Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Rabbi YY Rubinstein

The décor at Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels, in Palo Alto, California, recalls Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century, with pictures highlighting the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and more.

I was munching a bagel there a few years ago, musing on the nostalgia people feel for Brooklyn when they no longer live there, when one of those pictures caught my attention. It was of a ticket for High Holiday prayers in Ocean Parkway Jewish Center, which began that year on September 30th. The year was 1943.


I wondered if the occupant of Pew S, Left Center, Row 8 had any idea what was happening to the Jewish people in Europe that year. Of course, the writing was on the wall from the moment Hitler came to power in 1933, but so many inexplicably failed to see it… or perhaps failed to look.

I wondered if he or she knew that the actions of just one Jew can tip the scales in favor of the entire Jewish people for the year to come.

Our tradition tells us that when the Jewish people need to change direction, indications come from Heaven slowly, incrementally, giving us plenty of opportunities to react and change course. The danger, though, is that when indications are so gradual, we can also be lulled into non-reaction.

I don’t know if shuls still print tickets for the High Holiday services anywhere in America, but I wonder how many of us agree that we are once again in danger of being lulled into myopia. How many of us notice the very large letters warning us to change direction?

I am writing this column from England, on a visit to celebrate a grandson’s bar mitzvah. Here, almost every Jew has been aware of the worrying signs ever since, much to everyone’s surprise, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain’s Labour Party.

A few months ago, the British Jewish community, recognizing the writing on the wall and displaying impressive unity, announced in coordinated headlines across all its newspapers that Corbyn’s Labour posed an existential threat to the very future of Jews in the UK.

Since then, things have gotten even worse. Labour announced it was determined to uproot anti-Semitism from within its ranks, yet refused to adopt the internationally-accepted definition of anti-Semitism. According to that definition, it is anti-Semitic to make sickening comparisons between the State of Israel and Nazi Germany (duh!).

But Corbyn rejected it; after all, he has made that very comparison many times. Then pictures emerged that showed Corbyn laying a wreath at the graves of Palestinians who were party to the torture, mutilation, and killing of Israel’s athletes at the Munich Olympics.

At the moment, it looks like that final embarrassing revelation may push Labour to force its leader to accept the international definition of anti-Semitism after all. Good news? Nope!

With that defeat and about-face have come direct threats against the UK’s Jewish community from some very senior Labour figures. They want their “pound of flesh.”

And in the USA, Labour’s sister party moves inexorably to a view about Israel and Jews that mirrors that of Labour and the rest of the European Left. The Democrats’ bright new star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demonstrated that shift perfectly in her famous interview on PBS.

Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the young new Democratic Left. She is a good person, deeply committed to social justice, and in today’s political Left, that increasingly means being anti-Israel – even if one (as she superbly demonstrated) has not the slightest clue what is actually happening in Israel.

When Edinburgh University students recently voted to boycott “Apartheid” Israel, non-Jewish Middle East expert Professor Denis MacEoin wrote:

“I am shocked for a simple reason: there is not and has never been a system of apartheid in Israel … For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a situation that closely resembled how things were in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is.”

The professor was wasting his time. None of his students are listening; people are not interested in the facts.

Then there is the Democratic Black Caucus, many of whose members were photographed in a Corbynesque wreath-laying display of anti-Semitism. Many of them lined up to hug and shake hands with American arch-anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan – including, it has emerged, a certain Barak Obama.

But if you think that should provoke thinking people to discuss the steady flow of raw anti-Semitism into the body of American politics, forget it. Very few are interested in discussion anymore.

Janice Turner shared these remarkably insightful words in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago:

Such volatile times. Reason, like the ocean before a tsunami, has been sucked out of public discourse and we await a destructive wave. Trump’s wisest words, that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still not lose votes, now applies at both ends of the spectrum. Jeremy Corbyn could deny the Holocaust live on Press TV, and some acolytes would claim he’d been taken out of context or was a victim of Zionist distortion and still post Moonie-esqe Twitter memes under #WeAreCorbyn.

The political debate in American has devolved into tribalism and blind loyalty. In the most extreme examples, on college campuses, even a faint suspicion that one harbors a smidgen of sympathy with the “other” tribe is enough to unleash a level of persecution that Senator Joseph McCarthy would have envied.

Once more, the writing has started appearing on American walls – and on my Facebook page. Orthodox Jews are stereotyped as being the quintessential antithesis of all things “New Left.” We “all” support Trump. We oppose all of the most sacred verities of progressive politics, “trans rights” and all the rest. I am warned in chilling terms that there will be a “reckoning.”

So I wonder whether this year’s occupant of Pew S, Left Center, Row 8 has any idea what is happening in Europe. I wonder if he or she knows how the poison there has infected the body politic here. I wonder if he or she realizes that heaven is giving us the opportunity to react and change course and that the deeds of just one Jew can tip the scales in favor of the entire Jewish people for the year to come. I hope we all do.


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Rabbi YY Rubinstein is a popular lecturer, a regular broadcaster on BBC National TV and Radio, and the author of 10 books (including, most recently, “Jewish Life and Jewish Laughter”).