Just Who Do I Think I Am?

When you are outspoken, when you put yourself out there, inevitably you are asked, why? When you seem to go against the tide the question becomes, who do you think you are? So, who do I think I am? The short answer is, “a pashute yid,” a simple Jew to whom the digital age has given a soap box. Whether in columns like this, or more often on my social media feeds, I speak my mind. I’ve been known to stir up a shitstorm or two mostly because I spent most of my life deeply embedded in the Modern Orthodox world and I have the audacity to express views not in alignment with it.

Everything my extensive Jewish education has taught me was training for times like these. From kindergarten through 12th grade, countless summers at a Zionist summer camp, 2 gap years in Israel and college at the flagship Orthodox University in America, there was always one recurring message seared into my consciousness, ingrained within me and preached to me – to all of us, over and over; we Jews are prey to anti Semites, to those opposed to religious freedom, backers of tyranny and preachers of hatred that inevitably is directed at us.

Oh, how many sermons, lectures, seminars, classes have I sat through over the years where the rabbi, teacher or advisor quoted the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, originally a supporter of National Socialism who became disillusioned with Hitler and who famously said;

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

The message this Yeshiva Bochur derived was, speak out! Do not sit idly by. The message was backed by action. In the 70s and 80s when I was coming up we were drafted to activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry. We knew that hatred and oppression always found its way to the Jews and we acted accordingly.

Fast forward to the present, 2020. America is embarking down a dark road where our democratic institutions and free elections are being challenged by none other than the President of the United States himself. The president regularly scapegoats minorities, is a blatant misogynist, demands fealty to the cult of his personality and flirts with the most rabid of anti Semites. He regularly states that he does not believe he needs to abide by the Constitution, challenges the efficacy of our elections and refuses to say if he will abide by the results of our upcoming election. America is now going through everything those educators warned me against. While a majority of Jewish Americans are revolted by him, a vocal minority primarily from within the Orthodox world march in lockstep with him, believing that he protects their interests and some even believe he was placed here by God Herself.

I speak out because first he came for the Mexicans, then women, then Muslims, then Blacks and I know (because he’s already started to do so) he is coming for the Jews. I speak out because when we have a president like this, my economic interests, even if aligned with his are irrelevant. I speak out because even if he supports our beloved Israel, presumably better than any other US president ever, I reject his corrupt support. I speak out because I want there to be people to speak out for us Jews when inevitably he or the agents of hatred he has unleashed come for us. And I speak up because when the history of these times are written I want my grandchildren to see a written record showing that I stood up on the right side of history.

The supporters of this racist, hateful man seek to frame this as quaint political differences, they are not. They will tell you that people like me are bitter because we lost the 2016 election. They might even try to point out all of his successful policies and how much good he has done for the USA, Israel and the world (which exist in their minds only). I could care less. If he single handedly cured Covid19, brokered Middle East Peace and ended world hunger I would still reject him because of his xenophobia, racism, anti Semitism, misogyny and anti democratic leanings. If there is anything good he has done as president it will always be an asterisk to his presidency because he is so destructive and hateful.

So who do I think I am? Just a simple Jew who refuses to sit idly by while our democracy is challenged from within. I am just an American citizen who refuses to support the forces of division. I am just a grandfather who wants his progeny to know I was not complicit by being silent. That’s exactly who I think I am. What side are you on?

About the Author
Joel Moskowitz is a businessman and writer who lives in New York City. He is back from a self imposed writing retirement hoping to p*** off conservatives on three continents.
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