, on a panel, at any conference or protest — is whether or not the people who made an offensive joke about Jews and money would celebrate dead Jews, or worse, kill us on Shabbat morning.
We have passed the point at which we must decide where we stand as a community against the threats that endanger us all, whether we are Republicans or Democrats. As a faith, we are called to hold concern for others, concern for the communities in which we live, concern for the broader society of which we are a part — these are central to our Jewish identity and part of how the world sees us as well. “A light unto the nations” are not just empty words. They are real, and they should be true.
Our history and our future hang in the balance. I grew up hearing that “begging is unbecoming.” But right now I’m ready to beg — ready to beg my fellow Jews to see the real threat that is before us, and take the action needed to defeat the white nationalism that threatens us, our democracy, and the world. If we do not act, future generations may look back and mourn the 21st century destruction we failed to prevent.
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