Not Yet Ark Weather (R. Widzer’s Friday night Sermon, Oct. 28, 2022)

I mentioned that this week the Torah portion is the story of Noah.  I’ve been thinking about Noah and his experiences.  The Torah tells us God said to Noah, “Build an Ark” and gave specifics of how to build it.  And then Noah built the Ark.


We’re not told how LONG it took Noah to build the Ark, or the details of what he was doing for all those weeks or months or years, or what his neighbors might have thought about it.


One rabbinic teaching tells us that it took Noah 120 years to build the Ark.  That’s long enough that other people SHOULD have been asking him about it.  And long enough that he COULD have told them about God’s plan and gotten them to repent and change their ways.  But the Torah doesn’t tell us any of this, or what happened during the time it took Noah to build the Ark.


But I have to imagine that, however long it took, there were times of inclement weather.  There must have been days with a few sprinkles or rain-showers or even thunderstorms.  And when that happened, I wonder what Noah thought.  Each time that it started to rain, he must have wondered, “Is this it?”  Or maybe he cried out, “Wait, I’m not done yet!”  Or he asked himself, “Is this the big one?”  Each time it rained, I’m guessing Noah had a little anxiety attack until skies cleared.  And then, of course, the day DID come.  It rained, and didn’t stop raining for 40 days and 40 nights.  And everything was flooded.


I’ll confess I’ve been feeling a little like Noah these days.  Not meteorologically.  But I have been worrying about steady drizzle of antisemitism in society lately, the drip, drip, drip of anti-Jewish hatred that we keep seeing and experiencing.  And maybe I’ve been a little worried that we could one day experience another FLOOD.


Let me be clear.  I do NOT think this is imminent.  I do NOT think this is inevitable.  I do NOT think that this FLOOD of hatred must come.


But I am noticing that it is sprinkling more and more often:


  1. You’ve read and heard and seen the news about music mogul, Kanye West, who wants to go “death con 3” on Jewish people and feels like the “Jewish media” and his Jewish lawyers and agents have been cheating him and manipulating him and others. His interviews and social media postings keep repeating some of the standard canards about Jewish political and media control.


  1. Following Kanye’s Twitter outburst, this past weekend, you might have seen that a Neo-Nazi group unfurled banners on a Los Angeles freeway that read: “Kanye was right about the Jews.” They stood behind these banners with their arms raised in a Nazi salute


  1. Donald Trump had his own antisemitic statements lately. This time, he raised the specter of dual-loyalty among Jews, another familiar antisemitic standard. This followed a pattern from his presidency, when he once told a group of Jews that they weren’t loyal enough to Israel.  This was because they didn’t agree with HIS policies towards Israel.  To another group of Jewish leaders, he also once referred to Netanyahu as “YOUR Prime Minister,” as if they all were Israelis (or should be).


  1. You may have heard about Josh Shapiro, a candidate for Governor in Pennsylvania. He was attacked by his opponent for attending and sending his kids to a “privileged exclusive elite” school. This was, in fact, a private Jewish day school.  His opponent, who has engaged paid consultants with connections to White Nationalism, was using coded antisemitic language.


  1. Closer to home and more immediate, I don’t know if it made your news feed, but last week at Robinson Secondary school, 2 boys’ bathrooms had antisemitic graffiti scrawled in them. There were swastikas and the phrase, “Jews will not replace us.” This is one of our local high schools with about dozen TBS students (including my kids).


  1. All of this has been happening within the context of the 4th anniversary earlier this week of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were gunned down at Shabbat morning services.


These are a lot of intermittent rain showers.


There was a good article in the Washington Post yesterday about this.  It pointed out the complicated nature of antisemitism.  The ADL has an index of antisemitic attitudes in American society, the percentage of Americans who seem to hold antisemitic views.  Back in 1960s, it was at a high of 29%.  By 2019, the index measured 11% of Americans as antisemitic, the lowest level ever recorded.


