Wednesday, November 13, 2019

China, Japan, and the Jews: Reflections on my visit ,October- November 2019




China, Japan, and the Jews: Reflections on my visit ,October- November 2019

A.      General Impression.

Admittedly, since I only spent a week in both countries, this must be a superficial overlook. However, I did have a chance for some open conversation with well-informed locals.

I could see a great dynamism in both China and Japan. China, despite a supposed slowing general rate of growth, and Japan, with a sluggish economy, looked very robust. I had the clear sense that if all the East Asian nations worked together, they would be on top of the world, and the US and Europe would be their lunch.
Huawei Showroom in Shanghai. Huawei is the leader in 5G technology.

The Ginza, Tokyo’s prime shopping venue, puts Rodeo Drive in its back pocket. Their prime shoppers—Chinese tourists.


It was easy to discern political limitations in China. To surf the web,  I could either go through highly filtered Baidu and shopped on Alibaba, or, as I did, have a VPN ( Virtual Private Network) setup on my smartphone in advance, that enabled me to surf the web on Google and Facebook and handle email from servers outside China.

There is heightened security everywhere, far beyond what would be needed to combat terrorism. On our tour bus, there were three cameras visible, one facing the driver, one facing the guide, and one facing the passengers. It is well known that the Chinese government has implemented behavioral controls on social media, with points and demerits for approved and disapproved behavior. This is but a modern variation on history; the Chinese rule has, from antiquity, been top-down. That said and done, people moved about and acted freely, and we weren’t worried about theft or robbery, as the cameras did a very good job of preventing criminal behavior.

A State- sponsored Buddhist Shrine. Religions may operate freely, if the leadership passes government OK (nix for Falun Gong or Tibetan Lama- Buddhism).


For a state that labels itself “ Communist”, it is closer to free-market economy( where people pay out of pocket for medical procedures , even with state health coverage, as well as out of pocket for education if  they want better for their child), but free only to the point that it serves the nation ( what is called ,the ”corporate state”).

For two opposing perspectives on the future of China:

Japan was a study in contrast, a capitalist society with a free health system. Personal control is very tight, but it is social control imposed by culture and tradition, not by government. It is exceptionally clean and the people exceptionally helpful. The land of advanced robotics is also a very traditional land; ancestral piety, the visiting of shrines and prayers to the ancestors, is a critical element in their society. While formal religion is very fluid, whereby animism, Shintoism and Buddhism weave in and out of each other ( and a Christian wedding ceremony is very “ in” today), it is a religious society in the sense of following ancient customs. We visited beautiful shrines on a national holiday ( a cultural awareness holiday). The shrines were packed with families, in best dress, suits, kimonos and robes, offering prayers to the ancestors for blessing.

Interesting similar customs: Our Shiva period of mourning of seven days is bested by the Japanese mourning period of seven times seven days. We wash our hands (Natilat yadayim ) before meals and after attending the cemetery; they wash hands and mouth before they pray at the shrine.


Netilat yadayim


Children in their festive finest


Other thoughts:

Both societies are socially homogeneous; cultural or racial diversity is not their concern! Neither actively encourages immigration, unless it is from neighboring, ethnically similar Koreas or Vietnam, for example. What about refugee asylum? Japan accepts about 20 out of close to 20,000 asylum seekers every year! Both countries are facing a population implosion, though, and opening doors for new young workers may be unavoidable.

Both have made such colossal strides on the world scene. China had labored under Manchurian oppression, then under English and French manipulation through opium, then Japanese oppression, and then under their own huge move backwards of the “Cultural Revolution” . China opened again to the west in the 1970’s, and is today the 2nd largest world economy. Japan had intentionally shut itself off from outside contact for 200 years and only opened up reluctantly under the threat of American cannons in the 1850’s. Within 50 years, Japan had defeated Imperial Russia, with 80 years, sank the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and then, despite the devastation of its infrastructure, roared back to become the world’s 3rd largest economy. This tremendous progress has replicated itself in  similar cultures in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, all of which lack an abundance of natural resources.

