These words are being written on the fast of Shivah Assar Bâ€™Tammuz, the beginning of the three weeks during which halachah places special emphasis on mourning the churban Bais Hamikdosh and the ensuing golus.
The Golus Seesaw
Our bitter golus has taken on many variations over the years. Without a doubt, the most pervasive variation has been the terrible suffering that Klal Yisroel has experienced at the hands of bloodthirsty, murderous host countries. Whether it was the Romans at the time of the churban, the Arabs and Muslims in Arabia, Persia and North Africa, the Crusaders in Europe, the Inquisitors in Spain and Portugal, the bloodthirsty Cossacks in Poland, or the Nazis in Germany, our golus history has been stained crimson with the blood of our forefathers, who accepted their suffering with love and died al kiddush Hashem with the words of Shema Yisroel on their lips.
Throughout those years, there were also relatively benevolent manifestations of golus. The Golden Age of Spain is famous as a period when Jews and Jewish life flourished. Jews were affluent. They were leaders in commerce, philosophy and so much more. There were times when Jews lived in relative affluence and tranquility in Arab countries as well. 19th-century Germany and France was another benign period of golus, when Jews became part and parcel of German society and culture. During those periods of affluence, the primary danger was that the Jews would feel so comfortable that they would begin to emulate the host country and host culture and separate themselves from mitzvah observance.
A Golus in a Class of Its Own
In a class by itself is golus America. Never in the history of our 2,000-year golus have we had it so good. Never in any other golus were Jews so affluent and so included and integrated as in American society and its political and social fabric. Never have we had such freedom and such acceptance from a host culture. It is not for nothing that there were prominent rabbonim who encouraged flying an American flag on July 4th, American Independence Day, as a display of our hakoras hatov to this wonderful medinah shel chessed that has hosted us with such kindness and benevolence.
In many ways, America has been the least classical golus in our history. The ideals of equality in this country have made it possible for Jews not only to succeed, but to barely feel that they are in golus. We are able to demand our rights in this country, and Jews do demand their rights in an unprecedented way. Indeed, many of us feel so American that we believe that we are baalei batim over our own neighbors. We assert our rights and state our opinions loudly. We support political candidates and criticize others, often vehemently. In short, even as visibly frum Jews, we feel that this country is ours, just as it belongs to every other American citizen. Not only do we enjoy the golus, and not only has the American experience been very good to us, but we feel that we are equal partners in this country and that we can fight for our rights, telling others what to do, in the spirit of American inclusiveness.
Winds of Change
It is difficult to say this, but perhaps the first seedlings of the recession of the benevolent American experience are being seen. We have been seeing small signs in many areas. The recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States forcing states to redefine marriage is a wakeup call.
Make no mistake about it. The liberal agenda that preceded the Supreme Court ruling has been relentless and will continue. One of the goals of the liberal revolution, now supported by the Supreme Court of the United States, is not just to fight for the rights of all kinds of deviants in the spirit of equal rights for minorities, which would be bad enough, but even worse, its goal is to label anyone who doesnâ€™t ascribe to this as bigots who can be prosecuted. It is a full-barreled assault on religious liberties and an attempt to destroy the old order of wholesome family values that made America so great.
The present Supreme Court majority ruling barely pays lip service to the religious rights of minorities and clearly shows that the far-left liberal ideologues who have been spearheading this battle for decades with ample assistance from the New York Times-led mainstream media will make use of the courts to force their views on the rest of us. It is clear that the next step is to make anyone who does not ascribe to these views a social pariah, one who is considered uncouth and uncultured, and thus unable to participate in the political and academic institutions of our society.
The Ultimate Assault on the Kodesh and the Kodesh Hakodoshim
What they would ultimately like to do is bring the assault into the kodesh and the kodesh hakodoshim of our society. Soon, any schools that seek government funding and diplomas for their students will be forced to teach about all kinds of abominations as if they are just another alternative and an equally legitimate way of living.
