Why We Can’t Let the Anti-Semites Win

A joke that literally defines “gallow humor” also makes a good point.  Three Jews about to be executed were lined up in front of a firing squad. Each Jew was asked whether he wanted a blindfold. The first one said, “Sure”. The second one said he would also take the blindfold. When the third Jew was asked if he wanted a blindfold he emphatically declined it, and said, “No.” At which point, the second Jew leaned over to the third one and said, “Stop making trouble. Take the blindfold.”

This joke reflects the absurdity of victims thinking that what they say or do could have an impact on how others will treat them. It reminds us that the problem is not us, nor how we act. The problem that needs to be addressed is not how Jews act. It is not Judaism or Jewish behavior of Jews that needs to be eradicated. Rather, it is the hatred that festers and thrives in sick minds and breeds Judeophobia that must be eliminated.

According to the ADL, almost 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in 2018, the most recent year when statistics were available. In a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, four Orthodox Jewish elected officials recently wrote, “It is no longer safe to be identifiably Orthodox in the State of New York. We cannot shop, walk down a street, send our children to school, or even worship in peace.”

When I was growing up, it seemed that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. Holidays that commemorated attempts to annihilate us, such as Purim and Chanukah were a relic of our ancient past and part of Jewish memory.

Revulsion over the horrors of the Holocaust ushered in an era where it was inconceivable that good people could condone or harbor anti-Jewish feelings, especially in western democracies. Even the Catholic Church, which for centuries had been one of the greatest purveyors of anti-Semitism repudiated and rejected its past teachings and recognized the need to do “teshuva” for their sins.

But alas, this new era was temporary, and the world’s oldest hatred resurfaced, as anti-Judaism was replaced with the seemingly more palatable and socially acceptable anti-Zionism. To the extent we are guilty of anything, it is of not speaking up sooner; of not denouncing acts against our fellow Jews as anti-Semitic since they were taken against Israel and Israelis.

Suicide bombings, attacks on Israelis in settlements in the West Bank, and the targeting of Israeli civilians abroad, were seen as part of an ongoing political conflict, or even more belittling, as part of a “cycle of violence”, instead of condemned as intolerable unacceptable assaults on the most basic of human rights – the right to life.

The rise in attacks on Jews in this country, especially upon Hasidic Jews in the New York area has reached a point where Jews are finally standing up and saying, “Enough.” Enough to being targets of malicious hatred. Enough to being silent in the face of more and more attacks. Enough to passively accepting that this is a natural part of life that should be tolerated.

Thank God, unlike our experience in the past, the government is not the sponsor of anti-Jewish acts, and many good citizens – non-Jews, including many Christians and Moslems stand with us in opposing hatred. But those governments that espouse and promote Jew Hatred – such as Malaysia and throughout the Arab and Moslem world can no longer be ignored or given a pass and allowed to continue to promulgate their hate-filled diatribes and policies against Israel, Jews and Judaism.

We should learn from the Jewish community in England who sought allies and did not hesitate to unequivocally identify the policies against Israel and Jews by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as anti-Semitic, even though the party had been their home for decades.

Writing in the Times of Israel last week, Rabbi Doniel Hartman said, “Our responsibility is to protect and ensure the survival of the Jewish people, but our mission is to create a people guided by a tradition which challenges us to live lives of meaning and value and which can be a light both to ourselves and others. We need to fight anti-Semitism wherever it appears, but fighting anti-Semitism must not exhaust or define the purpose of Jewish life.” I agree — we need to be more than anti-anti-Semites.

Brett Stephens in a column in The New York Times dared to ask, “How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most path-breaking ideas and innovations?”

Beyond the obvious contributions in so many fields – science, literature, culture, technology, medicine, commerce and so on, as well as the vast body of ethical literature and morals we have given the world, Jewish individuals have done a great deal to ameliorate conditions of people around the world. Look at the hospitals, concert halls, schools and universities, museums and other institutions serving the public and you will see how much Jews have contributed to help others. Just this past year, one of the co-founders of Home Depot, Kenneth Lagone and his wife Elaine, contributed enough money to the New York University Med School to ensure that tuition will be free for all students.

Albert Einstein described the proclivity of Jews to want to better society and said that there is a moral belief, “incarnate in the Jewish people that the life of the individual only has value [insofar] as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful”, and that is why I am proud to be a Jew.

I am a Jew, not because of anti-Semitism – But I am proud to be a Jew despite efforts throughout the ages to denigrate, eliminate and humiliate our religion and people.

I am a Jew, not because of anti-Semitism – But because I do not want to give those who hate me and who persecuted my ancestors throughout history the sense of satisfaction that would come were they to succeed in extinguishing the light of Judaism.

I am a Jew, not because of anti-Semitism – But it makes me proud to be on the opposite side of those who carry torches and march and chant that we will not replace them.

I am a Jew, not because of anti-Semitism – But I am proud of all that we have achieved and done for the world in spite of what the world has done to us.

I have a fantasy – to tell the anti-Semites: “You are right. We do control the media, the entertainment industry, movies, television, the banks and finance, culture and science – Eat your hearts out.”

I am a Jew, not because of anti-Semitism – But because whereas they preach hate – we teach love your neighbor as yourself.

Where they seek to hurt – we are guided by compassion.

Where they seek to destroy and tear down, we build and create.

Where they prey on the weak and vulnerable – we have mercy upon the unfortunate.

Where they look for conspiracies – we try to understand intricacies of the universe.

Where they blame us for their faults – we seek to make the world a better place, our commitment to what we call tikun olam.

For all these reasons we must never let the anti-Semites win.

About the Author
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt founded Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland in 1988, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 620 families. He is president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly and member of the National Executive Council of AIPAC. He has taught Jewish history and theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. In recognition of Rabbi Weinblatt’s leadership role in the community and as an outstanding teacher and speaker, he has received many awards from community organizations such as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Greater Washington Chapter of ORT. He is the author of, “God, Prayer and Spirituality,” a compilation of his sermons, writings and articles.
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