Chaim Y. Botwinick

Never again!

 “In each and every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hand”.        Vehi She’amda                                                                                                                                                 

From a historical perspective, the phrase circling the wagons was traditionally used by 19th-century American settlers traveling to the West in convoys of Conestoga wagons. The tactic is still used today as an idiomatic expression for a person or group of people preparing to defend themselves against attack or even criticism.

As a young adult, I always took issue with this phrase or concept, It meant that members of my family or community needed to work tirelessly together to protect themselves from outside threats or dangers.  It engendered a feeling of insecurity and insularity as well as fear of the outside world and threats which in my immature youth was viewed as a feeling of embarrassing helplessness and defeat – a very difficult and uncomfortable disposition for a young man in his late teens to feel and experience.

Today, as I fast forward to 2021, the phrase takes on added meaning and significance, I no longer reject the notion of “circling the wagons” as a feeling of defenselessness, but rather as a psychological manifestation deeply embedded in my Jewish DNA, Some may even suggest that it goes far beyond the emotional whelm and that it relates directly to physical existential threats.

Following centuries of persecution, pogroms, and organized campaigns against the Jews, fueled by acts of antisemitism, many of which were encouraged and even condoned by governmental officials in Europe and the Middle East….we are now, once again, entering into a disquieting, troubling and dangerous phase of our Jewish community’s trajectory and history.

Although there was always an undercurrent of antisemitism in the United State since time immemorial, it was, by and large, a slowly metastasizing societal cancer simmering just below the surface. It was somewhat obscure and subtle. It hardly ever raised its ugly head in public….but it was always present — whether it be in the form of anti-semitism through journalism, literature, political election campaigns, the media, or through outspoken criticism of Israel.

The myriad of events leading up to the recent bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas and the level of anti-semitic incidents around the world since the ceasefire went into effect are beyond daunting. They are frightening, disconcerting and extremely troublesome. To be sure, they represent a new surrealistic wave of violence and hatred against our global Jewish community through the continuous spewing of virulent poisonous venom of significant proportion…fed by various social media outlets and platforms.

As I witness these acts of violence in our streets and neighborhoods, I hear echoes of my father’s (of blessed memory)  words who would say quite often when I was a teen — “it can happen here”. This was a phrase or an expression I always thought I understood, but in reality, I was too young and immature at that time to fully comprehend a phrase that engendered such realism and relevance,.

My father, of blessed memory, never really got into detail about what he meant by his phrase “it can happen here”. But, as a highly decorated Chaplain in the United States Army, stationed in Germany and as one of the senior Army officers responsible for liberating Hitler’s concentration camps, as I got older, I knew exactly what he meant; I knew exactly what he was conveying; and I knew exactly what he was not saying.  This became even more evident after he passed at a very young age and as I matured in my understanding of Jewish history, Jewish survival.

Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed an increased spread of violent anti-semitic acts in the United States, Europe and Canada. unsurpassed in recent history. This includes the daily reports of horrendous acts of unabashed racial hatred exacerbated by recent anti-semitic rhetoric, hate speech, editorials, political cartoons, and various social media outlets and platforms, It also includes the recent violent street beatings and muggings in broad daylight …….in Times Square, the New York Diamond District, Brooklyn neighborhoods and in front of synagogues and schools. These are just a few of the venues in which anti-semitic thugs and criminals expressed and enjoyed their freedom to harass, terrorize and beat Jews in public places.

Truth be told, I never would have ever believed that I, my family and friends would be so fearful to frequent in a kosher restaurant or market, wear a yarmulke, mezuzah or Star of David in public, or carry a tallit bag on our way to synagogue, in our very own neighborhoods.

Finally, it is beyond disbelief that the frightening anti-semitic trends that are currently exploding in our streets and sweeping our neighborhoods, sadly parallel the horrendous events of pre-Nazi Germany, leading to the Holocaust. This is no exaggeration. The similarities are shocking and stark. To be sure, our Jewish community is now experiencing an all too familiar frightening and ugly chapter in our history…..once again, fueled by the continuous exposure of news reports exacerbated by political apathy and complacency.

So is it time to circle the wagons? You bet it is! But, not in a reactive state which the phrase might suggest. But, rather to catalyze and mobilize our community and others to proactively confront these monsters of hate. directly. In numbers, there is strength, We must rally all of our resources to protest and openly demonstrate our disgust and disdain for these acts of terrorism. We must pressure our elected officials on the local, state and federal levels to take a public outspoken position against these acts of antisemitism. We must pressure media outlets, corporations, and businesses to take definitive public action. And if they don’t,  they must be exposed publicly for their cowardly recalcitrant non-responses.

Now is the time to act!

Friends, if this course of action means confrontation, so be it. But hopefully, non-violent. Rest assured that we are not the same breed of barbaric animals which represent the current anti-semitic thugs and vermin who are now beating Jews indiscriminately. And we must demand increased police and “private” protection as we publically and forcefully declare that enough is enough! and NEVER AGAIN!

Editorials, proclamations, TV interviews and increased educational programming are all critically essential….but they are not enough.  We must show our numbers. We must show our strength and influence; and, we must demonstrate our resolve to help eradicate this growing cancer in our communities. This must not be allowed to happen on our watch in 2021.  Way to many of our relatives, parents, grandparents and great grandparents were persecuted and exterminated indiscriminately at the hands of antisemites. These atrocities of historic proportion follow centuries of attempts to annihilate the very existence of our Jewish people. We must be resolute and steadfast in our response to this crisis; and we must use every resource at our disposal to expose and marginalize these evil forces of hatred, lest the lessons of the Holocaust will be for naught.

As we know, GD controls the world and as such, we hope and pray that normalcy, decency, and civility will prevail.

We hope and pray that the “wagons of hope and promise” encircle and seal off our enemies and our adversaries from society; And, we hope and pray for the eradication of antisemitic hatred in search for peace, serenity and Shalom.

In the words of Hillel….“If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am only for myself, what am I; And, if not now, when? (Ethics of our Fathers 1:14).

Now is the time……

NEVER AGAIN and Am Yisrael Chai !

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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