And Another Song Will Rise
“Why is this happening?” is the question I am asked over and over again by my non-Jewish coworkers and friends. But, not once has a Jewish person asked me this question — not my family, not my Jewish friends and not even my own children. Is it because we are afraid to ask why?
I often find myself asking how and what questions. How are we going to respond? How can I help? What are we going to do? Yet, I still avoid the why. Is it because I was taught to take action and to do something instead of playing the victim, and therefore turn to the how and what more comfortably than the why question I can’t seem to answer?
What has happened in our St Louis area is unconscionable. People have harmed our close-knit community by desecrating the resting places of generations of Jewish families. There have been bomb threats to our cultural centers and schools. There are people in this friendly midwestern city that seek to break lines of trust and to pit society against itself by classifying us and them.
Of course, we will gather and bond together to overcome these acts. We will pool together the emotional, financial and spiritual resources of our community to provide solace and repair the damage done. This is what we do; this is how we do it. Already, our community has held a candlelight vigil, organized a cleanup at the cemetery site where our new Jewish Governor Eric Greitens and Vice President Mike Pence offered words of support and enacted a swift online reparation fund through the Jewish Federation.
It may come as a surprise to some, but not to me, that the St. Louis Muslim community has been at the forefront of support for our Jewish community. Both minority groups have been recent targets by emboldened actors of hate, the true them in our broader society. The Muslim community acted swiftly, starting a Launchgood page to assist with the repair efforts of our beautiful historic cemetery, Chesed Shel Emeth. Heartwarmingly, they have named their crowdfunding effort “Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery” and their efforts have raised almost $67,000 in about 24 hours. Click here to check it out.
But the what and the how can go only so far in providing a temporary solution to our concerns. As Jews, we learn through Torah and Talmud to dig deeper, to strive to understand the meaning behind or beyond the words, to grasp the greater context than just the story unfolding in front of our eyes. Yet, when we are confronted by another example of anti-Semitism in our modern world, once again we do not ask why.
Is it that we know the answer?
Is it that we don’t want to know the answer?
Or could there be no plausible answer for this deep-seated hate?
We live in an increasingly confusing time — a time that makes it hard to grasp the profundity of it all. From when we were little, it has been seared into our collective consciousness to “never forget.” But to never forget and to worry about the future of our community are two very different concepts. Having grown up in St. Louis and having lived here most of my life, I don’t think I have ever felt as vulnerable as I do today.
Perhaps, we can’t answer the burning question of why, but then how do we answer the question our children ask, like “Mom, Dad, what are we going to do about all this hate?” To this, I am reminded of the words of the prophet Zechariah, whose words were immortalized in song by a different type of prophet, Debbie Friedman: “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone shall we all live in peace.”
And another song will rise.
Michelle (Birenbaum) Hoberman, WHP Member (St. Louis 15), grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and has resettled back into her hometown after a few stops along the way. She works by day in residential real estate and is a busy mom of three. Michelle is actively involved in the Jewish community, supporting the Jewish Federation of Saint Louis as a funding advisor for various committees and as a committee member for Jews in Need Overseas, and has worked with the National Council of Jewish Women and the J Associates. She is also connected on a personal level with Saint Louis-based Pedal the Cause, a nonprofit organization which donates 100% of its funds to cancer research at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, as both an advocate and as a participant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.