I can believe that the world is against us. If you are a student of Torah, then all you have to do is read the book of Deuteronomy and it is clear that, under certain conditions, Israel will suffer at the hands of the nations, if we do not behave as beacons of light. Some of you are already sighing at this fundamentalist biblical reference. However, my issue is not with the other nations after all, according to my understanding of our written and oral tradition, that is all part of the plan, and they are only playing their part. No, what I cannot believe is, there are so many Jews who fuel the fires against Israel.
The way I see it, many Jews are uncomfortable being bearers of God’s message. Jackie Mason once did a shtick about Jews, he said, “ask Christians who the Chosen People are, and they will tell you without question that it is the Jews. Ask a Jew who the Chosen People are and they will hem and haw and say, “We’re not really chosen it’s a big misunderstanding.”
I just watched a YouTube video (Philly BDS Flashdance) in which a substantial group of Jewish university age people demonstrated in a local supermarket that was selling Israeli products. Their contention is that by not buying Jaffa oranges or Sabra Hummus (actually made in NY), a viable strain will be placed on Israel forcing it to free Palestine.
To break the yoke of their own anxiety, these Jews denigrate their heritage and point out the so called hypocrisy that other Jews commit in the name of that heritage. They say, “Israel is supposed to be a nation that understands oppression, but look at what the State of Israel does to the non-Jewish residents of their occupied territories. Israel is supposed to understand being torn away from their own homeland, yet look at what the State of Israel does to the indigenous people of the region. Israel is supposed to understand that it is demoralizing when faced with the inability to control your own future, yet, look at how the State of Israel has taken away the right of self-determination from the very people that have already suffered so greatly by Israel’s own colonialist greed.” The Jews who behave in this manner are referred to by many as “self-hating” Jews. Not only is this a pejorative term, it is incorrect.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Jewish life changed. The priorities of world Jewry, as well as many national and international Jewish organizations, were to emphasize the Jewish struggle for survival in all parts of the globe. Not only had we survived a threat of massive proportions from Israel’s Arab neighbors, but immediately after the war, the Soviet Union began a systematic program of discrimination aimed at its Jewish population.
“Never Again” and “Let My People Go” became the slogans of organized Jewry. Rallies, demonstrations, and appeals became everyday events. Practically all Jewish groups, synagogues, social service organizations, national and international Jewish bodies had signs in front of their buildings and offices with one of these slogans displayed. We went into action with a two-pronged agenda, protect the State of Israel from the anti-Zionist onslaught by the United Nations and the Arab/communist block and protect and obtain the release of millions of Soviet Jews from Soviet anti-Semitism.
To a large extent world-wide pressure was successful, but continued pressure was mounting against Israel though the political backlash encountered was mostly from anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian groups. On the Soviet front, continued pressure from the free world caused a slow relaxation of the closed-door policy to occur, and the trickle of Jews leaving the Soviet Union began to steadily increase.
However, the Soviet doors finally opened, and many of the organizations that formerly spearheaded the effort to free Soviet Jewry needed a different purpose to justify their mandates and fundraising needs. To a large extent this new agenda became the Holocaust, the State of Israel and/or exposing anti-Semitism. Organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and B’nai Brith’s Anti-Defamation League became colossal protectors of the Jewish future.
Prior to the Six Day War, the Holocaust was something that was rarely spoken of. Holocaust survivors, as well as the general Jewish population, had difficulty raising the subject – there was just too much pain involved. In 1951, the State of Israel established Yom HaSho’ah – Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of Nisan, and though many communities had commemorated Holocaust memorial services the Holocaust took on greater proportions in the 1980’s.
Holocaust museums sprang up all over the world. Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List” and his subsequent catalogued interviews with survivors opened the door to make the holocaust the latest focus of Jewish education. Jewish day schools, public schools, public high schools and universities were suddenly offering Holocaust courses. Holocaust studies became so popular that, in 1988, the “March of the Living” was established and takes place annually for two weeks around April and May, immediately following Passover. On Yom HaSho’ah, thousands of participants, mostly high school student’s march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest Nazi German concentration camp complex built during World War II.
The climax of the program is the march, which is designed to contrast with the death marches which occurred towards the end of World War II. When Nazi Germany withdrew its soldiers from forced-labor camps, inmates—usually already starving and stricken by oppressive work—were forced to march hundreds of miles in the snow, those who lagged behind or fell were shot. This contrast of the living, walking the path of a death march serves to illustrate the continued existence of world Jewry despite Nazi Germany’s attempts at their obliteration.
After spending a week in Poland visiting other sites of Nazi Germans persecution and former sites of Jewish life and culture, many of the participants in March of the Living also travel on to Israel where they observe Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen defenders of the State and celebrate Yom Ha’Atzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day.
Tens of thousands of young Jews have participated in this march. The bulk of these young people have a very limited Jewish education, and for many if not most of these participants, this was the most profound Jewish experience of their lives.