One can not but contrast this to the current failure of the Arab states, blessed with tremendous petroleum resources, in close contact with western technology over the past centuries, yet still mired in poverty, dictatorship and internecine bloodshed. Of course, as the President of Malaysia explains, it is the fault of the Jews, who “rule this world by proxy.”


B.      While Jews were under the thumb of Christian and Moslem rulers in Europe and the Middle east, we fared much better in the Far East, unburdened by the prejudices planted by religious scriptures.

Our connection is far older and deeper than the fabled Chinese fare for Jews at Christmas time.
A significant and important Jewish connection with China goes back to the early Middle Ages, along the fabled “ Silk Route”. As major members of the trade group labelled “Radhanites”, they brought European goods to China, and Chinese secrets to the West.

During the early middle ages, the Radhanites functioned as neutral go-betweens, keeping open the lines of communication and trade between the lands of the old Roman Empire and the Far East. As a result of the revenue they brought, Jewish merchants enjoyed significant privileges under the early Carolingians in France and throughout the Muslim world. Radhanites were among the first to establish a trade network that stretched from Western Europe to Eastern Asia.[10] More remarkable still, they engaged in this trade regularly and over an extended period of time, centuries before Marco Polo and ibn Battuta brought their tales of travel in the Orient to the Christians and the Muslims, respectively. “(Wikipedia.com)

Jews were involved in the trading of knowledge between the East and West as well.
Trade routes of the Radhanites; http://www.egyptsearch.com/forums/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=next_topic;f=15;t=004874;go=older



It was not just merchandise that Jews brought back with them. Ashkenazic Jews brought back a bit of Chinese genetic composition as well.

“ The existence of some eastern Eurasian haplotypes in eastern Ashkenazi Jews supports an East Asian genetic contribution, likely from Chinese. Further evidence indicates that this connection can be attributed to a gene flow event that occurred less than 1.4 kilo-years ago (kya), which falls within the time frame of the Silk Road scenario and fits well with historical records and archaeological discoveries. This observed genetic contribution from Chinese to Ashkenazi Jews demonstrates that the historical exchange between Ashkenazim and the Far East was not confined to the cultural sphere but also extended to an exchange of genes.”( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323646/)

Maybe this explains the Jewish predilection for Chinese fare!

In time, a significant number of Jews settled in the capital of China, during the Song dynasty, Kaifeng. Formerly P'ien-liang, it is now the capital of Honan province, central China. Jews arrived in Kaifeng probably before 1127 from India or Persia. They were an ethnic unit of approximately 1,000 in all. It is believed that their daily language was New Persian and presumably they were experts in the production of cotton fabrics, in dyeing them, or printing patterns on them. This industry was well developed in India, but China with its rapidly increasing population was just introducing cotton, in order to meet the acute silk shortage. The first Kaifeng synagogue was constructed in 1163. It was restored in 1279 and after being destroyed in a disastrous flood was rebuilt again through the efforts of *Chao Ying-ch'en, a mandarin of Jewish descent, in 1653, when the sacred scrolls were also restored. Thereafter the community fell into rapid decay, most likely as a result of its complete isolation from other centers of Jewish life. By the middle of the 19th century the Jews of Kaifeng preserved only a rudimentary knowledge of Judaism and only the ruins of the former synagogue were left.. At the end of World War II, about 200 or 250 traceable descendants of the original Kaifeng Jewish community still survived. ( Wikipedia.com)

Image: Li Kuang, Defender of city, c. 1600’s.  Many centuries later, another Jewish general would serve the Chinese people, Gen Ma Kun ( Moishe Cohen) or “ Two Gun Cohen, aide de camp to President Sun Yat Sen .

Chinese Haggadah 16th 17 th cent





C.      Jewish Refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto, Japan, and the role of a President of Hollywood Temple Beth El in Rescue

My brother and sister in law, Dror & Helene Zadok,  are friends with the Chinese Consul in Houston and the Shanghai Cultural Representative, who arranged a welcome at the Museum of the Shanghai Ghetto by the director (we were interviewed by museum staff as well). We were accompanied by “James” , who had visited Israel ,and  was personally fascinated by all things Jewish. He walked us through the sides streets of the original ghetto in the Hongkou district ( The old apartments, tiny and cramped, are still lived in use today; one tiny room encompasses kitchen, dining, living and bedroom ).

