February 18, 2020

Letters: The Obligation of Jews, Sowing Seeds of Jewish Pride

The Obligation of Jews
For Jews, the recital of the event that brought the birth of their nation — the Exodus from Egypt — has never been just an exercise in melancholic nostalgia.

The concern of Jewish tradition has been not only that the experience of slavery in Egypt is passed on but that it continues in every generation as a call to action whenever a new king arises to oppress his citizens.

This isn’t too difficult of a task to accomplish.

We live in a time when people are dying so autocratic leaders might retain their power. Like the Pharaoh of old, many heads of countries today are insensitive to the miseries they inflict upon their people in order to satisfy their egomaniacal interests.

Slavery in the biblical tale would be a slightly exaggerated version of the reality endured today by most human beings in countries where those in power bask in splendor while they starve their populations.

The “throwing into the Nile of every boy that is born” is echoed in the modern pharaoh’s denying medical attention — the genocide happening under our watch of which nobody speaks.

If among those lucky ones living in fair and just societies there is the option to remain ignorant of the evil deeds of the “Pharaonic states,” for Jews that option is unthinkable.

By referring no fewer than 120 times to the Exodus from Egypt in the Tanakh, and by commemorating Pesach every year, Jews obligate themselves to become a caring, ethical community for the oppressed and the refugees.

Judaism comes at a price.

Faced with the current despair enveloping large swaths of humanity, where should Israel get the strength — the chutzpah — to go on believing that any group of human beings can be instrumental in bringing some redressing to the world?

Distinct from other ethics, Judaism’s morality is based on the premise that human rights are not entitlements, but the achievement of hard-fought human battles.

The crucial role of commemorating Pesach is for Jews to keep in mind that “Egypt” is not a place in the past but that it symbolizes actual places in many parts of the world.

The Exodus narrative teaches that no matter how terrible the situation may be, there is always a promised land, a place where people can eat, work, build and take care of a family.

Equally important is the understanding that the way to these promised lands requires first to cross a wilderness. And that there is no way to get out from exile to redemption except by joining together and marching.

The once-heard commanding voice of the God of Israel is heard today in the form of conscience. Those who listen to it are the Children of Israel and the multitudes with them.
Rabbi Moshe Pitchon, via email

Sowing Seeds of Jewish Pride
I was very glad to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column “The Power of Cool” (April 12). It laid out succinctly the issue of standing up against the anti-Semitic rhetoric that is flooding the United States and the world.

I agree with the writer that the music artist Noah Shufutinsky should be performing at schools, Jewish centers and universities to motivate young Jews to see themselves with pride, freeing them from the poisonous spin about Israel and our history. 

My friends have been mulling over this for months and decided action is sorely needed. We are mostly Israeli Americans who love our countries and want to make a difference.

We have formed a team to network across the U.S. to help young Jews to become aware of the truth about our people. We are setting up action teams for communities in every city in the U.S.

Anyone who is interested in participating can contact us at femhil@aol.com.
Hila Abada, via email

Clear Vision of Israel
Gary Wexler’s extraordinary essay (“Can We Separate the Soul of Israel From Its Politics?” April 12) offers the most astute, erudite, brilliant and deeply resonant expression of Israel that I have ever read.

As a Jew, I cannot reduce Israel to a one-dimensional entity or idea whose failings are enough to cause my defection. Just as an American, I cannot reduce the United States to a one-dimensional entity or idea whose failings are enough to cause my defection.

I hope today’s young American Jews will see beyond their narrow and self-righteous angst to study and to learn Israel in all its history and modern expanse and not separate themselves from the community of the Jewish people.
Alice Greenfield, via email

Thank you, Gary Wexler for your beautiful essay on seeing and accepting Israel for more than the current political waves. Perhaps as “Gen Next” rears its children, it will mature enough to know that no person and no thing, including an entire country, is perfect and that you love them anyway. You look for the positive and stay engaged — you don’t walk away (aside from very extreme situations). Relationships are complex and require courage — especially one such as Israel and the Diaspora. A mature perspective understands this truth and rejects myopic and emotive political posturing.  Wexler lays out some of the more uplifting aspects of Israeli society — and there are so many more. An entire issue of the Journal could feature essays about what people appreciate about Israel. Perhaps a call for short submissions (100 words max?) could create such a tribute.
Max Morris, Los Angeles

An Alliance That Can’t Be Justified
Rabbi Sarah Bassin seems to believe that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is guilty of merely “stereotype-ridden language” and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) merely “a Muslim-American civil rights organization” (‘Muslims, Jews Need to Support Each Other,’ March 22).

Not so: Omar and CAIR are Muslim supremacists who, like other supremacists, believe that anti-Semitic ideas constitute true insights into the nature of things and thus freely engage in such ideas.

That’s why Omar said in a since-deleted 2012 tweet that, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She viciously asserts that supporters of Israel are seeking to compel American lawmakers to embrace “allegiance to a foreign country” and that AIPAC bribes legislators to support Israel.

It’s no surprise that Omar has keynoted a CAIR fundraiser, given that CAIR is a Saudi-funded, radical Islamic organization whose founder is on record as praising suicide bombers and saying he would like the Quran to be the highest authority in America, and whose personnel have been implicated in crimes consistent with these positions.

CAIR has apologized for Osama bin Laden, employed three people subsequently arrested on terrorism-related charges, and declared its intent to make Islam dominant in America and the Quran the highest authority in the land. The U.S. Department of Justice listed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in funneling millions of dollars to the terrorist organization Hamas.

Those who rightly expose Omar and CAIR’s anti-Semitism deserve our support, not criticism on the grounds of “Islamophobia” –– a nonsense term designed to invalidate any and all criticism of Islam and Muslims as hateful and irrational.
Morton A. Klein, National President
Zionist Organization of America New York