The uniqueness of Judaism in ancient and modern times is that it is a religion of life. The faiths of other religions were established on principals of death – that this life was but a passageway to eternal life. Judaism’s distinctiveness was the emphasis on living this life. Whatever happens afterwards was secondary to the experiment of life. Today’s emphasis on death and destruction is causing a paradigm shift in how Judaism is experienced. The old joke, “they tried to kills us, they didn’t succeed – let’s eat” doesn’t apply anymore, there is no festivity associated with the holocaust. Young people have to assimilate all this hate information in some way and to my immense sorrow; I believe that their conclusion is that we must be doing something wrong.
Today, we live in host countries that for the first time in history allow and encourage each ethnic group to practice its faith freely. Jews have the freedom and opportunity to study any subject, to apply for and seek any form of employment, to become educated and to practice their religion without reprisal. WW II did not only decimate Jewish Europe, but it has also decimated the She’arit HaPileitah – the surviving remnant of Jewry. With this new-found freedom, our numbers are dwindling, our children are alienated from their heritage, and worse their quest for social action has turned itself upon the Jewish people. Holocaust education has supplanted Judaism. Rosh Hashanah even Yom Kippur are no longer what they used to be and synagogues are experiencing dwindling numbers, but Yom HaSho’ah draws massive crowds. Passover and Chanukah, the two festivals that were once our most beloved and used to symbolize freedom, are all but forgotten but Holocaust Museums are drawing overflowing crowds.
The difficulty arises when we as a nation attempt to find political or social answers to spiritual issues. The obligation of carrying the torch of God’s light is an enormous responsibility. Like any significant design, its process must be strictly adhered to. Take the microphone out of the cell phone and you no longer have a cell phone. You may have what looks like a cell phone, but without the ability to communicate all you have is useless device. Similarly, when the Judaism is changed to make it more palatable to the masses, the result is consistently useless, and worse, destructive to the Jewish nation.
Let us begin with Hellenism. The faction of the Sadducees (a Jewish political and religious movement in the years between 150 BCE and 70 CE) changed the essence of Jewish tradition to meet the needs of a new and modern world. This led to great havoc and destruction within the Jewish people. One obvious manifestation of this can be found in the historical background to the festival of Chanukah. Aside from the revolt against the Greeks, the major source of bloodshed was in the civil war between the Hasmoneans and the Hellenists, between the new modernized Judaism and the old traditional form. These traditionalists later became known as the Pharisees and were finally established as the true and accepted manifestation of Torah. The Sadducee improvements and interpretations were eventually rejected and discarded.
Christianity is another example of this process of alteration. The Book of Acts (chapter 15) tells us that the original converts to Christianity were actually converts to Judaism. When Peter and Paul came to the Jerusalem Council (the highest governing body in this modern messianic cult), and were disturbed that in the process of reaching out to pagans, possible new members were rejected as converts by the Rabbis. Circumcision and acceptance of the 613 commandments (two of the three components to conversion) discouraged many potential converts. A compromise was found, and circumcision of the heart supplanted circumcision of the flesh, and the Ten Commandments took the place of the 613 commandments. These replaced the first two components of Jewish conversion and all converts still had to go through Mikvah or baptism (the third component). This is where Judaism and Christianity went their separate ways. It was not theology it was the process. This split between Judaism and Christianity has been the source of great strife and destruction to the Jewish people throughout the last two millennia.
For brevity’s sake let us jump to the modern world and take look at communism. Karl Marx (a Jew) took the Jewish concepts of charity and compassion and outlined the philosophy of Communism as a solution to inequality and poverty in the world. This altering of Torah into a simplified political solution not only did not work, it was the source of great human suffering and anti-Semitism in the 20th century.
Do these defenders of Palestinian rights self-hate themselves as Jews? I think not! Do these Jewish accusers of Israel’s so called apartheid policies wish the destruction of the State of Israel? I think not! However, as Jews uneducated in Jewish tradition, they too are caught up in another manipulation of a Torah concept and basing a political solution on it.
Theodore Herzl and the founders of the Zionist movement sought to find the solution to anti-Semitism. Herzl, an assimilated and uneducated Jew, perceived from the Dreyfus trial in France that anti-Semitism was a reality in his liberal and modern society. In the new age of nationalism, Herzl believed that in order to remove anti-Semitism from Europe, it was necessary to remove the Jews from their European hostile environment and place them in a country of their own. His new adherents to this idea of modern Zionism knew that the concept of Shivat Tziyon – the return to Zion (Israel/Palestine) was an age old Jewish concept, and therefore, rejected his notion to make part of Argentina (and later Uganda) the new Jewish state.
