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Arise, Arise, Shake Off Your Dust

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I was not surprised to turn on my phone and read that 11 Jews had been murdered in cold blood while praying in a synagogue last Shabbat morning.
 
This is not a normative claim, rather a descriptive one. For how can I be surprised?
 
I have spent my life as a student of Jewish history learning about tragedy after tragedy that befell our people from the inception of our tradition.
 
The Greeks and Romans hated us because we refused to conform to their ways by giving up our time-hallowed traditions. The early Christians hated us because our rejection of Jesus was a living challenge to their cherished religious beliefs. Medieval Europe hated us because they needed someone to blame for the existence of disease and the disappearance of their children. 20th century Europe hated us because they needed someone to blame for economic collapse along with political and social turmoil. Today, people hate us for all of these reasons plus the state of Israel.
 
The reasons may change over the years but the end result is always the same. 
 
But I believe that to reduce Judaism to episodes of tragic nature would be a tragedy in and of itself. Judaism is not about wallowing in tragedy or despair, but about hope and looking towards the future. While anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years we need not and should not let it define Judaism or Jewish history.
 
Such was the argument of the eminent Jewish historian Salo Baron. Baron spent his career arguing against what he called the ‘lachrymose approach’ to Jewish history. Yes, Jews have suffered, he argued, but this would be missing both the beauty and the crux of Judaism and Jewish history. By reducing Judaism and our Jewish identity to a series of tragedies, we are losing sight of the true importance and value of Judaism, and thereby allowing the individuals who have tried to stop Judaism to win.
 
This week is a time of mourning, of reflection, and of sadness. But this week will soon end, and normal life will regain its course; then what? Will we then sit around and await another future anti-Semitic attack to reignite our energy and vigor for the Jewish community?
 
I believe that we need to strengthen our Jewish identity around the positive aspects of our tradition. This week we should talk about anti-Semitism, but next week we should talk about the great values ubiquitous throughout our tradition. This week we should talk about ideologies and philosophies that are responsible for the spread of Jew hatred, but next week we should talk about the depth and multiplicity of ideologies and philosophies that are able to coexist within the Jewish tradition.
 
This week we should go to vigils, change our profile pictures, and wear pins in support of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, but next week we should wear our Kippah, star of David, and other positive Jewish identifiers.
 
Go out and learn a page of Talmud, read a book of classical Jewish philosophy or poetry, or study an inspirational figure in Jewish history. Head to a Shabbat dinner, visit Israel, or volunteer in a Jewish capacity. Then when people ask you about Judaism, your Jewish identity, or your experience your answer need not be one of lachrymosity and sorrow, but rather one of value, richness, relevance, and importance.
 
 
    Moshe Daniel Levine is a reglar contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online.
 
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
 

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