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Yom Kippur: We are Ongoing 2023

Rabbi Miriam Farber Wajnberg

United Hebrew Congregation, Singapore

110 years ago this past spring, in Marietta, Georgia, a Jewish man from New York, Leo Frank, was convicted of the murder of a young girl, Mary Phagan, his employee at the National Pencil Company. The trial and its coverage in the local and national press were infected with antisemitism and hate. In 1915, after a series of failed appeals, Governor John Slaton of Georgia did his own deep review of the case, eventually commuting Frank’s death sentence to life in prison. However, a group of angry and armed vigilantes, seeking their own justice and an affirmation of their hate-filled world view, kidnapped Leo Frank from prison and lynched him.

This dark chapter in Jewish history has been told in an unlikely venue: as the Broadway musical Parade, most recently in a revival production starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond (notably, both Jewish) that closed a few weeks ago after a 5 month run. I was lucky to see this production in New York over the summer. I can’t do justice to the emotional tenor of watching this musical, seeing the fear, the hatred, and the hope play out on stage, right up until the final scene when Leo Frank, portrayed by Platt, movingly prays the Sh’ma with his final breaths. Prior to the opening chords of the musical, the audience sees projected images of the roadside historical marker on the site of Frank’s lynching, with one line highlighted: “Without addressing guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the state’s failure to either protect Frank or bring his killers to justice, he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986.”[1] At the end of the musical, the final words are neither spoken nor sung, but projected above the stage, functioning as an epilogue to this story. They detail the 2019 formation of a panel in Fulton County to re-investigate the case. The last words are,

“It is ongoing.”

These are the three words that echoed in my very being as I left the dark theatre for the hot and sunny New York City afternoon. Eternality woven into a sentence. And also, inevitability. What exactly is ongoing since Frank’s trial and lynching over a century ago? Not only the investigation into his guilt or innocence. But also the continued prevalence of antisemitism around the world.

It is ongoing.

At least half a dozen synagogues in the United States had their Rosh Hashanah services last week delayed or interrupted due to swatting – when bad actors call in false security threats to local police with the intent to send an emergency response team and disrupt daily life.[2]

It is ongoing.

The Anti-Defamation League reported that there were nearly 3700 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault targeting

Jewish people and communities in the United States in the year 2022 – the highest number ever.

It is ongoing. [3]

And lest we think that this is unique to the United States, the ADL’s research into antisemitic attitudes around the globe found that nearly a quarter of the adult population in surveyed countries agreed with antisemitic stereotypes and statements, such as “Jews have too much power over the business world. Jews have too much control over global media.”[4]

It is ongoing.

Last fall, Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West), made a series of increasingly hateful statements and social media posts – which did ultimately result in him losing his lucrative contract with Adidas. On an October Sunday morning in the midst of this, I was sitting with our Vav students at Sunday school (a group of 11 and 12 year olds), and asked if they were following “the Kanye situation.” While most of them had zero idea who Kanye West was, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in that classroom had directly experienced antisemitism, either online or at school. I want that to sink in. Every student in our Vav class, who attend a mix of local and international schools, has experienced antisemitism – from classmates, from strangers online, and even, from friends. I want to be clear that for the incidents that took place in school, they had all been reported to and responded to by school administrations, and they were mostly rooted in ignorance, not bigotry. Yet we know that ignorance is fertile soil for bigotry,

and even the most well-intentioned disciplinary response does not undo the psychic impact on our teens of having to defend themselves, their faith, their Jewish identity.

It is ongoing.

Many of us have heard casual, even seemingly well-meaning comments from friends, coworkers, neighbours, and Grab drivers about Jewish wealth and power. “Ah, all Jews are really wealthy! You too?” These comments seem, at first glance, disconnected from the antisemitism Jewish communities in Europe and North America face. They are not embedded in a culture of white supremacy and Christian hegemony; we may very well be the first Jewish people some of our neighbours and coworkers here in Singapore have ever met. They admire us! (We’re a pretty admirable group!) But this sentiment is not divorced entirely from ancient antisemitic tropes around wealth and power. The British Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel, in his excellent work Jews Don’t Count, examines the double-edged nature of this particular stereotype. “It’s not an insult to link Jews with money,

because money’s a good thing, isn’t it? In a capitalist society, we admire people with money. Except of course, we don’t.”[5] Antisemitism connects Jewish wealth and power with sinister motivations. When someone who has never met a Jewish person before, knows nothing about Jews or Judaism, believes the stereotype that Jewish people have automatic access to wealth and power, simply by virtue of their Jewishness – such beliefs are deeply rooted in the oldest antisemitic tropes.

It is ongoing.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Marc Katz, a rabbi at a suburban New Jersey synagogue, spoke last week at Rosh Hashanah services about all that he learned after his synagogue was firebombed in an act of hate last February. He introduced the difference between security and safety. “Security is the apparatus we use to ensure that no one is bodily harmed.”[6] We are incredibly lucky, as a community here in Singapore, to know that our level of security is rigorously high. We do not face the same physical threats that Jewish communities around the world contend with, and our security committee, under Fred Stein’s leadership, works closely with the Singapore Police Force to ensure that all of our communal gatherings and events are secure. “Safety, however, is the feeling that no harm will come to us, body or soul.”[7] While it is perhaps more secure to be Jewish in Singapore than almost anywhere else in the world, that does not mean we are safe in our Jewish souls. Our CERTIS guards keep us secure – but they don’t keep us safe from the reminder that other faith communities do not need to hire armed guards in order to gather for prayer or learning. Singapore’s unwavering commitment to racial harmony and quick responses to radicalization and terror threats ensure our physical security, but they don’t keep us or our children safe from ignorant comments, or hate online.

It is ongoing.

