Am Yisrael Chai, The Jewish People Lives: Why today’s anti-Semitism is not the anti-Semitism of 1938

by | Dec 22, 2014 | Other News

On September 21st, as the summer phase of the war with Hamas was coming to an end, respected author and The Times of Israel correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi published a column for the upcoming High Holidays entitled, “At Rosh Hashanah: Grief, fear, hope.” In it, he wrote:

“I am fearful for the future of Jews around the world. In this terrible summer, many Jews rediscovered the meaning of exile, of living in acute uncertainty, in dread. I fear for the future of the great Jewry of France, a creative and diverse community of Sephardim and Ashkenazim that is now questioning its long-term viability. I fear for the future of the Jewry of Turkey, a magnificent repository of intact Jewish life in a Muslim country, now under assault by a lunatic leader who demands that “his” Jews repudiate Israel, commit an act of public apostasy, as the price for remaining citizens in good standing. I fear for the future of Jews in Venezuela and South Africa, where public figures close to the government have called for violence against Jewish fellow citizens.”

Halevi’s fear in not unwarranted. For perhaps the very saddest lesson we learned this summer in Israel’s war against Hamas, is that, just like the terror tunnels deep beneath Gaza, there is still an ignorance and hatred amongst some buried below the surface of society in Western European cities like Berlin and Paris and Brussels and London; in other westernized countries like Japan and Canada and Turkey and Venezuela and South Africa; and even festering here in the United States in San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.

Like you, I never thought I would live to see virile and violent anti-Israel protests around the world, in which anti-Semitism would rear its ugly head just 70 years after Hitler was defeated. Once again, we heard “death to the Jews” or the new slogan, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas.” Once again, we witnessed nights of broken glass as Jewish-owned shops were destroyed. Once again, we saw the beaten, bloodied and dead bodies of Jews who dared to stand up for themselves.

But this time, the Jewish people and the world did not, and do not, sit idly by. Thankfully, we also learned this summer that this is not 1938 and that governments, including ours, as well as citizens of many of these countries have said, “enough,” and made their voices heard too – that the disease of anti-Semitism, no matter how deep it is buried, no matter what guise it takes, no matter where it rears its ugly head, will not be tolerated.

On Sept. 18, in the midst of Israel’s struggle, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 707 condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and rejecting attempts to justify anti-Jewish hatred or violent attacks as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere. In so doing, our government unmasked these vicious protests and attacks for what they really are—nothing but thinly veiled efforts to persecute the Jewish people.

Other governments and peoples, and not only Jews, have done the same, gathering as 600 of us did in Tidewater this summer, proudly standing with Israel and affirming her right to exist and obligation to defend herself. The largest pro-Israel demonstration in the world happened not in New York or Toronto, but in a city without Jews—Calcutta—where thousands of Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense. In China, social media was reportedly overwhelmingly pro-Israel.

This summer, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, expressed one of the most powerful condemnations of the link between Jew-hatred and Israel-hatred at a rally in Berlin; among the protesters were thousands of Kurds, Syrian Christians and Africans. And just last month, German Foreign Minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier warned against growing anti-Semitism in Europe and called for stronger efforts to combat discrimination against Jews. Making the remarks on Nov. 13 at the international Anti-Semitism Conference organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Steinmeier said: “Anti-Semitism is a stab in the heart of our society. It stands against our civilization, against everything we believe in.”

We may have many enemies, but we also have many more active friends.

But most of all, the greatest difference between what we are presently experiencing and 1938 is that today we have Israel. In the midst of the conflict with Gaza, when Israel was under siege and it seemed that all the world was against us, the people of Israel were cohesive, resilient and responsible; their behavior under fire was remarkable and they continue to exhibit courage and resolve in the face of a new phase of Hamas’ violent war against us in the streets of Jerusalem.

Thank God also for Israel’s brilliant minds and constant ingenuity; were it not for the effectiveness of Iron Dome, and the brilliant engineers of Raphael Advanced Weapons Systems, hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis would have been killed. And if it weren’t for the technical achievements of the IDF, who successfully eliminated Hamas’ fighting force and its terror tunnels, who knows what might have been.

This is not 1938 because, thank God, there is a Jewish state that proves to the world, over and again, that we Jews are not sheep that will be led to slaughter anytime anywhere. We could not have been prouder of the way Israelis handled this horrifying summer, courageously, with fortitude and continued optimism, with the resolve of “we’ve been here before,” “this too shall pass,” “life will once again resume to normal,” “we will not only survive, but we will thrive and prosper.”

This is not 1938 because today the Jewish people has a Jewish nation state, who along with our many friends throughout the world, can proudly and determinedly say: Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel lives.

—Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg serves as president of the Board of Rabbis and Cantors of Hampton Roads. She is also senior rabbi of Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk.

by Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg