Guest post by Moshe Zelig Cohen.
I woke up very early. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. My brain was buzzing, thinking about current and not so current events … the murder of Jews in Pittsburgh, the almost daily assaults of Jews in Brooklyn, the recent murder of a Jewish man in Chicago, the assaults on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe, and now America. But, during those restless minutes I was granted a modicum of clarity and I seemed to be able to connect the dots in a very real and frightening way.
We live in a time of hate, true visceral hatred the likes of which I have never seen in my lifetime. But, perhaps the most frightening aspect of this hatred is a new phenomenon: the social acceptance of vile expressions and acts of hatred and violence by ordinary people. Yes, ordinary people … the guy next door, office co-workers, the clerk at the store, teachers of our children and grandchildren … there is no end to the list. And, not surprisingly, the Jew has once again become the obvious target of hatred.
The best of times
I grew up in America at a time which, from my perspective, was “the best of times”. The period following WW2 was a time of civil discourse, manners, and respect for authority. I am certain that hatred was indeed present in the hearts of people, but it was not socially acceptable to express such emotions and feelings. People who did so were publicly reprimanded and disciplined. Today, hatred unabashedly gushes forth from both public servants and Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Citizen. To even mention the mainstream media, celebrities, politicians and other public figures is to mention the absurdly obvious perpetrators of this behavior.
Until recently, there was a virtual wall which contained such verbal and physical expressions of hatred. This wall served the Jewish people well for decades. Whether it was the result of collective guilt regarding the holocaust or other socio-economic factors, it makes no difference. It was effective in suppressing the public display of antisemitism. Tragically and frighteningly, that wall which protected American and European Jews for so many decades has now been breached. What has been allowed to gush forth is, among other forms of hatred, the social acceptance of Jew-hatred across all spectrums of society.
A trickle at first, there is now a constant flow of emboldened acts of antisemitism. Bottled up for decades, the Jew-hating genie is now out of the bottle, and nobody cares. Jews in chutz la’aretz are silent, paralyzed by a phenomenon which they have never experienced and they are unable or unwilling to respond. My fear is that American Jews view this as a passing phenomenon. Keep quiet, don’t make a fuss, stay under the radar. I firmly believe, and history well documents, that this trend cannot be contained or reversed. Chas v’shalom, it may take only a relatively moderate shift of political or the economic forces for the wall to totally collapse and the assault of the Jews begins in earnest.
Like most Jews, I used to think that it couldn’t happen in America.
For hundreds of years, America has been a safe haven for Jews and all minorities. Jews were free from open expressions of antisemitism despite of the fact that we recognized that it was alive and well on the far right in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. They were seen as extreme, fringe, and really quite inconsequential. Had antisemitism remained limited to just those on the right, we could live with that. But the game changer and the most frightening development of all is the fact that the ideological “progressive” left has also embraced antisemitism as the cause for many, if not all, of society’s ills.
Who could have ever dreamed that hallowed institutions of higher education would become the bulwarks where Jew-hating (and Israel-hating … the same thing) would be taught with passion and conviction? Who would have dreamed that political “progressives” would espouse antisemitism? Jews now find that American society is antisemitic at both ends of the political and social spectrum, and the gap between these extremes is closing before our eyes by the societal acceptance of Jew-hating. So it was in Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain, and Europe.
Like all of the previous empires in which Jews have flourished spiritually and materially, their walls eventually cracked, a little at first, followed shortly by total collapse with the Jew being the sacrificial scapegoat of their host country.
A new reality
There is a new reality for American Jews. They are now targets from both the left and right. In a society which condones all types of expressions of hate, those on the extremes of left and right are emboldened. With the tools of social media, they can disseminate their hatred in an instant and create a frenzy of hate against any vulnerable segment of society, especially the Jew. It takes just a few deranged individuals to create an environment that is inhospitable at best, and at worst, dangerous and life-threatening for Jews.
With the watershed event that occurred last Shabbos, gone are the carefree days when Jewish children could go outside to play without the presence of an adult. Gone are the days when one can go to synagogue and daven without the concern of an intruder intent on their death. Gone are the days when parents can send their children to school without concern for their well-being. Gone are the days when one can go for a walk in the park without looking over one’s shoulder.
I am now truly concerned for my family and the Jews in America. The writing is on the wall, and it is incumbent on all Jews to think about the next tragedy or the possibility of the perfect socio-economic storm where things getting much worse, and very quickly.
I do not presume to understand the reason why HKB”H has brought this matzav upon us. But it is evident that the dramatic increase in Western antisemitism is not a random occurrence during this phase of Jewish history. I would like to humbly suggest that the resurgence of antisemitism is the result of the silent holocaust which is happening in America and Europe, not the cause. Jews are leaving their Yiddishkeit in droves and are not looking back.
Those uneducated Jewishly see no reason whatsoever to remain Jewish. A recent statistic showed that a staggering 45% of American Jews no longer claim to be Jewish and intermarriage rate is approaching 80%. And tragically, even some yeshiva-trained young men and Bais Yaakov girls are being challenged spiritually and approaching their Yiddishkeit more “casually”.
The greatest gift?
So how do we view this dramatic and frightening upsurge of Jew hatred which is so prevalent of the streets of Europe and now America? It is happening for a reason, and I tremble to say it, but perhaps it is for our benefit.
The Bais HaLevi, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”l, said that the greatest gift HKB”H gave to the Jewish people was when He placed in the heart of the non-Jew an irrational hatred of the Jew. Note that he says it was a gift! According to this understanding, without the painful reminders by our non-Jewish neighbors, we would, chas v’shalom, disappear from history of our own doing. That is precisely what is happening today and we are receiving a very painful wake-up call.
It is frightening to imagine, but it seems that the 80-20 rule is a historical given. Only 20% of Jews left Mitzrayim and the remaining 80% were lost. With the loss of so many Jews to assimilation, we may be looking at another situation where only 20% of American Jews remain Jewish and 80% vanish into the dustbin of history. My fear is that there is another 80-20 situation facing American Jewry. If, chas v’shalom, things turn very ugly very quickly for the Jews of America, perhaps only 20% will take advantage of the opportunity of leaving the golden medina with their assets before the gates close, with 80% being trapped. We must all daven that this does not happen to the Jewish people.
On connecting the dots, I am not sure. But, one thing I am sure of. HKB”H is giving all of us a message. It is up to each and every one of us to recognize the fact that all of these events are part of His master-plan. We must all take the time to think about how we and our families fit into this plan. We must seriously contemplate the present and future for us, our children and grandchildren, and the future of American and European Jewry.
And, most importantly, we must act.