Saturday, December 14, 2019 -
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Beyond the platitudes

I.

After the attack on the synagogue in the San Diego area six months to the day after the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh said:

“My words of ‘never again’ have disappeared from my language. They’ve been replaced with ‘yet again.’ And so it is that we stand here yet again at this corner as one united community.”

In other words, something dramatic has changed. The anti-Semitism that has emerged is larger than the various partisan explanations thereof.  The usual platitudes will not carry the Jewish community forward.

The New York Times published  a cartoon, veritably dripping with anti-Semitic tropes, for which it later and only on the second try — one day after the attack in San Diego — apologized. The cartoon showed Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu as a daschund breed guide dog wearing a Star of David collar and leading a yarmulke-clad President Donald Trump.

The cartoon was condemned by a wide variety of circles, including no less than NYT columnist Bret Stephens. He excoriated the Times for “an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism,” coming from a news outlet “that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice, from mansplaining to racial microaggressions to transphobia.”

In other words, although something dramatic has changed, a leading media outlet blithely ignored the explosion of anti-Semitism, the radical change in context, the hyper-damage that results from anti- Semitic tropes and expressions.

One of those injured in the San Diego shooting was an Israeli girl whose family had moved to San Diego from Sderot, Israel, to escape Kassam rocket attacks launched by Hamas from Gaza. In what he thought was his new place of refuge, the family’s father said that his home had been targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas. The girl’s uncle was shot in the attack while he was saving children’s lives.

In other words, something dramatic has changed. Anti-Semitism is not localized, and not only a factor of this or the other political ideology. Anti-Semitism today is bigger than white supremacism, bigger than Islamic terrorism — and bigger than common sense. Can you imagine a newspaper supposedly as scrupulous as The New York Times needing to say this about its publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon:

“The matter remains under review, and we are evaluating our internal processes and training. We anticipate significant changes.”

Does anyone doubt that if a cartoon showed a white, antebellum slavemaster as a daschund breed guide dog leading President Donald depicted in blackface, The New York Times would not have published it? Would any evaluation of  “internal processes and training” be necessary? Although we are not one of those who love to hate the NYT, it is hard to escape the conclusion that when it comes to Jews and Israel, the NYT has a double standard.

Because something dramatic and global has changed from Paris to Sderot to San Diego, from legislative halls in Congress to those in Lithuania to Hungary, from college campuses to online forums, it is necessary for the Jewish people to go beyond platitudes. It is necessary to do more than try to convince one or the other faction of our people that anti-Semitism is basically a force in a single hate-filled ideology. It is not. It is so much larger.

In fact, it is necessary for the Jewish people to go beyond protest against hate altogether. For when the protest is over, then what?

We need concrete action, in three forms.

The first form is self-defense. In Israel this means a superior army. In the rest of the world, this means the kind of thing that was done in Poway, California, two days after the Pittsburgh shooting last October. The leaders of the Poway synagogue met with the local police and put in place new security measures.  These included the presence of a trained, repeat, trained armed synagogue-goer or security guard. These new procedures saved lives.

The second thing is increased competence and will by major social media platforms to shut down incitement to violence, erring on the side of caution. As in, if there is doubt as to whether  certain expressions are “merely” hateful or actual incitement to violence, close them down. Remember, it is the government that is bound by the First Amendment protections of free speech, not private companies, such as Facebook. Private media platforms may cut off whomever they want. Have we not more than sufficient evidence of hate-filled tirades preceding violence? Even if not every spewer of hate then acts violently, this expression of hate “inspires” others to violence. Close down the hate, voluntarily. Let social media platforms step up to become responsible citizens in an increasingly violent society. Err on the side of caution.

II.

The third concrete action is something deeper,  something more fundamentally Jewish. Not after, but even during the attack on San Diego, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the attacked synagogue held his presence of mind, his perspective, his commitment, his humanity and most important his purpose. “I just ran, not even knowing my fingers were blown off.” And when he got outside, he gathered his flock and said, as he later recalled it:

“I got out there and just spoke from my heart, just giving everyone the courage to know it was just about 70 years ago during the Holocaust that we were gunned down like this.

“And I just want to let our fellow Americans know we aren’t going to let this happen here. Not here in San Diego, not here in Poway, not in the United States of America.

“We will not be intimidated and deterred by this terrorism. Terrorism will not win.”

For this courageous and steadfast Jewish commitment to the future not to become a platitude of its own, it must be followed by a stronger commitment to Jewish life. We need to become a stronger people. We need to define ourselves not only as those who resist anti-Semitism. We need to define ourselves not only by the negative, but by the positive.

Concretely.

The rabbi called for people to flood the synagogues this Friday night and Saturday — both to show that we are not afraid and to go beyond that: to do Jewish, to do what Jews do in synagogues, to pray. And to do what prayer itself should, in part, stimulate: a commitment to become the kind of selfless, kind, helpful person who was gunned down in San Diego protecting the rabbi’s life. In the synagogue we contemplate the role models of the Jewish people and try to figure out how to become such a role model ourselves.

Rabbi Goldstein said:

“I pray for healing in this time of pain and grief . . . ” Well put. But if all we do is fall back on our thoughts and prayers are with you and then move on, this too is a platitude. The rabbi continued:

“ . . . and I ask that we all do something to add more light to combat this evil darkness that’s out there. That can happen through acts of compassion and loving kindness.”

When the shooting was over and Rabbi Goldstein was outside — his hand still bleeding from the wound of his truncated finger —he said:

“We are a Jewish nation and we still stand tall. Terrorism like this will not take us down.”

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News




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