The Good Neighbor

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There has been a surge of hate-fueled acts against Jews. I'm not talking about legitimate criticism of Israel's government. I'm talking about people who scream, "Dirty Jew!" to Jewish children. I'm talking about attacking Jews in the street and smashing synagogue windows. Much of this violence is happening in Europe, but this past year a swastika was scrawled on a synagogue property in San Francisco, an attack on a Jewish couple in New York City is being investigated as a hate crime, and a man went on a killing spree at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas.

Growing up in Southern California in the 1970s, my sisters and I were taunted as "dirty Jews" by neighborhood boys as we walked home from elementary school. One night, while my family of five was sleeping, those boys stuck a rag soaked in kerosene into our car's gas tank and lit it. If the fire had reached the gas, we easily could have been injured or killed in the explosion. Amazingly, our non-Jewish neighbor was just returning from his night shift. He quickly put out the fire and identified the boys.

I think about the terror I felt then as I read about the latest wave of all kinds of hate activity. I also think about that neighbor who came to our rescue and I long for his equal to come to our defense now. Racism and bigotry takes many forms, but its victims have a common bond. It is imperative that we all have one others' backs.

My neighbor was just doing what he knew to be right  I wish we all could be more like him. When you are hated you feel lonely and vulnerable. You think nobody else cares about your people. But take it from someone who experienced hate in my own front yard: the neighbor matters.

We can be "the neighbor."  


With a Perspective, this is Beth Singer.

Beth Singer is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.