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The Kind of Atonement That Can’t Be Fasted Away

With rising antisemitism now a worldwide phenomenon—manifested in appalling acts of violence and a casual acceptance of defaming Jews in impolite company—and with the gates already closed on Yom Kippur, now might be a good time to suggest making next year’s Day of Atonement a global holiday.
[additional-authors]
October 11, 2022

With rising antisemitism now a worldwide phenomenon—manifested in appalling acts of violence and a casual acceptance of defaming Jews in impolite company—and with the gates already closed on Yom Kippur, now might be a good time to suggest making next year’s Day of Atonement a global holiday.

Admittedly, none of the world’s peoples are especially good at repentance. And owning up to humanity’s most enduring prejudice has never been a priority for any of its religions or member states. Countries are far more likely to highlight crimes against the motherland than to confess to past sins of its own. (See Poland and Ukraine, and the entire Arab world). 

Institutions fare no better. The Catholic Church has only minimally acknowledged two millennia of bigotry and slander against the Jewish people. Human rights organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and the purveyors of progressive politics, such as the Squad and a mounting faction within the Democratic Party, peddle antisemitic rhetoric as if taking its cue from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

Ironically, Germany has done more than any other country to acknowledge its murderous antisemitic past. Of course, the Holocaust has given it a lot to atone for, which renders Holocaust denial elsewhere all the more absurd. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has no interest in absolving Germans of their guilt. Keeping the crimes of the Nazis front and center allows others to shirk their own complicit history. Better to anoint the Nazis as the embodiment of evil. That’s why Vladimir Putin reminds Russians that his war with Ukraine is the resurrection of an earlier enemy that must be vanquished again. And it also explains why for many Americans, anyone who supports Donald Trump is a Nazi because Trump himself is Hitler incarnate. 

Suffice is it to say that the casting away of the sin of antisemitism into a moving body of water (as in the symbolic ritual of tashlicht), will undoubtedly result in it drifting right back. Jew-hatred is an imperviously unsinkable sin. 

Indeed, nowadays, more so than in any recent memory, antisemitism is a tough habit to keep under control, or to even practice behind the scenes. It is fashionably of the moment, and displayed without shame—a love that very much dares to speak its name. Convenient excuses are no longer necessary. Even those detoxifying proxies, like Zionism and Palestinian rights, are set aside for less ambiguous fare.

The handiwork of hatred is everywhere. The Jews of Europe—especially in France, Sweden and Belgium—are especially vulnerable to acts of violence. Openly wearing Jewish symbols is flirting with disaster.

In the United States, what was once no worse than casual antisemitism has suddenly metastasized into full-blown antisemitic assaults. Open threats of intimidation are rampant. Life for Jews on college campuses, whether they support Israel or not, has become intellectually stifling, socially marginalizing, and in-your-face threatening. When it comes to the mistreatment of Jews, there’s now a special hall pass enabling both students and faculty to snub the “marketplace of ideas,” deny free speech and open inquiry, and dispense with any pretense to “live and let live.”

There is no way to overlook that safe spaces are not being set aside for Jews; that no microaggressions — or even macroaggressions — are punishable if committed against Jews.

One can no longer overlook that safe spaces are not being set aside for Jews; that no microaggressions are punishable if committed against Jews; that Jewish hate crimes are often downgraded to a less severe incident with an altogether different motive; that the pieties of political correctness do not apply to Jews; that no minority status is accorded for Jews; and that it is no longer commonly accepted that Jews have weathered a history of persecution unlike any other.

Indeed, in this regard, the total erosion of Black-Jewish solidarity is especially distressing. In 20th-century America, Jews saw in African-Americans a familiar face. Yet, some in the Black community have no memory of Jews taking up their cause. Jews created the NAACP and directed its Legal Defense Fund. A Jewish lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, defended the Scottsboro Boys, pro bono, all the way to the Supreme Court. Another Jewish attorney, Stanley Levison, served as Martin Luther King Jr.’s lawyer, friend and fundraiser.

Rabbis, such as Abraham Joshua Heschel, marched alongside Reverend King in Selma and Montgomery. Jews comprised the largest group of participants in the Freedom Rides. Two of the three civil rights workers killed in Mississippi (Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman) were Jews. And King and his confidante, Bayard Rustin, were confirmed Zionists.

Given this honorable history of linking arms, the anti-Jewish smack talk these past several years of Black rappers and professional athletes, and the apologists for the antisemitic dog whistles of the Squad and the Black Congressional Caucus, has been disgraceful. 

Here’s the latest: Twitter and Instagram restricted access to entertainment and fashion mogul, Kanye West due to antisemitic tweets and postings where he invoked the ancient canards of Jewish “control” and “greed.” Note that Kanye steered clear of maligning Israel. He went straight for the Jew-gular.

Admittedly, these are grim times, what with rising and random crime and a shape-shifting pandemic that laughs off vaccines like bug bites. The stock market is like a falling elevator that used to make regular stops at the penthouse. A war in Ukraine is causing a tailspin in world economies and testing the resolve of nations that once believed in humanitarian intervention. 

Meanwhile, Americans remain dangerously divided, intolerant of opposing viewpoints, and quick to demonize one another. There is daily internet chatter about an impending civil war that we should probably start taking more seriously.

Give people an excuse to hate or blame Jews, and impulse control is nowhere to be found.

The worst kind of prejudices are unleashed when people feel vulnerable, mainstay anchors are adrift, and social cohesion is completely untied. And as prejudices go, antisemitism is always the least tamed. Give people an excuse to hate or blame Jews, and impulse control is nowhere to be found.

This tragic wave of global antisemitism should make atonement the order of the day. Yom Kippur ended but the breaking of the fast instantly revealed faulty brakes. What that portends for all supplicants these days, Jews and non-Jews alike, is that having one’s name sealed in the Book of Life is far from a sure thing.

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