January 17, 2020

Murder and Anti-Semitism in 1900s-Set ‘Vienna Blood’

Photo courtesy of Petro Domenigo/2019 Endor Productions/MR Film

A young criminal profiler teams up with a veteran detective to solve a series of grisly murders in a new TV miniseries. Although it sounds like the latest spinoff of “FBI” or “Criminal Minds,” “Vienna Blood” is actually a BBC-produced period mystery set at the turn of the last century that pairs a Jewish student of Sigmund Freud with a skeptical, by-the-books Austrian police inspector. 

Based on a series of novels by Frank Tallis, the six-hour PBS drama stars Matthew Beard as Max Liebermann and Jürgen Maurer as Oskar Rheinhardt. Cases involve gruesome cult killings, the murder of a spiritualist medium (reflecting the séance fad of the time) and mysterious deaths at a military academy, all set against a backdrop of enlightenment in the arts and the alarming rise of right-wing nationalism and anti-Semitism. The latter is woven into stories that depict Liebermann’s observant Jewish family and his romantic life. 

Director Robert Dornhelm was more interested in these sociopolitical elements and the period milieu than in the crime aspect. “Vienna in 1900 is a very potent period,” he said in an interview with the Journal. “You have a revolution in the arts and a renewal in the domains of architecture, music, painting. But hand in hand with that is nationalism, intolerance and a disregard for human life. There was a strong German nationalistic movement and a rise in anti-Semitism dating back to the 1880s,” he said. “Adolf Hitler just jumped on the bandwagon.”

At a press conference for the series in Vienna, Dornhelm said a reporter accused him of “making Austria look bad.” He responded that the history wasn’t his invention and that’s the way it was at the time. “Obviously, the sensitivity is still there,” he said. “What I’m hoping to convey is how quickly human beings are reduced to sheep, go to war and forget their humanity. It should be a warning.”

For Romania-born Dornhelm, who grew up in Vienna but has lived in Los Angeles since 1982, the project was a chance to go home. “I’ve done a lot of work there; documentaries for television. My parents and grandparents are buried there. My brother and my daughter live there.” 

“What I’m hoping to convey is how quickly human beings are reduced to sheep, go to war and forget their humanity. It should be a warning.” 

— Robert Dornhelm 

On set, Dornhelm said, “It was interesting to see the British cast interact with the Austrians,” his lead actors in particular. “It was tense in the beginning, which was perfect because Max and Oskar had to get used to each other. They became really good friends and  Jürgen  was teaching Matthew all kinds of Viennese slang words and jokes,” he recalled. “Nothing pleases me more than a good, playful atmosphere on the set. Most of my colleagues like tension and get creativity out of it. With me, it’s the opposite. There’s enough tension anyway with having to finish on time. People give you more when they’re relaxed.”

Dornhelm’s resumé includes several other period projects for television including a “War and Peace” miniseries (2007); “The Crown Prince” (2006), about Rudolf, the last of the Hapsburgs; and, most recently, a miniseries about Austrian Empress Maria Theresa (2017). He received an Oscar nomination for his 1977 documentary, “The Children of Theatre Street,” about the Kirov Ballet, and an Emmy nomination for “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” (2001). 

Growing up in Romania with religious Jewish grandparents and parents who were less so, Dornhelm was studying for his bar mitzvah when his family made “a very adventurous escape” to Vienna in 1960. “I never had the bar mitzvah,” he said. 

When he first came to Hollywood in the late ’70s, he signed with agent Paul Kohner, who represented many of his favorite directors. “[Luis] Bunuel, [Ingmar] Bergman, Billy Wilder, William Wyler — I got to meet them all,” he said.

Kohner was Jewish but didn’t realize that his new client was, too. “He said, ‘I have a project you’d be perfect for, but the producers want someone Jewish.’ ” Dornhelm promptly began reciting the Four Questions. Kohner asked him, “Why didn’t you tell me?” To which Dornhelm replied, “I didn’t want to get the job only because I’m Jewish.” 

Around the same time, Dornhelm had a Jewish producer friend “who wanted to bring me back to the tribe and reunite me with my forgotten rituals, and he did. I can say a few prayers but I can’t say I’m a religious person,” he said. 

