A Message on New Jersey

A message to the community from JFS CEO Rabbi Will Berkovitz on the events in Jersey City, New Jersey, on December 10, 2019:

I received an email last night from a non-Jewish friend asking how we were doing after the shooting at the kosher market in New Jersey. I replied I didn’t want to jump to conclusions because it was still being called a random attack. Her one sentence response, “It doesn’t sound random.” Of course she was right and I knew it. I was using a defense mechanism I knew would soon come crashing down.

I read her email after wiping tears from my eyes at a play JFS and the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) partnered to present. It told the story of a woman who survived the Holocaust. It described her desire to shield her daughter and granddaughter from her trauma and, ultimately, how she used that trauma to help others. This is precisely what animates our work at JFS.

I read my friend’s email not long after walking past the armed security guard and the locked doors at the SJCC. I read my friend’s email while reflecting on an alert I received from the Jewish Federation about an anti-Semitic phone call received at a local synagogue earlier in the day. The alert arrived during the play while the main character was explaining why she wouldn’t talk about the horrors she experienced during the Holocaust to her family.

For me, anti-Semitism and targeting Jews for being Jewish doesn’t have geographic or national boundaries. I view these attacks as an assault on my extended family. I recognize I may be an outlier.

This morning, as I woke my young daughter for school, I wondered how long she would keep her innocence. I wondered if our children would grow to see themselves as part of a larger Jewish family knowing all the pain it would inevitably bring along with the joy. My hope is that my children see themselves as part of a resilient people – a vibrant and living community and not just victims. Jewish or not, that is my hope for all of us and what I hope JFS embodies in the world.

Today a memorial candle burns in our lobby. It burns to remember the victims of yet another attack against the Jewish community, and it burns to commemorate the police officer who gave his life trying to protect members of his larger human family. Our path forward as a society is for all of us to recognize we need do the same.

May their memories be a blessing,

Rabbi Will Berkovitz

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