Bringing My Voice Against Hate

February 7, 2020 in Rabbi Greg Harris

One of many panels on aspects of anti-semitism

(This blog was written in Tirana, Albania but could not be posted till I returned.)

Albania was never on my travel bucket list yet here I sit at a cafe in Tirana, Albania on a break from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on anti-Semitism.  Two weeks ago, I former student of mine called to invite me to attend this conference.  She has been living in Warsaw and we had lost regular touch.  When she described the gathering though, I knew I wanted to juggle my schedule to be here.  (Thank you Fabian, Asa, Sheila, Ricardo and the b’nai mitzvah families whose meetings were rescheduled.)

This international gathering to fight anti-Semitism brought together 150 people representing 45 countries.  The formal sessions include security experts discussing work in securing Jewish institutions and coordination with law enforcement.  Younger people talking about social media platforms being leveraged to promote hate.  Discussions on balancing freedom of speech and limiting hate speech are bringing out different legal tools available in various countries.  And Bethesda resident Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, spoke passionately about responding to hate against Jews and others with boldness.  He said, “There are always short term reasons to be quiet from pushing against anti-Semitism.  We must be very clear that we remain quiet at our own peril.”

For me, the most fascinating moments are the informal conversations.  While the diplomats are working at the proverbial 30,000 foot level, my perspective on the ground seems to resonate too.  Our work at Beth El to secure our community impressed people – access control by finger print or fob, armed and unarmed guards, monitored cameras, close relationships with local law enforcement and neighbors, safety bollards, drills and more.  Yet, we all know our work is not complete.

They are equally impressed that despite this high priority work, we do not cloister ourselves.  As a community, we remain engaged in building bridges with other faith communities.  Our posture is simultaneously prudent and embracing of the broader community.

A friendship garden in Tirana for the friendship between Albania and Israel

I am also having important conversations with diplomats about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  I have already spoken with people wanting to better understand the linkages between a political response to ‘bad policies’ and undermining the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist.  The informality of a cappuccino seems to allow people to ask questions without the rhetoric or posturing of diplomacy.

Mother Teresa Square

As the conference wraps up, I do not know if I will have the opportunity to participate in other OSCE forum but I am grateful to be having substantive conversations with these participants.  Hate must be fought through governments’ formal policies and direct relationships on the ground.

As I fish 200 Lek ($1.80) from my pocket for my cappuccino, I am determined to bring my voice to fight anti-Semitism and to teach its subtleties in this forum.  I look forward to sharing more about this experience during Shabbat services this week.

I hope to see you at shul!