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The Tragic Vacuum (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Several weeks ago I published a letter from a woman who expressed fear and trepidation at the escalation of anti-Semitism throughout the world and the possibility of yet another Holocaust, G-d forbid. Her letter evoked much comment. I was deluged with e-mails, several of which I published. Among those letters was one, written by a Jewish student at UCLA, that left many Jewish Press readers appalled. Among other things, he condemned the older Jewish generation, which, he wrote, is obsessed with the Holocaust.

While he conceded it was a horrific moment in history, he also believed the experience stamped many Jews with paranoia regarding anti-Semitism. He posited that such barbarism was a relic of the 20th century, and for Jews to live in the shadow of that savage past constitutes a failure to recognize the new age ushered in with the 21st century.

Our society, he wrote, “is not tolerant of racism or anti-Semitism. What we are witness to today is not bias against Jews but an objection to the policies of Israel and the Zionism it represents.”

This was written by one of our own – a Jewish student. There are readers who will shake their heads in disbelief. “No,” they will say, “this is an isolated case, not at all typical of Jewish students on campus.”

I wish I could agree, but to my sorrow I have found there is a great divide between secular Jewish youth and the older generation of our people. These students have no familiarity with the glorious history of our people, with the sanctity and majesty of Sinai – the moment when G-d imparted our Divine legacy to us – and with our eternal heritage spanning the centuries. Nor do they have any familiarity with Israel, the Holy Land given to us by G-d as an integral part of our Covenant. To them, a visit to Israel means having a good time, not much different from touring other countries. Their knowledge of Israel is based on anti-Israel propaganda fed to them by the media and leftist professors.

To be sure, the student is correct in stating that Jew-baiting anti-Semitism is no longer acceptable in our egalitarian, liberal, open-minded world, but what he does not know is that anti-Semitism and anti Israelism are one and the same. In one form or another, anti-Semitism has pursued us from the genesis of our history. “B’chol dor va dor .” – “In every generation, they come to annihilate us, but G-d always saves us.”

Of course, I realize this is not something with which the UCLA student can identify, so I will say to him that, despite his belief that anti-Semitism is no longer palatable in contemporary society, we should realize that the anti-Semite is very cunning. In every generation he cloaks his hatred in a garment that is marketable. Today it’s anti-Zionism/Israelism, but in reality it’s just another mask behind which the same old evil lurks.

Tragically, the average secular Jew has minimal or no knowledge of his faith. To appreciate the depth of the ignorance, I often illustrate with the following example: Ask him who was the mother of Moses, and he will stare at you with a blank expression. Ask him who was the mother of Jesus, and he will immediately respond. So it is easy to sell him a bill of goods when it come to Judaism, for he has no way of discerning the truth and the vacuum in his heart and mind is quickly filled with anti-Israel propaganda.

Sadly, this UCLA student is a member of a spiritually orphaned generation – a generation with no knowledge of whom they are or whom their ancestors were. To be sure, they have expertise in every field – the sciences, finance, the arts – but they are incapable of identifying the holy books of our people, never mind understanding their content. So it is no wonder they become easy prey to hate-mongers, who fill the vacuum in their minds and hearts with poison – and they are totally unaware of it.

If you don’t know who you are as a Jew, your Jewishness becomes a burden you are only too happy to cast off. Alas, this is the tragic condition of the assimilated Jew in our world today.

I recently was invited to address a group of students on a campus that has always been renowned for a large traditional Jewish student population committed to Israel. To my shock, prior to the program I received an e-mail from the organizer of the event telling me that on the very day I was scheduled to speak, Muslim student groups would be marking “National Apartheid Week” by demonstrating against Israel.

Though I knew this is common fare on most campuses (just recall Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren being booed off the stage), I never would have believed that on this campus, known for its strong, traditional Jewish population, there would be a National Apartheid Week demonstration against Israel.

Yes, Israel bashing has become a widespread phenomenon. Yet many of our Jewish people delude themselves by thinking this bias has nothing to do with anti-Semitism but is just a protest against Israeli policies. They refuse to believe it is directed not only against Israel but against every Jew.

(To be continued)

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