In the future, Dornhelm said he’d be interested in exploring other Jewish subjects on film and would not be opposed to directing additional “Vienna Blood” episodes. He hopes those who tune in get a sense of the time and place in which it is set, and appreciate it for more than its aesthetics. “To have nice costumes and architecture aren’t enough,” he said. “I’m not trying to pretend that this will change the world, but I hope you’ll understand the time in which it takes place, and that you will be inspired and entertained.”

“Vienna Blood” premieres Jan. 19 on PBS.

Esther Rbibo on How to Talk to Kids About Anti-Semitism

Esther Rbibo

A well-intentioned relative recently emailed me an article about the attack in Monsey, N.Y. He also sent a copy to my 12-year-old daughter. I perused the story, which included graphic details. I then deleted the email to my daughter on her computer. (I also emailed him to let him know what I had done and why.) I don’t usually do this sort of thing. But I thought it was too much for my sensitive kid. Was I being overprotective?

Like many parents, I struggle with how to support my children and talk to them about anti-Semitism and an increase in hate crimes, including the ransacking of Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and anti-Semitic graffiti appearing in various places around Los Angeles. 

Esther Rbibo, director of guidance and counseling at Shalhevet High School, spoke to the Journal and offered some direction on how to discuss these issues with our children.

The goal, Rbibo said, is “to provide [children] with the greatest sense of safety and security that you can.” This does not mean lying, she explained. While some adults might be tempted to tell their kids that nothing could ever happen to them or their school or synagogue, Rbibo doesn’t recommend this.

“A child is not going to necessarily even buy into that because we know the world that we live in,” she said. “It’s almost like creating a false sense of security. And then the child may be less likely to trust the parent.”

Rbibo did underscore the importance of considering a child’s age and maturity in these discussions. “With a really young child, it’s more appropriate to give that sense of, ‘Mom and Dad have this,’ ” she said. In general though, she is a big proponent of transparency.

“I would address the specifics in their life,” she said. For example, “ ‘We’re doing our best to create a really safe environment for you; your school has X, Y and Z security; I always know where you are.’ ”

Rbibo also recommends possibly coming up with a family plan, as in, “What do we need to feel safe in our family when we’re home, when we’re out? It gives the child something to do and take ownership of and feel part of.”

She added,  “It’s so much about the way we convey things, not just what we convey.” That means “first checking ourselves as parents and making sure we’re ready to have that conversation, that we’re in a state of calm because our children will mirror whatever it is we are reflecting outward.”

“It’s so much about the way we convey things, not just what we convey. [That means] first checking ourselves as parents and making sure we’re ready to have that conversation.” — Esther Rbibo

She also recommends initiating age-appropriate conversations with your children even if they haven’t said anything. “In this day and age, most children beyond a certain age are going to have exposure, through friends or social media,” Rbibo said. And by doing so, parents send their kids a clear signal that it’s OK to talk about these things.

Parents and other loved ones need not pretend that they are immune from worry, she added. “It’s beneficial for a child to see a parent having emotions like sadness,” Rbibo said. “The same with positive emotions. … Our kids should see that [their parents] are human.”

Ultimately, the best thing a parent or loved one can do simply may be to listen. 

“So much is being clued in to the child and letting them talk it through,” Rbibo said. “You can ask open-ended questions. Not us having to provide information but asking them what do they need? What information do they want? Some kids might [say], ‘I don’t even want to know.’ And also honoring that. The second piece is validating their emotions, providing that sense of, ‘We’re in this together, I hear you, I understand you.’ Really hearing the child out.” 

Parents need support, too, Rbibo said. “Sometimes that means leaning on other parents, on a spouse, on friends, on possibly a professional depending on what’s going on, and being able to have a place to also unload one’s own fears.”

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.

Confronting the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in ‘Afterward’

Ofra Bloch in “Afterward.” Photo courtesy of Afterward Productions

In a time of extreme divisiveness and escalating hate, filmmakers often look to history for answers. In her provocative documentary “Afterward,” Jerusalem-born, American-based psychoanalyst and first-time filmmaker Ofra Bloch explores the narratives of deep-seated hatred behind the Holocaust and the Israeli occupation. During on-camera interviews with survivors, former neo-Nazis, Israelis and Muslims, Bloch uncovers truths about herself.

