It's no secret that my main personal and rabbinic interest is in the area of spirituality. It wasn't always that way. When I started rabbinical school, I was mainly concerned with social justice issues. How that changed is a whole other issue. But every once in awhile, events from the material world do jar me and are worth commenting about. The last few weeks have been overwhelmingly stark. The internal Islamic war between radical Islamism and the rest of the Islamic world has spilled over into a broader context. As I write this, France is mourning the death of 12 journalists, a number of police officers and 4 Jews. The four French Jews were murdered specifically because they were Jews. The French prime-minister Vallas recently said this compelling comment: “It is legitimate to criticize the politics of Israel. This criticism exists in Israel itself. But this is not what we are talking about in France. This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic. There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”
This is a very well-stated and clear statement, but, unfortunately, it is not limited to the specific situation in France.
I am not taken to a gloom and doom approach to life. As I mentioned at the beginning of this message, my major drive in life is a spiritual approach, but the climate that has governed the world since the end of World War II is vanishing. At the end of World War II, anti-Semitism, which was overwhelmingly based on Christianity, was discredited. The horrific record of Nazism made anti-Semitism’s diabolical nature obvious for all to see. The various churches had to re-evaluate their responsibility in fostering this and other forms of racism. Not only did public anti-Semitism sulk off into the shadows, but the creation of the State of Israel gained unintended support from the Western world's guilt in permitting racial hatred to have had unbridled reign.
It seemed for decades that we Jews and our national homeland, Israel, could walk proudly in the light of a new world knowing that anti-Semitism was literally dying with every fading anti-Semite. SURPRISE. The world's guilt over the Holocaust is dying; not anti-Semitism. Much of the world knows little and cares less about ancient history (anything per-Kardashian).There is a broad movement to discredit Israel as a concept, and even when Jews are attacked, as they have been in Europe over the last few years, the media seems unwilling to notice unless it is connected with a bigger story.
But I always believe in seeing a possible upside to a dark situation. The Islamists have overplayed their hand. Within days of each other, the various tentacles of this headless creature have: killed 12 journalists/cartoonists for lampooning Islam, murdered four Jews in a kosher market and butchered hundreds of fellow Muslims in northeast Nigeria. In reaction to these acts, millions marched in the streets of Paris and other cities of the world, Muslim intellectuals condemned these crimes in full page ads and people around the world may have finally woken up to a common worldwide threat. Each of us, as separate groups, may see the problem as something someone else needs to deal with. The Islamists are a bit more broadminded: a moderate Muslim, a secular Jew, a disinterested consumer - they all are equally targeted.
Of course our ADHD world could easily be distracted by the next celebrity scandal or sports extravaganza. When I called around to find out what was being done in the Columbus area, I was shocked to find that that meant nothing. It is hard for us here in central Ohio to have a more global point of view than The Ohio State University.
Be that as it may, there is actually a bigger world than that, and we Jews should not be so parochial that we do not take the opportunity to build bridges with like-minded people of all persuasions and creeds. We are in the time of the year where we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was brilliant enough to know that without alliances with individuals and groups outside the Black community, there would never be any chance for civil rights. We Jews need to understand that without constructive engagements on campuses, in churches and mosques, and with neighbors, that we can reach out to the causes we care about: Israel, freedom, fighting intolerance and anti-semitism are endangered. Benign indifference is for the simple-minded and the future victims. We should wake up and smell the smoke.
- Rabbi Yosef Zylberberg, January 2015