Jonathan Muskat

The Opportunity for a Spiritual Revival

All over the world, we are fighting to eradicate evil. In Israel, we are fighting for our existence against an enemy that brutally murders and kidnaps innocent civilians, including the elderly, women and children, an enemy that takes no responsibility for its own civilians and uses them as human shields. We are fighting this enemy with our hands tied behind our back as the world at large accuses us of committing war crimes. In America and throughout the diaspora, we are fighting the rise of antisemitism and the perverse celebration of terrorism masked in progressive notions of supporting the oppressed. We are fighting prestigious colleges, institutions of so-called higher learning, who equate the right of Israel to defend itself with Hamas’ right to murder babies. In the thick of this tragedy, as we fight our enemies and rising antisemitism, we have a timely opportunity, as well.

When I was a college student at Yeshiva University over thirty years ago, a Columbia student named Ze’ev Maghen published an article about how to fight antisemitism. He argued that you don’t simply protest antisemitism. He argued that we should “stop begging for approval from the world” and we should instead “have enough self-esteem to look inward for strength, to aim at living up to our own rigorous moral and ethical standards… to be flagrantly, emphatically and unapologetically who we are.” The secret to our immortality is not about defying antisemitism through “Jewish pleas and Jewish hand-wringing but with Jewish learning, Jewish observance, Jewish strength and Jewish achievement.” He wrote that “the only answer to antisemitism is Jewish growth, is Jewish knowledge, is Jewish joy, is a deepened Jewish commitment, a more powerful internal Jewish cohesion, a more vigorous dedication to Jewish and Zionist outreach.” We most effectively fight antisemitism by spreading Judaism and Jewish values.

This is our opportunity right now. All of the tensions and struggle between various groups in Israel have evaporated in the face of our struggle against Hamas and our realization that we are all being targeted. Charedim are praying for and providing support for our soldiers all across the country. Some have even enlisted in the army.  And most importantly, there is a feeling of love and brotherhood between all segments of our nation in Israel. Since the start of the war, 300,000 Israelis have returned to Israel. They’ve come to join their reserve units, to volunteer or just to be home with their families, communities and country during a difficult time. Because of this overarching feeling of love, many secular Israelis are feeling more engaged and more committed to Judaism and Jewish rituals. Many secular Israeli soldiers are now wearing tzitzit as an “additional protection” to their bulletproof vests. Many are putting on tefillin for the first time in years. There are countless stories of secular Israeli soldiers telling civilians, “We are fighting on the battlefield. We need you to fight for us through your prayers and Torah study,” or “we can’t fully observe Shabbat while we are engaged in military operations, so we need you to keep Shabbat as a merit for us.” Galit Distel, member of Knesset, spoke from the Knesset floor this past week about the power of prayer that Margolit Megidish possessed, as she separated challah and prayed for the return of her daughter Ori whom the IDF rescued from captivity. In Israel, we have united not merely because we are all a target and we are trying to eliminate a common enemy. We have united around Jewish and Zionist values, Jewish rituals, Jewish prayer and Jewish brotherhood. We have united to fight, but we have also united to build. In the face of war, we are witnessing a spiritual revival in the State of Israel.

Unfortunately, In America and throughout the diaspora, rising antisemitism in our colleges and on the streets has been a source of unity.  The illusion that we can separate antizionism from antisemitism has been shattered. The illusion that cultured, thoughtful, intellectual people would act rationally and could not be antisemitic has been shattered. Many in the Jewish community have been utterly shocked and devastated at the moral equivalency that some of their political friends and allies have espoused between intentionally butchering women and children and indirectly killing civilians after warning them to leave the battlefield in the course of a war trying to root out terrorists who use civilians as human shields. The Jewish community in the diaspora is united as a target of rising antisemitism. And we must make use if this unity. We must make use of this unity to band together to expose the lies and hypocrisy of those who wish to destroy us. But we must also make use of this unity to remember what Ze’ev Maghen wrote more than thirty years ago. We must make use of this unity to fight antisemitism by collectively celebrating our unique Jewish identity. We must use make use of this unity to collectively and jointly promote Jewish prayer, Jewish ritual, Shabbat, chesed opportunities and faith. We didn’t ask for this war. We didn’t ask for the rising antisemitism. But let’s use this newfound unity to usher in a spiritual revival across the Jewish world.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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