Modern era Jews had settled in China at the end of 19th and early 20th Century from Tsarist Russia. The Tsar was supportive of this, as it moved Jews away from Russia proper, a long-standing Tsarist goal.  With rise of Nazism, larger numbers came to Shanghai, which had been a foreign enclave of French and English in China.


“ Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees, was an area of approximately one square mile in the Hongkew district of Japanese-occupied Shanghai (the southern Hongkou and southwestern Yangpu districts of modern Shanghai). The area included the community around the Ohel Moshe Synagogue but about 23,000 of the city's Jewish refugees were restricted or relocated to the area from 1941 to 1945 by the Proclamation Concerning Restriction of Residence and Business of Stateless Refugees. It was one of the poorest and most crowded areas of the city. Local Jewish families and American Jewish charities aided them with shelter, food, and clothing.[1] The Japanese authorities increasingly stepped up restrictions, but the ghetto was not walled, and the local Chinese residents, whose living conditions were often as bad, did not leave
.( Wikipedia.com)”

Entrance to the Museum 


A friend of ours was born there; a previous member of HTBE, our chief usher, as well as a member of another previous congregation where I had served had lived there during the time of the Holocaust.
A wall of refugees name. Shown are the names of my friend's parents, Rogozinski ( now Rogson). They were relatives of another previous member of HTBE.

Parokhet, Ark Cover, a tribute to the people of Hangkou

Ohel Moshe Synagogue

The story of the Ghetto

Typical living quarters

The Ghetto street scene today

Our guide, James

Life is still active in the Ghetto, minus the Jews

A monument located in a park used by the Ghetto residents


Monument to the refugees




What is the connection between Hollywood Temple Beth El and the Refugees of the Ghetto?

Anatole Ponve, a Jewish refugee from Russia, settled in Kobe, Japan in the  early 20th century. He opened a chain of import-export businesses throughout Far East-one in Harbin, China, led the Jewish community of Kob e. He was in LA at the outbreak of WWII and couldn’t return then, but both before and after war, he led efforts to get Jews out of Germany and German-occupied lands  and then, get those refugees out of  China and resettled. After the war, he returned to Tokyo we he  led the  Jewish community and obtained funds for synagogue. It is reported that he pulled together a minyan  for visiting actor, Edward G Robinson, who at one time, was a President of HTBE

Ponve later moved  back to LA  and became President of HTBE! His documents have been archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Leaders of the Kobe Jewish community. Ponve is 3rd from left

Excerpt from " The Fugu Plan" about Ponve and Hollywood Temple Beth El



Which brings us to Jews and Japan


D. Jews. Japan. And the Fugu Plan.


The Japanese believed Nazi propaganda about Jews but they believed the Nazis conclusion was wrong. Jews were like the Fugu fish, a deadly poisonous food, but, if prepared correctly by the chef, a great delicacy. We were wanted as allies, not as enemies. They therefore actively encouraged Jews to migrate to Manchuria !

There is a fascination with all things Jewish in the Far East.

In Korea, the education system has issued its Korean version of the Talmud, a short compilation of Talmudic passages, so that children can learn how to debate topics as do the Jews.

In Kyoto, at the grounds of the old Emperor’s palace, we met  Kenji, who had lived in Israel, spoke and wrote Hebrew, and has a consulting firm with the Hebrew name of “ Ariel”. He connected us with the Christian community of Beit Shalom. We were not able to meet with them on this trip, but hope to do so if we go back. They are known for graciously hosting visiting Jewish groups.

