Dear Jew in the City-
I find myself getting deeply distressed over the ever-rising incidents of antisemitism in the last few years. Is it my imagination? I hear some people saying it’s time to pick up and leave before it gets worse. Yes, we believe that there will be an eventual final redemption, which includes the ingathering of the exiles. Can you shed some light on this matter?
Thanks for your question. I have discussed anti-Semitism in general before – most notably here – and I allude to future messianic implications here. Rather than re-tread the same points, I advise you to take a look at those articles for some Torah thoughts, while I take a different approach here.
When people tell me that this is just like Germany in 1939, I’m quick to correct them that it really isn’t. Do we occasionally see an anti-Semitic stereotype or caricature? Of course we do. But then there’s pushback. Remember the 2018 New York Times cartoon that depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind President Trump wearing a yarmulke? The cartoon was widely decried as chock-full of anti-Semitic tropes. In response, the Times fired the editor responsible for approving it.
How about Joan Terrell Paige, the Jersey City board of ed member who, following the shooting there, blamed the victims for the violence inflicted upon them? Many prominent figures, including Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, have called for her resignation.
And then there’s Grafton Thomas, who has been indicted on six counts of second-degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree assault, three counts of first-degree attempted assault and two counts of first-degree burglary in the Monsey stabbing attack that took place on Chanukah. If convicted, he could face 25 years in prison.
Do you think any politicians spoke up for Jews in Berlin prior to WWII? Do you think any political cartoonists were fired for publishing anti-Semitic canards in Der Stürmer? Do you think anyone was tried for a crime after participating in Kristallnacht?
No, the US in 2019 was not Berlin in 1939. Yes, we’ve suffered increased anti-Semitism recently, as well as a distressing apathy on the part of many whom we would hope to speak up, but it’s the same anti-Semitism that has always existed. (Read your Bible!) We’ve just been fortunate to live through a relatively quiet period in history.
Now as to your question of whether “it’s time to pick up and leave,” I’d like to quote a series of three tweets that Rabbi Efrem Goldberg (@RabbiGoldberg) posted on December 29. Verbose thing that I am, these tweets state my feelings more concisely than I could ever get into an appropriate length for Twitter:
A pogrom in Monsey does not mean God is telling everyone to move to Israel any more than a terror attack in Israel means God is telling everyone to move to the Diaspora.
Instead of playing God in this time of crisis, let’s focus on two important truths that aren’t contradictory:
1) Jews deserve and have the right to live in peace and safety anywhere in the world, and it is our duty to fight for that reality, period.
2) Independently, it isn’t if, but when we should all be moving to Israel, not out of fear, but out of love and a sense of responsibility to be part of our holy nation, fulfilling our holy Torah, in our holy Homeland.
Jews, just like everyone else, should have the right to live in peace and safety anywhere in the world. If we don’t feel secure in a place – sure, we can up and leave, but to where? Is there any place on Earth – including Israel – where Jews can live without fear of an anti-Semitic attack? Clearly not! Rather, it’s our responsibility to help ensure that we and our brethren can live where we wish, free to perform our religious duties without fear of violence or intimidation.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t up and leave for Israel. There are many wonderful reasons to do so, including the ability to perform numerous mitzvos that are unique to the Holy Land. But we shouldn’t run there because there are a few bad apples in New York. Have you read the papers? There are bad guys all around Israel!
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I think that idea applies here. If we run to Israel because we feel unsafe in the US, we will ultimately be unsafe both here and there. Rather, it is our responsibility to work to make here, there and everywhere a place where Jews and others can raise families without fear.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
JITC Educational Correspondent
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