Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.


Was Oct. 7 our generation's Kristallnacht?

On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis carried out a pogrom across Germany. They ransacked Jewish homes and schools, destroyed hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, and incarcerated 30,000 Jewish men in concentration camps. With glass littering sidewalks, the event became known as "The Night of Broken Glass."

Kristallnacht marked a turning point for the Jews of Europe. Are we at another such inflection point?

Historians might call this a false comparison. Critics might charge me with being overly dramatic and ask, "Does everything always have to come down to the Holocaust?" Indeed, there are significant differences: Hamas is not the Nazis, and Gaza is not Germany.

Still, I can't help wondering: Where is this headed? Undoubtedly, this fear is born of intergenerational trauma. Sadly, Jewish history is full of broken glass.

At a Jewish wedding, we break a glass and shout "Mazal Tov!" We think of it as a happy moment. But this tradition was instituted 1,800 years ago as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem when the Roman empire forced my people from our homes and from our homeland, Israel.

Scenes of Jewish children massacred in southern Israel are also all too familiar. They remind us of stories told by our grandparents who witnessed Auschwitz, stories passed down by relatives who escaped Eastern European pogroms, stories from our earliest history of Israelite children intentionally killed by Pharaoh and his willing executioners.

When my 13-year-old B'nai mitzvah students ask me "Why do they hate us so much?", when my community's high school and college students are singled out and intimidated, when Jews are accosted in my neighborhood grocery store, when businesses in Turkey post signs saying, "No Jews allowed," when a Dagestani mob hunts for Jews in an airport, when protesters in European capitals call for the destruction of the Jewish state, we think to ourselves, "Oh no, here we go again."

So, no, asking if this is a new Kristallnacht is not an overreaction.

Of course, there are important distinctions. Unlike 1938, Jews are not alone. Though abandoned by some longtime allies, others have reached out. Second, unlike the Holocaust when Jews had nowhere to go, today, there is a Jewish state. Finally, unlike German authorities who watched as Jewish communities were terrorized, we feel the support of our government.

Days after the attack, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz stood on my bimah and, echoing President Joe Biden, condemned the brutal atrocities and offered unwavering support for Israel. Since then, the U.S. House followed suit. And local, state and national authorities are actively addressing the startling rise in antisemitism including on college campuses. Today's rise in Islamophobia deserves no less attention.

So, is this moment our Kristallnacht? In at least one way it certainly is. We have entered a period of darkness that has left our hearts shattered, our community shaken. We grieve over the deaths of family and friends in Israel and the deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza. We plead for hostages to be returned home alive. We fear the devastating human toll required to dismantle a terror organization calling for a Jewish genocide.

In the face of such darkness, we find strength in a teaching about a different broken glass. In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, we are taught that the world began when a big bang cast glass shards of light in all directions into all matter. Our job is to repair this cosmic rupture by finding and lifting up those divine shards which are embedded in every person and every place. How desperately it is needed now!

And there is much to do. Some of it is complicated because when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians, there are different versions of history and different visions for the future. But on a local level, it shouldn't be that hard. Let us discuss and even disagree — civilly — about Israel and Gaza. But let's not devolve into words or deeds that make people feel unsafe. There is no place for antisemitism or Islamophobia in Minnesota.

Minnesotans, we are better than that.

We have the power to turn a night of brokenness into the dawn of wholeness.

Alexander Davis is senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.