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Colleyville … and the Sad Aftermath

Pittsburgh.  Jersey City.  Monsey.  Poway.

And now Colleyville.

But this time, it was different … and not because, thank God, no one was killed or injured, but because of the various reactions from both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities after this anti-Semitic incident occurred, which in many ways were almost as disturbing as the incident itself.

Let me point to four separate examples:

The first reaction was the initial statement by the FBI. Explaining what had occurred at Beth Israel Synagogue, the special FBI agent in charge of the Dallas field office said that Malik Faisal Akram ‘s decision to take four hostages at a synagogue was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”  This, in spite of the fact that Akram told those who were at the synagogue and who were online for Shabbat services that “America only cares about Jewish lives” and that “I’m coming to you because I know President Biden will do things for the Jews.”

Fortunately, the FBI issued a correction shortly after this initial statement, properly referring to the incident as a “terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.”  However, what were they thinking when they issued the first statement?  Were the hostage taker’s classic Jew-hating comments not enough to convince them of the anti-Semitic nature of this attack?  Do Jews have to be killed in cold blood for the world to recognize an action as being anti-Semitic?

The second reaction originated from a comment on social media from Itamar Gelbman, a former congregant at Beth Israel Synagogue, who said that Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker had once called Israel an apartheid state and refused to allow congregants to carry a gun to services.  The initial post was followed by a slew of other comments criticizing the rabbi, with one particularly nasty post suggesting that he was spared this time but next time he might meet his eternal fate.

Now I certainly have no love for anyone who claims that Israel is an apartheid state, especially someone who is Jewish.  And anyone licensed and properly trained to carry and use a gun should have the right to do so in a synagogue for protection.  However, to imply that Rabbi Cytron-Walker deserves less of our sympathy after being held hostage for 11 hours because of the political positions he holds is simply cruel.  His political positions are irrelevant to the fact that he was the target of an anti-Semitic attack.

And speaking of cruel, this leads me to the third reaction; as an Orthodox Jew, I was ashamed to read an article posted by Yeshiva World News online a few days after the hostage incident occurred. In that article, Yeshiva World News blasted Rabbi Cytron-Walker for thanking law enforcement officials for their assistance in resolving the crisis and members of his congregation for their vigil and their prayers, but not thanking Hashem.

Why the need to take a swipe at a Reform rabbi a couple of days after he was held hostage for being a Jew?  Was anything gained by publishing such a negative article?  We know that we have major theological differences with our Reform Jewish brethren, but was this the time and place to criticize a Reform rabbi, whose individual beliefs had nothing to do with his being terrorized by a gunman?

Finally, the fourth reaction was probably the worst of all.  In a self-hating and offensive op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, Mark Oppenheimer maintained that anti-Semitism today is overwhelmingly directed against those who are religiously observant – and those who “don’t do Jewish things” have little to worry about it.  Oppenheimer claimed that “outside the Orthodox world, we are becoming a people who never encounter anti-Semitism in school” and that for such Jews, “there is nearly zero risk of being victimized by anti-Jewish violence or bias.”  It’s only the Jews who attend synagogue –“eccentric” Jews, as Oppenheimer refers to them – who need to worry about anti-Semitism.

Oh gosh, there is so much wrong with this article, I don’t know where to start.

Oppenheimer fails to understand that the greatest threat to American Jewry today is not in the synagogue, but on the college campus, where Jewish students – regardless of their level of observance – are routinely targeted and intimidated, both verbally and physically.

In addition, Oppenheimer is in serious need of a history lesson – 80 years ago, many German Jews also believed they had assimilated into German culture, and because of that felt they were safe from harm.  Unfortunately, we now know how false that belief was.

Bari Weiss, a journalist who grew up attending services at the Tree of Life Synagogue, has the best answer to Oppenheimer: “The Jews did not sustain their magnificent civilization because they were anti-anti-Semites.  Our tradition was always renewed by people who made the choice in the face of tragedy that theirs would not be the end of the Jewish story, but the catalyst for writing a new chapter.  The long arc of Jewish history makes it clear that the only way to fight is by waging an affirmative battle for who we are.  By entering the fray for our values, for our ideas, for our ancestors, for our families, and for the generations that come after us.”

Besides these four reactions to the latest anti-Semitic attack, I am also troubled by another trend in the Jewish community – the tendency to minimize the anti-Semitism that comes from the party we belong to and place all of the blame for anti-Semitism on the party we don’t belong to. For example, Trump loyalists and Republican supporters will insist that the real anti-Semitic threat is from the progressive left, and that the right-wing anti-Semites represent a tiny group that we need not worry about.  Democratic voters will minimize the influence of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, maintaining that the real anti-Semitic threat comes from the white supremacists on the right.  Each party attempts to use the fight to combat anti-Semitism as a political weapon against its opponent.

History clearly shows that anti-Semitic attacks on Jews are for the large part not politically driven, and have been committed by anti-Semites of all political persuasions.  Unfortunately we are an equal opportunity victim … with enemies on both sides.  Therefore, to claim that anti-Semitism is a left-wing or right-wing thing is historically inaccurate – and only makes it more difficult to rid our society of this evil scourge.

We must do our best to protect ourselves in our houses of worship. And be more keenly aware of the threats around us.  But if we are going to effectively fight the battle against anti-Semitism, let’s do it as a united Jewish front, regardless of political beliefs or religious affiliation.  It’s the only way we will win this war.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the founder and owner of MGF Marketing, a direct marketing consulting firm. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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