A Message from Rabbi Bauman

Friday, April 26

Dear Touro Synagogue Family,

I hope you have had a meaningful Pesach thus far. For some of us, likely this week of Passover is punctuated with Jazz Fest, a time of such exuberance and joy, and we are all eagerly awaiting Jazz Fest Shabbat. But for many of us, this Passover is punctuated by the growing intensity of campus anti-Israel protests all over the country, at Columbia of course, but also at NYU, Brown, University of Texas and Emory and USC, and even here in New Orleans, among many others. 

There is much to critique regarding the overall posture of these protests, but that is not my purpose in this message. Rather, I would like to focus on our children, our Jewish students who are involved and affected in different ways.   Much like the four children within the Passover Seder – the wise, rebellious, quiet, and unable to ask – we have an obligation to love, teach, listen to, and engage with them all. It’s not without anger, angst, worry and pain that we do so, but the haggadah honors them all with a name and a voice, and so must we.

Like the wise child, some Jewish students have poured much of their energy into being deeply connected with Israel and the Jewish people. It is a key part of their identity. As such, they feel a deep personal sense of unease and perhaps even lack of safety, and feel targeted by the rhetoric of the protests and have even suffered harassment in certain cases. These students’ daily confrontation with antisemitism is scary, infuriating, and also galvanizing. We pray for their strength and safety, that they are surrounded by dear friends and supportive faculty who fiercely remind them that they are not alone and their identity is celebrated. May they tap into their hard-earned wisdom in order to build bridges wherever they can. 

Like the rebellious child, some Jewish students are virulently questioning much of what has been handed down to them and creating separations between themselves and the Jewish tradition as their parents know it. They are involved in these protests, expressing a particular facet of their Judaism by speaking out on an issue that is important to them. Many of them are showing up with good intentions and integrity. We pray that these students reject and call out the violent language used by some of their fellow protestors when they speak of Jews, Israelis, and Zionists. May these students remember that their voices raised for civility and humanity are crucial as they hone and distinguish their Jewish identities in this difficult moment.

LIke the quiet child, some Jewish students are not deeply engaged in what is going on and find these protests easy to ignore. These students may be occupying themselves with preparing for finals and graduations and celebrating Passover on their campuses with as much spirit and joy as ever, separate from the political turmoil surrounding the war. We pray that these students, in their own way and time, feel empowered by their observance of this holiday season and engage deeply with the important questions Passover asks of each of us.

Like the child who does not know how to ask, some Jewish students may feel frozen and caught in the middle. They are deeply protective of their fellow Jews in Israel and on campus, and they are also deeply saddened by the massive loss of life in Gaza and the ongoing violence in the region.  These students are unsure of where they belong, and that lack of belonging is agonizing, perhaps even unspeakable. We pray that these students come to know and be reassured that holding moral complexity is the very essence of what it means to be Jewish. Holy wrestling is our namesake, Yisrael.  

On this Shabbat Pesach, let us lift up our prayers for each and every one of our children that they grow to be safe, kind, brave, non-violent, and aware that an engaged Jewish life is a continual journey of self-discovery and learning on which changing and growing is the destination. Gam zeh yaavor, this too shall pass. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bauman