Tetzavah – Menorah FEBRUARY 15, 2003 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
While walking to the synagogue this morning I stopped for a few minutes to look at the Menorah hanging outside of our Kneseth Israel Synagogue. The sight took me back, temporarily, to a different time and a different place.
It was several years ago when I was on trip through Europe. I visited cities in France, Germany, Holland, Austria, Ukraine, Romania and Hungary. In each city, the same scenario repeated itself. I was given an address, I went to search for the particular city’s synagogue, but I couldn’t find it. I would walk down the street and keep circling around trying to find the particular address. And suddenly from nowhere a police car would appear. I remember vividly in December 1989, in Vienna, Austria the police asked me, "Who are you looking for?" When I answered, "A synagogue…" they asked me for identification and they showed me the building. There was no outward sign, no Menorah, or any Hebrew, German or English letters. I went through a long security procedure. After much intense scrutiny I would finally be allowed to enter the building.
Each visit to a particular synagogue gave me a chance to talk with the synagogue attendant. And each time, the attendant would convey the essence of a great fear, especially after the Holocaust experience. Even today, there is a considerable Anti-Semitic movement in Europe. Jews are still afraid to be recognized and to be too public about their faith.
To me, as an Israeli-born Jew, this reality was a cultural shock. During the first 26 years of my life, we had no fear to walk in the streets wearing a yalmucke. Now so many buildings in Israel display Menorah’s as symbols, including many secular buildings, such as the Kneseth--the Israeli Parliament. In contrast, my European brothers and sisters were living such an unhealthy double life. In their public life, the only evidence of their Jewishness was the name of their parents. In daily life, they pretended to be like other Gentiles, but while in the synagogue, they did enjoy the practice of Jewish ritual.
But what kind of life is that? I asked myself this question, constantly, while visiting the different synagogues throughout Europe. When I came to the United States, I was thrilled and happy because I didn’t see that same fear. And here, in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, there is a Menorah, the name of the Congregation in plain sight on our very visible synagogue that has been in existence for almost 100 years. I am always thankful to G-d, that we, as Jews, have the United States of America. As Jews and as Americans we don’t have to live with the same fear as other Jews around the world—those who have been traumatized by terror and atrocities.
But I am concerned, and other people share this concern with me. The concern is about recent terrorist threats. Public enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden, has said that the Holy War he wages is against America and against Jews. Some people say that the media exaggerated this point, but still others run to Home Depot and stock up on plastic sheets and duct tape.
Some ask me, "You are our spiritual leader. Lead us and tell us what we are supposed to do at this time." My answer to them has come from my own life experiences. In the Israeli Army, we used to say, "Fear is the worst enemy." President Roosevelt is famous for having said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Look at the Israelis: it is not just threats they must endure, but they live under constant terror attacks. How do they respond? They go on with life in the face of the threats and the fear.
The answer on how to live under constant terror threats is simple: to go on living. Terrorists wish to have the people in the United States live with great fear. They would like us to stop visiting Israel, stop going to movies, symphonies, and prepare masks against biochemical attacks. They want us to go on living with paralyzing fear. During the Gulf War, in Israel, 39 Iraqi Scud missiles fell on Israel. There was only one casualty from the missiles. But twelve people, mostly elderly, lost their lives because of the effects of fear. People injected medications incorrectly, others were choked by gas masks, and others fell victims to heart attacks when alarm sirens would sound around Israel.
There are a few lessons to be learned from all of this. First, the best way to fight terrorism is to go on with life. Secondly, is the realization that the worst enemy is fear itself. And finally, we should take everything in stride and keep a good sense of proportion. It seems to me that the media constantly blows these threats out of proportion. There are serious effects on the nation from these conceptions, or misconceptions. I do know that every organization, including ours, needs to have a plan and a security system.
By the same token, our call now, is to live as normally as possible in the United States of America. G-d bless this country that gives us this freedom to worship and practice our faith as a fundamental right. All of this is a "physical materialistic" answer of how we should live. But if we want to attach a spiritual response, our call at this moment is to increase spirituality in our lives and trust in someone higher than ourselves.
On Rosh Hashanah we say that repentance, prayer and charity can change the severe decree. We should strive to dedicate at least fifteen minutes a day to study Torah. We should spend extra time in prayer. We should make a daily inward search on how to better ourselves and the world around us. We must strive to work and live in harmony and unity and to increase our charity by going the extra mile whenever it is required of us.
May our Menorah, which is prominently displayed outside of our building stand as a symbol of our pride as American Jews. May Jewish people all over the world have the courage and conviction to light the Menorah in every house of worship and institution with no fear and with great pride.
May the Almighty bring peace to each of us wherever we may be. AMEN