Rabbinic Reflections: I am not afraid

On Monday, Jan. 9, a bomb threat was called in simultaneously to 16 different Jewish Community Centers, including the one in Wilmington. You can read more, here. My school, Albert Einstein Academy Jewish Day School, is on that campus. Immediately upon receiving word about the threat, we evacuated our K-5 elementary school students.

Our students and staff got out of the building faster than we do for fire drills, despite the 20 degree weather and our insistence that everyone put on coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We did exactly what we are supposed to do in this time of emergency. Our students were escorted to a safe place, families were notified, and everyone one was picked up before the police declared the building safe to re-enter. School resumed the following morning.

News coverage of the day focused on the likely anti-Semitic motivation for this coordinated threat across the country. People spoke of being afraid, of children being made to be afraid, and of a sense that hate crimes are on the rise.

The conversations implied that this kind of anti-Semitic activity in the United States was a thing of the past that has resurfaced. That very implication was articulated in a way to suggest that Jews should be afraid today.

I am not afraid. I am not afraid because not being afraid is what is called for; it is the Jewish response. I am not afraid because I never thought anti-Semitism went away. I am not afraid because we are prepared.

While the evacuation was a new experience for most involved, it went well precisely because we had planned for it. We have known for years that a bomb threat was likely, whatever the motivation or timing. Staff review procedures, at a minimum, annually. Law enforcement updates our institutions regularly. We are prepared.

Not for one second am I pretending to be safe from anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic acts. I experienced both growing up. It is no less shocking now than it was then. I simply refuse to be cowed by them. The history of the Jews, as I was taught it, is filled with persecution and survival.

Rebbe Nachman of Bratislav taught, “All the world is a narrow bridge, the key is not to be afraid.” His teaching goes beyond the reality that when we are under pressure (in the straits of a narrow bridge) it is hard to be optimistic. He teaches that our guardian angels cannot hold our hands if we reduce the world of possibility to the tightest of spaces.

The more we face life ready to cross over or through challenging times, the more our angels can help us, the more we have to gain. It is not easy (and Rebbe Nachman knew depression deeply), and yet it is the key all the same.

These days, by not being afraid, I find my angels motivating me to action. Life is meant to be lived, and the world is in need of our efforts to heal it. Let us not be afraid; let us get to work.

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About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington. Prior to that he was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years and he served as the rabbi for Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. He’s also one of several rabbis taking part in a radio show, The Rabbi Speaks, on WDEL. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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