search

The Genie Is Out Of The Bottle

Chabad House of Buffalo (Jewish Buffalo History Center)
Chabad House of Buffalo in the 1970s (Source: Jewish Buffalo History Center)

The Passover seder is just a day away and, as I try to prepare some meaningful ideas to discuss with my children and grandchildren who will be attending, I keep focusing on the words of וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה (Vehi Sheamda), the piyyut that we sing together every year:

“And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation, there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.”

Its fair to say that in the midst of the current war, these words will have quite a bit more impact than usual when we sing them together at the table. For the last several days I have been thinking quite a lot about the antisemitism I’ve experienced in my lifetime and the degree to which it has evolved and spread, now reaching proportions that I only had heard about from my parents as a young kid in Queens, NY during the 1950s, or read about in history books.

In a conversation with a close younger friend this past week, I recounted how the Jew hatred I dealt with as a young kid was confined to fights with the Irish, Italian and German kids in the neighborhood, a definitively Catholic type of antisemitism that they got from their parents and learned in their religious classes. As the only openly Jewish family on my block, our house was egged on Halloween, had fireworks shot at it on the 4th of July, and had swastikas stamped into the front lawn after a snowstorm. We had three street gangs in the neighborhood that the Jewish kids had to contend with and when we were teens, street fights were a regular occurrence. Maybe the worst moment was the day one of the gangs entered the schoolyard and put a noose around my friend’s neck. My mother, who managed to flee Poland in 1939, saw this from our house across the street. She ran into the garden, grabbed the hose and ran across and began spraying the gang members. They began laughing so hard that they dropped the rope and let my friend go.

Even as a college student at SUNY Buffalo, in the early 1970s, there was plenty of trouble given the city’s ethnic mix. An active chapter of the National Socialist White People’s Party was in operation there with actual brownshirts coming onto campus and distributing their nazi literature. There was a daily “Dial A Nazi” phone number to call for a recorded message. And most significantly, the Chabad student center I attended across the road from the campus regularly experienced smashed windows and street fights along with the burning down of our succah one year in their backyard.

One thing is for certain—standing up to it and fighting back in a serious way was ingrained into my upbringing, and it was very much the same for many of my friends. We physically confronted the Jew hatred and pounded back wherever we could. I’ll never forget a face-to-face confrontation in front of the Chabad house when a rather well-built member of our student kehilla stepped directly through the crowd, walked up to the gang leader and without warning decked him. It was a one-punch knockout. The hoodlum cracked his head as he hit the sidewalk and the rest of the gang picked him up and retreated immediately- proving that fighting hard is all that lowlifes like this ever understand.

In the years that followed, I experienced evolving antisemitism in graduate school in 1974-76. While studying urban planning at Harvard, I recall attending the first day of a required planning law class at the law school. The students had no legal background, so the professor decided to give us an overview of ‘the law’. His opening example—did Israel have the right to capture, try and execute Adolf Eichmann?

The Jew hatred had begun to shift from the extreme right/ fascistic variety and started to incorporate the hatred of progressive/Marxist-oriented leftists. Many people think that the Jew-hatred of the left is something that is newly developed. However, if you had your eyes open back then, you could see it coming. I proved that to my sons when I showed them a NY Times article (we were still reading that despicable rag sheet back in those days although we stopped looking at it more than 20 years ago) that I saved from way back in 1975 entitled “The Jewish Radical: A Crisis of Conscience” (https://www.nytimes.com/1975/07/11/archives/the-jewish-radical-a-crisis-of-conscience.html). The key takeaways for me from this article of almost 50 years ago were these words from a former leftist radical Jewish student of the 1960s: “….a mere generation after Hitler, we young Jews bore witness to the inhumanity of man and chose the cause of others before the cause of our own people……but then the realization hit that emerging “political anti-Zionism is nothing but practical antisemitism.”

More than 30 years of working in finance on Wall Street gave me a pretty healthy dose of antisemitism as well. It started when I put a framed photograph of our first- born child Judah on my desk back in 1977. The person sitting next to me always loved to ask me “how is Judas doing”, no matter how many times I corrected her about the name. Over the years there were a number of employees who actually complained to the HR Department about me leaving early on Fridays and before chagim, trying to make a case that I got preferential treatment. Of course, they had no idea that I had always insisted on being docked salary or vacation days for any time I needed to take related to religious observance. And there were the insane moments like when I worked for a Swiss bank in the early 1990s and a senior manager from the home office made a point of starting a discussion with me so that he could tell me that he guaranteed that Israel would be gone within 25 years. When news broke that the bank had been complicit in hiding billions of dollars in assets of Jews slaughtered in the Shoah, I moved to another company. But you can be sure that I waited 25 years, by which time we had been living in Israel for several years. I tracked him down in his retirement in Zurich and sent him a registered letter from Israel. You can imagine the message I sent him.

The point is this — the antisemitism, in all its forms, has always been there. But what is different now? What has changed? How did we get to the unbelievable global antisemitic crisis that is exploding everywhere one turns today?

Astute Jewish commentators have been predicting for years that this was coming. The vast majority of mainstream American Jews and the numerous organizations they belong to have aligned themselves with liberal leftist causes. Its not hard to see that when three fourths of your community is intermarried, vast numbers are unaffiliated with synagogues, children are sadly lacking in substantive Jewish educations and the brand of Judaism you espouse has little to do with adherence to the Torah, but prefers the grossly misunderstood ‘tikkun olam’ as their guiding principle in life, then it’s pretty much going to be game over. And concurrent with that, the rise of intersectional ideology, critical race theory and wokeism have all poisoned the school systems, college campuses, the media, corporate life, professional sports and every other aspect of American life.

Sadly, the Jewish community in America has never been in a weaker position to counter the institutionalization of antisemitism. All you have to do is look at the news coverage of the street demonstrations across America and the violent protests on college campuses. The need for counter-demonstrations, legal action at all levels of government, and changes to voting patterns is greatly needed in the Jewish community, but you’re more likely to see people hiding in their safe spaces and whining. Or else, as a few of my US-based friends have done, they are calling me to boast about the fact that they have purchased guns. We learn on Passover that four fifths of the Jews were left behind when we exited Egypt. In a sense, four fifths have today ‘checked out’ of their peoplehood. And the remainder are stuck in some kind of bubble and not facing reality.

It is making me think a lot lately of my mother’s father who saw the rise of the nazis in 1933 and picked himself up and left Poland for the US. He didn’t wait. He acted. He sought citizenship and work in order to be able to get his wife and children to what he perceived then as the safety of America. It took him until 1939 to bring them to Brooklyn, but his action saved them while virtually all the rest of the family perished.

Lately, I have been having discussions with friends and family in the US. We talk constantly about how Jews today are defined as privileged white oppressors by so many DEI brainwashed Americans. Clearly, the America of my parents, members of the “Greatest Generation”, is gone. My standard question to them is: “Given the extremely broad-based and open antisemitism that you are experiencing today in America, do you honestly believe that life for your grandchildren is going to be better in 10-20 years when those demonstrating college students are running things?

Maybe its time to think about Aliyah? Because the genie is out of the bottle and its not going back in.

 

About the Author
Howie Mischel is a veteran of the U.S. public finance industry. In a career spanning more than three decades he held managerial positions at several major financial institutions in New York and Boston. Following aliyah from New York in 2009, during the past decade he worked as an aliyah advisor at Nefesh B’Nefesh and with several start-up companies. He is a graduate of Harvard University with a masters degree in city planning. Today he lives with his wife Terry in Modiin, has four married children, is the proud grandfather of twenty two and has recently become a great-grandfather!
Related Topics
Related Posts