From my column in Ynet: “Anti-Semitism in the US? History Repeats Itself“
Throughout history, the Jews have tried to hide their identity and assimilate, but they never succeeded. Hellenism led to the destruction of the Temple, conversion to Christianity led to the Spanish Inquisition and persecution in Europe. What can be learned from the rising anti-Semitism among American Jews? How much is Trump responsible for it? And how do we stop the rising tide? Rav Laitman offers a way to deal with a changing world.
Steve Bannon, chairman of the news website Breitbart News affiliated with the “Alt-Right” movement, served as campaign chairman for Trump and has been newly appointed chief strategist and senior advisor in the Trump administration, upsetting America in general and the Jewish community in particular.
On the one hand, Jewish Republicans who worked with Bannon throughout Trump’s election campaign say that he will indeed be “good for the Jews” and especially for Israel, and we are about to see before our eyes how Donald Trump will become the first “Jewish” president in the history of the United States. On the other hand, most of the Jewish liberals of the United States, around seventy percent of whom opposed Trump, attribute anti-Semitic and racist opinions to Bannon.
Bannon is just an example of a storm that is raging among American Jews. Whether a dedicated supporter of the nation of Israel or a distinguished enemy of the Jews, a good future in America is still not assured for the Jews. The Jews are a unique phenomenon in the world. They are a collection of people possessing a particularly well-developed ego, aiming to benefit maximally from every opportunity in all fields, all the time.
The first time that the Jews succeeded in rising a little above this deeply inherent, innate characteristic and consolidate into a single people, was around 3,800 years ago in ancient Babylon—a tribal society with an abundance of nations and cultures. A little like the America of our day.
The wisdom of Kabbalah recounts that one fine morning an egoistic nature broke out among the Babylonians, undermining the tranquility that dwelled among them until then, and strengthened the sense of “self” in each one of them. The egocentric surge created many conflicts and disputes that worsened the relationships between the Babylonians and threatened to break the society apart, similar to the crisis that American society is experiencing. The frustrated Babylonians searched for a way out of the social crisis they had been thrown into, and it arrived in the person of Abraham, a great Babylonian priest of his generation and a leader of public opinion who gathered them around him, taught them the wisdom of Kabbalah, and educated them about connection and love of others. The community of Babylonians who had once been alienated, connected among them “as one person with one heart,” and were called Yisrael, for their desire to directly (Yashar) resemble the Creator (El), the characteristic of the singular, whole and eternal power of nature. In another place they would be called Jews (Yehudim) because they were working to become united (Yichud) and in harmony with nature. From the moment the people of Israel were founded, they only had one purpose: to serve as an example of unity for the rest of the separated parts of humanity, to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).
The Jewish people passed through many vicissitudes. After the destruction of the Second Temple, from the moment that brotherly love and the supreme value of unity ceased to illuminate the spiritual vision, the people were scattered for two thousand years of exile and wandered from place to place. However,right after the Jews settled as a small community and began to organize and earn everything that they needed for a good life, as befitted the egoistic nature that dominated in them, the social consolidation weakened and solidarity dissipated. None of them maintained its nature, its religion or its culture, in the best of circumstances, and they rapidly assimilated and returned to being the same Babylonians they had been. In the worst of circumstances, they lost their direction completely and even began to shoot arrows at their own people. That is what happened again and again throughout all of history.
When the Jews first met with Hellenistic culture in ancient Greece, many Jewish families rushed to become Hellenized and change their religion. First names and languages were exchanged, Greek customs were adopted, the Torah was translated into Greek, and a general cultural assimilation of the Jews into Greek culture began. Accordingly, the values of unity and mutual responsibility that typified and protected the people of Israel throughout the years were abandoned, and egoism, the worship of the “self,” and ambitiousness and aggressive competition were enthusiastically adopted. Tiberius Julius Alexander, the son of the head of the Jewish community in Alexandria, whose father donated gold plating for the gates of the Temple, became the symbol of Jewish anti-Semitism of that period. Tiberius was appointed advisor for Jewish affairs in the government of the Roman emperor Titus, the warlord who subdued the great revolt and destroyed the Second Temple.
