David A. Lyon

“Western-Style Freedom with Jews and Judaism: Getting Lessons from the Past Right this Time”

A young man once told me that he and his friends ran drugs and committed petty crimes. Many of his friends were in jail and some were dead. He told me that he was fearful it would happen to another friend or to himself. He asked me what I thought about his future. I’m not a prophet, I told him; but, anyone can see that if the same pattern continues, another one of your friends is going to jail or will die. It could even happen to you. Then I asked him what he thought about his future. He acknowledged that if he didn’t want to go to jail or die, then he had to make tough choices. He had to find new friends and a new way forward.

In recent weeks, the western world faced the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo. Then it happened in Copenhagen. As the clocks are reset, they’ll begin to wind down again to the next tragedy. We don’t know where or when, but we know that it’s going to happen again. In the name of Islam, radical Muslims attack those who offend Muhammad. Their intended victims of the most recent attacks weren’t initially Jews. As of late, they’ve been non-Jewish Frenchmen and Danes, but to radical Muslims, the unintended but necessary victims must always include Jews.

The last two terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a café in Copenhagen were followed up by quick and direct assaults on Jewish targets, a kosher market and a synagogue. Always connecting the two, Muslim terrorists have a formula: 1) take out any threat to Islam, especially those that offend their faith and their prophet, in the media; and, 2) always scapegoat the Jews in order to link the world’s disorders with Jews and Judaism. It’s a horrific formula that leaves in its wake desperate attempts by Western nations to champion the cause of freedom, and the unquenchable effort to reverse the persistent trend in rising anti-Semitism. Thus far, European attacks have been connected to the Jewish community. But, the end-game for Muslim terrorists is to destroy all their religious enemies: Christians, opposing Muslims, and Jews. Unchecked, there isn’t anyone who can safely say that they’re not a target of their wrath.

Renowned Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece (Aug 20, 2014), that even though European countries condemn anti-Semitism, today, and Jews are resolute when they say “Never Again!” protests and violence against Jews are mounting. “It is not just disgruntled Muslim youth who perpetrate these actions; they are Muslims born in Europe, and many of those who weren’t, are the parents of a new generation of Europeans. And, unlike Muslim instigators, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where [anti-Semitic protests] have occurred should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to.” Lipstadt pins her fear on telltale evidence. She explains that “when a Hamas spokesman recently stood by his statement that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children for their matzos — one of the oldest anti-Semitic [lies] — European elites were largely silent.” She ended, “It is time for those who value a free, democratic, open, multicultural and enlightened society to [worry], too. This is not another Holocaust, but it’s bad enough.”

It’s bad for the Jews. It’s bad for non-Jews, too. This time, Europeans can’t hide behind their Jewish friends. Europeans, especially anti-Semitic ones, would do better to make friends with their Jewish neighbors and stand together on a new path where they and we can defend the future of humanity against radicalized Muslims.

The young man who was afraid about his future taught us something valuable. He made new friends and, today, he’s enjoying a smarter future. Now western allies need to decide whether they cherish freedom and democracy enough to set aside their anti-Semitic past and join forces to ensure a smarter future for the world. The clock is ticking.

About the Author
Rabbi Lyon is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, Texas. Lyon can be heard on iHeartRadio's Podcast "Heart to Heart w/Rabbi David Lyon" on and iHeartMedia app. He is the author of the book "God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime" (Jewish Lights 2011), available at He is President-Elect of the CCAR (Central Conference of America Rabbis) Board of Trustees. He serves on the board of the Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP); and in Houston, Lyon serves on the board of the United Way of Greater Houston; advisory board of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston; and member of ADL's Coalition for Mutual Respect.
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