I wish this post was unlike so many of the others that I have written in my short time publishing this blog. Last night we had a beautiful Chanukah celebration at our home. Family was here, and we ate traditional foods, played some fun games, lit the menorah, and simply spent joyous time together. Last night, in Monsey, New York, Jews were celebrating the festival of Chanukah as well. The difference was that in Monsey, Jews were attacked in a rabbi’s home with a machete. Rabbi Rottenburg’s Schul in the Forshay neighborhood was the target of what is being labeled as an act of domestic terrorism. Five people were wounded in this horrific attack, and two are in critical condition as of the latest update. A 37-year-old man, whose name I will not give any publicity, brazenly entered the home/schul and simply started looking to kill Jews. He eventually fled and was caught by the NYPD. Yes, this was a Hasidic community. Yes, they dress and practice differently, but that hardly matters. When Jews are attacked anywhere, Jews are attacked everywhere. I know that by now.
This one felt particularly close to home. Maybe it’s because this happened on the same night as our own Chanukah celebration, or because it only happened a few hours down the highway. I can spend another post condemning the hatred, calling for education, and venting about how this all just needs to stop. But, let me address something that simply needs attention. People have asked me: “Why is this happening to the Jews?” and, “Why are Jews being attacked so much?”
While it is true that Jews have been historically oppressed, scapegoated, and targeted as a people, that does not change the fact that attacks are on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League reports that reported anti-Semitic incidents have risen 150% when comparing 2013 to 2018. To drive the point home, this number includes only recorded incidents, and does not take into account every microaggression, every swastika, and every comment made that represents a huge influx of anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the United States.
Here I come:
You might not want to hear it, but I can’t stop thinking about Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. During a “Unite the Right” rally, white nationalists held tiki torches, and eventually began chanting “Jews will not replace us.” That phrase, and the response from President Donald Trump has become infamous. Here is a fact: People chanted “Jews will not replace us” while holding tiki torches, and aggressively marching. The President of the United States of America said that there were “very fine people on both sides” when asked about the white nationalists and opposition groups.
“Very fine people on both sides.”
Rhetoric matters. It matters a great deal. Trump, who admittedly loves the “uneducated,” has played with fire for far too long. The kindling that he has set in place has ignited into a full fledged and almost uncontrollable blaze. Let’s be honest about something. A large majority of people in the United States know nothing-to-very-little about Judaism and the Jewish people. Many politicians describe the United States as a Christian nation, and almost no attention and education is given regarding what Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah is. Right or wrong, good or bad, the masses tend to get their information from the media. They regurgitate the ideas and opinions of others. When the most powerful individual in the United States of America claims that “very fine people” chant “Jews will not replace us,” something very momentous and dangerous happens to the psyche of society. Indirect permission is granted to remain or become intolerant. When brazen anti-Semitism is met with a hint of praise from the top, the trickle down impact is horrific.
When politicians solely use Israel as a political talking point, the Jews are left alone in the wake to handle the consequences. When politicians call Israel an apartheid state, and support the anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, all Jews are endangered. The United States body politic likely does not care whether or not the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or where the U.S. Embassy is located within the Jewish state. These are hollow actions that serve political motives. The Embassy can be moved all over Israel like a traveling circus, but what are the words that are being spoken by our leadership?
I still go back to Charlottesville 2017. How can it be more blatant? Is there something I am missing here? When a group chants “Jews will not replace us,” and the President lets us all know that there are “very fine people on both sides,” he is opening the anti-Semitic floodgates. If you don’t believe me, just look at the rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. Numbers generally do not lie, and a 150% increase is a large number, and did not occur out of thin air.
The Jewish people have always been targeted, and the entire history of anti-Semitism is something that has been examined and studied for many years. Whatever the multitude of “reasons” for the existence of these sentiments is, we must move forward. And while doing so, we must choose our words carefully. In a country where most people do not know Jews as multi-dimensional individuals, the information for a myriad of people will come from widely stated rhetoric. “Jews will not replace us” labeled the Jews as a threat, and the subsequent “very fine people…” response echoed and amplified the words. Quick condemnation and action against those who engage in hate speech and action is the only acceptable response. Anything else sparks age-old anti-Semitic thoughts, ideas, and then horrible actions.
The list of dreadful attacks will only continue to grow until those in power realize that people are listening to the words that they speak. When a politician is praised for “telling it like it is,” it is intuitive that “very fine people…” will believe him.
May we all choose our words carefully, and realize that the power of our sound waves stretches far beyond the moment in which we say them, in both space and time. Have a beautiful, peaceful, and safe eighth night of Chanukah.