Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.
I was in shul on Yom Kippur about 30 years ago, the first year the new rabbi had taken over for the longtime rabbi. His sermon on this Kol Nidre night was about the importance of not speaking ill of your fellow Jews. And, I kid you not, as he was speaking, all I heard from the Jews around me was how he didn’t speak as well as the old rabbi did, how silly it was for him to be talking about gossip on Yom Kippur, and more.
So you had a rabbi, on Yom Kippur, telling us not to say unkind things about Jews, even as the Jews there were saying unkind things about him.
I was reminded of that when I got a letter from a reader this week responding to my column of last week saying that I wasn’t going to give an opinion about the American embassy move to Jerusalem because Judaism had become “such an insane, mean, ugly place.” I also talked about how unJewish the ceremony was, seeing as how it prominently featured two evangelical preachers. And I expressed disappointment that the White House did not invite even one Democrat to attend the ceremony.
To which Janet T. responded, “Judaism has become such an insane, mean ugly place”??! How dare you say that? The moving of the embassy to Jerusalem had nothing to do with Judaism and everything to do with politics. No Democrats in attendance? Same reason. I’m sure if they were so moved, Jewish Dems could have footed the bill and attended on their own? There is much wrong in America and Israel today, but your tirade only adds fuel to the fire.”
I had to laugh. I wrote that Judaism has become an insane, mean, ugly place and Janet T. takes issue with my ‘tirade,’ by sending me an insane, mean, ugly letter. Insane, because how can you say the embassy move to Jerusalem had nothing to do with Judaism? This is Jerusalem, Israel we are talking about. And no, Democrats couldn’t just pay their way. Not anyone could just attend the ceremony. It was only for big machers, by invitation only, not open to anyone who could afford a plane ticket.
Fact is I’m still upset about the ceremony. Indeed, more upset. Last week, I was upset that the pastor who gave the opening blessing and the pastor who gave the closing benediction were two radical nuts, one who has said that Jews are going to burn for all eternity and another who said no, they won’t because when Jesus comes back, they will eagerly convert.
I’m more upset now because we’ve learned that the guy who invited these two Jew-hating preachers was none other than the U.S. ambassador to Israel, one David Friedman, who, as you may have guessed, is Jewish. A very right wing Jew. Why someone like that would invite someones like Robert Jeffress and John Hagee is truly beyond me. Especially when you consider that Jeffress ended his blessing with these words: “in the name and the spirit of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord.”
Now remember this was taking place in Jerusalem, Israel, in front of the prime minister of Israel and the president of Israel and a bunch of leading figures in Israel and a bunch of prominent American Jews. Virtually the entire crowd was Jewish, and yet he ended the prayer like he did. Normally, most sensible and sensitive preachers, knowing they are speaking at an official American government event, knowing they are speaking before an audience made up of many Jews, will be very careful to use words like God and Our Father in Heaven, not the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord.
He ain’t mine. Nor is he Bibi’s. Nor is he for the six million Jews in Israel which the embassy is there to reach out to. As Chicago Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein put it, “You have this evangelical who ends his prayer knowing full well that it’s inappropriate, that the Jews there are going to be upset that he did that, and not able to answer ‘amen’ to his prayer.” Exactly.
And yet this is the guy David Friedman chose and the guy Netanyahu hugged. I was baffled by that, until I came to realize that Bibi seems to have decided evangelicals are more politically valuable than Jews. After all, there are a hell of a lot more of them than us. In the U.S., there are six million of us, 50 million of them. Around the world, there are about a million of us, 600 million of them.
I remember how stunned I was when I read a few months back that Netanyahu had been privately telling people that he was basically writing off American Jewry, predicting that only Orthodox Jews will be around in the United States by about 2050. The rest of American Jews, Conservative, Reform, namely 90 percent of American Jews, are doomed, he’s been telling his confidantes.
And then last week there was a New York Times story that showed how serious Bibi is about pushing American Jews aside. In it, they describe how “A night after the dedication of the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel convened American evangelicals to plan their next steps.
“In a conference room off his office, Mr. Netanyahu thanked the small circle of prominent pastors and activists for pressing President Trump to open the embassy. Which embassy would be next? Mr. Netanyahu wanted to know, running through a list of other countries with strong evangelical churches.
“The prime minister was very excited,” recalled Mario Bramnick, the Cuban-American pastor of a Pentecostal church near Miami and a Trump supporter who attended the meeting.
The culmination of decades of lobbying, the dedication of the embassy in Jerusalem doubled as the most public recognition yet of the growing importance the Netanyahu government now assigns to its conservative Christian allies, even if some have been accused of making anti-Semitic statements.
“While Israel has long depended on the support of the Jewish diaspora, the Netanyahu government has made a historic and strategic shift, relying on the much larger base of evangelical Christians, even at the risk of turning off American Jews who may be troubled by some evangelicals’ denigration of their faith.
“There are a heck of a lot more evangelical voters than there are Jews,” noted Rabbi David Sandmel, director of Interreligious Engagement for the Anti-Defamation League…“David M. Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel who presided over the embassy dedication, said evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community.”
Said Anshel Pfeffer, author of a biography of Mr. Netanyahu… “He sees Christian evangelicals as being the real base of support for Israel in the U.S., rather than American Jews.”
“Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington and a regular participant in events there to rally evangelical support, said that “devout Christians” were now the “backbone” of the United States support for Israel. “It’s got to be a solid quarter of the population, and that is maybe 10, 15, 20 times the Jewish population,” he said.
“Elie Pieprz, an Orthodox Jew who represents an organization of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said, “If there is one person who has helped Israel and the Jews of the world raise money and build political support, that is Pastor Hagee.” Take that, all you American Jewish organizations.
I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. Read those last few paragraphs again and tell me it doesn’t give you a major stomach ache.
Look, if you only look at this as a numbers game, as a political calculation, sure it makes sense to see evangelicals, even those that talk about Jews burning in hell and who conclude a prayer in front of a Jewish audience in Jerusalem in the name and spirit of Jesus our lord, as more valuable than Jews.
But the obscenity that the government of Israel has basically written off American Jews, indeed written off American Jewry, predicting 90 percent of it will be gone in a generation or two, is way beyond belief.
It goes without saying, or it should, that Jews are the heart and soul of Israel, that American Jews are an integral part of Israel, that the connection between Israel and American Jews is much stronger, more vital, more precious than any political arrangement with Christians, no matter how much political clout they may have.
Why it’s so important not to ever write off any Jews was made clear when I watched a recent episode of the TV show ‘Real Time with Bill Maher.’ Maher, who has a Jewish father and Christian mother, is very vocal about being an atheist, indeed he is very anti all religions. One of his guests was Bari Weiss, a Jew and journalist at the New York Times who is as liberal as they come.
Now I’m sure most right wing Jews would write them off as uber liberals, Jews in name only, no friends of Israel. And yet, when the topic of the recent incident at the Gaza border came up, Weiss erupted in anger when one of the panelists blamed Israel for the deaths of 50 Palestinians. She strongly defended Israel’s actions and pinned all the blame on Hamas and gave specific reasons why. This from a liberal journalist from the New York Times. Maher, the anti-religion half Jewish guy, also defended Israel, saying it is the only civilized place in the Middle East.
Now you wouldn’t have expected that, right? But every Jew has a Jewish neshama, a Jewish soul and that is far more valuable than millions of evangelical votes and the political clout of hateful clowns like Hagee and Jeffress.
It is heart wrenching when the prime of minister of Israel is kissing up to evangelicals, and counting on them more than on Jews, figuring they are more politically valuable to Israel.
Sometimes you can’t help but cry.