I’ve heard a number of times over the years that antisemitism — far from being a threat to Jewish continuity — is actually what is responsible for the continued existence of the Jewish Nation. The hatred Jews face, the theory goes, has kept the Jewish people in existence as a distinct, separate group.
That is unequivocally false.
In fact, Newsday reported recently that the reaction of many Long Island Jews to the rise in antisemitism has been to avoid signs of Jewish identity and places of Jewish activity.
How does that help the survival of our people?
What does help is the conscious choice to do what is most counterintuitive: to live proudly as Jews despite the hatred and persecution.
When hatred raises its ugly head, as it has so many times during the millennia of our existence as a people, we cannot cower. We need to learn more about our beautiful heritage, culture, and religion. We need to strengthen our children by telling them about the great accomplishments of the Jewish people over the ages. And we need to stand tall and proud, openly celebrating our faith. Only when the Jewish community asserts our proud history and faith are we respected by those who wish to see us fall.
Now is an especially appropriate time to recommit to Jewish pride and unity.
On Sunday evening, Jewish communities around the world will mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The holiday will also launch the beginning of a once-in-seven-years tradition: the Year of Hakhel, or “Gathering.” In days bygone, during this year the entire Jewish nation — men, women, and children — would gather in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where their leader or king would read a selection of Biblical verses to them, exhorting them to improve their interpersonal conduct and their conduct toward God, reinforcing the bonds of peoplehood that coalesced them as a nation. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the most influential rabbi in modern history, took the message of Hakhel and called for the occasion to be marked in the present day as a time to focus on the importance and power of unity, something more important now after years of COVID-19 isolation.
Hakhel reminds us that we’re interconnected. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and hope for the best. We must stand united and proud. Unity creates pride in whom we are, realizing we’re part of something bigger than us, something ancient and enduring.
Our coalescence as a nation is what helped us survive all these years of exile.
We have all the tools we need to fight antisemitism. They are not pistols and rifles or condemnations and statements. They are our pride in whom we are and what we contribute to make the world and our communities a better place to live for all humankind.
Let’s mark this Year of Hakhel by gathering together and strengthening one another, as our ancestors once did in days bygone, and let us come out of this year a more unified and more proud nation, one that can stand tall in the face of whatever challenges come our way.
This guest essay reflects the views of Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of the 38 Chabad-Lubavitch centers on Long Island.