It is ongoing – and will it ever not be? The Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz famously described the Jewish people as “the ever-dying people.”[8] We view ourselves, the Jewish people,

as “constantly on the verge of ceasing to be, of disappearing.” This tongue-in-cheek description highlights that just as antisemitism, bigotry, oppression, hate are ongoing…so are we. The Jewish people have continued to survive through centuries of destruction and exile, persecution and genocide.

It is ongoing – and so are we.

We are ongoing.

What does it take for us, the Jewish people, spread across the Diaspora, to continue to survive, to thrive, to innovate, to raise the next generation, our young people, with strong Jewish identities? As Rabbi Beni said last night, this does not happen by accident. In the musical Parade, Ben Platt’s Leo Frank is a transplant from Jewish Brooklyn to the not-so-Jewish Atlanta of the early 1900s. He sings of his desire to “be home again. Back again in Brooklyn.

Back with people who look like I do, and talk like I do, and think like I do.” Frank laments that his wife, a born and bred Jewish Southerner, “prefers that I say ‘howdy’ and not ‘Shalom.’”[9] Frank finds himself in a minority culture – and does not feel at home in it.  We too find ourselves as a Jewish minority in diverse Singapore. For some of us, we might have grown up being the only Jewish kids at school, on our block, in our town. Being a minority is not a new experience. For others, whether we grew up in Brooklyn, Jerusalem, Golders Green, Caulfield, or anywhere else with a thick Jewish community, living here in Singapore might bring new challenges and opportunities. We have to be proactive about our Jewish identities and lives – which each and every one of you are doing by showing up here this Monday morning.

We are ongoing.

Shortly we’ll turn to our Torah service, and we’ll hear part of Moses’ final exultation to the people Israel. Moses sees two stark possibilities for the people that he led out of Egypt to freedom.

If your heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish.[10]
For Moses, in his final moments as the leader of the Israelites, his greatest fear is not the hatred and oppression of others outside the Jewish community, even though he knows that hatred firsthand, having seen the devastating impact of Pharaoh and Amalek on the Jewish people. His greatest fear is that the people will choose not to live a Jewish life. Which brings us to the second option.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life – if you and your offspring would live – by loving the Eternal your God, heeding God’s commands, and holding fast to God. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the Eternal swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.[11]
Simon Rawidowicz, the Jewish thinker who coined the term

“the ever-dying people,” goes on to say that “our incessant dying means uninterrupted living, rising, standing up, and beginning anew.”[12] It is not only the continued prevalence of global antisemitism that is ongoing, but also, Judaism. Our commitment to live a vibrant, engaged Jewish life, to build Jewish communities, Jewish families, and Jewish institutions that will outlast our time in this place.

We are ongoing.

UHC Singapore is bringing 15 teens to the first ever BBYO Asia Pacific Regional Convention in November. What better way to respond to those who hate us than by gathering 40 Jewish teens from all over Asia to celebrate Shabbat together?

We are ongoing.

With each person who comes to Jewish life as an adult, seeking meaning, whether because they’ve found Judaism through a beloved partner, or on their own.

We are ongoing.

Every time we gather as a community to celebrate Shabbat, holidays, and lifecycle events.

We are ongoing.

When we celebrate Love Is Love Shabbat, fearlessly staking the claim that our Judaism is welcoming, inclusive, and loving, deeply committed to the belief that each and every human is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we are ongoing.

When our b’nai mitzvah students try to make sense of their Torah portions, connecting our ancient and sacred story to their lived realities of basketball, tennis, and Ted Lasso, we are ongoing.

Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, one of my teachers in rabbinical school, writes about two approaches to Jewish continuity: survivalism and transformationalism.[13] From the lens of survivalism, we are worried about numbers, demographics,

the ongoing threats to the Jewish people and Jewish community, both external and internal. We are ever dying. From the lens of transformationalism, we are reassured that regardless of what changes and challenges come our way, we will continue to transform, to innovate, to live Jewish lives of meaning, as our people have done for centuries. We are ever growing, ever living, ever changing.

We are ongoing.

On this Yom Kippur morning, I invite you to make a commitment – to yourself, to God. You can share your commitment with your loved ones, with me, with someone else in this room for accountability. Make a commitment to one action that will help ensure Jewish continuity, joyful Jewish life, here in Singapore,

for the generations to come. Perhaps that is getting involved as a volunteer, teaching in our Sunday school, bringing your children to Shabbat services, giving of your time and resources in some way to this Jewish community.

We are ongoing.

We are here in 5784. We know that antisemitism, threats to Jewish survival and safety, are ongoing. And we know that we, the Jewish people that has innovated time and time again to come together, to find meaning and relevancy in our ancient traditions, has the potential to be ongoing. Let us make it so.


[1] Helen Shaw, “History Repeats Itself in the Broadway Revival of ‘Parade,” The New Yorker, 16 March 2023.

[2] Bomb threats target US synagogues during Rosh Hashanah, but few interruptions reported – Jewish Telegraphic Agency (

[3] ADL tracked 3,697 cases of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault in 2022 : NPR

[4] The ADL GLOBAL 100: An Index of Antisemitism

[5] David Baddiel, Jews Don’t Count, p. 29.

[6] Rabbi Marc Katz

[7] Rabbi Marc Katz

[8] Simon Rawidowicz, Israel, the Ever-Dying People, and Other Essays, 1986.

[9] Ben Platt, “How Can I Call This Home?” Parade (2023 Broadway Cast Recording).

[10] Deuteronomy 30:17-18

[11] Deuteronomy 30:19-20

[12]  Simon Rawidowicz, Israel, the Ever-Dying People, and Other Essays, 1986.

[13] What Will The Jewish World Look Like In 2050? (

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