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

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