Naphtali Perlberger

Identify yourself!

“Who am I in the presence of this?” — Victor Frankl

The temptation is to suggest that one should BE different depending on who is elected President of the United States or Prime Minister of Israel.  This is a fallacy! Perhaps the more apt question is what is the “THIS” and HOW should I act, maintaining my essential “I” in the “presence of this”?  If we are to understand who Israel’s friends and enemies truly are, this self-examination applies to nations as well as persons.

I would propose that there is no sense of taking this exploratory trip outside of our borders before looking at ourselves as a country. Unfortunately, just as a person may be mentally ill, displaying behavior that is schizophrenic, the United States is fractured, polarized and suffering from macro-schizophrenia. At least two distinct personalities – the Far Left and the Far Right – engage in destructive rhetoric and conduct, amplified or muffled by the media for behavior that is similarly offensive and divisive. We read or watch scenes that should horrify us perpetrated by both extreme groups, and yet the information and commentary provided to us are inconsistent and biased, depending on the political bent of the media outlet. This causes the general population to receive such misinformation with skepticism, disbelief and anger.

Illustrative of this is the silence (especially from liberal politicians) that accompanied the summer riots providing us scenes of beatings, cars and stores on fire, public property destroyed and sheer violence. Maybe even worse than silence, reporters stood in front of burning buildings and broken store windows, and told us that these graphic scenes were merely “peaceful protests”. Then there were the reporters and leaders who questioned: “Who says that protests have to be peaceful?” OR “Why should private property be protected?”

When such scenes then played out by protesters who believed that voting irregularities had occurred, they were branded as inciting insurrection, fascist, racist and any other negative labels that would inflame those on the other side of the political debate. Of course, the most recent outrageous and unacceptable assault on the Capitol shocked all of us, and the entire world, as “things like this just don’t happen here!”  But – they do!  And when they did last Wednesday, the consequences, in addition to the expected arrests of criminals who broke the law, were the clamping down on free speech, the shutting down of conservative social media by the liberal technology behemoths, and the movement to impeach or remove the President – something that has been the agenda of those who lost the 2016 election, within minutes after this President was inaugurated.

It is not the purpose of this article to take sides on what is True or False in the narratives that play out daily before our eyes. Rather, the polarity that exists when there are double standards shake the foundation of the country, and further divides the country as a whole. Who are we?  What is America?  Who, as Victor Frankl demands, is the United States in the presence of this turbulent and divided tragedy that is 2021?

On the world stage — just yesterday — France, Germany, Egypt & Jordan joined together to demand that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders and that “expansion” into the land where the so-called Palestinians reside, must be condemned and opposed as “war crimes”. Who are they? Why now?

In the last year, celebrations broke out when four of the Middle East countries signed the Abraham Accords. Setting aside the motivations of those former enemy countries, how that news was received and transmitted varied widely. In Israel and at the White House, these events were seen as ground-breaking and serious steps toward establishing peace in the Middle East. Proponents of these Accords proudly displayed their signings as a refutation of Secretary of State Kerry, who declared that no peace could be achieved with any of the Middle Eastern countries while the two-state solution remained in limbo. The detractors suggested that they were mere political ploys to make the President look good and give him another topic to use at his rallies.

Once it became evident that a new President was assuming office, and that his party’s policies might include the return to the Iran Deal, reinstatement of payments to the Palestinians, abandoning equalizing tariffs and normalizing with China, the four countries who acted yesterday to condemn Israel became emboldened – and the question is whether the true “I”   of each of those nations has now re-emerged.

It must be remembered that long before the Abraham Accords, Egypt and Jordan had taken major steps in “normalizing” their relations with Israel, which in one case resulted in the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Then there is the ancient anti-Semitism that has existed for centuries in France and Germany. Expulsion of Jews from each country multiple times, the Dreyfus Affair, Nuremberg laws, the Holocaust, all seem to those born after World War II  as either “old news” or false exaggerations! Yet, in recent years, murders, beatings, defacing of stores, synagogues and cemeteries, remind us that the specter of Jew-hatred remains.

We are to believe, our detractors maintain, that anti-Israel is not a mere euphemism for anti-Jew. Unfortunately, our college campuses, the internet and our lay and religious leaders buy into this fiction! There is nothing more pathetic and sad to find Jews who hate Jews, and such movements like BDS and J Street, filled with strident opponents to their own ethnic and religious roots.

And so – we find that the War of Words — the re-education of America — furthered by the coinage of words or phrases that mask the wordsmiths’ underlying anti-Semitism and anti-Israel — is blurring the “I”, on individual, group and multi-national levels. Are we even capable of stepping forward and identifying ourselves?  For if we are confused or manipulated into being unable to identify the “I” — thereby removing morality and truth from our lexicons — then how may we embrace the words of Victor Frankl, who used them to survive Auschwitz, to re-invent himself powerfully, and to give us the gift of self-awareness that would come from focusing on the “I” in the “presence of this”? We must recapture and rededicate ourselves to identifying the “I” in each of us, and collectively so that we do not permanently lose that moral compass that forms the identities of the humans whom G-d created in “His Image”.

About the Author
Naphtali Perlberger is a senior lecturer for AISH HaTorah and gives weekly shiurim at Chabad of Golden Beach and Aish Chaim of the Main Line. He is one of the founders and a past president of the Philadelphia Community Kollel. He is Founder & President of Philadelphia Chapter of Children of the Holocaust, and past FJA Chairman of Men's Organizations; past President of Kosloff Torah Academy; and, talk show host for a radio show, "G-d is Listening".
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