This church goes back many years. It is rooted in the idea that, in some way, Japan is bound up with the restoration of Israel. The founder established three core principals:
1.   To pray for the restoration of the nation of Israel;
2.   To pray for the spiritual renewal of Israel, which is the condition for the return of Christ;
3.   To pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which is the key to the peace of the world; and
To pray for the coming of the Messiah of Peace.[8]

Many years ago, I was a student intern for the noted philosopher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I  had the opportunity then to meet the son of the founder of the Makuya movement who was studying Jewish theology at my alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Makuya" is the Japanese equivalent for the Hebrew word משכן  mishkan, which refers to the Holy Tabernacle, the portable shrine where God and man encounter (Exodus 29:42–43). This name aptly captures the basic religious orientation of the Makuyas, who emphasize the significance of the personal, ineffable encounter with the divine presence in everyday life. This experience, according to them, must not, and indeed cannot, be substituted by a dogmatic belief in creeds or a stabilization of a religious institution; hence, the idea of the "portable" shrine, the Holy Tabernacle.

Makuya is a group of fervent lovers of Israel and Jewish people. It sends young members to a number of kibbutzim in Israel, and makes pilgrimages to Jerusalem. "( Wikipedia.com)

Two years ago, in Jerusalem, I was fascinated to watch a Japanese choir sing in perfect Hebrew at a public performance. During that same visit, I attended a festival in honor of Jerusalem sponsored by a Korean pro-Israel group.

Middle-eastern Islamic and European Christian civilizations have proven to be very problematic for Jews. Maybe its time to focus our sights, from California, due West.






Sunday, October 13, 2019

People, Needed by Other People


People, Needed by Other People ( Kol Nidre 2019)





            Our Torah reading for Yom Kippur day is a bizarre one for moderns. Two goats are selected, one is sacrificed in the Temple, and the other is sent out into the wilderness, to be unceremoniously destroyed, thereby, symbolically, carrying off the sins of an entire nation. He goes off to what is called” eretz gezerah”, the land of the decree, but also, the land of cutting off.

            Gezerah, the Talmud tells us, is a land of steep cliffs, where the scape-goat is hurled down. Gezerah is a land cut off, a land of no return. That is the feeling of being in the wilderness. Ishmael, who featured in our first day Torah reading, was left to die in the wilderness.

That wilderness is described, in Jeremiah(2:6) as “ eretz tziyah v “tzalmavet” אֶרֶץ צִיָּה וְצַלְמָוֶת , a land of drought and utter darkness,   a land where no one travels and no one lives. The word for darkness here is itself a composite of tzel and mavet “ the Shadow of death”, a phrase you well know from the common translation of the 23rd Psalm. Being alone in the wilderness, where no one travels and no one lives, isolation, is to be in the shadow of death.

            I sympathize with the goat. He is a very contemporary personage; all the sins of the world are pressing down on his twisted horns and his is left, abandoned, in the wilderness, where no one travels and no one lives. We feel, ourselves, often, alone, in the midst of the crowds, in a land where no one travels, even while surrounded by many. So, if last week, I spoke of us being frustrated pigeons, tonight, we are forlorn goats.

 It turns out that we feel part of a tragedy, which, according to its Greek roots, is, aptly enough, the song of the goat, a very weak, poor “ba-a-a”!

            Alone in the wilderness. The modern condition, the song of a poor goat.



 The goals of society over the last two centuries has been to free us from social pressure, to free us from the imposition of the expectation of others. But as our society,  economy and technology  give us the tools to live as we choose, we find ourselves very much on our own, out on a limb. The price of the breakdown of neighborhood, community, and family is very steep.

            Last week, I went into Psychology 101 with my story of pigeons and racoons. Today, I will go into Sociology 101. There truly is nothing new under the sun, at least in the past centuries. The father of the study of society, Emil Durkheim, coined a word for us, “anomie”, a state of having no norms, no guidelines, that society used to provide us. Durkheim used the term "the malady of the infinite" because desire without limit can never be fulfilled; it only becomes more intense.

To borrow from Durkheim, “Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free him from all social pressure is to abandon him to himself and demoralize him.”

Do you need proof? Think of a Jerry Epstein, who denied himself no pleasure, violated all social norms, and ended miserably hanging in his cell. This is our “ goat” par excellence, off, on his own, in the wilderness.

When we are cut off from our fellow human beings and at the same time, cut off from our moral and spiritual anchors, we are the forlorn goat in the wilderness.

