By Steve Kerbel
I’m a Jewish professional who is the son of a Jewish professional. I’ve worked in day schools, congregational schools, residential camps and youth groups. I’m Jewishly engaged. I’m a regular synagogue attendee. I usually arrive early. It was great to see the crowds last Shabbat. My suburban Maryland congregation which would normally have had 600 worshippers for the b’nai mitzvah last Shabbat doubled to nearly 1200 people (and there was enough food at Kiddush). It felt good to see so many people in synagogue. So what are we calling this coming Shabbat? Where will all of those well-wishers, infrequent attendees and non-Jewish solidarity show-ers be this week?
I won’t be in my home synagogue this week, but that’s because the nature of my work as a consultant to communities and congregations has me traveling a lot on weekends, but I will be in shul somewhere. What do we do with our well-intentioned solidarity after Solidarity Shabbat? How do we turn a gesture in to a habit of solidarity and support?
I was asked to lead the preliminary service (most often led by lay people in our congregation) last Shabbat. I’m not always in synagogue for the first pitch, but I rarely arrive after the first inning. While being asked to lead the congregation in prayer is an honor, I’ve been thinking about whether last week it was also an act of defiance, sort of a “Here I am domestic terrorist, Jew hater! I’m on the bima and I’m making myself a target.” I’m here, sanctifying time, making Shabbat distinct, trying to do my best to lead my (much smaller at that hour) congregation in prayer. You want to find a Jew? Here’s one. I wasn’t afraid. I’m not sure at the time I even registered a sense of being threatened (though I’m pretty sure I didn’t).
I wear a kippah all of the time so I’m used to getting questions about it, or in the last week, comments of support and questions (particularly this week from African Americans with whom I’m not acquainted) about how it feels to be singled out as a hated minority, even if we look like everyone else. As a student and teacher of history, Antisemitism is a not at all a new phenomenon for me, but it seems to have become a subject of national awareness after 11 people were murdered on October 27, 2018. We had our feel-good Solidarity Shabbat – we #showedupforShabbat – what are we going to do now?
I’m going to teach. I’m going to engage with members of the broader community. I’m going to seek out and participate in conversations about pluralism in America and why the Jewish voice is an important one. Then on Shabbat, I’m going back to shul.
Steve Kerbel is a Jewish Educator in the Greater Washington, DC area, in an educational consultant and serves as National President of the Jewish Educators Assembly.