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Rabbi Robert Eisen: Anti-Semitism: The Merit Badge I Did Not Want To Earn
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Tucson Opinion

Rabbi Robert Eisen: Anti-Semitism: The Merit Badge I Did Not Want To Earn

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

In 10th grade I was told that I would have to make a decision: Either continue in Boy Scouts on our assigned night and finish up my last six merit badges for my Eagle, or, continue with my religious education.

The one class that I needed to take at my synagogue fell on the same night that scouts met. I would not be allowed to move to a different troop. Nor would I be given an exemption like the one that another scout was extended so he could work at one of the local grocery stores.

No, I was told that I would have to make a decision that would be final; I would not be welcomed back the next year.

I remember some hushed conversations on the part of my parents, and any number of phone calls on my behalf from a couple of rabbis in town. The troop would not budge. Even as the rabbi said that he would be able to work something out, I made my mind up. The decision was clear.

This had nothing to do with policy or protocols. It had everything (the only thing) to do with my being Jewish.

In retrospect, I learned a lot more than the Boy Scouts intended. However, one of the most important things I learned was that if I did not stand up for who and what I was, no one else would.

And now? The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

Am I shocked at what I have been reading about the most recent incidents in Tucson? Not really. I knew that they would be happening some time or another. How can/should we react/respond? In truth, what I learned from my years in the Boy Scouts is as applicable today as it was back then.

No, I am not and we are not “over sensitive.” Antisemitism is real, hurtful and malicious. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes flagrant. It affects more of us than anyone would want to admit. And, though our reactions might differ depending on the intensity from confusion to anger to feeling violated to becoming numb, there is only one response that we can and should have: to be “that much more.”

Over the years that I was active in the pulpit in Tucson there were innumerable times when I met to help other communities when they were in need. Interesting that there were a few that refused the help as they were concerned with where it was coming from, they saw our presence as a major factor in their problems (our just being there was enough of a problem for them). That did not always stop me from reaching out or doing what I could.

For the most part, however, I found the different communities to be more than concerned about everyone when anyone was attacked. And, from that concern my strength grew to continue to focus on who and what I was. I learned that if I wanted respect, I had to respect myself first.

So to those who are finding a need to desecrate the sanctity of our community I would challenge them to have a little respect for themselves, for the sake of Tucson as a whole, and stop it. You will not stop us from being who we are. You will not stop the good people of Tucson from being who they are. In fact, you have only strengthened our resolve.

Though I have found that the most effective conversations regarding contentious topics begin with sharing what we have in common, with this, I cannot help but wonder what it is you so hate about yourself that you project it on to us? I may have not earned my Eagle, but I did earn a different kind of merit badge, and learned a lot from that experience … about myself, and, even more importantly, about you.

Robert Eisen is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Anshei Israel, which he sereved as Senior Rabbi from 1999 to 2020.


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