Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

In NYDN – Antisemitism on the Loose

https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-anti-semitism-on-the-loose-20210826-lyc2iv4etzanvcbgku3r3cu7ei-story.html

New York Daily News, Aug. 26, 2021

by: Avi Shafran

A very old, very wry, very pointed Jewish joke:

Goldberg is in the waiting area of a European airport holding the handle of his large suitcase and looking agitated. He approaches one traveler and asks him, “What do you think about Jews?”  The fellow smiles benevolently and responds, “They are very fine people.” Goldberg thanks him and moves to another person, asking the same question. The response: “All humans are equal and worthy of respect.” Then to a third traveler; same question, similar answer.  Then another, and another. Ditto.

Eventually, though, one of the accosted responds differently: Taking a deep breath and glowering at his questioner, he says, “They’re the scum of the earth, greedy plotters to overtake the world, killers of babies, causers of wars and cheats!”

“Ah!” says Goldberg happily, looking heavenward. “Finally! An honest man!” And then, turning to the spewer of the hate, he asks “Would you mind watching my suitcase while I use the restroom?”

There are indeed regions of the world where the populaces, ignorant and gullible, can be relied upon to swallow and regurgitate the most hateful canards about Jews, and who are all too ready to hate people they’ve never met as a result. 

But surely not in the Western world.

A few items from recent days:

August 19. A school, a synagogue and a bus shelter were spray painted with antisemitic messages in Toronto.

August 20. The Los Angeles County District Attorney charged two former Torrance police officers with vandalism for allegedly spray-painting a swastika on the back seat of a car.

August 21. A man punched a 64-year-old Orthodox Jewish man as they passed one another on the street in the heavily-Jewish neighborhood of Stamford Hill. Earlier in the day, the same man punched a Jewish child in the neighborhood.  In a separate incident on Aug. 12, a 72-year-old Jewish man was slapped and had his kippah knocked off his head in another suspected hate crime in London.

August 22. Robert Smart, an evangelical Christian who lives in Florida, was outed as a prolific QAnon antisemite. He has more than 300,000 followers on Telegram, where, as “GhostEzra,” he posts Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial and “a slew of conspiracy theories that often range from obliquely to explicitly antisemitic,” according to Logically, an organization that tracks disinformation online and uncovered his identity.

August 23. An 18-year-old Jewish man wearing a kippah in Cologne, Germany, was beaten by a group of 10 attackers in a public green space and taken to the hospital with a broken nose and cheekbone.

August 23. A man violently slapped a Jewish man in the face, in front of the victim’s wife and five children, at the children’s pool area of an Aventura, Florida hotel’s resort water park. The assaulter’s wife, according to police, called the victim’s wife a “dirty Jew.”

When, as occasionally happens, I meet a fellow Jew who is convinced that if you scratch any non-Jew hard enough, you’ll find an anti-Semite lurking beneath, I vociferously disagree. I’ve experienced (in addition, to be sure, to my share of Jew-hatred, including both verbal and physical assaults) too many acts of non-Jews’ kindnesses, and known too many good people who don’t share my religion or ethnicity.

And so the joke about Goldberg, I know, is an exaggeration.  But perusing the news on almost any given day, I know, too, that exaggerations aren’t fabrications. They may overstate a case to make a point.  But the point is often, as it is here, an entirely valid one. 

Goldberg may be a joke. But antisemitism isn’t.

So Very Sorry, Mate!

It has always struck me as ironic that the largest Jewish community in America, that is to say, New York’s, lives in a city named after an English one infamous for the killing of all its Jews.

A historical overview of the York Massacre and a reflection of the Church of England’s planned apology for its predecessors’ treatment of Jews comprise the focus of my most recent Ami column, which you can read here.

An Antisemite’s Perceptive, Worthy Words

Most people, if they are familiar with the name at all, associate “Chateaubriand” with a meat dish.  But François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand was a famous French author who died in 1848.  He was not well disposed toward Jews, considering them cursed for the farcical sin of deicide, and wrote approvingly about how “Humanity has put the Jewish race in quarantine.”

