In my regular column in Haaretz, my new article: “Good News! It’s OK to Talk about Anti-Semitism in America“
…because now we can talk about its causes and solutions.
In just over a month, more than 100 JCCs and synagogues received bomb threats and were forced to evacuate, three Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, one synagogue was shot at while people were inside, and swastikas were painted on buildings and cars.
“I raced from work twice after getting texts saying the kids had all been moved out of the building,” said one mother in the Midwest, who asked not to be named so as not to draw more attention from “whatever sick people are making these threats.”
“I know it could happen anyplace, but the fact that lately the calls are happening at the JCC makes you constantly on edge,” said Allison Vitagliano, whose 4-year-old son was evacuated from his preschool at the JCC of Central New Jersey.
“I’m realizing I live in a naive bubble because I don’t understand where this hatred is coming from. I knew there was discrimination against Muslims, Mexicans, black people, gay people, but it’s strange to me that this is happening to Jewish people. I thought we were past that and we could focus on supporting the other groups who are under attack,” said Taylor, a former board member of the preschool at the JCC in Maitland, Fla.
“I’d be lying if I said that neither of us were scared,” said Alison Levy, who asked not to name her child’s day school, fearing that it could be targeted again.
Monday after school, Honora Gathings’ daughter didn’t greet her when she got home like she usually does. Instead, she said, “We had a Code Black.”
The media presents this wave of Jew-hatred as a new trend in America, but it is not. During the Obama Administration, there were no less than 7,000 anti-Semitic incidents in the US, but they went largely unreported by the mainstream media for political reasons. Now that the administration has changed and the media is no longer obliged to protect the White House, we can finally speak openly about anti-Semitism in America and ponder what this means for US Jewry.
Hatred Like No Other
First, we must not be naïve, as Taylor put it in the above quote. Anti-Semitism is the oldest, most tenacious hatred; it will outlive all other hatreds. There is a special characteristic to Jew-hatred: It is not really hatred of the Jews, but rather anger at the Jews.
The reason for this anger stems from our origin and our purpose. The Jewish people is like no other people. Its first manifestation came into existence nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. At that time, Abraham, the son of a Babylonian priest called Terah, noticed that something bad was happening to his countryfolk. Despite the abundance of food and water in the land, the Babylonians became increasingly discontent with one another, and gradually grew angry and hostile toward each other, putting their thriving civilization at risk. The book Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer describes how the builders of the Tower of Babylon “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do?” the book asks. “Each took his sword and they fought each another to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
Abraham was deeply troubled by the woes of his people, the Babylonians, and began to reflect on their problem, as Maimonides describes in detail in Mishneh Torah (Chapter 1). Finally, Abraham realized that the hatred erupting throughout his country was unstoppable; it was a force of nature. Abraham also realized that people’s hatred for each other would only grow over time because of the uncontrollable jealousy innate in human nature. Envy makes us not only want to have enough, but to have more than others and become superior to them.
Our sages summarized this trait of human nature with two famous truisms: 1) “The inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). 2) “A man does not leave the world with half his desire in his hand. Rather, if he has one hundred, he wants to have two hundred, and if he has two hundred, he wants to have four hundred” (Kohelet Rabah 3:13).
Understanding that he could not stop the intensification of the hatred, Abraham looked for a solution in nature. He observed that in nature, the negative force of destruction is balanced by equally strong positive force of connection. Today we know that protons and electrons would not be able to maintain a balanced structure of an atom without the two forces of attraction and rejection balancing each other out, and that this balance is maintained through all the levels of existence. The revelation of the balance between forces inspired Abraham to formulate a new mode of conducting human society.
Instead of trying to enforce laws that suppress the intrinsically egoistic human nature, efforts that invariably fail because our hatred for each other is ever growing, Abraham determined that we should reinforce our unity instead. Rather than focus on the bad, Abraham said, focus on the good—on mercy, love, compassion, and unity. While nature balances the positive and negative forces naturally, humans have to do this consciously.
A Notion for All the Nations
As soon as Abraham realized that he had found the key to the misery of the Babylonians, he began to spread the news wherever he could. Alas, his king, Nimrod, resented Abraham’s ideas. Instead of adopting the idea of unity above hatred, Nimrod chased Abraham out of Babylon.
