Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Holocausting

There is an old story about a Jew in Vienna who is desperately trying to get out as the dark era of the Holocaust sets on Europe. He goes to the travel agency and tries to book a ticket. The agent takes out a globe and says, “It’s a big world out there. Where would you like to emigrate?”

“Can I go to America?”

“I am sorry,” says the agent. “America is not letting in Jewish immigrants.”

“What about France?”

“I am sorry. The French don’t want Jews.”

“What about South Africa?”

“We have no way to get you there.”

“Australia? Canada? Mexico?”

For each one, there is another answer, each basically saying that there are no places for Jews there.”

Finally, in frustration, the Yid looks at the globe and back at the agent. In exasperation, he asks, “Maybe you have another globe?”

Indeed, the worldview of Jews and Israel is not good. Pictures are streaming in daily from every corner of the world – places that may not have even heard of Jews before now – of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel protests that are filled with more hate and rhetoric than we have seen in decades.

But there is no other globe. Israel is being threatened from the north and the south and its enemies are overtly discussing ideas and threats that should make people gasp in shame and indignance. Sadly, they keep quiet at best.

We feel it in what was once considered the safest haven for Yidden and Yiddishkeit throughout the history of the Diaspora. People are beginning to get nervous and the experts are weighing in. Some say, “It’s mamish like 1931.” Others, “Like 1933. Maybe 1935.”

Although so many of us are sensing the spiraling of anti-Semitism into an abyss of doom, I do not think that anyone has the sense to compare what is going on in America to the level it was in germany in the year in which Kristallnacht took place. In Germany the coordinated and validated violence was orchestrated and encouraged by a government that was all too happy to set a stage for the “Final Solution.” But the anxiety in the air is palpable, and the constant reports of anti-Semitic incidents in countries that we considered tolerant and friendly and normally tranquil are certainly enough to raise shackles and fear amongst even the most resilient among us.

Images of bullet holes in a yeshiva and smashed windows of a truck used by a Jewish-owned business are eerily similar to the images we saw from the streets of Austria and Berlin in the germinating stages of what ultimately became the attempted annihilation of European Jewry. Seeing the office of a Jewish congressman sprayed with the words that euphemistically call for the eradication of Israel and treating all of its Jewish citizens no better than the citizens of Be’eri or any of the other kibbutzim that were attacked is worrisome.

Indeed, those of us who live in the center of a transformed neighborhood, watching how spaces that once contained kosher establishments now tout Arabic lettering, are quite disturbed. Areas in Brooklyn, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto and other cities whose Jewish populations were so dominant are shaken by the cultural transformation that has not only evolved to different modes of dress, speech and eateries, but are now replete with fear-inducing rhetoric and instigations. But we are still a strong community and we cannot forget it. The fact that Torah study, despite all the tzaros we are facing, has not only not weakened but has grown stronger and stronger since the crisis began is a heartening sign that should buoy our spirits despite the outside pain we see.

Despite a significant number of overt anti-Semites in government, by and large, America is not Germany. It is not the Germany of 1938 and not even the Germany of 1931.

Millions of dollars are going to support Jewish institutions of Torah and Jewish welfare programs. And in the antithesis of the 1930s German government, in a very rare action, the US Congress recently censured a member for her anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The Congress also voted overwhelmingly to support Israel’s actions against Hamas, and the normally wavering president stood up to a world that is trying to get Israel to back down.  Thankfully, the thugs on the streets don’t have the support and encouragement of an overtly anti-Semitic government. Of course, they will latch on to their vocal minority, who seem to dominate the headlines.

Middle America in states that have religious-leaning populations are not hotbeds of the overt anti-Semitic displays as of yet. However, all is not quiet on the eastern and western fronts. There are clear pockets of overt anti-Semitism and definitely increased incidents on college campuses, enough to (hopefully) frighten or dissuade Jewish students from attending those universities and Jewish donors from supporting them.

Like the tenseness and apprehension that surrounded both the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, this tumultuous period is awakening the tiny sparks of Yiddishkeit in so many of these assimilated Jewish children, who are beginning to realize that a certain divinity is intervening with their religious apathy, driving them to search and seek for the meaning of their true identity.   It is a crisis, but more so an opportunity.

Don’t think I am mister peachy keen. I, too, am worried. Despite the fact that we have not hit the beginning of rock-bottom in this country, it is not out of the unforeseeable future.

As its preamble to the story of Kamtza Bar Kamtza and other incidents of a certain smugness and arrogance that led to the destruction of major Jewish cities and communities, the Gemara in Gittin begins with the words, Ashrei adam mefacheid tamid umekashe libo yipol b’ra’ah Praiseworthy is the man who is anxious always. However, he who hardens his heart falls into misfortune.”

It’s a tough balance. On one hand, we certainly have to wake up and realize that this is not the America where the fights we are having are between the Irish or Italian kids on the basketball courts on 18th Avenue. There is real hate out there and it’s not over a foul. But to live in fear and anxiety that will cajole one into breaking his spirit or principles or way of life is also a victory for those who want to destroy us.

The Jewish nation is the Torah nation. Any fear that diminishes adherence to our Torah commitment or lifestyle is a victory for those who may destroy us. The tremendous disruption at the onset of the zeman was extremely disheartening to so many bochurim who wanted to begin their long winter zeman with an immediate bren. Shades of Covid-like disruptions were felt by so many wanting to go back to Eretz Yisroel, but were held back because of the fear that the war instilled. And yet, they persevered. Whether in hotels or the wonderful summer camps that opened their homes to them, they did not miss any learning.

There are daily tefillah gatherings, Tehillim chaburos, and fasts on Yom Kippur Kotton that took place in shuls across the globe where such practices have never been seen before. Indeed, while our prestige and stature as a nation in exile may be unraveling, our spirituality is yearning and hopefully growing.

The violence and anti-Semitism that we see are not making us weaker. They are making us stronger. If we are stronger in Yiddishkeit, we can withstand the storm that is upon us and storms that are approaching as well.

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