The ADL also tracks the number of antisemitic incidents in a given year.  And in 2019, the year with the lowest percentage of Americans holding antisemitic viewpoints, there were more antisemitic incidents than any other year yet recorded.  (That record was broken, incidentally, last year in 2021.)  So it seems that there are fewer people with antisemitic attitudes, but a larger number of violent and public acts.   Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, thinks there is “less shame” in society today, so people feel they can commit these antisemitic acts and get away with them.


The truth is, of course, that antisemitism has always been around.  Over the centuries, it has taken different forms.  There is religious antisemitism, based on the belief that the Jews killed Jesus.  There is racial antisemitism, the notion that Jews have inferior blood or genes or constitute an inferior race.  There is economic antisemitism.  This often takes one of two forms.  Either we are raging capitalists out to get all the money.  Or we are savage communists, out to get all the money.  Sometimes both.


We know that Antisemitism is often used as a political cudgel to curry favor with core constituencies of political parties.  From the political left, it is often conflated with, or masked by, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment.  There are people who think we Jews have all the money and power and are oppressing poor people and people of color.  From the political right, there are people who think we Jews have all the money and power and are seeking to replace and oppress average white people.  That is to say, as an oversimplification, the Left thinks we are TOO white and the Right thinks we are not white ENOUGH.


The ADL’s Greenblatt has commented on these 2 forms of political antisemitism.  In a recent speech, he explained:

“Attacks of the far-right are like the hurricane bearing down on you right now. Immediate and deadly, we need to protect ourselves and our community from such lethal threats. But what also worries me is the antisemitism taking shape on the left. Which is more akin in many ways to climate change: slowly, subtly, but surely, the temperature is increasing.


(It’s funny, but not funny, that he’s using weather metaphors, just like me.)


So it is raining.  And maybe it’s raining more frequently, or at least so it seems.  Or it’s raining harder in short bursts?  Or it’s becoming more and more socially acceptable to rain antisemitism. Regardless of the unwieldy metaphor, I think you get my point.


HOWEVER – I am not building an ark yet.  And there are two important reasons why.


  1. This burst of antisemitism is NOT sponsored by the government. In fact, the government is working against it to combat antisemitism. The antisemitic acts we are seeing are NOT government sanctioned, like Kristallnacht or the Shoah.  They are not state-supported like they were in Soviet Russia or like they are in autocratic Muslim regimes.  In fact, the tools of government are working AGAINST antisemitism.  Recently the government issued a report on domestic terrorism for the first time.  And it included a large section on White Supremacists and their threat to society as a whole, especially people of color and Jews.


As I mentioned a minute ago, there is antisemitism on both sides of political spectrum, but it is not being enacted in government policies and programs.  We do need to be vigilant against some of the folks currently running in various races around country.  There are worrisome signs of what they might want to do if they get into office.  But I am encouraged by the number of politicians who have spoken up lately, speaking out against antisemitism.


  1. The second reason I’m not yet building an Ark is that there ARE allies who have been speaking up and acting correctly in the face of antisemitism. You may have seen the various statements of support for the Jewish community in response to Kanye from celebrities, from politicians, from the world of music and entertainment. There’s a great statement by MRC Entertainment, a production company that has shelved their documentary about Kanye.  The company wrote an excellent repudiation of what he said and the views he embraced.  There have been a number of different corporations cutting ties with Kanye (though maybe not as quickly as we would have liked).  People of good will ARE standing up.


In the immediate aftermath of the shootings at Tree of Life, my sanctuary in New Jersey was filled with religious leaders and congregants from neighboring churches and faith communities.  We had many allies and supporters.  I suspect it was similar here at TBS.  While maybe there have not been as many as we would like in recently days, there are voices of support and allies who will be with us, probably more than we suspect.


And so, I do not yet feel a need to build an Ark.  I do not think that a FLOOD of antisemitism is imminent or inevitable.


But I will be keeping a watchful weather eye to the sky to see when and how often and how hard it rains.


I am comforted to know that we are not alone in watching the skies.  And I am heartened to feel that, when it rains, there are folks who will lend us an umbrella and stand with us.


Let us all pray and work for clear skies ahead.


And let us say, AMEN


(Edited transcription from notes of sermon)