What won the Superbowl this past weekend for the Kansas City Chiefs? (Ignoring the question of the late holding call.) Was it the strong and strategic offense or was it the resilient and consistent defense? Of course, it’s both because football is played “on both sides of the field.”
Is it the same with our Federation’s work to fight the growing antisemitism in our world, country and region? Is it our offense or our defense that will help us overcome this persistent hatred?
There is no question at all that antisemitism has, once again, risen to levels which make it one of the most recognized and acknowledged challenges to contemporary Jews. In the past weeks, the AJC released a report showing 41% of the survey respondents (all Jewish) reported feeling less secure in 2021 and 89% saw antisemitism as a problem. What is perhaps most astonishing is that the data goes even further to say that 68% of the general public believed antisemitism is a problem.
So what is our best strategy? Should our Federation focus on offense or defense? Like the Chiefs, we must play both sides of the field. The defense is the most visible part in our community, the component that most easily comes to mind – our Federation’s role in security. We have two professionals on staff, one of whom is a veteran FBI agent – both work on safety training, infrastructure assessments, strengthening relationships with local and national law enforcement and monitoring and responding to incidents. Our Federation has raised and invested millions of dollars from for community security in just the past five years and has helped bring in millions more from state and federal sources. I was in my synagogue this past Shabbat and saw the Bluepoint system throughout the facility along with the “go bags,” all provided at no cost to our institutions. Like I said, this is our most visible, and necessary, form of defense.
But defense alone cannot win this battle. A strong offense is necessary as well. We must work to prevent antisemitism from taking root, growing, and spreading. Our Community Relations Council staff and volunteers develop relationships with diverse communities throughout our region, and one benefit of these relationships is the power and support that we can give one another. When a community is in a relationship with another, we are more likely to be allies for one another. I will always remember how other Pittsburgh communities came to support us after the attack at the Tree of Life building. That could not have happened to the degree it did had the ties between the communities not been established beforehand. Hatred of one group makes hatred of all groups possible. Eradicating racism, anti-Asian sentiment, homophobia, Islamaphobia and other discriminatory belief systems strengthens our society as a whole. On top of this work, we build and maintain relationships with our elected officials so that we have people in government who can help us when issues of antisemitism arise.
Sometimes, what we do is a mix of defense and offense – when we combine reaction to incidents with education to help undo belief systems and behaviors steeped in ignorance. Recently, there was an individual in the north of Pittsburgh who displayed a sign with a swastika on it. We worked with the local community and with that individual. Hopefully, we made a difference. Of course, we cannot forget the work of the Holocaust Center and Classrooms Without Borders and their roles in educating the broader community in what unchecked antisemitism can become.
Finally, we even work to educate ourselves. This week, our security team brought representatives from the FBI to speak to our community and educate us about how to address concerns and begin our preparation for the upcoming 10/27 trial so that we can be on the offense. (For anyone experiencing any trauma that has resurfaced or does resurface as a result of this trial, please contact the 10-27 Healing Partnership for assistance.)
Is there more to be done? Always. Is the above a comprehensive list of everything that we as a community have done, continue to do or plan to do. Not at all. What is the unfortunate reality at this time is that the Jewish Federation, our staff, our board, and our volunteers along with the amazing agencies within our community will continue to do what needs to be done. This issue is obviously not going away anytime soon.
Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs for a strong offense and defense that led to victory. May we see our own victory sometime soon.