It’s eerie, how much the Jewish calendar seems to be aligning itself with the nightmares of the American world this summer.
The fast of the 17th of Tammuz on Sunday started the three weeks of national mourning that lead to the commemoration of the devastations of Tisha b’Av, and then the weeks of consolation that follow.
We are taught that the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was the result not only of outside politics and the needs of the Romans who destroyed it, but also, on a deeper level, of sinat chinam. Baseless, mindless hate. It’s the loathing that one person or one group has for another, perhaps pretexualized in some way or other, but really senseless, atavistic, and indefensible. In Jewish tradition, it was the feud between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the enemies with too-close names, that lit the spark that set off the bomb that nearly killed the Jewish people.
We now are facing tribal divisions in America. To focus on the split closest to us, there is the chasm between the supporters of President Donald J. Trump, most but not all of whom are Orthodox and believe very deeply that the president’s love and support for the state of Israel are unmistakable and genuine, and his detractors, most of whom are liberal Jews and believe just as deeply that the president’s love and support for Israel is neither genuine nor helpful, and that his actions in every other sphere are so terrible that they outweigh everything else anyway.
That chasm feels unbridgeable, although many of us hope that despair makes it seem broader and deeper than it is, and that once we all come to our senses somehow we will span it.
But now, Israel is being weaponized. It is being used as a rhetorical device. President Trump and his supporters are accusing his opponents of being anti-Israel. Many of those accusations are in direct response to Trump’s being called racist. Some of Trump’s opponents have been accused of being anti-Semitic.
Israel is not benefitting from this toxic mess.
We know that Israel is becoming less and less popular among younger Jews. We know their lack of support can be dangerous. We cannot — must not — allow Israel to be used as a weapon. No matter which side of the political Grand Canyon we stand on, that we must fight together.
Anti-Semitism, as we all know, also is starting to show itself again. We know that it’s cyclical, and that we’ve been at the high, safe, lovely part of the cycle for a long time. There’s a long way down from here.
It is instructive to look at the story of Jeffrey Epstein. He is a criminal, a jerk, and a monster. He also is Jewish. Apparently his arrest has been a great pleasure for the alt-right, whose anti-Semitic instincts have been liberated, and who now have an easy new target. To say that is unfortunate is to understate. Remember, he is foul — but that has nothing to do with his being Jewish.
We cannot let sinat chinam drip its poison on us again. We must fight pointless, baseless, senseless hatred together.