There is nothing new under the sun.  We feel ourselves, in the words of an ancient Persian poet, “Into this Universe, and why not knowing, Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste, I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.” ( Ruba’iyat attributed to Omar Khayyam).

It is picked up in modern sentiment by musicians of my heyday, such as Jim Morrison, Into this house we're born, Into this world we're thrown Like a dog without a bone,An actor out alone.



So we clutch at straws. We do anything to be remembered.

Some forms of getting noticed are benign, like getting into the Guiness Book of Records for eating the most hot dogs and buns at one sitting. Others, often our most creative and talented, in the midst of adoration and adulation, simply burn out, their bodies and minds spent at a young age. Then , there are those who want the world to take them seriously, like the Unabomber or the mass shooters who have plagued us in recent times.

So, do we have the cure? Remember the poor goat? He is sent off to the wilderness. But we are not that poor goat, with his goat song, his tragedy. We are the people standing in the ancient sanctuary, who have unloaded on that goat our shortcomings and are seeking to turn ourselves around.

So , we have needs, deep set physical and emotional needs and we come here, on Yom Kippur, to address those deep needs:

            A great humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, spoke of us as seeking to fulfill needs, the highest of which is self-actualization, achieving our highest and noblest aspirations. That is something we wish to achieve on this day. But we can’t get to it if we don’t fulfill some very elemental needs first. Those that deal with our simple survival are first, but , for us, moderns, for most human beings, in the past century, survival is less of an issue than it was for the preceding 5700 years or so since Adam. Some of the other needs, that are considered higher needs, may actually be easy for us to meet in modern life, the need for knowledge and understanding. I think where we all get stuck is in the middle- we he called “ belongingness.” It is finding ourselves in our friends and family, in our loved ones, in our close-knit communities, such as we have at our temple, when we participate regularly.

As the story of Adam has it, “ Lo Tov He-yot adam levado”- the human being is not happy alone. We don’t want to be the lone goat in the wilderness. We want to get to the top, but we are stuck in the middle.

Do you remember the popular song by Barbara Streisand (Funny Girl, written by Bob Merril).

“People, People who need people, Are the luckiest people in the world.”

Well, no, not really. Everyone needs people, even the unluckiest. But, too often, we feel, as the philosopher, Sartre, put it, “ Hell is other people.” So we hide, or run away from this essential need.

So what is the solution- if we need other people, then we musty make ourselves needed. Other people need us, and that is where we solve our essential need.

If our illness is that we are alone, the cure is to make ourselves needed

Abraham, when he sets out on his new venture, to go to a land that he had never seen and never heard of, gets this one great promise:ְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְגֹ֣וי גָּדֹ֔ול וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃ Gen 12:2. “ I will make you a great nation , I will bless you and make your reputation great—and you shall be a blessing.” What is it “ heye brachah” – to be a blessing?

Rashi, the father of all commentators explains — Blessings are entrusted to you; hitherto they were in My power — I blessed Adam and Noah — but from now on you shall bless whomsoever you wish (Genesis Rabbah 39:11), As the Ramban added,  that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him, and not just the people of his land.

So what does it mean “to become a blessing’? Proverbs tells us “A generous person enjoys prosperity; He who satisfies others shall himself be sated. He who withholds grain earns the curses of the people, But blessings are on the head of the one who dispenses it. ( 11;25-26)

You want to gain a blessing- gain it by giving it.

If I were rewriting Funny Girl, I would reword the song” People” to say, People, needed

By other people, are the luckiest people in the world.”

So how can I become “ needed.” How can I become a brachah. Chasing others pushes them away. Helping others, giving of ourselves, brings them neigh.

It can take many, many forms. Obviously, people who have close family and friends, have and hold them by virtue of making themselves essential to their loved ones: support, care, compassion.

But, in truth, many of us live as singles, or in some form of isolation, what is sometimes called a singleton. One and only, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. There are so many ways we can make ourselves a blessing and be wanted as well as needed by others.

I was in contact with one of our members, Yuri Sokolow, and I asked him what projects he knew of that you here today could involve yourselves in. Make yourselves needed.

