By Jonathan Farrell —
The past five years, growing unrest resulting in violence has become commonplace, especially with regards to antisemitism. Rabbi Steven Finley of Sonoma’s Synagogue Shir Shalom addressed the tough topic after a recent service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
With the doors open at St. Andrew’s and sunlight streaming in to take advantage of a clear sky and fresh air from the surrounding fields of countryside, it was an idyllic morning setting.
Yet as St. Andrew’s Pastor, Rev. Nicole Trotter pointed out on January 22, “There’s a stark reality, very different for Rabbi Steve and his congregation at Shir Shalom.”
Citing statistics from the Anti-Defamation League and others, 2021 was the highest year on record for incidents of antisemitism. With that Rabbi Steve mentioned during his talk that he and the Synagogue must take extra precautions against any potential attack or vandalism.
While churches such as St. Andrew’s enjoys a relaxing freedom with open doors to worship, gather and fellowship, synagogues must always be hyper-vigilant. “Our doors are locked, security guards and police are present as we conduct worship services and we are always taking extra precautions,” said Finley who has been at Shir Shalom for eight years since 2014.
In addition to his work at Shir Shalom, Finley teaches at Sonoma State University and currently is the chair of the Sonoma Valley Interfaith Ministerial Association. Finley sees his outreach to churches and the greater community as crucial. “It means a lot when people want to learn about antisemitism and understand it’s causes,” said Finley.
According to his research and detailed analysis from established sources such as The Pew Center for Research, Finley has collected and consulted with on the subject, there are six reasons for antisemitism.
Most of Christian teachings are based upon Jewish beliefs and traditions. Love of neighbor, community, forgiveness and redemption existed in the Jewish faith upon which Christianity is built.
“Jesus was Jewish,” said Finley. “His disciples and earliest followers were Jewish, using Jesus’ teachings to condemn Jewish people and persecute them is dangerous.” And a misinterpretation of teachings can become lethal in the minds and actions of some people.
Some 25 to 70 percent of Americans recently surveyed believe several or at least in one of the six reasons for antisemitism. Rabbi Finley sees this as alarming. And not only that, but what make’s antisemitism different from all other forms of racism and bigotry is that of antisemitism’s “shapeshifting” aspects, as Finley describes it.
Because antisemitism can be traced back centuries, it can take the form of a conservative “far right” extreme or even that of an extreme “far left.” For example, the varying degrees of attitudes towards capitalism and or socialism/communism have been blamed upon Jewish people.
White supremacy and ant-Zionism has resurfaced as the American Jewish Committee has noted. As humanitarian crises increase and shift populations around the world, a fear of being outnumbered and governed by nonwhites has spawned a rise of white supremacist and white nationalist movements around the world.
The AJC also points out as did Finley in his talk, that in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere, white supremacists are organizing and recruiting across borders and appropriating the symbols and tropes of the Nazis, such as those seen during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Distortions of extreme nationalism, patriotism, ideology and identity politics also play a part in spurring antisemitism.
The origins of antisemitism starts in small ways. “It’s in the biases that people pick up,” said Finley. Misinformation, stereotypes, exaggerated myths and false narratives feed antisemitism, “punching it up a “pyramid of hate,” as Finley calls it. Violence and destruction is at the top of that pyramid while biases are at the bottom.
Silence and indifference are the ingredients that give biases an ability to rise to power. “The opposite of love isn’t hatred so much as is complacency,” said Finley.
Education helps as Finley emphasized. “Things must change in this 21st Century,” he added. But just as important in dispelling biases and the complacency that accompanies them is taking the moment to speak up and to not let a bias get out of control.
Rabbi Finley is available for speaking to churches and other organizations about the “Evolution of Antisemitism.” He can be reached through Congregation Shir Shalom at the congregation’s website. https://www.shir-shalom.org/