Palestine was an “empty and desolate land” (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad) and part of the Ottoman Empire and later a British Mandate state. Every territorial compromise suggested by various ruling nations and global organizations, while accepted by the Jewish agency, were rejected by the Palestinians and Arab states. Even the compromise to divide Palestine into two separate countries, Israel for the Jews and Trans-Jordan (the eastern bank of the Jordan River) for the Palestinians was rejected. When Trans-Jordan changed its name to Jordan, the compromise was promptly forgotten by the world community. Every war waged by the Arab states against Israel’s existence from 1947 to this very day was crushed and overpowered by the Israelis. Any territory that was legitimately won in war by the Israelis was disputed in the world arenas by Israel’s friends and enemies. No, the half-baked solution to anti-Semitism has not worked. Anti-Semitism is alive and well and takes on many forms and has many champions.
Unfortunately for us, many misguided and uneducated Jews of the 21st century have aligned themselves with our enemies because their concept of Judaism is erroneous. Their understanding of history, both Jewish and secular is deficient and their connection to our people is sadly influenced by slogans such as “Never Again.”
Please do not misunderstand me, I am not proposing that the State of Israel is illegitimate, nor am I defending the establishment of a Palestinian State; I am dismayed and disheartened that we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. These attempts to improve Judaism just do not work. To survive as a people with a distinct heritage and inheritance, we must embrace the treasure that is ours. Yes, it is difficult to be God’s chosen people and yes, we do stand out in a crowd, but we have a mission, to turn a world bent on self-destruction into a Garden of Eden. Modifying the fundamental formula to achieve this goal has always been an exercise in futility. To realize this dream world we must develop the skills necessary and that can only be done through a genuine Jewish education and a comprehensive lifestyle change. Anything less has not and cannot succeed.
The crucial question is, how do we achieve these goals? I believe that the Torah is more than a set of laws that define and distinguish the Jewish people. The Torah sets the only working parameters that can affect a peaceful and just reality on this planet. It is designed to start with the Jewish people and then spread as a “light unto the nations.” To say that we are not executing our mission properly, is true, but rewriting the means towards the objective historically, has not and cannot succeed.
Globally, we are in an irreversible state of affairs, economically, socially, politically, even ecologically, planet Earth is bent on self-destruction, we are beyond salvation. Let’s face it – there are no workable solutions for these overwhelming problems. Countries are going bankrupt, poverty and inequality are global, natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, floods and volcanic eruptions, are increasing at an alarming rate. Our air and fresh water supplies are dwindling, global warming is causing the ice caps to melt, the oceans have begun to rise and the continental shorelines to erode. Forests necessary to purify our polluted air are on the decrease while the deserts of the world are on the increase. For a civilization that thinks it has all the answers, it has seriously screwed things up to the point that we can’t fix it.
The only viable solution is a solution of faith, and that is Mashi’ach – the messiah. All the Abrahamic faith groups have a messianic concept that describes a reality similar to ours as the stage prior to the coming of Mashi’ach. His role and the role the Jewish people are to correct the injustices, the suffering and the moral decay that has led us in this direction. The biblical call to justice, compassion and righteousness, cannot be separated from service to God. The only solution that can bring us back from this alarming trend is one that very few are willing to consider possible.
There is Talmudic maxim that declares that if all of Israel were to observe two Sabbaths in a row, the Mashi’ach would come (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 1:1). I believe that this means that if all of Israel was fully unified in their relationships with each other and with their God then we would enter into the messianic era. Before the reform movement of the 19th century, there was no orthodoxy. Orthodox Judaism was the creation of the reformists. The return to the only form of Judaism that has outlasted conquests, exiles, assimilation, crusades, inquisitions, holocausts, communism, liberalism, intermarriage, oppression and even affluence is a Judaism based on Torah. Any modification to these obligations and responsibilities, and there have been many, have only resulted in self-destruction.
If we wish to survive as a distinctive nation, then we must stop telling the mechanic how to fix the car. 19th century moralist, Reb Yisra’el of Salant was once asked to explain a statement in Tractate Sotah that “the generation of the era immediately prior to the coming of the Messiah will be as the face of a dog.” He said that: “The dog is in the habit of racing ahead of its master, but keeps looking back to see what direction the master is about to take, and then continues to trot ahead in the direction that the master indicated.” This past century has produced a Jewish and global leadership that look to their constituents for direction and who govern by poll. Unfortunately, this is the way that modern man now reaches those tough decisions.
In the Jewish world, the uneducated among us have taken positions of leadership throughout the whole extent of Jewish management. Lawyers and orthodontists sit on Jewish Boards of Education and make curriculum decisions. Rabbis who cannot read Hebrew or study a page of Talmud tell us what it is that God expects of us. We leave the issue of how to turn the tide of assimilation to these people and hope that they will stumble on the solution. We expect these lame leaders and ineffective organizations to solve problems such as intermarriage or estrangement and alienation from any form of Jewish expression, and we fill their coffers just so that they will not ask us to give up our children’s ballet or hockey lessons.
No, our global problems have no easy solutions, but one thing is clear and has always been true, only through a unified, enthusiastic and participating Jewish people, in alignment with their past, can a future for the Jewish people and the world be forged. I can’t believe we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.