Sunday morning, 29 December, I wake up and look at the news. “Stabbing in Monsey on the 7th Night of Chanukah”, it reads, a reminder of the times we live in, a reminder that 3 quarters of a century, a thriving Jewish state, and Jewish contributions to humanity’s betterment the world over hasn’t changed anything all that much.
I wake up and run downstairs for Shacharit in my Yeshiva University dorm room. And as I begin to wrap my Tefillin, I can’t help but think where I will be in 10 years, where my people will be, what my people will face, and the scary, open, unpredictable road that lies before me. I open my Siddur and start my morning blessings. I forget about the dangers of tomorrow. I forget about the world my kids may grow upin. I pray to succeed in my exams that week. It’s easier that way.
But the truth is, it’s not easier that way. Anti-semitism is rising wherever we look. It started it Pittsburg, and then it moved west. “Oy”, we thought, “Absolutely horrific news for the Jews in California. Thank G-d we live amongst 1 million other Jews. Nothing could happen here. Phew!” Except, then it did. Brooklyn, Jersey City, Monsey. Do we have to wait for an attack on the OU’s downtown head offices before we acknowledge that anti-semitism is present, it is potent, and it is scary, even in The Home of the Brave? Do we have to wait until a Jewish business gets vandalized or looted before we acknowledge that even here, even in America, even in the “Medinah Shel Chesed” (which it is!), there is a problem of vehement anti-semitism which we need to face up to and against which we have to fight?
I have been to Poland three times, and each time I have been deeply, deeply affected. And yet, with that said, I ask myself why. I should not necessarily have been so profoundly affected by Auschwitz. I was fortunate that all my family managed to escape to South Africa before the war. I never had any family members, certainly none that I knew, who counted as a unique, special Jewish soul amongst 6,000,000 others. So why did it so deeply penetrate my soul that, after the first trip, I was so inspired that I became religious, and after the second and third respectively, I was so inspired that I committed hours and hours of my time, through the March of the Living and other similar organizations, to fighting anti-Semitism?
I think the answer is because Auschwitz reminds me of the danger of silence. It grabs me by my collar and screams at me, “What does this mean to you?!?” The perfectly-aligned, perfectly-symmetric chimneys in the vast fields of Birkenau analyze my decisions, scrutinize my goals, and ask me with a zest that can only be described as petrifying, “What makes you so sure this cannot happen again?” Indeed, when I try and answer, I am left more petrified than before.
Anti-Semitism exists. It is, much like the people it despises, alive and well. As, indeed, are the powers that fight it. The Jewish powers that be are aware of our bleak and uncomforting reality. The American security forces are made up of good men and women who are putting their lives on the line to protect our people. And yet the attacks and the threats are only increasing. So, given the adequate political, social and financial response, what is the appropriate communal and spiritual response?
I think the best we can do is look after our fellow Jew – to support him in any way we can. The Chasam Sofer says that the 10th of Tevet, one of the 5 National Jewish Days of Mourning, is the day that G-d decides each year if we will merit to see the Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem on the coming Tisha B’Av – the day the Temple was destroyed. Given that the 2nd temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jews, I think that Michah’s prophecy, “to do justice and to love goodness”, Ahavat Chesed, ought to be a beacon of light for us. Indeed, baseless love, baseless help, baseless care, and baseless kindness, should be our response to the potentially dire and truly unpredictable road that lies ahead. When all is said and done, and all other necessary security precautions have been taken, it is our communal and social responsibilities to one another, and the opportunities for Chesed that lie therein, that still allow us to achieve our national and spiritual destiny. May we see the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.