Even you, Jonathan. Even you.
What the former chief rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, had to say this week, in Britain’s House of Lords no less, made me very sad, very disappointed, showed me just how bad is the Jewish fever of the moment.
It appears the Jewish world has convinced itself that anti-Semitism is out of control, is as bad as it was in the years just before the Holocaust, that Jews everywhere are in danger, under attack, that things are just horrible, terrible, scary.
And, of course, I sort of understand why. We had the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh shul and another shooting at a shul in San Diego. We’ve had a bunch of anti-Semitic attacks in several countries in Europe, ugly words aimed at Jews all over the internet. I get it.
I’m not saying all is matzah ball soup and potato kugel for the Jews today. But it is also very far from the kreplach too many Jews think it is.
Think about your life. Are you scared? I’m not talking about what you read about or see on the web or watch on Fox News. Do you, in your personal, daily life, feel in danger because you are a Jew?
No. If you do, you need to see a shrink. Now think about the whole world, about the state of Jewish life in all the countries where there are Jews today, look at how many Chabad Houses there are everywhere, how countries are respecting their Jewish communities, how shuls are being restored all over Europe, how governments are speaking out in support of Jews. Look at Israel. Israel is strong, prosperous.
And yet despite all that, despite the fact that just this week, it was announced that the oldest Jewish cemetery in Cuba is being restored; that the United Nations commemorated the 25th anniversary of the attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of 20 such events being held in major cities around the world; that by an overwhelming margin the United Church of Christ passed resolutions calling for interreligious dialogue and declaring solidarity with Jews who are targets of neo-Nazis and white supremacists; despite all that and so much more, we seem to be terrified out of our minds.
Consider Rabbi Sacks who I have always respected for his brilliant Torah scholarship. And yet when he got up to make a speech about the need to combat anti-Semitism today, he made this statement, “Within living memory of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has returned exactly as it did in the 19th century, just when people had begun to feel that they had finally vanquished the hatreds of the past. Today, there is hardly a country in the world, certainly not a single country in Europe, where Jews feel safe,” Sacks said.
What nonsense. First, it’s not true. But second, it is true, which is really sad. Jews are in fact very safe but yes, they don’t feel safe. That is because they don’t recognize how good they have it, that is because so many organizations exaggerate any threat, ignore all the good, overblow any crazy statement by Farrakhan, portray a cemetery desecration is some European suburb as the beginning of a second Holocaust.
Look, it’s fine to be concerned about anti-Semitism, take notice of and take action about the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents, but let’s keep it together Jewish people, let’s not go crazy and make things out to be much worse than they really are.
And as nutty as Sacks’ statement was, even nuttier was what the State Department’s new envoy for anti-Semitism had to say. Namely that armed guards should be posted at every synagogue, Jewish school and Jewish community center across the United States. “We live in a time of danger,” Elan Carr said. “Any synagogue, every JCC, should have guards.”
Wow, talk about wacko city. Talk about exaggerating. Yes what happened at one shul in Pittsburgh and one shul in San Diego was heartbreaking but can we maintain some perspective. American Jews are very safe in this country, we have powerful Jews in Congress, three Jews on the Supreme Court, the president’s daughter is Jewish and yet here we have a call for there to be armed guards in front of every synagogue, Jewish school and Jewish community center in the United States.
Take that suggestion in and tell me Jews don’t have a very serious case of anti-Semitism delusion.
Fact is that Jews today have it better than Jews have ever had it. Period. The situation for Jews today is nowhere even close to what it was before the Holocaust. Period. It is a disgrace that instead of making the most of the situation Jews have today, one in which we are secure and respected and accepted, we see ourselves as victims, struggling to make the best of here we go again anti-Semitism.
Ironically, the same day that Rabbi Sacks uttered his nutty words in the House of Lords, I got an email from a former Chicagoan who now lives in Israel. Let me quote the essence of what he had to say.