He had mentioned that here in West Hollywood, we have a good number of home bound elderly. Why not ask our people to volunteer to deliver food, Meals on Wheels.

We know that in the midst of plenty, there are people who are hungry. We do have the SOVA box outside, but someone has to stand at the SOVA counter and hand out the food. Why not that?

We know that social scientist have been warning us that the greatest danger facing youngsters growing up today is the absence of a strong family. This is especially true of young males who lack a positive father-image and whose mothers struggle with giving them guidance alone. Why not volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. There is a specific Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters, but it doesn’t just have to be with members of our Tribe. Here is a chance to make a difference, be a blessing, make yourself needed.

Finally, we are a community here. You do not have to feel alone. Even if you feel miserable, and down and out, just sitting down with us on a Shabbat morning, joining in on breakfast and study, worship and more food is a healing of the human condition. Like they say, “Support your local Sheriff” and “ Support your local shule.”

            In the end of all ends, a Jewish soul may never be a lone goat and forlorn, cast off into the wilderness. Everyday, in our early morning prayers, we are reminded, even when we may feel down, we can feel  “ashreinu u’ Mah tov Helkeynu”- We are happy, for our portion is good, and our destiny is pleasant, and our heritage is so beautiful.

As Jews, we are privileged to be part of history’s oldest club and fellowship, we have in it our path to the highest of needs, of finding our true selves, of lifting ourselves about the mire of daily life, and becoming a blessing,  to lift others up out of the mire as well.

When we keep that in mind, we have our true Yom Kippur, Our True atonement, our true “at”one-ment.”










Friday, October 11, 2019

We are Not Afraid


We are Not Afraid 

(Yom Kippur 2019)

Note: This sermon was delivered just before word came of the murders outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany. As a representative of the community said, there, Jews are being targeted by right, left, and Islamic extremists.

*******************************

            There is an image making the rounds on news media of a Jewish youngster bowing and kissing the feet of a Muslim classmate. The Jewish boy was surrounded in a local park by a dozen other youngsters, all of them students of a prestigious private school in Melbourne, Australia. He was taunted, threatened and forced to bow, full prostrate, to kiss the feet of his classmate.

When the Jewish parents confronted the Muslim parents, they did the right thing-they reprimanded their boy and taught him what it was like to be picked on, because they had experienced the same thing. That was the right thing to do.

 What was disgusting was that the school officials at first refused to do anything about this. Anti-Semitic bullying was not their business.

This followed on the heels of another incident in which a five-year old Jewish kindergartner also in the Melbourne area was harassed to the point of break-down by his classmates because he was circumcised. Again, we all understand that children can be mean, especially five-year olds. However, when the school principal was approached to teach the children about anti-Semitism, he refused to deal with the issue because he didn’t want to “make the other children feel uncomfortable.”

We are learning that it is OK to walk over us Jews.

It used to be easy to walk all over Jews.  For almost two thousand years, after the Roman conquests, and after subjugation and denial of equal rights under both Christian and Muslim rulers, we learned to survive by going, yarmulka in hand, to the powers that be. In Yiddish , it was called “ shtadlanus”, the original form of lobbying, but lobbying from a point of weakness. It would include begging and bribing the local ruler.  Our approach was one of “ Shah, shtil”, just shut up and don’t make waves.

At its most pathetic, it would be this image, by the great Hebrew poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, after the Kishinev pogrom of 1904:

“Concealed and cowering,—the sons of the Maccabees!
. . .It was the flight of mice they fled, /The scurrying of roaches was their flight;
They died like dogs, where they were found!אַחֶיךָ, בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וּבְנֵי בְנֵיהֶם שֶׁל-הַמַּכַּבִּים..מְנוּסַת עַכְבָּרִים נָסוּ וּמַחֲבֵא פִשְׁפְּשִׁים הָחְבָּאוּ וַיָמוּתוּ מוֹת כְּלָבִים שָׁם בַּאֲשֶׁר נִמְצָאוּ,.

“… And as you stretched your hand So will you stretch it, And as you have been begging So are shall continue to beg!”

