The speeches and songs were inspirational. The crowd of about 300 people was pumped up. “Stop Hate” signs, banners and Israeli flags were everywhere. Yesterday, local Jewish organizations came together to host Stand Up to Antisemitism, a rally in West Bloomfield. The event, billed as “community-wide rally,” was a feel-good display of solidarity against the alarming spike in antisemitic acts in recent weeks.
I walked away feeling pleased and troubled. My heart was touched by the sight of people coming together on a scorching Sunday to show their resolve against antisemitism. People sang, applauded, mingled and clearly felt the warmth of Jewish solidarity. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
But as I left, I was also troubled by nagging thoughts that I couldn’t push away, starting with the size of the crowd.
Three hundred people is more than a minyan but a fraction of a percent of the Jewish population of metropolitan Detroit. Is 300 a turnout we should celebrate or .005% a statistic that should shock and depress us? What does that number say about our community, especially in light of everything we have been witnessing lately?
Yesterday, a friend texted me a photo she had just taken in Ann Arbor. It was of a large painted rock with “F*** Israel” on it. In New York, Jews wearing yarmulkes are being assaulted; some are now frightened to wear them in public. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in just one week in May the phrase “Hitler Was Right” was posted online over 17,000 times.
The examples of raging antisemitism are becoming more overt and violent. And so I ask: Why the low turnout? Is it because we’re still somewhat stuck in a pandemic mindset of avoiding crowds? Was it the blazing heat? Or have national and world events caused a new malaise that we haven’t quite fully recognized?
Maybe we’re just rusty, forgetting that while online petitions and social media have kept us engaged these past 15 months, there is no and can never be a substitute for one’s physical presence. For showing up.
Maybe we need to dig deep into that muscle memory and recall that seeing others in the flesh in a time of need is still the most powerful tool in our arsenal — no matter how sweaty or inconvenienced that flesh may be.
The event’s organizers on Sunday were no doubt hoping that the advanced publicity — which was not insignificant — would result in a sizable “community-wide” physical showing. But it never materialized. Nor was there any visible evidence of the presence of non-Jewish groups.
It’s fair to ask the tough questions: Where were the non-Jewish groups? The event had been publicized in local media and was shared across Facebook. So why wasn’t the rally community-wide, as advertised?
But before Jews start asking where non-Jews were, we should first start by asking ourselves where we were. We love to recall Hillel’s words, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” And while pondering that, we can also ask if we’re doing enough to support non-Jews in their own struggles for justice. There is no shortage of racial and ethnic violence on this planet. Jewish suffering has been long and horrific, but it’s hardly an exclusive status.
Jews do not have a monopoly on tsuris.
If we expect others to support us, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, whether it’s in fighting racism, anti-Asian hate, Islamophobia or bigotry against any group in any form. We must be there for them, and they must be there for us. We’re all fighting the same hate. It’s all vile and unacceptable, and the only path through it is in uniting against the people who wish us — any of us — harm.
Jews are often looking for ways to garner support outside of our community, as we attempted to do on Sunday. It didn’t quite take this time. But going forward, we would be wise to recall another brilliant maxim from Rabbi Hillel: “Do unto others as you’d want them to do unto you.” When we physically show up for others — as Israel regularly does when it comes to the aid of victims around the world, regardless of their ideology — we send a loud, clear message unlike anything else we can do. Anyone who has ever made a shiva call knows this.
On the day before Sunday’s rally, there was a march down 8 Mile Road to protest racial injustice. I don’t know if any Jewish groups showed up. But whether it’s that rally or another, whether for fellow Jews or non-Jews, there is nothing better we can do to help ourselves — and honor our Jewish values — than the simple act of showing up.