Twenty-nine minutes away from the campus of Ohio Northern, tucked back in the corner of Lakewood and Glenwood Avenue in Lima, Ohio is a Temple—a place of worship for the area’s limited Jewish population. The Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek is the only Jewish synagogue in northwestern Ohio aside from the Congregation B’nai Israel, an hour and a half away, just outside of Toledo. Its congregation is small, and most of its attendees are aging, many in their sixties and above. I attended my first Shabbat (“Sabbath”) service there in early September with an invitation and a ride courtesy of Omega Hollies.
I chose to go because I felt I did not truly understand Judaism. In the past year, I had observed Hanukkah and Passover with my boyfriend’s family, and I realized that the experience I had in no way matched the expectations I had developed over the years through hearsay about the religion. I have done my best to try and return regularly not just because I want to continue to educate myself about Judaism but because I have found solace in the Temple that I have not been able to find any- where else in the Lima area. Shabbat services in the Lima Temple, as well as in synagogues all across the country and the world, are a time and place for Jews to gather and worship.
This background is why I feel compelled, especially now, to discuss my place in society as an Ohio Northern student in a world full of anti-Semitism. On Oct. 27, during regular Shabbat services, a man fueled by anti-Semitic ideas opened fire on innocent Jews performing their worship in Pittsburgh. News of this brought me to tears not just because more lives were lost in America to senseless gun violence but because these victims were neither the first nor the last to be targeted by anti-Semitic violence. Trying to find a way to channel my heartbreak and anger, I remembered the Jewish aphorism, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” I chose to speak with Omega Hollies, an empowered Jewish woman and the (now former) Ohio Northern International Student Coordinator, to try and find out how myself and other Polar Bears can learn to combat anti-Semitism in our personal lives.
She explained to me first the importance of Shabbat for Jews. “For religious Jews, it’s a holiday for the week. And for a lot of people that aren’t religious, it’s a day when you can connect with your community.” She then said how the religious Temple could be a place of solace for non-religious Jews. “It’s not religious for everybody–sometimes the Temple is just a place where you can be with your community and reflect on yourself and have a safe space.”
Omega also elaborated on the importance of Jews feeling safe in their place of worship or reflection.
“Jews throughout much of history in the West have faced persecution for being Jewish, and oftentimes the Temple, or synagogue, is one of the only places where you could be yourself, and the expectations of society weren’t placed on you.”
For Omega, safe synagogues are not just necessary to be able to worship in peace. Instead, they’re necessary to allow Jews a place to feel a sense of community and belonging. “For modern Jews, much of their Jewish identity isn’t a religious identity. It’s an ethnic sort of peoplehood identity that has developed over the past 100 years or so. The synagogue serves as a multifaceted space where not only you can pray, but you can also explore what your Jewish identity might mean to you.”
In our conversation, Omega gave me a set of three steps to be a better ally to Jews in my life, whether in my circle of friends, in my classes, or in my greater community.
The first step: Educate myself.
“We want to be inclusive at Ohio Northern, and so it’s important to educate yourself on anti-Semitism and how to recognize it. Learn to recognize anti-Semitic stereotypes or phrases, and make sure that you aren’t contributing to them.” Some examples of anti-Semitic claims are “Jews are greedy,” “All Jews have big noses,” or “Jews are cheap.”
The second step: Try and step up and call out anti-Semitism in my communities.
Omega and many other Jews know all too well the experience of a stranger, or even a friend, saying something anti-Semitic in their presence. “It is laborious for Jewish individuals to constantly stand up for themselves and to call out every instance of anti-Semitism. Standing up in solidarity is one of the best gifts you can give a person. It’s nice when I’m not the only person in a group that recognized something anti-Semitic that was said, and it’s even better when I’m not the only one that has to point out that what was said was wrong.”
The final step: Be humble.
“If you do inadvertently make a statement that isn’t nice to Jewish people, and someone calls you on it, own it, apologize, and change your behavior. There’s no need to be defensive because that person was just trying to help you be a better person.”
I hope that going forward; I can be a better ally to the Jews around me. The congregation at The Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek welcomed me when I, a non-Jew who did not know the prayers nor the customs of Judaism, came to Shabbat service in September. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that those in Pittsburgh must be experiencing—for the loved ones in your community to be gunned down and killed for coming to Temple. Beyond the conversation that I shared with Omega, I have researched other ways I can combat anti-Semitism. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has a web page designed to educate Americans on various ways they can confront hate and anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League also provides excel- lent online resources. All of these resources are free to the public.
Going forward, I’m going to adhere to the suggestions presented by these organizations to combat anti-Semitism, but I’m also going to defer to the suggestions of my Jewish friends and neighbors, such as Omega Hollies, or the congregation at the Lima Temple. There is a lot of insight that can be gained by talking with Jewish people about the issues that affect them. In the same way that I never truly understood Judaism until I attended Temple, I didn’t truly understand anti-Semitism until I asked someone directly affected by it.