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D'var Torah

1/23/2020 by Rabbi Raskin

Dearest Friends,

I recently stopped into DSW Shoes on Old Georgetown Rd. and Democracy Blvd. to do a little shopping. As always, my yarmulke was on my head, and as I ascended the escalator to the floor where the men’s shoes are located, I noticed someone staring at me. All around the world, people are being cautioned about public displays of Jewishness. In so many countries, Jews are choosing to stay below the radar so as not to be targeted by a new and insidious wave of anti-Semitism. A few years ago, when I visited Paris with a delegation of American Jewish leaders, we were advised to wear hats on the street instead of kipot. I never thought twice about this in America. I wear my kipah everywhere; on airplanes, to meetings with my Catholic accountant, to the shoe store! Somehow this particular person’s fixation on my headgear felt  disconcerting. When I reached the top of the escalator, the man approached me, now with his phone in his hand, and said, “Excuse me, may I ask you a question?” Not knowing what was about to transpire, but feeling grateful that I was in a very public place, I responded, “Of course.” Turns out this person was a clothing designer, and he was creating a design including the Hebrew words “Shalom v’Ahava,” peace and love. He wanted to know if they were spelled correctly in Hebrew characters. He had also superimposed the words over a yellow Star of David. I told him that he had the words spelled correctly, and I cautioned him about using a yellow star on clothing, because of Holocaust imagery. He was incredibly grateful both for the spelling confirmation, and for the stylistic advice.

As I walked away, I felt inspired that someone obviously not Jewish was inspired by Jewish language and symbols. I was gratified that wearing a kipah allowed me to be a resource for him about Judaism. And, I was disappointed that my visceral reaction to his initial glances my way was uncertainty and caution. Had my heart become hardened, like Pharaoh’s in our parasha? Had I lost my ability to encounter an interested stranger without fear or skepticism? That is not a conviction or sentiment that I want to inherit from this crazy world. What a blessing to be reminded that in an atmosphere when anti-Semitism is an increasing concern, there are still people who respect and revere Judaism and Jewish culture. Let us not become hardened to that truth, or habituate ourselves to see every encounter with a curious neighbor with suspicion or fear. Let’s instead substitute that suspicion with pride, that fear with fortitude. Let’s have at least as much admiration for ourselves as my friend at DSW has for us!

With warmest wishes for a Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Raskin


Wed, January 29 2020 3 Shevat 5780