And yet, some other words of his are, even coming from so poisoned a pen, more than worthy for Jewish pondering during the annual period of the “Three Weeks” just begun, during which Jews mourn the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem and the Jewish exile. I am indebted to the late British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for, in his Haggada, bringing Chateaubriand’s words to my attention.

The French writer visited a desolated Jerusalem, where he saw Jews pining for the arrival of mashiach and the end of the Jewish exile.

And wrote as follows:

“This people has seen Jerusalem destroyed seventeen times, yet there exists nothing in the world which can discourage it or prevent it from raising its eyes to Zion. He who beholds the Jews dispersed over the face of the earth, in keeping with the Word of God, lingers and marvels. But he will be struck with amazement, as at a miracle, who finds them still in Jerusalem and perceives even, who in law and justice are the masters of Judea, to exist as slaves and strangers in their own land; how despite all abuses they await the King who is to deliver them… If there is anything among the nations of the world marked with the stamp of the miraculous, this, in our opinion, is that miracle.”

And a further miracle, may it come swiftly and in our days, will be the arrival of that king, and the end of our exile.

(c) 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Lazer in Space

It takes an impressive degree of repugnancy for a Republican lawmaker to evoke condemnation from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Enter newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. 

She earned that dishonor by doing things like suggesting that no planes hit the Pentagon on 9/11, claiming that horrific school shootings were staged “false flag” operations and asserting that the Clintons are mafioso-style murderers. She also posted the first “like” on a social media assertion that “Mossad was on the ground on in [sic] Dallas on 11/22/1963!” (Lee Harvey Oswald, a member of the tribe? Who knew?)

Not to mention her sharing of a video asserting that “Zionist supremacists” are conspiring to flood Europe with migrants in order to replace its white population; and her wistful musing that “a bullet to the head [of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] would be quicker [than removing her through democratic means].” 

And her suggestion that California’s deadliest wildfire was caused by “lasers or blue beams of light” shot down from outer space, likely with the involvement of operatives of the “Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm.” 

You get the idea.

Yet, despite Mr. McConnell’s characterization of Ms. Greene’s “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” the crackbrained Congresswoman would only tiptoe back her 9/11 and school shooting charges, stonewalling about all else. 

Her sole defense seems to consist of the praise she’s received from former President Trump (like his congratulatory tweet after her election win: “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”). Well, yes, definitely, a real winner. 

Last Thursday, the House voted 230-199 (11 Republican members voted with the Democrats)

to remove Ms. Greene from her committee assignments (Education [!] and Budget). The next day, she finally uttered the word “sorry,” but only for “all those things that are wrong and offensive,” without further specification.

But her outrageous imaginings, with the “Rothschild Inc.” lasers (Lazers?) from outer space, “Mossad” and “Zionist supremacists” references (and others about George Soros, who, like “Rothschild,” is, among neo-Nazis and other moral misfits, a stand-in for Jews), are a reminder of how frequently conspiracy theories point to… you know who. 

From the ancient Egyptians fearing an Israelite overtaking of their land to the less-ancient Greek orator Apion, who explained how Jews engage in human sacrifice and cannibalism, to the Christian blood libels of the Middle Ages, to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which “exposed” the Jewish plot to manipulate governments and dominate the world, to the Nazi canards about Jews, to those popular in some Muslim circles today, Jews have been prime objects of an odious assortment of frightful fantasies.

According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Conspiracy theories are the way weak minds deal with complex situations.” Granted. And by their very nature, conspiracy theories need conspirators. But why the Jews?

Political scientist and historian Dan Cassino says Jews have so often been blamed for all manner of misfortune because “There is a perception of Jews as the Other — a part of society, but still somehow foreign. Couple that with resentment over Jewish success in certain areas of society, and they’ll be blamed for things that are otherwise just ineffable.”

But there are other ethnic and racial and religious groups that also stand apart within larger societies and, while some are disliked and even attacked by bigots, none are characterized as some sort of diabolical cohort bent on destroying all that is good and righteous. Blacks may be hated and Koreans envied by parts of America’s underbelly. But there has never been a “Protocols of the Elders” of Nairobi or Seoul.

