So I got a call this week from someone I went to Skokie yeshiva with and who I don’t think I’ve seen since we graduated back in 1973 (wow, that sounds like a long time ago!).
Anyway, his name is Warren B. and he left me a voicemail on my office phone. He started off by telling me he reads the paper every week and always finds something he finds interesting in it, often my column.
He then told me he just read my column in which I pointed out that Trump has given white supremacists a new sense of freedom to give voice and action to their hateful feelings when he says things like he did after Charlottesville when he said of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who were there spewing hate, and those who were there to confront and oppose them, that “there were very fine people on both sides.”
Yes, he said there were very fine people among the neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists. Warren B. said I was a liar for saying that, that Trump in fact did not say that, that Warren B. knows that because he read the transcript of Trump’s comments not once but twice and that Trump never said what I said he said about very fine people, which Warren B. said a second time makes me a liar. He concluded by saying he would never ever again read my column as a result.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our world in 2019.
Trump did say that there were very fine people on both sides. There is videotape. You can watch him say it. But since saying that isn’t very nice, Warren B. decided, as is the fashion in Trump USA, that he will just say that he didn’t say it. You know, fake news and all that.
I’m used to the denying of reality these days but what bugged me is that Warren B. decided because of a couple of lines in one column he would never read me again. That’s how things are in the Jewish world today. We cut ourselves off from anything we don’t totally agree with. Jews more and more are going into their individual corners, thinking the worst of Jews in other corners and not even being open to hearing what other Jews have to say.
The essence of Judaism, the core of the Talmud, is debate, is expressing our views and listening to the views of others. That has always been our strength. Now following the lead of Trump, we are simply labeling any facts we don’t like as fake, any event that conflicts with our biases a hoax, and simply refusing to have anything to do with Jews who see Judaism differently than we do.
There is no greater threat to Judaism than that.
Take something that just took place. The owner of a kosher sandwich shop in New Jersey said he was told by his kashrut certifying agency that if he did not remove an Israeli flag hanging outside of his store that it would pull his kosher certification.
The South Side Sandwich Shop in Lakewood hung an Israeli flag outside the store for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, alongside an American flag and an olive green flag of the Israel Defense Forces. Shop owner Yosef Mutterperl told the Yeshiva World News that he was told by the Kashrus Council of Lakewood that “if he does not remove the ‘Zionist’ flag, he should remove the Kashrus certification off his wall.”
In today’s Judaism, a kosher sandwich shop flying the Israeli flag is a sin in the eyes of some Jews.
In the spirit of hoping Jews one day will again listen to each other, respect the points of view of other Jews not exactly like them, I’d like to give you my view of a couple of things for which there is certainly room to disagree but hopefully doing so agreeably.
One. Can we please stop amplifying and abetting Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Jews do this over and over. Somebody comes by with a bit of notoriety and says some stupid hateful things about Jews and Israel and we make such a big tsimess out of it that it only gives what they have to say more publicity, ensures that more people are aware of it, diverts Jews from building a more perfect Judaism.
We never seem to learn that sometimes the best thing to do with a hateful nut is pay them no mind. I know saying that scares Jews who have this reflex that we can’t let anything go by, can’t let any ugly statement go unchallenged, because if we do, the next thing you know we’ll have Nazis marching in the streets of an American city yelling ‘Jews will not replace us.’ You know like they did in Charlottesville, they including some very fine people.
Anyway, there are 535 members of Congress, the very overwhelming number of whom are strong supporters of Israel, fighters of anti-Semitism, friends of the Jews. But sometimes looking at the Jewish world you’d think there are only two members of Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
They are freshmen members of Congress, which means they have absolutely no actual power, unlike Jew Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee and Jew Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee.
But though Omar and Tlaib have no power they do have big mouths and they do say a lot of stupid things, indeed hateful things about Israel. But instead of ignoring them, we focus on them, call them out, make statements, hold meetings. It’s like we fall right into their trap. They say something, we say a whole lot about the something they said and then instead of their stupidity and hate fading away, we give it all kinds of oxygen by constantly talking about it.
