When a people is under siege it matters more, not less, how the besieged treat each other. Perhaps I am wrong, or only partly right, but it seems as though too many Jews are treating each other in a manner that is hardly loving, ethical or even minimally civil.
This worries me more than do the forces of irrational hatred arrayed against us.
No matter how poor or how rich we as individuals may be, all Jews have the power to uplift and inspire each other – or to humiliate and discourage each other. This power, which we may use for good or for evil, holds the key to Jewish survival.
Many Jewish individuals and organizations are doing amazing work: Selflessly, valorously, humbly, they fund and staff hospitals, soup kitchens, and other humanitarian projects, both here and in Israel. I salute them. I adore them.
And then there is the problem that dares not speak its name.
We have all heard about raised voices and raised fists, soul-scorching sarcasm, terrible threats, theft, corruption, adultery, incest, wife-beating, child-abuse, addiction within the Jewish community. I despair – not because of what non-Jews may think, but because of what God may think and what our collective punishment might ultimately be.
Now imagine what happens when similarly amoral and arrogant Jews fight each other to become King of the Jews. Imagine their vices writ large as they strut and thunder across the stage of Jewish and Israeli history.
I will name no names (the punishment would render me far less effective as an advocate for Jewish survival), but I must, finally, share some anecdotes about the exceedingly bad behavior of all too many Jews who claim to speak for the Jewish community. (It matters little if such behavior is also common among non-Jews; we Jews are so few in number and have more at stake, more to lose.)
In the summer of 2003, when I published my book The New Anti-Semitism, I became the “new kid on the block” in the organizational Jewish world. A friend of mine at a large Jewish organization asked for “many” advance galleys of my book and invited me to deliver a workshop on this subject for his organization. I was honored and agreed at once. I did not ask for a fee.
In time, however, my friend, mortified, got back to me. “I am so embarrassed,” he said, “but I must withdraw my invitation for your lecture. I have just been told that you are persona non grata and the ‘enemy’ at my organization.”
“There must be some mistake,” I said.
“No,” he said. “My organization feels that it must have the final word on this subject. I have been informed that you are the competition and must be crushed. Our publicist used those exact words.”
This was my initiation into the organized Jewish world. My education would continue.
A few months later, when I was about to deliver a major fundraising lecture for Israel for another major Jewish American organization, the lecture agent called me.
“Phyllis, would you consider changing your subject from anti-Semitism to any other subject, and would you be willing to talk to the sisterhood only?”
It seemed that my Supreme Educator, the very same Big Shot who viewed me as “competition” and who presides over an annual organizational budget in the millions, had just rented a large public space to deliver a lecture on the same topic in the same city at the same hour and had invited the very same major donors to hear him.
I called my aforementioned friend at the Big Shot’s organization. My message: ”For God’s sake, tell him we should deliver this lecture together and send all the money to Israel.” He never got back to me.
I was the one who did not speak in that city that year; only The Big Shot did. It is my opinion, shared by many others, that almost every decision and public statement this man has made on behalf of Jews has been painfully, dangerously, almost hilariously wrong. Nevertheless, like so many other Jewish leaders, he seems to have a death-grip on the Jewish funding dollar and therefore on the destiny of our people.