וְכַאֲשֶׁר פְּשַׁטְתֶּם יָד תִּפְשֹׁטוּ, וְכַאֲשֶׁר שְׁנוֹרַרְתֶּם תִּשְׁנוֹרְרוּ.


We would assume, that after the failure of “ Shah, shtil” in Nazi Germany leading up to the Holocaust, and with the rise of Israel, and with the image of a New Jew, who could fend for himself or herself, we would no longer be the world’s “ chopped liver.” No one would threaten us again and we would walk proudly in public, as much or as little visibly Jewish as we want. 1948- Independence,1956, Suez,  1967,the  6 Day war, 1973, the Yom Kippur War. The people of Israel, representing the Jewish people, would no longer be stepped upon.

And in the 1980’s, an energized and confident Jewish people, in the US and in Israel, with the help of great friends in America and elsewhere, were able to leverage pressure to liberate the Jews of the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain came tumbling down shortly thereafter, in great part because of this movement on our part. And, as a bonus, I gained several beautiful grand-children from my Soviet-born son in law and daughter in law.

As I look back on those times, I remember thinking to myself in those years, how safe this country was from terror and how safe we Jews felt here.  We Jews in America had really made it.

Now, it seems that so much has changed.

A week before Rosh Hashanah, we had a meeting here with a security advisor to set up a team of some of our key people so we would keep on top of any threats. While the FBI is watching for the “usual suspects”, there is an increased concern for terror attacks here from Islamic extremists who have their agents imbedded here.

All of a sudden, we are worried for our “American Dream.”

We are but a year away from the killing of Jews in a Synagogue in Pittsburg and but a half year away from the attack on a synagogue in neighboring Poway.

We have seen a march in Charlottesville in which the marchers shouted” Jews will not replace us” and media have been feeding us with a frenzy of worry of an alt-right about to take over America.   

So, we say, these are our old enemies, the white supremacists, the KKK’s, the neo-Nazis; “the deplorables”, “ white trash” or “ trailer park trash”, “rednecks” and all the other derogatory terms that enlightened people use. These are the remnants of people whom history, and economics, has passed over and these are the futile thrashings out of a dying breed.  We have our own well-greased Jewish institutions that are working hand-in -hand with government agencies and reaching across community lines for mutual support. In truth, classic, old world “white supremacy”, blatant Jew-hatred, has been on the decline in the past decades.

We have witnessed, however, a very well-documented increase in incidents targeting Jews from a very different corner. Anti-Semitism of the respectable, the educational and cultural elites. It has been prevalent in Great Britain and Europe; it is now creeping in here. It has come in under the cloak of “ anti-Zionism”, a way of hating the Jew via the surrogate, Israel.

There is an anti-Semitism that is now making its way in “respectable” circles. We only have to look across the “pond”, to Great Britain, where Jews in the Labour party have increasingly been pushed out, made to feel unwanted in the party that had always been their home. Even, today, on Yom Kippur, there is a session scheduled to oust a local Jewish Labour MP because she criticized their party leader on this very issue.



Just  this past, Columbia University hosted ,of all people, the President of Malaysia, Mohammed Mahatir for a public forum. He has been a successful leader of the officially Muslim country of Malaysia. He has no need to demonize Jews, since Malaysia is just about Judenrein.



Yet this is the man who announced that he is “ proud to be an anti-Semite” and mocks Jews for their “ hooked nose”.  These are his words:



“They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.”



Straight from the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or from Die Stuermer, the Nazi rag of Hitler. The lumping of socialism, communism, human rights and democracy together as inventions of the Jews is classical core fascism.



When he was asked by the moderator at the event about his comments on Jews, he gave this gem, “When you say ‘you cannot be antisemitic,’ there is no free speech.”

I will give this to his credit. There are many who claim to be “Anti-Zionst” but not “ Anti-Semites.” The Prime Minister made clear that there is no such distinction. In his speech to the respected Oxford Union, he asked “why we can’t say anything against Israel, against the Jews?”



Clearly, it is one and the same. At least he has been honest. And, he was roundly applauded for his comments as well. Was he given a pass because he is non-white, no-European, or because Jews were his target?



