This final Parsha of the Book of Genesis invites us to examine the layers of ones’ personal identity and attributes, moral integrity and the identity of this tribal people, past, present and future. This Parsha could not be more relevant to the issues of Jewish identity that so many of us are struggling with today. Jacob, at the end of his life, calls his sons before him, honestly addressing them, giving blessings to some, admonishment and warnings to others.
We see playing out before our very eyes today Jews who are wrestling with what it means to be a Jew. This absurd President has the audacity to try to define us. At the same time his absurd executive order has ignited a questioning for many of us.
The rise of antisemitism has for the first time in decades challenged our people’s sense of security in our American homeland. Mostly establishment organizations such as the Federations, the Jewish Community Relations Councils, the ADL and certain Zionist organizations have seized upon this crisis to assert their message of “Jewish pride” and to cry out against antisemitism.
While thousands of Jews attended the rally in NYC this past Sunday, thousands more did not. The demonstration in New York City, ironically, lacked the Orthodox community. Many others felt that it was more about Israel than about America Jewry. It also lacked the presence of allies from other communities who have also been the targets of bigotry and violence.
In Takoma Park this past Sunday hundreds of local Jews turned out for a similar rally. However, this rally, at least, tried to have a broader message that condemned antisemitism as well as racism and other forms of bigotry. Nonetheless, the crowd was predominately white. Where were our allies?
While it’s important to come together as Jews when we are threatened, we also need to address the root causes of antisemitism, racism and bigotry in this country. Many Christians still don’t get it about us Jews. We still don’t get it about them. So many still don’t get it about racism, the chill between many Blacks and Jews, the ignorance we have about the poor and people in Appalachia and red states.
When will all the major movements in Jewish religious life eliminate from their liturgy all those statements that put down other peoples? The Aleynu paragraph about thanking God “who did not make us like the nations of the lands, and did not place us like the families of the earth, who did not make our lot like theirs, or our destiny like all of them...”. along with the language of Jewish Choseness needs to be eliminated. Decades ago, Am Kolel and the Reconstructionist Movement deleted this chauvinistic theology from its prayer books and philosophy. The newer Reform prayer books have only recently moved in this direction.
Back to the Parsha. We need to ask ourselves do we want the blessings offered to Judah and Joseph’s sons, or do we want the admonishment given to Shimon and Levi? VaYechi. How shall we live? Let’s discuss this more this coming Shabbes. Your thoughts are needed and welcome. Feel free to comment. Brachot, Reb David