Moving Forward on a Narrow Bridge
Rabbi’s Message – October 27, 2020
As with other tragic moments in our communal history, we will all remember where we were when we heard about the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. It was a haunting reminder that we remain a target of hatred in a world where hate crimes gain traction. This was too close. Too personal. Too real.
I am sure we all remember hearing about or experiencing antisemitism in past generations. I grew up feeling grateful that I did not have to live in such a world. As I grew up, Jews were no longer barred from certain fraternities, hospitals, neighborhoods, country clubs and the like. Nobody ever threw pennies at my feet or called me hateful names on the way to or from school. Blatent antisemitism was much less tolerated. Until now. I may not have grown up in a world with Father Charles Couglin, but we are all living through a time with Stormfront and other expressions of white supremacy.
I saw my first swastika when I travelled to Poland on the March of the Living in 1992 and even more that summer when I travelled to Germany with my high school symphonic band. Today, we don’t have to leave our country to find swastikas. In New York City in 2018, 150 out of 189 hate crimes featured swastikas.
But rising numbers of antisemitic and violent hate crimes did not prepare me for the emotional toll of the Tree of Life massacre. Antisemitism may have become less in vogue over the years, but it continues to foment in the dark recesses of the online world and behind closed doors. And now this hateful rhetoric has emerged with growing violence, as we have seen in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Monsey, Poway, and beyond.
To deny the real threat of antisemitism today would be foolish. But to live in constant fear of violence is equally irresponsible. True living is about holding these two extremes in constant balance while working to make the fractured world more whole and at peace.
To do so takes strength of character.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav very famously wrote a piece often translated as:
“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.” It is hard to imagine not fearing at all. Which is why I prefer his writing from Likutei Moharan (II:48), in which he expressed this idea differently. It is translated: “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”
At this time when we are reminded of the many narrow bridges we must walk upon toward a life of meaning, I hope that we can look within ourselves, to one another, and to God for the strength to move forward, in spite of all we know of the world’s dangers.