Cary Kozberg

Is the vacation over?

As I write this, the “Day of Hate” proclaimed for February 25, 2023 by contemporary Jew-haters has come and gone, apparently without serious incident. This “Day of Hate” was intended to intimidate Jewish communities around the country. In response, synagogues around the country increased their security and vigilance.

As I write this, we Jews are preparing to celebrate Purim, commemorating our victory over Jew-haters in antiquity who intended to wipe us out. Those Jew-haters were spurred on by the wicked Haman who, according to Jewish Tradition, was a direct descendant of King Agag, ruler of Amalek, the nation that personified Jew hatred.

Although the actual nation of Amalek has long been extinct, it is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears that the spirit of Amalek is alive and well.

To be sure, after the Holocaust made the world aware of its unbounded viciousness, it was hoped that Amalek’s spirit would dissipate and finally disappear from the stage of history. To be sure, although antisemitism in various forms has never disappeared, it was usually “on the fringe”. But, as recent occurrences in this country are reminding us, what was heretofore “on the fringe” is becoming more mainstream and acceptable—as it became in ancient Persia. And like our ancestors in ancient Persia, we American Jews are feeling increasingly fearful—and with good reason.

Amalek’s spirit has continued through the millennia—its viciousness culminating in the Shoa. But, although many hoped that a “silver lining” around the Shoa might be the final dissipation of the ubiquitous clouds of Jew hatred, those clouds continue to hover in quite a menacing way. As we prepare to again celebrate the defeat of the Haman, the Jew-hater par excellence, his present-day descendants perpetuate his evil intentions toward us and, like our ancestors in ancient Persia, we Jews in America are feeling increasingly fearful—and with good reason.

The Community Security Service is a relatively new organization that trains personnel and congregants of synagogues and Jewish agencies to make their institutions more secure. One of the services CSS provides is a weekly report of antisemitic activities both in the US and around the world. A mere sampling (not a complete list) of what has been reported to them in recent days includes:

–Two Jewish men shot by the same Asian American man on consecutive mornings as they came out of morning minyan. The suspect has a history of antisemitic invective, previously sending threatening messages and voicemails to Jewish classmates when he attended dental school.

–Fans at a girls’ high school basketball game in LA chanting “Kanye!” and threatening physical violence against their opposing team—made of Jewish teenage girls.

— A high school teacher who “supplemented” district-required material on the Holocaust with a well-known antisemitic text called The Hidden Tyranny, which purports to expose Jewish secrets for world domination through the manipulation of U.S political leaders. It was also reported that on numerous occasions this teacher made the “Heil Hitler” salute in class. Unfortunately, it took over two months before the school board put him on leave.

–At the University of Denver, mezuzot on the doors of Jewish students were ripped from door frames, and pork was smeared on the doors.

–In Miami, Catholic high-school soccer players yelled “Hitler was right”, “f-ing Jews” and “f-ing kikes” while pummeling a Jewish high school player during a game, kicking him in the face with cleats and inflicting serious injury. In a nearby Florida city, an African American man shouted an anti-Jewish slur at a Jewish man and punched him in the face, knocking him off his bicycle.

–A group of neo-Nazis stood outside a Chabad center in Orlando and harassed individuals as they drove in and out of the center. (NB: I have a copy of the video that was made of this incident, should anyone want to view it. Caution: it is most disturbing.

–Closer to home: several months ago, it was discovered that a security guard from a private security firm hired to protect the Orthodox Jewish day school here in Columbus, had posted an antisemitic post on the dark web holding up a handgun and had threatened violence against parents dropping their children off. It made national news. Fortunately—but totally by accident—the post was discovered, and the man was arrested before any harm could be done. He faces a several federal charges and is in jail on $1M bond.

Responses to all of these incidents—and others not cited here—range from making more of an effort to educate non-Jews about antisemitism to encouraging Jews to learn how to adequately defend themselves, including how to responsibly use firearms (Cf. “Jewish-owned gun clubs mobilize against rising threats” World Jewish News, 2/24/23).

Again, as I have stated in other contexts, this last suggestion is one with which we may resonate logically… yet still find problematic on an emotional level.

Why is it emotionally problematic? I would suggest there are two reasons–and curiously they seem to contradict each other. The first is that the reluctance to integrating personal self-defense into Jewish life and learning is a “hold over” from living as victims in the Diaspora for 2000 years. For 2000 years, suffering/dying because our being Jews was part of our particular “cross to bear” (!). Throughout our Diaspora history, “sanctifying G-d’s name” was understood as the noble reason for our plight. But after the Holocaust and certainly since the creation of the State of Israel with its determination to defend itself, many Jews have decided that the time has come to put down this cross.

The second reason that more American Jews have not embraced a more robust approach to learning self-defense is because, by and large, the American Jewish experience has NOT been one of suffering/dying. This is not to say that antisemitism doesn’t exist in this country. Again, it does, and always has. But violence–threatened or actual–against Jews in this country has heretofore been rare. Indeed, it has been said that the rare occurrences of violence against Jews in this country would suggest that American Jewry “has been on a vacation”, as it were, from the rest of Jewish history.

But now, with hate crimes against Jews dramatically increasing in this country (and an increasing number of Jews being killed or injured!) –making us the #1 target of hate—there are those who are asking: IS THE VACATION IS OVER?

Purim will soon be here, with Passover only a month after. Both holidays focus on the message articulated in the Passover haggadah: “In each generation, they arise to annihilate us…” Current events tell us that we are living in a time when these are not just words that accompany our drowning out Haman’s name or mouthed as we wait for the matzoh ball soup to be served at the seder table. They are to be taken seriously: our American “vacation” from widespread Jew-hatred may indeed be coming to an end: “mainstream” Jewish history may be beckoning us back.

The question is now: how will we respond?

By spending time and energy trying to reason with, and educate those who hate us (when has that ever worked)? By suffering in noble victimhood?

Or, by following the 73+ year-old example of the State of Israel and taking responsibility for our own security and safety?

The Book of Esther records that the Jews in the Persian Empire didn’t waste time trying to reason with their enemies. Instead, they took responsibility for their own safety and security, pre-emptively attacking their enemies.

Curiously, although G-d is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, the prayer of thanksgiving recited on Purim gives G-d all the credit for the Purim deliverance.

And yet, it makes perfect sense. The above-mentioned quote from the haggadah concludes: But the Holy One Blessed be He, rescues us from their hand. Thus, one of the important lessons of the Purim story is: G-d helps those who help themselves. To put it in more contemporary terms: if the Holocaust taught us anything, it is that we cannot expect or rely on miracles of the magnitude of the exodus from Egypt, nor can we rely on reason or basic human decency to protect us.

King David understood this well. Ancestor of the Messiah, and composer of the some of the most beautiful spiritual literature ever created, he was a warrior par excellence who sung:
“Blessed is the Lord, My Rock, Who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war” (Psalm 144:1).

The time may have come when we Jews in America need to become more familiar—and comfortable—with these words.

About the Author
Cary Kozberg is rabbi of Temple Sholom, Springfield, Ohio.
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