Speaking in face of evil


From a seemingly endless stream of reactions to the tragedy at Chabad of Poway, we’ve chosen to quote from two — by Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side.

From Rabbi Billet:

After the Shoah, we struggled with the question whether “it” can happen here. Unfortunately, [Pittsburgh and Poway] tell us that it can happen here. But there is still a difference. During the Holocaust, it was a case of state-sponsored racial anti-Semitism. Here it seems to be a case of individuals who have been inspired by some demons who tell them to murder Jews. … We just never thought that it could happen in the USA.

There has been condemnation across the political spectrum. Law enforcement officers in Pittsburgh risked their lives on behalf of the parishioners and the police in California responded judiciously to the attack.

But, we cannot relax knowing this. We should also not forget that the US Congress failed to condemn the anti-Semitism spewed by one of its members. And there is a trio of newly-elected representatives who stand together against Israel on a consistent basis. And they are not the only ones!

Make no mistake. It is okay to be critical of Israel. But certain expressions of anti-Israel dissent are not political but anti-Semitic. Anti-Israel too often becomes the cover for anti-Semitism. That is why it is important to support the work of AIPAC and NORPAC. And by support, I mean being present, if at all possible.

It is also important to be supportive of our synagogue security force. … The men and women who volunteer are actually putting themselves in harms way to protect all of us. We should be grateful to them. That is why we are honoring them at this year’s YIW dinner.

We should always remember that the strength of our people comes from our faith in Hashem. It also comes in our support for our brothers and sisters all over the world. And our strength comes from prayer and attending synagogue every day. … Am Yisrael Chai!

From Rabbi Steinmetz:

It is agonizing to have say never again, again and again. Whenever an anti-Semitic attack occurs around the world, Jewish communal institutions scramble to put out statements. Unfortunately, with no shortage of attacks, statements have become a ritual, each with their own vocabulary and style. …

Some organizations feel compelled to universalize the message, and while condemning attacks like that on the Chabad of Poway, mention other xenophobic attacks in the process. … When a family is mourning their own loss, we don’t tell them about another family’s sorrows; and the Jewish community must not reduce the battle against the world’s oldest hatred into a struggle with ordinary bigotry. I find it particularly disconcerting that Jewish organizations feel compelled to universalize anti-Semitism before condemning it, looking for permission from others before they can speak about their own pain.

So what can be said then? What needs to be said is that anti-Semitism — in all its ugly forms — is unacceptable, and that we will shout in rage when the media, spin doctors and politicians minimize anti-Semitism. Clear messages must be used to counter an era filled with evasive language and non-apology apologies. …

Instead of apologizing directly [for its anti-Semitic cartoon, the New York Times] initially said the cartoon contained “anti-Semitic tropes,” turning public anti-Semitism into a mere mis-trope. This outrageous non-apology is even more damaging than the cartoon, because it treats anti-Semitic propaganda as if it were an abstract discussion of literary theory. But Jews know better, and they know Der Stürmer-type cartoons can be a matter of life and death.

We need to say to the world that anti-Semitism is more than another news story; for Jews, it is a communal tragedy. It resulted in a congregation being attacked while praying —  an attack that is part of a 2,000 year history of anti-Semitism which has claimed the lives of millions of Jews, and threatens Jews everywhere, even in the United States. 

Above all, we must not bury the human side of this tragedy under a mountain of platitudes. A beloved wife and mother, Lori Gilbert Kaye, was murdered in cold blood. The rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, had his fingers shot off in front of his four-year-old granddaughter. An eight-year-old girl, Noya Dahan, had a piece of shrapnel pierce through her leg, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, who shielded children, has multiple shrapnel wounds. It is for them that we cry, and for them that we shout out in grief and outrage that the attacks must stop. Even if it seems quixotic to do so, we will demand nothing less than an end to anti-Semitism. 

Yes, we will continue to declare never again, even if we have to say it again and again.