Larry Gellman

To David Brooks–On Fear and Anti-Semitism


I have read with great interest and admiration your recent columns discussing how to fight anti-Semitism and on the Jewish take on overcoming fear as revealed in the Passover story.

As you know from our conversations over the years, I hold you in very high regard and value your thoughts and opinions.

While these columns make great and provocative reading, each of them stops short of dealing with the issues that we Jews truly need to address to face the most serious challenges of today–when although some Jews remain at risk, the most important narrative is one that struggles with how we can use Jewish values and ethics to deal with the unprecedented power, influence, and prosperity we now enjoy.

Your claim that the incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S. are climbing in number is not accurate.  According the the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. has been steadily falling for more than a decade and dropped by 19 percent in 2013 alone.

There are haters out there and always will be.  But their toxic actions and attacks no longer disproportionately target Jews.  And when acts of Jew hatred do take place, there is not a place in our country where they are tolerated by broader society or law enforcement officials.

A Jewish friend who believes that anti-Semitism is bad and getting worse forwarded me an article about two students at East Carolina University who were arrested and face expulsion because they drew a swastika on the door of the apartment of a Jewish student.

I couldn’t help but wonder what my late father would think if he could come back and learn of this.

Would he be shocked that two young Jew hating bigots committed such an act or would he be shocked that at a school in North Carolina the response of school authorities and law enforcement was so swift and aggressive to make it clear that such behavior has no place in our society?

It is a rhetorical question.

Today, more than 85 percent of the Jews in the world live either in the U.S. or in Israel where Jews enjoy a level of safety, prosperity, influence, and acceptance that our ancestors never dreamed possible.

The same American Jews–most of them my age and older–who complain about rising anti-Semitism are the same people who consider the other major crises facing our community to be intermarriage and assimilation.

Those seem to be mutually exclusive concerns.  One might ask how intermarriage could possibly be a challenge if there weren’t millions of non-Jews who would be thrilled to have Jews as part of their families?

In parts of Europe and elsewhere, acts of Jew hatred have clearly risen since the war in Gaza but the vast majority of Jews in those places are choosing to be Jewish in their home countries rather than move to Israel or elsewhere.  That is a very different script than the one played out by the Jews of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe a couple of decades ago.

In the fifth and sixth paragraphs of your column on fighting anti-Semitism you describe what allegedly makes Jew hatred so unique and insidious..  And yet, if one substituted “Obama hatred” for “anti-Semitism” and “Obama” for “Jews” in those paragraphs, it would reveal that those elements you are claiming to be unique to Jew hatred are simply characteristics of the racism and bigotry and the toxic fact-free hatred that now consumes many Americans regarding our president, Hillary Clinton, J Street and other people and groups they passionately dislike.

I loved your piece about overcoming fear and the Jewish sources you cited.

But missing was any effort to differentiate between fear based on real and credible threats and fear that is simply the result of paranoia and a narrative–such your mistaken claim that anti-Semitic acts in our country are rising instead of falling–that can lead so many Jews who never dreamed that life could be this good to believe they should be worried that we are at greater risk than ever before.

When credible and respected people like yourself overstate how bad things are for Jews–on both an absolute and relative basis–and the severity of the existential threats to the Jewish people–it legitimizes obsession over the shortcomings and evils of those whom we are predisposed to mistrust and dislike.

Even more damaging is that it leads some Jews to avoid examining our own values and behavior and ways in which we can improve the world, as Jews have always been commanded to do..

Sometimes it is important to complain about the bias of the refs and the dirty play of the other team.  But over time, it is always best to move on and focus on ways in which our own team can play better and overcome the unfair challenges we sometimes face.

You seem to be devoting a lot of thought and energy to these issues.  I hope you will join me in moving beyond–not ignoring–fear and anti-Semitism and join me in focusing on other more productive issues where your insights are also greatly needed.

About the Author
Larry Gellman is a retired Managing Director--Wealth Management at a private worldwide investment firm. He has studied and lectured on Jewish wisdom and ethics in Israel and the U.S. . He has spent 40 years as a major Jewish philanthropist and a current National Board Member of organizations including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and CLAL and a past chairman and former board member of Israel Bonds, Jewish Federations, AIPAC and Jewish Day Schools in Tucson and Milwaukee. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN MY WRITINGS ARE MINE AND MINE ALONE. IDO NOT SPEAK ON BEHALF OF ANY OF THE ORGANIZATIONS WHERE I SERVE AS A BOARD MEMBER OR VOLUNTEER.