Paradise Valley—With the Three Weeks approaching, and TishaB’Av looming in the not too far distance, reading the news and seeing videos about the behavior of Jewish people and everyone else from around the world has not been encouraging. Sinat Chinom is everywhere. It is now a crime to want to compromise, to go down a middle road. It can be a matter of observance, where suddenly people play the game of “I’m frummer than you are because my chumrahs are better than yours.” Or, you are disdained and dismissed because of your political and religious views, left, right and center, Jewish and non-Jewish. Everyone seems to be fighting with everyone else. From agunot to spoiled brats on airplanes, from politicians to terrorists, the news is not good.
The racism, sexism and abuse chronicled in the news are heart-breaking. In many of the stories, the victims are blamed, and you can see the erosion of the idea of “live and let live,” of real Jewish values so simply expressed by Hillel: “Don’t do anything to anyone if you don’t want them to do it to you. Now go and learn.” I assure you he did not mean that you should kvetch a benkel until you become a welfare case. And learning doesn’t exempt you from defending the Jewish people. The Torah instructs otherwise, and the Netziv has been deliberately twisted to meet someone else’s agenda—when it comes to the role of Torah learning during a war, the learning is supposed to be done on the front lines. If you don’t go, the Netziv says one must pay higher taxes or do community service. Look it up.
I am a descendant of Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowicz (1766–1813), also known as Der Yid HaKodosh who lived at the time of the American and French Revolutions, and could not have been impervious to their influence. His Hoyf was in Przysucha, Poland and although he was a Hasid, he believed it was important to study Talmud. Der Yid taught that the first obligation of a man is to be a mensch and provide for his family; the second was to learn Torah every spare moment, if possible. He also taught that any rebbe who demanded blind obedience was committing the aveyrah of avodah zorah, and anyone who blindly followed a rebbe without using his critical faculties, was also guilty of avodah zorah.
[At one point he and the Chozeh of Lublin tried to bring Moshiach to settle the Napoleanic Wars, since the Emperor was already in Egypt. But the kabbalistic machinations of the two failed miserably and played out in a tragedy (see Martin Buber’s book, For the Sake of Heaven). And the Hasidim of the two leaders constantly gossiped and spewed loshen hora, one group against the other. The results of that were terrible, too.
When I read the comments from Jews to each other on the Internet; when I see how Jews treat people behind the counters in retail stores; when I see kids ignoring the custodians who keep their schools clean, instead of saying good morning or thank you, I come to believe that our “choseness” has led us to a hubris that will eventually have serious repercussions. When 101 Jewish kids justifiably get kicked off an airplane because some felt entitled to break important rules, I don’t believe it was an act of antisemitism,I believe it was an act of discipline for creating a Chillul Hashem. I also don’t believe the viral video of the poor fellow getting mugged for his cell phone was an antisemitic attack either. The cops warn you about stuff like that—don’t be oblivious to your surroundings, and don’t display valuable electronics on deserted streets. So the accompanying text that says that Muslims are attacking Jews in New York? Prove it, please. Sometimes people get thrown off airplanes for being flight risks. Not turning off a cell phone is a flight risk. Not sitting down when you are told to do so is a flight risk. Get off the plane, don’t endanger fellow passengers. And sometimes a mugging is just that. A mugging.
As Jews in America and Israel who understand democracy and the meaning of being a stranger in the midst of another nation, we need to be secure, but we cannot be so paranoid as to displace people from their homes and criminalize them because land developers want to make money. It is wrong to tear children from their parents, many of them refugees from genocide,and deport them, and I will not buy the argument a well-known fundraiser for right-leaning organizations gave me—that people come to Israel and change the culture and that’s why they have to build walls to keep everyone out.
And the American Ashkenazi Jews who made aliyah by the hundreds of thousands after 1967 didn’t change the culture? And the Russian Jews, who we fought so hard to free, didn’t change the culture? And then, after they ask you to make aliyah, why does everyone hate the new olim? Once the romance wears off, the gloves come off, too. The sabras hate the spoiled Americans, the chilomim hate the haredim and visa versa; the Sephardim hate the Ashkenaz and visa versa; everyone hates the FSU people and the Ethiopians, who were sterilized without their permission when they arrived. The stories of abuse are endless in other Jewish communities too, and include terrible acts against children, neglect of Holocaust survivors, and elderly and poor the world over. Are there exceptions? Of course. But exceptions make the rule. The information out there is horrifying,just like it was before the Beis HaMikdosh came tumbling down.