What will happen is anyoneâ€™s call. There is reason to be afraid that many religious institutions will cave in, finding all kinds of dubious justifications. After all, without government funding and approval, they will not be able to succeed. We must be ever vigilant as we begin to notice this caving-in on the fringes and ensure that it does not slowly move to the center, to the kodesh and the kodesh hakodoshim.
What is transpiring may be a transition from the best golus experience the Jewish nation has had since the churban to a more classical mode of golus where, as frum Jews, we must somehow walk between the raindrops of hostility, avoiding the pitfalls with a combination of cleverness and shtadlanus.
Leaving Benevolent Golus Behind?
The present situation of school boards in heavily-populated cities such as Monsey, NY, and Lakewood, NJ, is another indication of how the old America, where the democratic process was sacrosanct, is being trumped by unelected, state-appointed monitors who have veto-power over the electorate. It would appear that these kinds of outside government interventions in our education and other areas of life will increase and become more pervasive. We, as a community, must therefore fortify ourselves and prepare for the ensuing legal battles and to eventually make the sacrifices to be able to live as Yidden according to our Torah, even if the battles are lost.
It should also be pointed out that the present increasing lack of sympathy for Israel from the left that has been slowly taking over the electorate that votes for the Democrat party is also a product of the constant barrage from the left, which equates Israel with racism and buys into the canard that Israel – the genteel code word for Jews – has too much influence on US policy.
A survey sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, conducted by well-known pollster Frank Luntz and reported by the Times of Israel, shows that â€œthree quarters of highly educated, high income, publicly active US Democrats – the so-called â€˜opinion elitesâ€™ – believe Israel has too much influence on US foreign policy, almost half of them consider Israel to be a racist country, and fewer than half of them believe that Israel wants peace with its neighbors.â€ The report goes on to say that Luntz called the findings â€œa disasterâ€ for Israel. He summed them up by saying that the Democratic opinion elites are converting to the Palestinians, and â€œIsrael can no longer claim to have the bipartisan support of America.â€
This slow Democrat attrition from support for Israel has been transpiring over time. Certainly, President Barack Obama helped exacerbate it, but, in truth, it is a result of the same relentless liberal agenda that has been pushing redefinition of marriage. Sympathizing with the Palestinians and overlooking their blatant transgressions has been a liberal cause for decades. Tragically, many secular Jews who are active in the Democrat party, such as J-Street and many others who are even more mainstream, have bought into this philosophy and place their support for the Democrat partyâ€™s agenda ahead of Israelâ€™s welfare. Their support for the Obama administrationâ€™s deal with Iran, which is clearly an existential threat to the more than 6 million Jews living in Israel, is the greatest proof to the tectonic shift to the left in the Democratic party here in the friendly United States of America.
So yes, unfortunately, it appears that golus America may be transitioning to a more classical golus mode and our conduct may have to be adjusted in kind to that new reality. We may not be able to conduct ourselves as baalei batim thinking that because â€œwe have rights,â€ we can exercise them. Sometimes it is far better to be clever than to be right. We may have to start lowering our profile, doing much more behind-the-scenes shtadlonus, and generally conducting ourselves the way that Jews have conducted themselves throughout the golus in countries that have shown varying degrees of hospitability to them.
The Imperative to Keep a Low Profile
Perhaps we should keep in mind the Kli Yokorâ€™s explanation on the posuk we will soon read in Parshas Devorim: â€œPenu lochem tzafona.â€ The Kli Yokor explains that the word tzafona, in addition to implying north, also connotes tzafun, hidden. He explains that the Jew in exile must constantly seek to hide himself, not to stand out. This idea is even more openly stated in the Torah, when Yaakov tells his sons, â€œLamah tisrau? Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?â€
As this new period of golus for Jews in America develops, we may have to readjust many of the time-honored ways that we operate to conform to a tzafonah model.
May this Tisha Bâ€™Av be transformed into a Yom Tov. May Hashem fill the world with His knowledge as the water covers the sea and render all of the above moot, bemeheirah beyomeinu.