They bait us and we bite every time. We need to stop doing that. They are but two of 535 members of Congress, and if we ignored them, they would get no publicity. Their hateful words would fly off into nothingness. We need to learn to be a bit wiser about who to fight and what to ignore. We should ignore them both.
Two. Louis Farrakhan is the ultimate example of someone who we have made into a star. Yes he says disgusting things, but every time he does, do we have go so crazy? Who cares what he says, what power does he have, who is he influencing? Yes, he has his hateful followers but they are tiny in number and our constant amplifying what he says, reacting to what he says, only gives him motivation to say it, only makes what he says more known to all.
I think it very wrong that Mark Zuckerberg, the czar of Facebook and the worst Jew alive, recently banned Farrakhan from Facebook. First, he made him a martyr by doing so. Second, for the crazies who like him, it doesn’t keep them from hearing him; it makes them more interested in hearing from him. After all he’s being banned so he must be saying something that matters.
But what gets me about the Facebook ban is that right after Zuckerberg banned Farrakhan, he announced that he would not be banning Facebook pages that promote Holocaust denial.
I find that obscene. I don’t think Farrakhan is any real danger, just a deranged madman with a big mouth who figured out if you want attention say not nice things about the Jews. But Holocaust denial is a real danger. Today’s generation knows nothing about history. That they don’t know about the Holocaust is not anti-Semitism, it is stupidity born of them spending way too much time on Instagram and their iPhones. They know nothing and so are very susceptible to those peddling Holocaust denial.
If Zuckerberg is trying to clean up Facebook, he would be far wiser to ban Holocaust deniers than Farrakhan. I know that in the age of Trump truth doesn’t matter, but Holocaust denial is a very big lie. It is beyond insane to say that the Holocaust, the systematic mass extermination of six million Jewish men, women and children did not happen, that thinking it did is all a big Jewish hoax.
The Holocaust happened, it’s important the world remember that it happened and continues to learn the lessons of how it happened. It is beyond despicable to say that those who deny it should have access to Facebook. Deny them that access.
Three. I am really not happy that Israel is making such a big deal and spending so much money on trying to land on the moon. I know it would be only the fourth country in the world to do so, it would prestigious, show off Israeli science and all that. But sometimes I think we try a little too hard to prove to the world how great Israel is.
Israel is great. It is an amazing country, with an amazing history. What it has accomplished since 1948 is beyond belief. Making the desert bloom. Reviving the language of the Torah. Cutting edge medical technology. A vibrant culture, a strong economy, taking in Jews from all over the world, the victory of the Six Day War, leaders like Ben-Gurion, movie stars like Gal Gadot, models like Bar Rafaeli, Nobel Prize winners. A powerful military. All done in but 71 years.
And so no, we don’t need to go to the moon to make some kind of statement. Israel spent more than $100 million on its recent attempt to land on the moon, an attempt which came close but failed. But no sooner did it fail then the guy who led the effort said he’d spend tens of millions more to try again, the Israeli government pledged several million more to help.
I just think how much better that money could be spent. There are more than a million Israeli children who live below the poverty line. Charities like Meir Panim and Yad Ezra v’Shulamit and Colel Chabad feed tens of thousands of hungry Israelis every day. Shamefully more than one third of all Holocaust survivors living in Israel live in poverty. There are Jews in the Jewish state who could use the help, financial and medical and nutritional, that a hundred million dollars could provide.
While yes it would be a source of pride to see an Israeli flag sitting on the surface of the moon, I for one would much prefer to see that each and every Israeli have three meals a day to eat, that children are able to grow up without being hungry, Holocaust survivors are able to live out their lives in dignity. I wish we would forget about going to the moon and focus on caring for those here on earth, in Israel.
I don’t know if you agree with any of what I think, and that’s fine. But how about if we start listening to each other and nicely talking to each other and respectfully debating each other. If only Warren B. was around to read that.