Two-thirds of the world either doesn’t know that the Holocaust happened—or they deny that it did. The Jewish community has invested tremendous resources to spread awareness and education about the Holocaust, in order to prevent another one, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Additionally, 41% of Americans don’t know what Auschwitz is and 56% of Austrians don’t know how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. It is less than 75 years since the Shoah ended and people are forgetting.
As the horrors of the past are slipping away from collective memory, there is a terrifying uptick in anti-Semitism throughout the world. Anti-Jewish parades and cartoons are popping up all over Europe. Anti-Zionism is the new kosher form of anti-Semitism. World-wide attacks against Jews were up 13% in 2018. White Supremacists in the U.S. are getting more brazen and violent, with the recent shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway. And a colleague of mine who worked in Democratic politics, recently confessed to me that he is afraid that his party is swapping Muslims for Jews as they see the Muslim population growing and the Liberal Jewish one shrinking. It’s all about the votes, baby.
It’s time we recognize that anti-Semitism is a spiritual disease which requires a spiritual solution. What if world Jewry committed to that cause with the same passion they have committed to Holocaust education?
1500 years ago the Talmud described the spiritual root of anti-Semitism: “Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai? Because the great sinah (hatred) aimed at the Jew – emanates from Sinai.” (Shabbos 89)
The Jewish nation was chosen to bring the light and morality of Torah to the world. This responsibility sets us apart (whether we like it or not) and causes the world to expect more of us (whether it’s fair or not). While there are those anti-Semites who are unhinged and cannot be reasoned with, there are plenty of people who will respect our ways when we live up to Jewish standards.
I once accidentally engaged an anti-Semite online. He explained that a religious Jew had run his car off the road, and his friend (who was with him) almost died. I apologized profusely for this behavior and explained that it wasn’t fair for us all to be judged by the actions of one horrible human being. The anti-Semite agreed and apologized.
If the world (and God) expects us to be exceptional, then we have no choice but to answer that call. We have to be a light unto the nations – both in how we act and in how we publicize Jewish values. My cleaning lady is sisters with the cleaning lady of a hasidic friend of mine. This friend is a walking angel. When I met my cleaning lady and her husband (who are Catholic), they told me that my hasidic friend strengthens their faith in God. Can you imagine this? Their sister/sister-in-law cleans the home of a hasidic Jew who is such an exemplary human being that their faith in God has grown.
Similarly, there is a video that was just posted online about a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) man in Lakewood, New Jersey who stopped to change the flat tire of a non-Jewish woman who was stranded on the road. While there is tension in Lakewood between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations, watch the video to see this woman gush over the Jewish community. We certainly can’t win over all non-Jews like this, but when we are generous and honest and practice acts of kindness – as a chosen nation is meant to do – we can decrease the hate.
Similarly, we have a responsibility to share our beautiful values with the world and we can share these values online for people who will never meet a Jew. There is an obsession with the show Shtissel right now – among non-Orthodox and non-Jews alike, and that’s because it humanizes the religious Jewish world. We have gotten similar gushing feedback from non-Jews here at Jew in the City. When Jewish rituals and practices are explained and shown to be meaningful, it is harder for non-Jews to see us as other. It is harder to continue to hate us.
Improving our behavior towards the outside world will help, but it is not a complete plan. If hatred of Jews is a spiritual reality of the exile, then it will only fully go away when we remove ourselves from it. Every Tisha B’Av we remember that the Holy Temple (Beis HaMikdash) was destroyed due to baseless hatred and that the way to rebuild it and bring about messianic times is to drop the hatred from our hearts and unite with our brothers and sisters. Practicing baseless love should not just be an activity on Tisha B’Av. We need to commit to this every day of our lives.
There’s that old joke about a flood coming to a synagogue. The water gets higher and higher, and as the rabbi climbs higher and higher inside the building, various rescue vessels come. First a boat, then a helicopter, then a plane. Each time, the rabbi refuses to take the vessel because he says he is waiting for God to save him. Then he dies. In heaven, he asks God why He didn’t save him and God says “What are you talking about? I sent you a boat and two aircrafts!”
God is sending us signs left and right that the redemption process has begun in Israel. Thousands year old prophecies: returning to our land, the desert blooming, ingathering of exiles, modern day war miracles are happening before our eyes. We just need to be intellectually honest enough to see them. The final redemption includes to returning to the land of our forefathers. Why do we insist on delaying it?
A friend of mine is exasperated with the increasing attacks. When will it end? When can we take respite? It is starting to feel unsafe to look visibly Jewish in some places. That is terrifying, but I believe that God wants us to feel exasperated. He wants us to feel that we have no worldly plan to end this age old disease of Jew hatred. He wants us to look up to the heavens and cry out for help, as the verse from Psalms says: “I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help is from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” He wants us to feel hopeless, as a nation, so as a nation, we can call out for help, and as a nation we can return to Him, to His Torah, and to His land.