But as the expat wandered toward Canaan, he kept speaking of his revelation. According to Maimonides, “thousands and tens of thousands assembled around him, and they are the people of the house of Abraham. He planted this tenet in their hearts, composed books about it, and taught his son, Isaac. And Isaac sat and taught and warned, and informed Jacob, and appointed him a teacher, to sit and teach… And Jacob our Father taught all his sons” (Mishneh Torah, Chapter 1). Finally, a tribe that knew the law of unity was formed. Abraham’s posterity continued to develop his method until finally, King Solomon capped it with one verse: “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes” (Prov 10:12).
Abraham never intended for his idea to be the sole possession of his group. He wished to help the entire Babylonian civilization, and was forced to abandon his plan only because Nimrod forced him out of Babylon. Abraham’s disciples knew this and circulated the new ideas to anyone who wished to listen. When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, he, too, wanted to impart the notion of unity over hatred to everyone. In his commentary on the Torah, the Ramchal wrote that “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”
Since the world could not be corrected at the time, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became entrusted with the method and were tasked with serving as “a light unto nations.” The nation of Israel that was born at the foot of Mt. Sinai merited the title “nation” only after its members committed to unite “as one man with one heart.” This unique method of formation of a nation cemented their peoplehood so strongly that despite the efforts of the Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman empires to destroy them, they have all faded into the annals of history, while the Jews continue to exist.
The task that we received, to be “a light unto nations,” is the task to spread the method of unity above hatred that Abraham discovered and his descendants perfected. The hatred we perceive as anti-Semitism derives from our obligation to the nations to deliver this method of connection, the ability to unite above hatred.
Approximately 2,000 years ago, we succumbed to hatred and abandoned our unity, thinking that the Roman culture would be more advantageous to us. In consequence, we not only lost our land, but we also “gained” the hatred of the nations—without a light unto nations, they had no hope of covering their own hatred of each other and were therefore doomed to everlasting wars. This is why anti-Semites such as Mel Gibson and retired General William Boykin blame us for all the wars in the world. Without our example, they feel hopeless and turn their anger at us.
Throughout the centuries, we have been accused of every conceivable and inconceivable crime. We have been blamed for controlling the media, usury, blood libels of various forms, well poisoning, dominating the slave trade, disloyalty to our host countries, organ harvesting and AIDS spreading. Over the years, communists accused us of creating capitalism, and capitalists accused us of inventing communism. Christians accused us of killing Jesus, and acclaimed French historian and philosopher François Voltaire accused us of inventing Christianity. We have been labeled warmongers and cowards, racists and cosmopolitans, spineless and unbending, and so on and so forth.
All of this happened to us because we abandoned our unity. When we are united, we are not only strong, but the world has hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. When we are separated, we are not a Jewish people anymore, but the riffraff that we were before Abraham assembled us into a tribe that knew the path of unity.
Our Hatred of Each Other Makes Us Hated
Today’s anti-Semitism in America is no different from any other anti-Semitism throughout the ages. It is the anger of the American non-Jews at the Jews for not showing the path of unity. Many people already link the increasing fragmentation in American society to the rise in anti-Semitism. They are correct in this because the people who are supposed to be a role model of unity are role models of tribal hatred instead. Just look at what is happening in our communities: People of different political views cannot spend holidays together and sometimes even divorce over who voted for whom!
Our hatred of each other causes Americans to hate us even more. They will end out blaming the Jews for their division and nothing that the Jews can say will convince them otherwise.
If we want to end anti-Semitism in America, then we Jews must first unite among ourselves .Liberal Jews and conservative Jews must rise to the occasion, put aside their differences, and unite in order to save themselves. Otherwise, the hatred that will develop in America will be as powerful, if not more so than the one that engulfed Germany in the 1930s, and whose consequences we commemorate each year .We can already see this happening; we must not wait until it’s too late. Our task is to unite above our differences, just as our forefathers did, and put all else—including politics—aside.
Unity in today’s political climate may seem impossible, but it is not at all so. Throughout the world, people are realizing that unity above all differences is the key to their happiness. They come together for unity events and discover that same “social cement” that Abraham discovered nearly four millennia ago. The next event to take place in the US will be on May 4-7 in New Jersey. Nearly one thousand people of all religions, races, and backgrounds will attend, and I hope that the warmth they will experience there will reinforce their conviction that unity above differences is the only viable way to create a sustainable, prosperous society.