As Jews, as people with compassion and brains, we all, working together, must lead the way in finding a way out of this morass of hatred, spite and disrespect. That was the goal of the Torah as simply expressed by Hillel, and it was and is the goal of good Holocaust education from the beginning—teaching people how to get along and stand up for what is right, and to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, even if you have to risk everything. Holocaust education was not supposed to be used as a weapon of guilt or to create a siege mentality where everyone is the enemy and hate wins the day. It was taught so that people can learn to read the signs of impending trouble and head it off by speaking out against injustice, wherever it happens and by not painting people who are not like you as “the other”—whether it is a woman, a person of color, a disabled person or whoever, and not by mistaking violence as the sole source of a nation’s power.
Ben-Gurion only respected the business end of a gun, he despised negotiations, and yet negotiations are what saved almost 40,000 Jews during World War II...Rabbi Dov Ber Wiessmandl, the son-in-law of the rosh yeshiva of Nitre and founder of The Yeshiva Farm Settlement in Mt. Kisco, NY, did it first in Slovakia by paying the authorities $50K for 20,000 Jews. Later, he influenced the Hungarian Jewish Zionist leadership to do the same—and they were constantly being foiled by The Jewish Agency, who betrayed Joel Brand—one of their own and the primary negotiator—to the British. The Jewish Agency did everything they could to torpedo the Hungarian deal. Then in the early ’50s, because of Israeli propaganda, the man who consummated the deal with Rabbi Wiessmandl’s help, and who saved more Jews than anyone via negotiations with Eichmann and Himmler, that man was shot in the back by Israeli extremists. His name was Reszo Kasztner. And I exist because he saved my mother’s life.
As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I believe that Never Again does not mean Jews only. I believe that from the time of the Churban, when Ezra came back and created shuls to replace the Beis HaMikdosh, that Judaism rose up to meet the challenges of its surrounding societies, and that Chazal and the historians can show you that it was when Jews became extremists and ignored the middle way, that they were doomed.
But maybe we can create something hopeful, maybe we can teach our kids the basics, the midot, the anti-bullying values of Judaism that would prevent some of what is currently going on. Because it is clear that reasonable, thoughtful, moderate people are being marginalized, and their valuable lessons and experience are being ignored. (I have yet to determine how some very loud American Jews have the chutzpah to tell former heads of Mossad, Shin Bet, the Ministry of Defense, and a whole bunch of IDF generals that they are all a bunch of know-nothing idiots.)
When I was growing out of my teens in Crown Heights, the hottest singing group around was The Rabbis’ Sons. The founder of the group, Burry Chait (now Rabbi Baruch Chait of Efrat) lived on Balfour Place, the same block as the incomparable Yiddish and American actor, Fyvush Finkel. Itzy Weinberg, another one of the sons, now lives in Teaneck. The boys cut an incredible album, one I still have on the CD player in my car. And when I listen now, I can still hear all the influences of American music embedded in songs that praised Hashem, and really provided a form of Hiddur Torah while giving over a bit of mussar and lessons in Midot. It is very effective spiritual music that raises consciousness and reminds us of our obligations to be human beings, to be kind, to be compassionate, to care about others.
Those young boys and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach were the pioneers of American Jewish music that spoke to kids who listened to rock and roll most of the time, music that brought them closer spiritually to the classic lessons of the Torah. I wanted to walk to my chuppah to their hit song, MiHa’Ish Ha ChofetzChaim, and my father said, you don’t walk down the aisle to mussar—but I wish I had.
Who is the person who desires life, loving each day to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good, see peace and pursue it.Psalm-4
Maybe our kids should listen to more music like that of the old-fashioned Rabbis’ Sons to cancel out the noise of intolerance and hatred that is infecting the world and may by contagion, infect our children and grandchildren. Maybe, just maybe, music is an answer.
by Jeanette Friedman