Would a major University in this country have invited a ‘White supremacist” to speak? Unimaginable! Student groups have successfully blocked Israeli speakers on campuses with wild and disruptive protests, in the past few years, but an out-spoken anti-Semite can speak, and no one walks out, no one disrupts in violent protest.



You can talk about Jews because we are too polite. We are still in “ Shtadlan mode”, “sha, shtil.”



Here’s what’s been happening on campuses.



Antisemitic acts involving the singling out of Jewish and pro-Israel students and groups for personal vilification more than doubled, with a tripling of expression falsely implying these students or groups are linked to “white supremacy, according to Amcha, an organization of concerned academicians.



What is extremely worrisome is that faculty members, those who should know better, are often leading the pack. This is the atmosphere in which the future leaders of our country are being trained. What will happen as these youth become adults and decision makers for American society?



Only now, begrudgingly, have the world leaders woken up to the fact that Anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head from right, from left, and from the Islamic world. Even the United Nations is waking up to this issue as their Special rapporteur on Religious Freedom, Ahmed Shaheed has issued an official warning on the dangers!

So, now, on Yom Kippur, Yizkor day, when we are reminded of those we have lost, and when so many of us here are survivors of anti-Semitic regimes, or their descendants, what are we to do?

Fortunately, in America, the great bulk of our country-men and women are open and tolerant, much more so than we are told by a media fixated on the extremes.

In general, Americans are becoming more, not less tolerant, of different religions, this according to the respected Pew organization, and this is happening across all ages, and across political divides. Among all religious groups, guess who comes in as Americas favorite, just ahead of Catholics and Protestants. Us! Jews.

So, while on the one-hand, Jews are the number one object of hate attacks among all religious groups, attacked far more than Muslims, by the way. Yet in terms of affection, we are the object of affection. Hot and cold. Go figure. 

So, we can take comfort, that while our highly vaulted sanctuaries of intellectual open-mindedness make Jews feel ill at ease, and while the down-and-out deplorables, the failures of society, must flail against us for their own failures, the vast majority think well of us.

Evangelical Christians love Israel, and Jews, more than we do. Within the Catholic Church, too, there is the start of a love fest as Pope Francis has recently reaffirmed : “Their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”  

Even in our relations with Muslims in the US, there is much good to be found. While Muslim populations around the world have been infected with Judeo-phobia, American Muslims are very much aware that we  are both minorities, and that an attack on one inevitably morphs into an attack on the other. While the waters have been muddied by some prominent young politicians, and I won’t go into name calling, and a large Muslim-brotherhood affiliate has become the public face for the media, there are many, many Islamic groups, in the US and abroad, that seek to bridge the gaps between us. There are Muslims here and abroad, Shiite and Sunni, who are looking to improve relations between our communities and who even call for recognizing the State of Israel as a Jewish State, just as almost all other nations are so defined by their constitutions, as the state of nation “X” or “religion “X”.

The same can be said of other minority groups. We know they want to work with us, not against us.

With all this said, we cannot, and will not, go back, to kowtowing to whoever is in authority, whether in government, or in the university. And we certainly not cower under the covers as we once did in the time of the Kishinev pogrom .

We are here, together, Yom Kippur, at Yizkor. We bring our memories of close family whom we have lost . But we also have our memories of the ones lost at the hands of the Nazis, and we have the memory of the Israeli soldiers shot like sitting ducks at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, on this very same day, and of Jews who, in this century, have been victims of the world’s oldest hatred. .

            We stand here, proud as Jews. We shall never again “scurry like roaches”, never “stretch out our hand” for pity. Never shall we apologize for being “a model minority” or being successful, for having made it in this country, nor shall we apologize for our support of the people of Israel.

We stand here together in common memory, brought together, to recommit ourselves as Jews, to Jewish thought, to Jewish learning, to bringing truth and justice in this world, yet never at the cost of rolling over for everyone else’s cause. We recommit ourselves to the Jewish people here, abroad, and in Israel, now, past, and future, and we recommit ourselves to this congregation and community. Amen