We held two compelling programs this week, both of which focused upon the growing anti-Semitism on our college campuses, and the vulnerability that our college students are coming to feel. How are they to respond to claims that “Zionism equals Naziism?” And how are we, as adults, to respond to the more frequent anti-Semitic episodes, especially in Europe; most of which seem to be inspired by wayward fundamentalist Muslims? There are tough but compelling questions from which we cannot run.
As we yet again read the story of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and their eventual redemption, we might well ask ourselves “why has it always been so difficult to be a Jew?” Or, asked another way: “why have various peoples resented and oppressed us?” causing us to become all-too-familiar with the term “anti-Semitism.”
Volumes have been written about the subject and there is no definitive answer. Some would argue that it is the Jewish insistence upon remaining “different” that has caused us to be the focus of resentment. Others would contend that anti-Semitism was nurtured by the Church and the claim that the Jews were responsible for the death of their “Lord and Savior.” Still others have argued that “Jew-hatred” is the result of jealousy, and the perception that the Jews are not only wealthy, but that they attain this wealth by taking advantage of their host populations.
And there is another explanation that especially speaks to me. One of my teachers, Albert Vorspan, contended that “nobody loves their alarm clock!” That is to say that throughout history we have strived to live a value system that is rooted in the pursuit of justice, fairness and loving-kindness. Such values have often been missing in countries and societies, and the Jew often found him/herself as a “lone voice,” advocating different moral priorities and ideals.
As we read of the Exodus from Egypt, we realize that our value system was born of that experience, and that our speaking about it continues to inspire and challenge us to work for a more decent world. Yes, from our own history, we have learned that there are so many forms of enslavement, and so many who cry out “let me go!”
From ancient Egypt to the modern day: it has been a long and often trying journey. But always, the journey has been infused by a passion for freedom and that we all are God’s agents in working for the day when all people will know freedom of their bodies and their souls.