A similar process began in Spain a number of years before the establishment of the Inquisition. Researcher of Jewish history at the University of Wisconsin Professor Norman Roth detailed in his book that “in the 14th and 15th centuries, thousands of Jews converted to Christianity, particularly of their own free will and not as a result of pressure. ‘The new Christians’ thereby aroused sharp hostility against them, that ultimately added up to a war. The anti-Semitic racism swelled, and for the first time in history, positions of ‘blood purity’ were established (distinguishing between those who had pure Christian blood and those who had converted Jewish or Muslim blood). Ultimately, the Inquisition was revived, many of the ‘new Christians’ were falsely charged and burned at the stake. Specifically for the Jews who continued their lives as Jews and their normal relations with the Christians as in the past, nothing happened. What this means is that as long as the Jews remained faithful to their heritage and didn’t try to integrate or assimilate into foreign cultures, they were welcomed, or at least were left to themselves.”
Precisely as in the last days of the Second Temple, Jews who had changed their religion, stood among the leadership of the Inquisition. It is known that the grandfather of Tomas de Torquemada, the “Grand Inquisitor of Spain” and the chief supporters and activists in the expulsion of the Jews from Spain were also Jews.
An additional example of the assimilation of the Jews and their rejection happened in Germany before the Second World War and during it. Beginning from the 16th century, along with the Renaissance, German Jews enjoyed relative quiet. They didn’t receive equal status or citizenship, but the authorities let them manage their lives relatively without interference and separate from the rest of German society. Even though life was comfortable, the moment they had the opportunity, the Jews began to mingle and assimilate into German culture, in a way similar to that in Spain that inflicted disaster upon them.
Toward the end of the 18th century, the Jews were eager to become an integral part of the Christian society and were ready to do everything to be accepted by it. The German Jews were ready to remove all references to the many years of longing for the old homeland in the Land of Israel from the prayer book. So Reform Judaism became a symbol for the readiness to trade in an ancient tradition in exchange for civil equality and social acceptance.
After the consolidation of Reform Judaism as a central force in Germany, it spread to a number of nations in Western Europe and to the United States. While in Germany, it was forced to defend itself constantly from the Orthodox establishment and interference from the government, in the United States there was no government supervision over religion and the Jews could operate in it as they wanted. Reform Judaism adopted the land of unlimited opportunity to become a leading and influential force in the areas of economics, entertainment, education, and politics in the nation.
The Jews became integrated into every corner of public life in the United States. They control the media, determine the public agenda, and influence the opinion of the world community. Considering the dominance of American culture throughout the world, for the first time in history, the Jews have taken perfect starting positions for the role for which they were chosen, and if they would only want to, they could lead the way to meaningful changes that would have the ability to influence the entire world.
The Hollywood: Up or Down?
America is still the greatest power in the world, and as such it dictates to the world the movies that are watched, the music that we listen to, the news that we consume, and even which websites and social networks we surf. Success in the American market is considered to be success in the world, and specifically American Jews, because of their high status, bear much responsibility for providing the world with what it must have, according to their role in humanity. Otherwise, the reminder will come in unpleasant ways….
Only this week we were informed about a number of disturbing incidents: a swastika was sprayed on a dormitory door in one of the universities, another swastika was painted on the entrance to a residential building in Manhattan where a Jewish senator lives, and in the social networks stream racist and offensive reactions to Jewish journalists and activists. The anti-Semites in America always hover like a black cloud, even before the Trump’s election to the presidency, as attested to by the prominent and worrisome data. A dramatic rise in the number of cases of attacks on campuses and colleges in the United States have been recorded since the beginning of the year.
Further anti-Semitism could lead the American community in two possible directions: coming closer and uniting as generally happens in times of adversity, or it could cause the Jews to distance themselves from their identity, to assimilate and to begin developing hostility and becoming critical toward the nation of Israel, in other words, to become anti-Semites themselves.
Throughout history we have seen that it makes no difference how much the Jews try to hide themselves; they never succeed in becoming detached from their identity. As soon as they assimilate among other peoples and sever the threads that connect between them and their role in humanity, they merit a tough response that directs them toward realizing their spiritual destiny.
There is no reason to wait until the next tragic event; we are at the last stop. Even if a small part of the eight million Jews living in the United States unites “as one person” and begins to radiate the values of mutual responsibility and connection upon which the Jewish people gathered, American society, which is today seeking a new vision, will behave like them. The spirit of unity could spread; the Jews would be a “light to the nations” and would lead to a new version of the American Dream.
From Ynet article 11/22/16