Jewish Life in America: Writing the Roadmap

Two years ago, in a learning session led by Federation and the Shalom Hartman Institute, participants were asked, “do you believe America’s relationship with the Jewish community is unique? Or do you believe it ultimately will go the way of other relationships the Jews have had with the countries they’ve called home?” The question is not simply theoretical or rhetorical, but practical as well, and has stuck with me ever since. I find it particularly relevant today, as we approach a Fourth of July set against a backdrop of increasing antisemitism in the United States.

The rise of division, hatred, and antisemitism, including acts like yesterday’s deeply disturbing attack on Rabbi Shlomo Noginski outside Shaloh House, a Chabad institute for Russian-speaking Jews in the Brighton neighborhood in Boston, has led many to wonder whether the changing climate may foreshadow larger challenges to the American Jewish experience. For me, this attack felt particularly personal, as Shaloh House is a space that I visited and worked with often during my time in Boston. I know that I and many in our community, in Greater Washington, in Boston, and beyond, are saddened and shaken by the news and wish Rabbi Noginski a full and swift recovery.

If America’s relationship to the Jewish community is not singular, then, sadly, we know how this ends. The context may change, but the story repeats as it has in so many countries around the world. If, on the other hand, the Jewish experience in America is exceptional—and I believe it is—we must lay out our own roadmap to shape our future and guide us in sustaining vibrant Jewish life in our unique society.

For many years, though imperfectly and with starts and stops, strong democratic institutions have enabled American Jewry to grow and thrive. For many in the Jewish community, democratic norms have helped to sustain our particular aspirations while embracing a broad American narrative.

Today, I believe more strongly than ever, that if we are to continue defining that roadmap, we must further the democratic institutions and norms that protect us and increase our collective vigilance against antisemitism and hatred of all kinds. The strength of our country and community lies in our diversity. In the face of forces that seek to demonize or disenfranchise specific groups, we must continue to hold tight to the norms that celebrate our uniqueness and protect our right to live freely.

Within the Jewish community, I believe this means we must remain strong and clear in our rhetoric and in our actions, and not let partisan politics divide us. We have a collective responsibility to call out hateful ideology no matter who it targets nor where it resides, including in our own circles. On July 11th, I invite you to join Federation and many other organizations for one such expression of standing together against those who seek to divide and harm us—No Fear: A Rally In Solidarity with the Jewish People.

At The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we continue to focus on strengthening and sustaining vibrant Jewish life. Much like the norms that have shaped the best parts of America, this pursuit includes lifting up the diversity of voices that call our region home, and both listening to and learning from one another. This Fourth of July, I’m sure I’ll continue to contemplate what makes America an exceptional and unique country. I’ll also be thinking—as I often do—about the exceptional Jewish community I’m grateful to be a part of.

Shabbat Shalom, and with wishes for a safe, happy, and healthy holiday weekend,