July 28, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
HAMILTON – Jewish communities know how to build, and that’s a skill journalist and author Bari Weiss says will be critical in shaping a post-COVID reality.
In presentations to Jewish Federation campaign launches in Hamilton and Montreal last week, the former New York Times editor and op-ed writer said there’s almost no chance of a return to “normal” when the current pandemic dies out. For the Jewish world, that’s going to challenge some long-held beliefs.
“We are part of a people that knows how to build,” she told her Zoom audience in Hamilton. “We are a people who have renewed and rebuilt out of the embers more than any other people in history.”
Building that new world, she told her audiences, will require hard decisions about what is essential in Jewish communities.
“We must decide what will be essential for healthy Jewish communities,” she said. “Is it money for schools, for community hunger, for camps?
“Fancy galas, as fun as they are, don’t make the list because they don’t secure the future of a healthy Jewish community,” she added.
Weiss surprised the world July 14 when she suddenly resigned from the New York Times, citing persistent harassment and antisemitism from colleagues.
In her resignation letter, posted online at https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter, she wrote “lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
“My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.”
Much of that harassment, she wrote, was antisemitic, something she said can be combatted not by becoming more insular, but by reconnecting with what it is to be Jewish.
Weiss has studied anti-Semitism closely. She won the 2019 Jewish Book of the Year prize for her volume How to Fight Anti-Semitism.
“The true response to antisemitism is to affirm our Judaism, it’s about digging deeper into our Jewish identity,” she added.
“Some communities have lost sight of what being Jewish is all about,” Weiss said. “Blind support for Israel is not being Jewish. Being Jewish is about more than our complex tribal politics.”
She was quick to add she remains a strong supporter of Israel and Zionism, which she called “the idea that has saved more Jewish lives than any other in history. She is not, however, a fan of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We are not famous for our magnificent cathedrals, we don’t build grand monuments,” she said. “Our monuments are our schools, our camps, our youth movements and our institutions of learning. Our monuments are our families and our children.”
To rebuild and maintain those monuments the Hamilton Jewish Federation (HJF) will trying to raise $1.3 million in its new community campaign. That’s the same as last year’s goal, but a separate emergency campaign seeks to raise another $150,000 to support agencies in danger of being overwhelmed by COVID-related demands.
The previous campaign collected 98 percent of its goal.
Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the HJF, said special demand is being felt by the kosher food bank, in general areas of food security, and by the loss of community participation as employment and incomes dip, which affects Jewish institutions and parents’ ability to pay tuition at Jewish schools.
“More organizations are going to be on financially fragile ground now and that will further a previous trend toward mergers and consolidation,” Rymberg said. “Our response to this crisis will be remembered as one of our finest moments.”