“The Holocaust has played a major role in my life. It has become an obsession,” said Bloch, whose practice focuses on treating trauma victims. Her great-uncle was a survivor, as is her husband, and she vividly remembers listening to the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, on the radio. “She was raised to hate Germans and thought talking to some might help her sort out those feelings. In 2013, she flew to Germany, where she did seven interviews and she came away with the realization that she was brought up to fear and hate Palestinians as well.”

Over the next few years, she sought out subjects and had varying success. There were people who agreed to talk and changed their minds. Others suddenly disappeared. Ultimately, she did seven additional interviews with Palestinians, among them a peace activist who co-founded a bereaved parents’ organization after the death of his daughter, and a woman who believes that any form of resistance to the Israeli occupation is justified. For Bloch, listening to the latter was as challenging as being in the same room with the former leader of a neo-Nazi movement, but the circumstance was quite different. As a Jew in Germany, she was the victim. But to Palestinians, she represented the Israeli oppressor.

“The distance between being a victim and a victimizer is very small. Each of us has the capacity to be a victimizer under certain conditions,” Bloch said. “Here I was, filling both roles. I’ve lived in the United States for almost 40 years, but I realized my complicity in the occupation and it was shocking.  Israel is no longer my home but the umbilical cord is not cut. I can’t pretend that I haven’t been part of it.” 

In presenting a balanced story, Bloch had some concern that Jews would think she was equating the Holocaust and the Nakba (literally “catastrophe,”), which the Palestinians commemorate after the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel and the subsequent expulsion and/or fleeing of their people from their homes during the war that ensued. 

 “I don’t believe in forgiveness. You can’t forgive the unforgiveable. But we can put that aside and reach a place of reconciliation. People are dying for land on both sides. If we don’t learn to share it, we will all meet in the cemeteries.”

“I don’t believe you can measure or compare suffering,” she said. “There is no scale. The two events appear in the film because one had an impact on the other and are part of the collective identities of two groups of people. I think we can discuss the suffering of another people without taking away from the importance of the Holocaust.”

Bloch’s approach to the interviews was that of an “active listener. I didn’t go there to argue or challenge. I wanted to emphasize the experience of learning something new and being listened to,” she said. “Ignorance is the basis of every conflict. If we just listen to each other without judgment, without evaluating, the fences can come down. When that happens on both sides, there is a mutual acknowledgement and dialogue can begin.”

Bloch believes in the capacity for change and the possibility of peace in the Middle East. “I don’t believe in forgiveness,” she said. “You can’t forgive the unforgiveable. But we can put that aside and reach a place of reconciliation by lowering the expectations a little bit. People are dying for land on both sides. If we don’t learn to share it in one form or another, we will all meet in the cemeteries.”  

The daughter of Zionist secular Jews, Bloch was raised with what she calls “Jewish humanistic values: love thy neighbor as thyself. I’ve tried to live accordingly,” she  said. She doesn’t have her next project lined up, but one idea she’s considering involves American politics. “In this country there’s such a divide between Democrats and Republicans. There’s no communication. People are just angry and don’t try to understand. You have to have the courage to listen to what you don’t want to know.” 

Meanwhile, Bloch hopes to reach young people by showing “Afterward” in schools and colleges. “I want the next generation to realize they can do something, and not take things as they are,” she said. “We have to unlearn the stories we were told and not be bystanders. We should be fighters for peace. At this time of rising anti-Semitism and racism, we must learn from the past,” she emphasized. “In terms of the Holocaust we say ‘Never again,’ but that cannot be limited to Jews. It should be applied to everybody.”

“Afterward” opens Jan. 20 at the Laemmle Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. Ofra Bloch will participate in a Q&A after the screening at the Royal at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20.

When I Discovered That My Anti-Racist Colleague Is an Anti-Semite

“But you’re not listening. You do not get to tell Jews what it means to be Jewish and what it means to experience anti-Semitism.”

This was the upshot of the pleas my Jewish friends and I offered to a colleague in Communications and Disability Studies, whose work centers on listening to the voices of marginalized communities. She was not listening to our voices. After a 24-hour flare-up on Facebook sparked by President Donald Trump’s executive order to combat anti-Semitism, I discovered my self-proclaimed anti-racist colleague harbored her own bigotry: She was an anti-Semite.

