Last night was a difficult one for me. I have been very distressed, like many of you, at the ever growing wave of violent antisemitic attacks facing diaspora Jewry in America and around the world.
In the past I’ve attempted to refrain from sounding the alarm as such messages are often received with anger and resentment. I justified my silence by assuring myself that if the existential danger of this epidemic is so clear and obvious to me and so many others that I encounter here in Israel, that diaspora Jewry are aware as well and they don’t need people like me shouting it from the rooftops.
But last night I saw a post on Facebook by a prominent American Rabbi which disturbed me to such a degree that I realized that I could no longer hold my tongue with good conscience.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, of Boca Raton Florida, posted a message which I felt needed a response. Now I have deep respect for Rabbi Goldberg, not only as a Torah scholar but as a community leader whose concern is undoubtedly for the welfare of his congregation as well as the Jewish people as a whole.
But there is a window of opportunity right now, and at risk of being written off as an alarmist , I believe that those of us who see the writing on the wall need to lovingly and sensitively share this message with our brethren abroad.
Jews are not co-religionists. We are a nation. We are a family. And when your family is in danger you speak you heart, even if it may not always be well received. At the very least we need to put it all out on the table and open up a conversation about this great challenge of our generation.
My response to Rabbi Goldberg:
Rabbi Goldberg, I respectfully disagree and I apologize in advance if this message seems harsh. But if there is one thing we, as Jews,should be able to learn from history, it is that just because Jews “have the right” to live in safety, as you proclaim, does not mean we will, indeed, live in safety. There are times that the tides of history shift course, and we need to be brave enough and honest enough to recognize that things are changing.
I agree that the ideal is that Jews should make aliyah out of joy and the desire to live a life of meaning, purpose, and vibrancy in their homeland. But things are not always ideal. Barely a day goes by in which there are not hateful verbal assaults and vicious beatings on the streets. How many times this year have synagogues and restaurants been shot up in murderous rampages?
But what is most newsworthy is the silence. The mainstream media scarcely covers it, unless of course, it can be pinned on a “white extremist”. And many of the communities from which the perpetrators emerge either publicly excuse or even condone the attacks.
Imagine that you were expressing this sentiment, Rabbi Goldberg, to Zeev Jabotinsky who warned Polish Jewry in 1938:
“It is for three years that I have been calling on you, Jews of Poland, the glory of world Jewry, with an appeal. I have been ceaselessly warning you that the catastrophe is coming closer. My hair has turned white and I have aged in these years, because my heart is bleeding, for you, dear brothers and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spurt out the fire of destruction. I see a terrifying sight. The time is short in which one can still be saved. I know: you do not see, because you are bothered and rushing about with everyday worries … Listen to my remarks at the twelfth hour. For God’s sake: may each one save his life while there is still time. And time is short.
I want to say one more thing to you on this day of the Ninth of Av: Those who will succeed to escape from the catastrophe will merit a moment of great Jewish joy — the rebirth and rise of a Jewish State. I do not know if I will earn that. My son, yes! I believe in this just as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will shine once again. I believe in this with total faith.”
How would you have responded to him? That Jews “have the right to live in peace and safety anywhere in the world”?
I love America for all the blessings it has bestowed on the Jewish people and I would not compare it to Nazi Germany. But that doesn’t mean that Jews will continue being safe and secure there in the months and years to come.
And to compare terror attacks in Israel to terror attacks in America is missing a very critical point. When you are in Israel you are in your own country with a Jewish army, a Jewish air force, and a Jewish police force. You are surrounded by Jews in your own Land rather than a tolerated minority in a foreign country. When the national fabric of a country deteriorates as we see happening in America today, compounded by a destabilizing economic downturn, the difference between being in the State of Israel versus any other country could literally be the difference between life and death.
Rabbi Goldberg, it is with respect and humility that I urge you to keep your eyes open. We have the ability to convince ourselves of many things despite the obvious but hard truth that is staring us in the face. As a prominent Jewish communal leader, your congregation is looking to you for leadership and guidance during these confusing times. Considering the magnitude of what is at stake, please reconsider this message.
If any part of this post was disrespectful, I apologize. I respect you very much. But as Rav Kook said “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.”