Charlottesville in Orthodox Judaism

To my Orthodox friends, with love:

Even though I was Ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox for nearly twenty years, and left over three years ago, I can still be shocked and deeply saddened by their leadership’s betrayal of all Jews. This story caught me off guard.

I had assumed that all Jews would unite in condemning Nazis and the KKK. They want us dead. What’s the reticence?

Gott im Himmel, Agudath and the rest have no trouble going after the Modern Orthodox, women who would be spiritual leaders, the brilliant former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and a host of others. If someone dares to call a teacher or rabbi a pedophile or abuser, the Orthodox leadership has often immediately called the accuser a traitor!

But official Orthodox leadership could barely offer a full-throated condemnation of Nazis. Importantly, nor could they muster the temerity to criticize the President, who had initially refused to condemn Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, the KKK, or even name the heinous crimes in Charlottesville as Neo-Nazi terrorism. Many Republican politicians sharply denounced the President on behalf of our country and American Jews, but the Orthodox leaders did not.

We are talking about Nazis in military gear, quoting Hitler, driving a car into a crowd with intent to kill Jews, posting Nazi hate-filled anti-Semitic posters all over town, screaming at Jews! And the Orthodox leadership went soft. Have the Orthodox learned nothing from the Holocaust?

If you read even a story or two about what happened in Charlottesville, it’s clear that Neo-Nazis and the KKK feel emboldened – Charlottesville ended up being as much about Jews as Confederate racism. And no one covered their faces – the Nazis and KKK wanted their evil illuminated.

The young man who committed murder and domestic terrorism in Charlottesville is also being investigated for having perpetrated a hate crime. His mother never discussed his political views with him. But he was clearly a neo-Nazi, as evidenced by his fascination and love for Hitler. This President’s Justice Department might fail to charge him with a hate crime, nonetheless.

Will you call your political representatives? Will you demand tzedakah, justice?

My only hope is that people will truly resist – Jews and righteous non-Jews. To my beloved Orthodox friends, I urge you to be a leader in this effort, in your own way, in your own words.

It’s not enough, in my opinion, for individuals to be kind and loving. We are living in a time of imminent, if not present crisis, in America. Orthodox Jews need to be fearless and outspoken and take leadership into their own hands if the rabbis are too cowardly or political to lead.

To be silent is to be complicit. We are living in a time similar to the 1930’s Germany – German Jews did not think anything could ever happen. Haven’t we all read Anne Frank’s Diary and wondered what we would do?

Now is your moment to pick up the mantle. Chesed – kindness – amongst ourselves is merely a baseline. You need to step up your game – you need to step up.

If you do not want to be lumped in with your leaders or representatives’ failure to fight Nazis in America, then you cannot live your lives as if nothing is happening. You cannot recite tehillim and go about your way. Even and especially when the Nazis have the ear of the President.

Joy is essential. But so is truth and facing current events. Saving lives, saving Jewish lives, is paramount.

It’s often been said to me by Orthodox friends that everyone is corrupt – not just Orthodox leadership. That’s not true. That’s an Orthodox assumption and rationalization.

I’m continually and genuinely surprised by Reform and Conservative leadership – by their consistent integrity, even when it’s troublesome to execute. I’m surprised only because I spent two decades being let down by my rabbinical leaders and my expectations had been significantly lowered.

If you want to know what ANY Jewish statement on Charlottesville should look like, read the Union for Reform Judaism’s statement, or that of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Contrast this with the Agudath’s utter silence. They could not even be bothered. The others, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Union, and more were slow in coming and tepid in comparison. I searched the Chabad-Lubavitch official world news site and found nothing.

This should not be a matter of controversy or equivocation. If you believe that Torah is true and beautiful, and that Jews must do everything in our power to survive, then you need to ask yourself if you are doing enough.

If you do not seize this pivotal moment, then no, you are not. You must stand up for the Jewish people, shout it from the rooftops, mobilize your community, further your reach.

It’s simply not good enough or acceptable to stick your head in the sand. I hold your silence as tacit consent to Nazis in America.

If you calculate that this President is best for Israel, and therefore justify your reluctance for outcry…you arrive at this conclusion falsely. Of course there is anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on the left – and I will address that pointedly in a separate blog.

But nothing poses a threat to the Jewish people so much as outright Nazis, armed and ready for attack. What exactly do you think Israel’s chances are if America is run by Nazis and White Supremacists? Right now, these influences still hold sway and feed the President’s instincts.

We are in danger. What are you personally doing to ensure Never Again?

About the Author
Dana is a Jewish feminist, writer and poet. She is passionate about kindness, spirituality, the artist's voice, and speaking out for the vulnerable. She lives in New York.
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