By Esther Perez, Contributing Writer
On the evening of September 3, 2019, Yeshiva University hosted a night of speculation and education. As the public streamed into Koch Auditorium on the Beren Campus, the speakers of the evening arrived and prepared themselves for the panel that was about to ensue. The speakers for the evening were Bari Weiss, op-ed staff editor and writer for the New York Times and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, and Sivan Rahav-Meir, Israeli journalist and World Mizrachi Lecturer at YU’s Center for Israel Studies and the Strauss Center.
The large turn out symbolized the audience’s excitement to hear these two important and influential women speak, as well as the undeniable questions relating to the topic at hand. The lecture began with the words of Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern and Rabbi Dr. Ari Halpern, who introduced the speakers and then handed the microphone over to Liel Leibowitz, journalist at Tablet and moderator for the event.
The memory of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is still fresh in the minds of the Jewish nation. Weiss opened the conversation by detailing the paralyzing shock and horror of her childhood synagogue being attacked, as well as her internally reverberating question that vibrates through the hearts of every American Jew: Could this really happen to us here? Weiss continued detailing the debate of America’s falsified mystique that has been in full swing since the mass immigration to America post-Holocaust. The idea of a country where “no one would ever attack us here,” is described by many, including Weiss and Rahav-Meir, as an inaccurate one.
The reality seems bitter. To think that perhaps after centuries of persecution and broken loyalties, there doesn’t seem to be a foreign country that would fully integrate the Jewish population, is understandably concerning. The fantasies of disturbing anti-Semites in whichever form they come in, will forever haunt us like an undeniable shadow. However, hope is not to be forgone and abandoned at sea in the opinion of Weiss. Her advice to the Jewish population is illuminated in her successful and powerful book where she encourages us to not get lost in bitterness and sorrow. She states that fighting back with the same force and anger as our oppressors is not the answer, rather we should use that passion to reinforce our efforts to rebuilding, growing and changing for the better. Much like a martial artist redirecting the force of a blow to add charge to their counter move, we can manipulate the vigor of those who try to attack us, to do exactly what they don’t want us to do – thrive.
In every solemn remembrance and painstaking reality check is a message that rings loud and clear– if we listen hard enough. Rahav-Meir brought the message home by stating that in Elul we do teshuva, tefillah and tzedaka, but in this Elul she felt differently due to the challenges of immigration. Often, we learn that the key to admittance and repentance is the humility to come before Hashem in admittance that we messed up. Immigration is Rahav-Meir’s key to finding that humility. She explained that the hustle and bustle of a new place, an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar customs and seemingly cold gestures are the catalysts to recognizing that when we are out of our comfort zones, we are not as great as we seem. We accept the help we may have been too proud to previously take; we educate ourselves on new systems and methods we could originally do in our sleep, and in our frustrations, we realize that the equation of accomplishment must always include Hashem.
The world is changing, yet it is as it has always been. Amongst the media’s political correctness and equality for all, we must never forget that to be stagnant in our ways is to do dishonor to the past events that serve as our teachers. Our future depends on our awareness, efforts to properly educate ourselves, and our committal to the idea that we are human and vulnerable and need Hashem’s help with everything, despite the common comfort of feeling invincible in the moment we live in. Live your life, not with fear, but with the open mindedness of accepting our own limitations.