By Dr. Alex Sternberg
Over 25,000 Jews and allies assembled the first Sunday in 2020 to send a message of “No Hate No Fear.” The day before, 90,000 gathered to celebrate the Siyum Hashas. While Jews gather to pray, to study, to celebrate our heritage and our culture, haters conspire to murder us. What’s new?
Once again Jewish destiny has caught up with us. Unfortunately, we got used to persecution in our 2,000 year wondering. With the rise of Christianity, hatred of the accursed Jew became the “norm.” We became the target of persecution wherever we lived because we were the minority. We all know our painful history of murder, pogroms and expulsion, culminating in the mass murder of 6 million of our parents, siblings and children.
Did anyone think that after Auschwitz, the world somehow got tired of hating us because for a brief moment it became less fashionable to openly hate Jews. Yes, some may have been deluded or lulled into a false sense of confidence.
Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, never had any such delusions. He warned us 50 years ago that the United States will not escape the fate of Christian Europe and we will be targeted here as well. He felt it was only a matter of time. Most did not believe him and dismissed his warnings as the ravings of an extremist lunatic. But his words have become a prophetic warning that has unfortunately become all too real.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that he was right about the inevitable Jewish destiny in the
USA. Over there sure, but not over here. In Europe, with Christianity the dominating force,
along with the antisemitic exhortations of the Church, Jew hatred was inevitable. But here in the United States, things were different.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Kahane was right. Those of us who were activists, those who donated money, those who just wore a JDL button and even those who were dead set against the JDL, today have to admit the truth. In the supermarkets, in shul, wherever I go, people who knew about my activism in JDL come up to me and say “Kahane
Jews are not extremists in general. We are usually in the middle of the road. We prefer to live under the radar, not drawing attention, raise our children and coexist with our neighbors. Kahane scared many Jews with his brand of extreme ideology, his ‘in your face’ confrontational style. He was not begging for Jewish security, he was demanding it.
To be sure, Kahane and the JDL were extremists and represented a minority point
of view back then. But that has changed. With the rise in Orthodox demographics, more and more religious Jews have moved to the right. Republican politics have taken a firm foothold among the Orthodox in New York City and in the Five Towns is no different. Today, many who were not ready to follow the militant Rabbi back then are longing for his resurrection. In its heyday, the JDL was never a large organization. We never had more than about 500 active members. The nostalgia for the JDL is so strong, however,
that today tens of thousands claim to have been members.
But our situation today is more dire than the conditions Kahane’ observed in the 1970s. Synagogues weren’t shot up then, Rabbis homes weren’t invaded, and Jews were not routinely attacked on the subways and the streets as we are today. Our children could go to the universities of their choice without fear of physical harm and bullying from fellow students and even professors.
As conditions have changed since the 70s our response must evolve as well. The same
tactics from those days could get us a lengthy stay in Guantanamo today. But we have more power, resources, and experience. These are the weapons we must wield today.
As these attacks take on a personal nature, being hit or punched on the subways, we need to be ready to respond in a personal way. That means protecting ourselves. We simply can not rely on others to help us.
The news stories describing these attacks indicate that people who witnessed the attacks chose not to get involved. Not the passerbys, not the conductors or bus drivers. That means that its up to us. Neither we nor our children can be shielded from our
responsibilities. Put simply, we must assume our share for security. As the old adage teaches “G-d helps those who help themselves”. I believe the time has arrived for every day school, every yeshiva to add self-defense
training to its curriculum.
Now, I am not suggesting that a quick Krav Maga or self-defense course will enable our kids to disarm a gun-wielding assailant. What I am stressing is that self-confidence is the prerequisite, the enabler for action when the time comes. Without it nothing works. Most high schools equip graduates with an education that includes Jewish history to refute the lies of the BDS advocates. That is great. But without confidence, what good is the knowledge?
In class, at a demonstration, in a debate, will our sons and daughters have the confidence to defend their point of view? Will they be able to defend themselves from physical attacks? Or will they be encouraged to remove their kippahs and wear baseball caps, and not to own up to being Jewish? Getting beaten up or being intimidated to not express your ideas is not much of a choice. In such a fork in the road, which road will our children choose?
The worldwide increase in antisemitism is surely fueled by the ongoing condemnation of
Israel in the United Nations. Despite the protestations of antisemites that they are simply voicing opposition to a political idea, the truth is obvious to all except to those who
don’t want to see it. The constant piling on of Israel with one UN resolution after
another helps to demonize the Jewish State in the eyes of the world.
This was exactly the way things started in Germany, Poland and Hungary. Jews were dehumanized then just as Israel is being dehumanized today. This is the very purpose of the resolutions brought in the UN. Make no mistake about it. The delegitimization of the Jewish State and every Jew is working. There is little use in reminding the world that criticizing the policies of Israel may be legitimate but what is antisemitic is denying her right to exist. What other country needs to defend their right to exist?
I am not over simplifying the solution. I also believe in dialog with the African-American
community and its leaders. Far too many of the attacks and antisemitic sentiments are
coming from that community. It must be stopped. We need the cooperation of
Black leaders to accomplish that. That is a long term objective that will take a long term
solution. In the interim, our shuls are being invaded. Jews are getting beaten up and
killed. This is an immediate issue that requires immediate action.
This is why I am advocating for defense classes, active shooter drills and weapons
training. We must flood the authorities with hand gun license applications. Every shul must have trained and armed members patrolling. Some of these measures we can accomplish ourselves. For others, we need to support of our elected officials. Jewish organizations must step up and coordinate a real response to the attacks on us. Does anyone believe we are any safer after the Sunday march? Holding “No Hate-No Fear” rallies
are OK (I guess). “Stamp out antisemitism” might have been a better title. Elected officials would understand exactly what brought us out. It is time for Americans who are against antisemitism to call the problem by its proper name.
The time for action has arrived. Don’t forget Kahane WAS right!