February 27, 2020

One Nation, One Heart Prevails

Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Two days after the massive Jan. 5 “No Hate. No Fear.” solidarity march in New York City, I heard Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, speak at Central Synagogue. Given that Central, like most Reform temples, prides itself on its leftist politics, I was curious how the evening was going to go down.

Sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York, the panel discussion — “The Challenge of Anti-Semitism in New York, on Campus, and Around the World” — also included Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council, and Rebekah Thornhill Tokatlilar, director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at New York University.

Both Carr and Goldstein did not mince words. “Jewish unity is a powerful force,” Carr said. “We need to put aside partisanship and stand together. The same standards need to be applied to the left and the right. It’s not that complicated.”

Carr called President Donald Trump’s executive order applying civil rights protections to Jews a “game-changer.” Only about a half-dozen in the sanctuary packed with 600 people applauded. Carr paused, then said, “Shouldn’t a ‘Thank you, Mr. President’ have followed this breakthrough? Why is that so hard to do?”

Carr softened the blow by mentioning something that hadn’t yet been reported. The African Americans attacking Jews in the New York City area are being influenced by militant Islam, especially Louis Farrakhan, and the radical left, but also by neo-Nazi groups, Carr said, which “have begun an operation to turn blacks against Jews. Just like the far right has united with anti-Israel groups on campus.”

“The post-Holocaust honeymoon is clearly over,” said David Moore, moderator and chair of the Federation board. Said Goldstein: “But if Jews stand together, the innate decency of the American people will carry the day.” 

Goldstein told the crowd “the left needs to be called out and condemned when it’s being anti-Zionist.” Prior to the Dec. 12 vote that ousted Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, British Jews were “strongly Labour.” In the December election, only 6% of Jews voted Labour. Unity and truth-telling made that happen, he said.

Echoing philosopher Edmund Burke, Goldstein said, “Bad things happen in society when good people remain quiet.”

As for remedies, the panelists had a few. Goldstein said to ditch the term anti-Semitism. “We need to call it what it is: anti-Jewish racism. Being called a racist makes people uncomfortable today, and this is indisputably racism.”

Carr added: “The remedy for anti-Semitism isn’t censorship because often it is protected speech. The remedy is condemnation. The eggshell walking has to end.”

“Our own students aren’t educated enough about Jewish history,” Goldstein said. “But education starts in the home.” 

Carr said that Jewish donors need to stop giving to universities that have anti-Semitic professors and feature anti-Semitic speakers. 

Tokatlilar said that the Bronfman Center’s response to the “alarming and unprecedented” incidents is more public displays of Jewish pride. “We’re not encouraging students to hide their Magen David necklaces or take off their yarmulkes. We’re encouraging them to be more Jewish, prouder of their identity.” 

Central Synagogue should be commended for holding this event. This is precisely the community that needs to get involved in the fight. It’s simply not enough to march for one day and then go home and allow Democratic politicians, professors in classrooms and faux journalists to get away with anti-Jewish racism.

Am echad b’lev echad,” Carr said. “One nation with one heart. This is the real tikkun olam. With unity, we will make the world a better place.”

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.