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Antisemitism Is Here to Stay

When I spoke with my mother this week she remarked, “I never imagined that you and your brother Michael, who is also a rabbi, are in a dangerous profession.”  Now even though my mom can sometimes be overly dramatic and does tend to personalize even the most distant of world events (I come by these traits naturally), her comments do on this occasion deserve unpacking rather than the usual brushing away. Moms often verbalize fears and, on this occasion, the singular fear that has entered the sacred space of our synagogue sanctuaries.

My Christian friends do not have security guards at their church’s doors.  Their congregants do not receive emails detailing new security protocols.  What was once only the purview of synagogues in Europe or common in Israel where every gathering place has a guard, has now become normative in our own beloved country.

For obvious reasons I am not going to publicly discuss what security enhancements we are putting in place and we are working on.  Rest assured our synagogue will always be safe and secure.

Most mornings I say the blessing, “Baruch Atah…matir asurim.  Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who frees the captive.”  To be honest, this was always said as just one among many in that long list of morning blessings.  Sometimes I thought to myself, “That was for a different age and a different time.”  Never before did I think I would see these words come to life in my own age and that my blessing would be realized by a fellow Reform rabbi and his congregants.  On Saturday evening, I felt as if a miracle came to be and then I thought, “Being Jewish, praying in synagogue and just being rescued from murder should not be a miracle.”  Being a living Jew should not be dependent on heroics.

Most of my friends who follow the words and traditions of other faiths do not understand or appreciate what I felt this past weekend or for that matter, what we are now feeling.

I had this sense that for those harrowing eleven hours we were one people.  Sure, there were outliers who criticized the rabbi even while he remained hostage, but nearly every Jew felt similar feelings in their bones.  They thought, “This could have been my synagogue.”  All prayed for one thing and one thing alone, the safety of those five shul goers.  It did not matter in that moment that the five hostages were Reform.  It did not matter if the worried Jew praying for their release was Orthodox, Republican or Democrat.  Such labels became irrelevant in that brief span.  We were united in worry.  We were unified as one people.  We wanted only that they might be freed.  Images from the Tree of Life Synagogue or the Chabad of Poway or the Jersey City kosher supermarket flashed before our eyes.  And we were filled with gratitude when it was announced that they were safe.

But then by the time Sunday morning dawned, we retreated to our political and ideological corners.  I am holding on to those eleven hours because when it comes to antisemitism there really should be no such thing as political affiliations.  Antisemites make no distinction.  Nor should we.  There is a direct line between Charlottesville whose Nazi marchers remain the fixation of the political left and whose significance the right continues to downplay and Colleyville whose Muslim attacker is the obsession of the right and whose religious affiliation the left glosses over.  There is a connective tissue that runs from the Chicago LGBT pride march that would not allow an Israeli flag with a Jewish star to be displayed to the horrific murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.  Need I go on?  There is a direct line from Pat Buchanan’s rants from years ago about American support for Israel and Representative Ilhan Omar’s statement, “It’s all about the Benjamins.” I could list more.  I could delineate plenty of other examples.

That is not my purpose.  It is instead to ask, when are we going to stop seizing on those examples that feed our own political convictions?  When are going to stop retreating to one corner that only speaks about Ilhan Omar, the Chicago march and now Colleyville and the other that emphasizes Pat Buchanan, Tree of Life and Charlottesville?  Stop using this attack to confirm one’s preconceived political beliefs or to look away from this event because it does not conform to one’s ideology.  Antisemitism is a threat wherever it comes from.  There is a direct line from Charlottesville to Colleyville.  They are two sides of the same coin.

Both attackers trafficked in conspiracy theories that are part and parcel to antisemitism.  In Colleyville the attacker believed that if he took one Jew hostage, then it was a simple as 1-2-3 and his fellow jihadist could be freed.  We all have each other on speed dial. Every rabbi can of course call the Justice Department and get a convicted terrorist freed.  It’s absurd to say such things out loud, but this is what he believed.  This shares the same connective tissue as the Nazi mobs marching in Charlottesville and shouting, “The Jews will not replace us.”  It is fed by that antisemitic tract that continues to be published to this day, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Rather than sitting at home on our computers and seething about how Democrats don’t get it or how Republicans are so short sighted, why don’t we agree, at least on this one issue, that is above and beyond partisan politics?  Antisemitism does not only exist in some small leftwing corner or that rogue right wing pocket.  To minimize one example so as to highlight another does everyone a disservice and makes every Jew less secure.

Can we for once agree that it is all one big problem?  Regarding the specifics about Colleyville, can we admit loudly and clearly that worrisome antisemitic sentiments can be found among many American Muslims.  My teacher Imam Abdullah Antepli acknowledges the problem and has called himself on many occasions “a recovering antisemite.”  This week he said the following, “This [Muslim] community is increasingly becoming vulnerable towards various forms of subtle and unsubtle antisemitism in the name of pro-Palestinian activism.  There are many bad faith actors who are taking and desecrating Palestinian suffering, solidarity with the Palestinians, and in the name of their suffering, are promoting irresponsibly, antisemitism, anti-Jewish hatred, and they are trafficking in the good old antisemitism that the Jewish community and others have suffered for the last two millennia.”

Is Imam Antepli a perfect partner for the Jewish community?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But rather than castigating him for his perceived missteps, or the Muslim leaders who gathered to pray for my colleague’s release, we should follow the example of my other teacher, Yossi Klein Halevi.  I have learned with both at the Shalom Hartman Institute and we should hold up their Muslim Leadership Initiative as an example to emulate.  We should extend a hand and figure out how to do more with similar like-minded Muslims.  Anyone who acknowledges that his community has a problem with antisemitism, as Catholics did in the 1960’s, will receive a welcome embrace from me. This does not mean I am going to agree with everything a partner or ally might say or do, but we need all the help we can get.

This is the only thing that gives me a measure of hope and an inkling that we might find a road to fix this problem of antisemitism.  It is the only thing that gives me a sense that we are not really as alone as I now feel.  That is of course until the next conspiratorial, and God forbid, murderous antisemite comes around.

I hate to say this, but it is true.  Antisemitism is here to stay; it always has been, and it always will.  And so, I am going to hold on to first of all, whoever is willing to call it like it is and extend their hands in friendship.  But most of all I am going to hold on to those few hours when we were one.  I am certain of this.  While we may never be able to defeat antisemitism and eradicate it from future history books, we can only hold it at bay if we have Muslim and Christian partners who will help us to do so.  Moreover, we will only keep it on the fringes and periphery if we remain am echad, one people, for longer than eleven harrowing hours.

For this is what I believe most of all, being Jewish is a gift even when it might feel like it is tinged with threat.  And I remain forever proud to be a Jew.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, a community serving Long Island's North Shore. He began his rabbinical career in 1991 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. He travels every summer to Jerusalem to learn at the Shalom Hartman Institute where he is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Rabbi Moskowitz is married to Rabbi Susie Moskowitz and is the father of Shira and Ari.
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