Yes, some of your best friends are Jewish, I know. But, trust me, even if you do have Jewish friends, none of them will tell you what I am about to.
In a few days, the Jewish community in Israel and worldwide will celebrate the beginning of a new year, our Rosh HaShana. It is, by far, one of my favorite holidays: as the summer winds down, this holiday symbolizes the coming of fall, allowing us to shed our extra baggage of wear and despair of a year past, and energetically engage with all that is to come with renewed spirits and a sense of optimism. However, as we look at the skies above, they are marred with some dark clouds.
It hasn’t been an easy year for the Jewish State.
The State of Israel’s very right to exist continues to be under attack. The hateful anti-Semitic #BDS movement continues to rear its ugly head and attempt to delegitimize our one and only Jewish state. Yes, I know – you are not doing it because you are an antisemite, this is merely “a criticism of Israel’s policies”. At best, this is what you tell yourself and actually believe your own lies. At worst, you know what this is – a cynical excuse to hide your real motives behind, while you demonize Israel, delegitimize her right to be and single her out for criticism in a blatant double standard towards serious murderers and human rights violators around the world.
It hasn’t been an easy year to be a Jew as well (but when has it been, really?!).
In the United Kingdom, a virulent antisemite is sitting at the helm of a major political movement, the Labour party, presiding over some of the worst anti-Jewish sentiments openly recorded in recent history. Turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic caricatures and bonding with arch-terrorists the like of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, Jeremy Corbyn is a symbol of the moral abyss a society WILL FACE unless the forces of hatred are called out and challenged.
In the United States, similar challenges arise.
Siggy Flicker, the star participant of the reality show The Real Housewives of New Jersey, was disregarded, mocked and ridiculed for her reaction to mentioning Hitler on the show. Flicker, a Holocaust survivor’s daughter, could not take it anymore and quit the show, lambasting it for “trivializing sheer evil”.
On August 16th 2018 the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, passed away, leaving behind a golden legacy of the beauty of music and a voice described by some as a true wonder of nature, touching the numinous. Later in the month, Franklin’s star-studded funeral service (“Celebration of Life”) took place in Detroit as this recipient of the Medal of Freedom and a U.S. icon was laid to rest.
Eulogized by the likes of President Bill Clinton, Franklin is an all-American symbol, and yet, on stage, sitting side by side with former President Clinton, visible was none other than Nation of Islamnotorious leader and the well-known (and proud of it!) antisemite, Minister Louis Farrakhan. Shockingly we looked around and searched for the outrage of this normalization of hatred and antisemitism, allowing it to stand tall at the very center of American consensus. We found that to be in the mainstream Jewish media, in our midst, but elsewhere?! If you try and google search controversial Aretha Franklin funeral, the results will include outrage for comments made by the eulogizing pastor as well as anger that Farrakhan himself was NOT given the stage to speak at the service (!?!). But where is the shame? The embarrassment and the outrage for his antisemitism? A man for whom “Hitler was a great man” and who unabashedly paddles in anti-Semitic canards (“The Jews have control over agencies of government. When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.”) is sitting there, and the message to us, Jews, is clear. How is that acceptable?! Can you imagine a similar high-profile service, where a KKK leader was present on stage, as being even remotely acceptable?! Or is it ok, because it’s only against us Jews?!
Find out what it means to me
(Aretha Franklin, 1967)
But here comes the best part: this year has also been an amazing year to be a Jew. Indeed, Jewish existence, as the human experience itself, is a mixture of pain and joy.
Jewish communities around the world have come together, strengthening our bond as a people, from Israel and beyond. I see before my very eyes every day the incredible young adults who come together to support the right of the Jewish people to have a home of our own. I watch their glistening eyes as they learn of one of the world’s most just causes, a heroic story of a movement and a people reunited with their home, realizing the significance and value of being a link in this incredible chain.
I look at the State of Israel with great pride as well. My grandparents came to Israel with nothing on them, fleeing Yemen and arriving in Israel “On the Wings of Eagles”. With strength, resilience and determination, like so many others in their time, they worked hard and built a home, a community, a life. Now, Israel is home to almost 9 million people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who enjoy freedom and equal rights, in this part of the world which saw – and sadly still sees – too little of it.
As for the struggles we have, make no mistake, we are fighting for our very lives here, and we know it. Some ask me how we do it every day? how do we not despair in the face of so much evil, hatred and stupidity?! We are lucky to be alive at a time when the State of Israel exists, a privilege our ancestors could only dream of. And to all those who ask I say, with a glaring smile: this is one battle I and my friends are honored and fortunate to wage.
This is one battle we will not fail, for the simple reason we cannot afford to. As the late Israeli premier Golda Meir once said: “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs – We have no place to go.”
Whether classic antisemitism, or the new one known as #BDS, terror attacks or armed hostilities, we are a strong-willed nation, one which is far from perfect, but knows how to come together in times of need, united in our aspiration to live, and if possible – live in peace.
You have no chance in this battle, and until is it all done, we say to all:
Happy New and Sweet Year to all,
Shana Tova uMetuka