“I am a second generation Chicago Jew but came on aliyah in 1973…I read your column on line…I notice that you sitting in Chicago can voice week after week what here in Israel happens and I admit that we are far from perfect like those sitting in the Windy City. However, I fail to see your warnings to your fellow Jews of the rise of anti-Semitism in Chicago and in America…Maybe you should be the ostrich who pulls his head out of the sand and call to your readers to get out while the going is still good. Maybe instead of worrying how Sara Netanyahu spends my money (which isn’t good) you should worry about the future of your community.”
What I found interesting about that, as I wrote him back, is that he slams me for having the chutzpah to sit in Chicago and comment on life in Israel and yet there he is sitting in Israel feeling totally justified telling me about how things are in Chicago. Because I am sitting in Chicago I don’t really understand what is going on in Israel and so shouldn’t be judging if the prime minister is about to be indicted or the first lady has a criminal record and shouldn’t be giving Israelis advice about what to be concerned about. But him sitting in Israel is very knowledgeable about what’s going in Chicago and so has every right to warn us about the situation and to be very sure he totally understands how things are here and what we need to do about it.
He then wrote me a follow up email in which he urged me to urge my readers to move to Israel now because things in Chicago are bad and getting worse. “Anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, from Pittsburgh to San Diego, from Berlin to even Chicago… Get out while the going is still good.”
While I assume he is well meaning, I found what he had to say very depressing. First how very sad it is that he wants Americans to make aliyah out of fear. Be very afraid, anti-Semitism is on the march even in Chicago, they are attacking shuls in Pittsburgh and San Diego. Run for your lives! He asks me to warn you to get out now.
How very sick. I too want Jews to make aliyah, but for positive reasons. Not running from America but running to Israel, the Jewish homeland, a place they can best live authentic Jewish lives. It is no wonder that the only major aliyahs in the last two decades have been aliyah out of fear, from Russia, Argentina, France. And it is no wonder that aliyah from America was down last year and wasn’t very high the year before, only about 2,000.
It’s easy to say America is filled with anti-Semitism but it is simply not true. An incident here and there does not make it a land of anti-Semites. Fact is America is unlike any country for Jews ever in that we have an equal stake and an equal claim unlike in every other country where we have lived. No one in this country is more American than anyone else, we all have come here from someplace else.
I find it so sad that Israelis, especially Israelis who are former Americans, have to resort to scare tactics instead of making a positive case for aliyah. And think American Jews know nothing about Israel but they know everything about America.
But even sadder is his twisted view that anti-Semitism is on the march worldwide, that things are bad and are sure to get worse. This view has taken strong hold among too many Jews everywhere, who are so damaged by our history, so unable to recognize that we live in a new reality, that things are very different for us now and that it’s ignorant to dismiss all the good by saying oh sure that’s what they thought in Spain before the Inquisition and in Germany before the Nazis.
Now is not then. And just because there is an occasional uptick of hate, for many reasons that have nothing to do with the Jews, and have everything to do with our toxic political environment, with the rapidly accelerating globalization and technologicalization that is displacing many, hurting many, is not a reason for us to fail to see all the good we have, how governments are now with us, not persecuting us, how we have a powerful Jewish state, have a Putin in Russia who loves the Jews, a Trump in the White House who loves Israel, have a China that has all kinds of commercial and military ties with Israel, how the chancellor of Germany speaks up for us, as does the president of France and the president of Brazil, that both Latvia and Ukraine have just elected Jews as their presidents, and on and on it goes.
We have never had it so good and yet never felt so bad. We have never been more accepted and yet felt more insecure. We have never had less to be afraid of and yet we are more fearful than ever. It’s gotten bad and is getting worse. No, not anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism delusion, where the sage former chief rabbi of Britain tells us there is hardly a country in the world where Jews feel safe, where the top American government official for anti-Semitism tells us to have armed guards in front of every single shul, JCC and day school in the country and where an Israeli Jew tells Chicago Jews to get out while the getting is good, that they are coming for us and we need to run to Israel now.
Things really are bad. Inside our sick heads.