The world may have abandoned its genocidal machinations against the Jewish people, endorsed outwardly by the Nazis and Soviets though implicitly condoned by almost every western nation in the 1940s, but at times I struggle to believe the civilized world still detects an obligation to combat barbarism and savagery, especially when such plots are directed against the Jews. The fact that Frenchmen rally with chants of “Gas the Jews” impugns the world’s credibility.
The Jew’s crime is his presence. The world does not object to the idea of the Jew in an impersonal, amorphous sense, but when the Jewish persona is implanted in a body that takes up space on earth, that presence is despised. In this sense, the Jew’s greatest offense is his existence, his inherent nature. If the Jew is in exile, the world asks why he doesn’t “just leave and go back to Israel,” and when God fulfills His promise that “even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you,” the world then demands the Jew depart once again from his ancient homeland.
Much of the West is not anti-Semitic in the conventional sense of the term. There are fewer blood libels, though periodically Jews are blamed for crimes that were committed by others or simply did not occur. Jewish property is not seized (except by Israel itself in the 2005 Gaza “disengagement”). Jews are no longer locked in synagogues and burned alive, though they are forbidden from praying on their most sacred venue, the Temple Mount, for fear of Arab riots.
Of course, Jewish tradition teaches about the righteous gentile, since righteousness is not a function of creed. History is filled with gentiles who have risked their lives, their families, their businesses to save Jewish souls and protect the Jews’ place on earth. Yet there are too many – Jew and gentile alike – who remain stubbornly indifferent to attacks on the Jews. Someone who does not take a side cannot be called a racist or a bigot but can be called a coward.
I’m tired of hearing, every few days, weeks, or even months, of Jews slaughtered. I’m tired of learning the new ways Muslims devise to attack Jews – who knew the hit-and-run could become a war tactic? I’m tired of attending memorial services for my fellow Jews and naively believing each time that this will be the last service necessary.
When three Israeli boys were murdered over the summer, I sent the following message to some friends: “Today we are all mothers grasping images of our dead sons. We are all brothers with memories of murdered brethren. We learn of their deaths though we knew them not in life. We remember their appearance though we shall never see their faces. We stand beside coffins filled too soon. We are citizens of the world horrified, humiliated, and humbled; irate, bawling, mourning.”
This time, after last week’s synagogue massacre in Jerusalem, we are students whose teachers have been slain, wrapped in tallit and tefillin and covered with blood. These teachers were my teachers’ teachers, my teachers’ colleagues, my colleagues’ teachers.
Jewish tradition tells us the Roman Emperor Hadrian martyred ten prominent rabbis in order to disrupt the transmission of Jewish values and traditions. But Jews have a long memory, and we remember our way of life, we remember those ten martyrs, we remember the Crusades, we remember the pogroms, we remember the Holocaust. I remember the names of the Holocaust survivors I have met, and I remember the image of the numbers on their arms. And I remember last week’s images of corpses covered in white linen.