On Wednesday, August 6th, someone discovered that a flag on the grounds of one of the local synagogues had been set afire. It was the flag of Israel. It was unclear when the attempt to burn it took place. The next day, there was an article in the local newspaper about it. Since then, there has been little else in the newspaper about this incident, though there was a small letter to the editor today (August 15). Last Sunday night (August10), upon my return from vacation, I submitted a version of this letter to the editor which has not yet been published (or acknowledged). Having submitted letters to the editor in the past, I know that the wheels can turn slowly. Given what else is happening the world, my guess is that the letter editor is very, very busy these days. I waited to publish this online, hoping for it to come out in the newspaper first, but too long has this gone without other voices speaking out and without my voice speaking up.
There is so much going on in the world that is needful of peaceful, justice-infused resolution. There are so many questions–heavy-laden, emotionally-charged, politically-demanding– which do not lend themselves to easy, or even complex, answers.
The world is on fire.
Ferguson, MO. Ukraine. Gaza. Iraq.
This is not the way.
I do not agree with the policies and actions of the Israeli government. I do not believe that to make such a statement, in and of itself, to speak it publicly, is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. Both Israel and the people of Gaza have chosen unskillful leaders whose current default engagement with each other is violent and militaristic, resulting in too much death.
I am deeply thankful for those who speak out on behalf of disenfranchised Palestinians; grateful to those who seek both a peaceful and a just solution. I admit to wishing for many of these folks to be more skillful in their engagement and rhetoric, as I wish of those speaking in defense of Israel’s nationhood. Speaking about it has become interpersonally contentious and geo-politically fraught; in social media, it has become full of metaphorical landmines with potential and actual damage to real life relationships. At least in my world. I’m guessing in yours as well.
As a single individual, I do not have the power to stop what is going on in Gaza. But as Unitarian Universalist and as a seminarian, as someone who believes our cross cultural and interfaith relationships matter, I can and do so here and now, speak out against the attempt to burn the flag of Israel on the property of B’nai Israel, one of our two synagogues in town.
Yes, OUR synagogue. Our community’s synagogue: whether you are Jewish or not, whether you know someone who attends worship there or not, whether you have set foot inside there or not, it is our synagogue.
The attempt to set fire to one of its flags is abhorrent. Though the intent of the arsonist may have been a political statement about Israeli violence in Gaza (at this point, it’s not known who did this and it may never be known), the impact is an anti-Semitic hate crime. This was not a random flag, neither was it an Israeli flag in a random context.
It was lit afire while on the property of a synagogue (remember: our synagogue, our friends and neighbors, regardless of agreement or disagreement on political issues). It was lit aflame while explicitly anti-Semitic actions (vandalism, defamation) are on the rise, more visibly in Europe, but here, too: here in the United States, in Massachusetts, and dreadfully, here in our hometown, in our beloved community.
This is not the way.