No, the vilification suffered by Jews is sui generis, one of a kind, unexplainable by any normative analytical construct. It is rooted in something residing in a realm beyond the reach of social science.

“Rabi Shimon bar Yochai said: ‘It is a halachah well-known that Esav hates Yaakov” (Sifri, Beha’aloscha 69).

Rav Menachem Ziemba, Hy”d, reportedly addressed the odd use of “halachah” in that statement by noting that Rabi Shimon generally perceives ta’ama di’kra, the reason or logic behind things the Torah says. Here, though, said Rav Ziemba, the tanna contends that when it comes to hatred for Jews, there is no logical explanation. It is simply a halachah, a truth, as inexplicable as it is inescapable. 

There will, in other words, always be Esavs in the world, and they will always seek, even in the most deranged ways, to vilify the progeny of Yaakov.

© 2021 Ami Magazine

Mask Ask

Back in the day — by which I mean this past spring — I was a resolute non-masker. When shopping, of course, I followed stores’ rules. But in shul, I was part of the majority of attendees who, while shunning hand-shaking and coughing in other people’s faces, chose to not self-suffocate. In my long-favored hashkamah minyan, which required masks, I was granted permission by the maskers to sit behind a mechitzah in the back of the room.

But today I wear a mask religiously, both meanings intended. Because my objection to masking had only been because I felt that the benefit of covering my mouth and nose was outweighed by the danger to my health in not receiving sufficient oxygen. I could feel, I felt, that I wasn’t getting enough air.

But then I found research that showed that oxygen levels did not decrease as a result of masking — even when the masker was engaged in strenuous exercise (a category in which I don’t think even energetic shukkeling belongs).

And so, I realized that it was really just the discomfort of breathing warm air and enduring fogged eyeglasses that argued against the public health benefit of wearing a mask. I was being a shul snowflake.

Though there are the inevitable gadflies who claim there is no benefit to masking, the evidence for its helpfulness in stemming the spread of infections is compelling. To be sure, there is only limited evidence that mask-wearers are less likely to contract Covid-19, but the real benefit of masking is to prevent infected but asymptomatic people from spreading the virus — in other words, to protect others. For that, there is ample evidence, both from lab experiments and, more importantly, from analyses of the rate of virus spread in communities and countries where masking is routine and others where it is spotty.

And so, masking in groups, is, most simply put, an act of chesed.

Then there is the public perception. Although I write as a private individual, my day job is with Agudath Israel of America, where I interact with the media and the public. The image of the chareidi community, despite that it is very large and very varied, is that its members shun masking. That is a problem.

Because — at least to the limited extent that the perception of chareidi mask-shunning is true — it gives people, other Jews and non-Jews alike, the impression that our community doesn’t care about others.

At the Keynote Session of Agudath Israel of America’s recent (virtual) national convention, the organization’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, offered a heartfelt, impassioned reiteration of the imperative to follow current health authorities’ advice, and declared that religious Jews who disregard precautions like masking and distancing not only potentially harm the health of others but bring about the opposite of the fundamental Jewish imperative to make “Hashem’s name beloved to others.” Chalilah on both counts.

Personally, ever since I’ve become a masked man, I have come to better appreciate something my dear father, a”h, would often say. And, having been yanked by the Soviets at the start of World War II from the Vilna yeshiva in which he had been studying and banished with his friends and their rebbe to the frozen taiga of Siberia, he was amply credentialed to offer the lesson.

“A person,” he taught his children, “can get used to anything.”

What he meant was that, whatever new situation might confront us, it should never be seen as an insurmountable obstacle. With equanimity and time, we can handle things we never would have imagined were handle-able.

As challenges go, wearing a surgical mask around others rather pales compared to chopping wood in 40 degrees below zero weather. But the lesson is the same.

And, indeed, now I’m so accustomed to my mask that I sometimes forget that I’m even wearing it.

Many hands are being wrung over what, oy vey, the “new normal” might be for perhaps even years to come. I understand the angst.

But I imagine my father just saying, reassuringly, don’t worry, you can get used to it.

© 2020 Ami Magazine