Here at the convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the annual gathering of Conservative rabbis from around the world, much is as it always is at such events. There are opportunities for studying Torah, wonderful minyanim of different varieties, sessions on professional skills, and precious time to spend with friends and colleagues whom we don’t get to see enough of. These few days are invariably restorative.
That said, lurking not at all far beneath the surface of this year’s convention is the profoundly disturbing reality of an America that is changing before our eyes. More directly to the point, there is also a terribly unsettling awareness that the fundamental bedrock assumptions about the security of this most remarkable Jewish diaspora are also changing day by day, and not at all for the better. I can’t help but call to mind the words of a song by the Buffalo Springfield from 1966 that became a kind of anthem for my generation… Somethin’s happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear….Everybody stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin’ round…”
Just last week, the Jewish community of St. Louis endured the massive desecration of its Chessed Shel Emet Cemetery, with hundreds of tombstones toppled. The fact that caring Muslims came forward to help raise the money to repair the damages mitigated the sting of the insult somewhat, but the fundamental reality remained. It was gratifying that Vice-President Pence saw fit to show up and pitch in to help with the clean-up. But still, that peace of mind for which we pray at a graveside when we bury a loved one– al m’komo(a) yavo b’shalom, may he(she) come to his final resting place in peace– that sense of quiet serenity had forever been shattered. The pictures taken of that horrendous act of desecration resembled a pogrom from Kishiniev or Kielce more than a major American city.
But even as the shockwaves from the St. Louis atrocity began to ease, the bomb scares at JCCs, Jewish schools, synagogues and federations continued unabated. Virtually every day, children are hustled out of their classrooms, Jewish professionals are forced from their offices, and parents find themselves having to explain tot heir children why it is that people are doing this to them, to Jews.
And now, again, the cemetery vandals have stuck, this time in Philadelphia, at Mount Carmel Cemetery. The Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. Arnold Eisen, himself a native of Philadelphia, spoke last night at our convention and confided that the tombstones of many members of his immediate family had been desecrated in this attack. We were horrified, as the hostility was no longer a distant reality for any of us. It had become an immediate menace.
So I have no choice but to ask… where is the outrage? Where is any expression of horror at the ongoing nature of this resurgent, ugly anti-Semitic vandalism? Where is some kind of spontaneous, non-scripted expression of dismay from our President, or his Attorney General? Is the President too busy dismantling Obama-Care to worry about the breakdown of civil order in the country, and the rise of hatred? Why isn’t this being regarded as some kind of national emergency, with a full court press being put on by the federal government to find those responsible?
And, the biggest and saddest questions of them all– why are American Jews being made to feel as if we’re living through Germany in the 30’s? And exactly when are we going to be obliged to honestly ask the question of where all this is headed? In other words, when do we get REALLY scared?
I don’t care that Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism, that her husband is allegedly an influential advisor to the President, and that the President has Jewish grandchildren. I, too, have Jewish grandchildren, and I’m deeply worried about the country they are going to grow up in.
I care about my Muslim neighbors, and my Latino neighbors, and my African-American neighbors here in Queens, and I will proudly take to the streets to support them, as I intend to do this coming Sunday in a rally at Queens Borough Hall that I helped to organize. But I also care about myself and my people. We are, at the moment, no less at risk, even if we are not being deported.
All of this smells from the top down, and at the top I see not only President Trump, but just as much– if not more- Steve Bannon. Give a man like him an office a shout away from the Oval, call him your “Chief Strategist,” and behold the strategy unfolding. Breitbart News and its “sensitivities” have found a comfortable home in the White House, and the genie of anti-Semitism as practiced by the alt-right has been let out of the bottle. Bannon is probably loving every minute of this, and so is David Duke, who viewed Donald Trump’s victory as a great victory for America,,, his America.
Wake up, folks; it’s our America. Somethin’s happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear….Everybody stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin’ round…” “What’s goin’ round” is not, sadly, unknown to us. Until now, here in America, you could still buy copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in America, but you had to look for it outside of our major cities. Now, you don’t have to look too hard; just look at St. Louis and Philadelphia.