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Parshat Noach

November 1, 2019

In a time when violence, hatred, and fear are a part of our lives, the world can start to feel like it’s sinking. But through community, strength, and empowerment, we can rebuild this world. We can rise up. 

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Noach, is a story of struggle and strength. In the beginning of the Parsha, we read of a world filled with corruption and pain. Noah, a righteous man, is instructed by G-d to build an ark. He must put two animals of every kind on the ark and float away as the rest of the world is destroyed in a flood. After 40 days, a dove carrying olive branch signals that land is near and Noah and all his animals land on firm ground with a large rainbow in the sky. 

Today, a great flood of anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. This week we will examine how the flood of anti-Semitism has manifested itself, what the greater Jewish community can do to build an “ark” and float away from hate, and how BBYO can combat anti-Semitism in our role as teen leaders.

On October 27, 2018, almost a full year ago, we all felt the pain of a broken, sunken world. Eleven of our brothers and sisters were murdered just for practicing their religion at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our hearts were shattered—the religious freedom and tolerance that we so enjoy here in the United States was breached.

After the Tree of Life shooting, many Jewish worshippers found themselves looking for escape routes in their synagogue, preparing to hide under pews, and imagining the worst every time they attended services. Just a few months after the Pittsburgh murders, the Chabad of Poway suffered a similar attack. A high school in Richmond, Virginia, was vandalized with swastikas. A recent report by the Anti-Defamation league revealed that anti-Semitic attacks have nearly doubled in the past year. Many Jewish teens feel that the tide of hate is rising above their heads and threatening to drown them. In fact, for many months after Tree of Life, a handful of Richmond Jewish teens no longer attended services because they began to live in fear. 

Last October, our communities felt as though they were living in the corrupt, painful world described in the beginning of Parshat Noach. The Torah tells us that G-d says to Noah, “the earth has become full of corruption...I am destroying the [people] from the Earth.” G-d then brought upon the Earth a great flood. The cruel people were wiped out. 

Today, we cannot “wipe out” hate completely, but we are called on to bring a deluge of activism, a flood of hope. While we are incredibly lucky to be able to assemble and practice our Judaism through organizations like BBYO, our freedoms are not always guaranteed. We must defend one another regardless of race, religion, sexuality, or gender. 

In Parshat Noach, Noah built a beautiful ark with two animals of every kind. Noah and his animals floated away to safety just in time as a flood rose over the land. The journey was challenging and long for Noah. He endured harsh storms and long nights. Rain fell for 40 days and nights. Just as Noah began to lose hope, his dove returned with an olive branch. Noah then knew that land was near, and his journey was coming to an end. How can we use our Jewish traditions and identities to be a source of peace in the world? 

In Judaism, we pride ourselves on our values of unity and love for our neighbors. We must assemble our Jewish communities to build an “ark” and combat the hatred that is so pervasive in our time. Rather than escaping from hate in our ark, we must use it as a fortress from which to launch our campaign against hate. We must unify as one community in the fight against anti-Semitism that is threatening our communities. We must take the lead in the global effort to combat xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism. We must stand as one to fight for all we believe is right.

Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, but from times of struggle we have always emerged stronger than ever. Our responsibility as Jews is to be active members of the global community, accomplish tikkun olam (repairing the world), and help all those who are suffering. 

Once the ark made it ashore, Noah and his animals were tasked with rebuilding the world from scratch. The elephants, the ants, and everything in between had to repopulate the Earth. From this Parsha, we learn that just a handful of people or animals can develop an entirely new, beautiful, and peaceful society. 

Today, BBYO is at the forefront of building a beautiful and strong society. Our teen leaders across the world are engaged activists making strides to combat anti-Semitism. As the next generation, it is our responsibility to pave the way for the future of a better and brighter world. We must fight the hatred that is flooding our Earth. We must act now and give our “ark” of peace and unity to the entire world. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Claudia Sachs and Maya Lapidot-Boaz
Eastern Region: Virginia Council
Council Sh’lichim

Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.

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