Like many Jewish studies scholars, I entered the social media fray over Trump’s Dec. 11 executive order on “Combating Anti-Semitism,” which adds Jews to the list of communities protected by Title VI from discrimination “based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.” Alarmed by the uptick in anti-Semitism in recent years, I welcomed the news — notwithstanding my distrust of Trump, who unquestionably has ulterior motives. But good policy can emerge from bad administrations, and I berated my fellow Jews who rejected it, some absurdly viewing this as an ominous step toward the classification of Jews as racial aliens, much as Stalin had stamped “Jew” (“Evrei”) as “nationality” in the passports of Soviet Jewry.

Predictably, I received pushback. Jews argue; that is what we do and as generations of comedians have kibitzed, it is intrinsic to our identity and keeps us healthy as a people. However, I was not expecting a rebuke from a non-Jewish colleague, a white, Christian female who teaches social justice and disability studies. She resented my claim that Jews constitute a community that can be classified with the criteria we use for defining “race,” “ethnicity” and “nationality.” She insisted Jews are a religious community and contending otherwise demeans minorities of color.

“Jews are not merely a religion,” I countered. Our communal identity is rooted in kinship, common descent and shared culture, irrespective of religious practice. Moreover, for centuries, white supremacist anti-Semites have targeted Jews as a sinister, non-European race deserving elimination. I brought up the Holocaust but she contended Nazi Germany persecuted the Jews because they were a “different religion,” oblivious to the fact Jews who had converted to Christianity still were exterminated precisely because anti-Semites believed Jewishness flowed through their “noxious” blood. Besides, she retorted, the Nazis’ definition of race was irrelevant; it was objectively wrong, unlike the one used in the United States today for social justice.

I usually try to reason with non-Jews who don’t understand Jewishness and anti-Semitism, even when they engage in haughty “goysplaining” — a benighted arrogant act of telling Jews what they are. Determined to get my point across, I asked her to read two pieces I published in The Forward on Jewishness and race. My encounters with anti-Semitism framed one of these stories. My colleague ridiculed my essay, insisting my claims of discrimination were trivial, that it oozed with “white privilege” and was harmful to people of color and their struggles. Had she read my story carefully, she would have noticed I acknowledge benefiting from white privilege and the perverse legacy of Jim Crow. Apparently, she was uninterested.

“Oozing with privilege.” She kept saying it. It reverberated in my head. This was not merely about white skin. Jews “have higher incomes, education and life expectancy than whites as a whole,” she repeatedly stated, insisting it has been proven statistically — but she produced no corroborating data. For good measure, she offered mock sympathy for my daughter having “to endure Christmas carols in her [school] cafeteria,” snubbing Jewish concerns over the alienating ubiquity of this exclusionary Christian holiday and its impact on our children, which I had expressed a few days before. This had little to do with being white; it was about my being a certain kind of white person: a Jew, stereotyped for undeserved wealth and lack of gratitude for “inclusion” in white Christendom, a space where our concerns with socially ascribed difference were frivolous.

Some of my Jewish Studies colleagues were distressed by her incendiary rhetoric and they stepped in. When they tried to reason with her, she skirted the issue. Perhaps she realized she was wrong. Or maybe she didn’t. Instead, she chose to double down by unexpectedly switching her discursive strategy, claiming I had a history of belittling the struggle for the rights of marginalized communities. “I am a disabled person with a gender nonconforming son,” she proclaimed — a fact she had expressed many times, but now speciously linked to a polemic about Jews —  and my alleged “repeated attacks” on disability and LGBT advocates was a “threat” to her and her family.

“My defense of Israel made me a political reactionary by definition in the eyes of someone who identifies as a social justice warrior.”

Why was I a threat? Is it because I am a Zionist who has written against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel? The anti-Zionist left has adopted the pernicious tactic of inserting Palestinian liberation into virtually every domestic cause. “Palestine is a disability issue”; “no walls from Mexico to Palestine”; “you can’t be pro-LGBT if you support the occupation” are omnipresent, facile and utterly illogical slogans one now hears at demonstrations and on college campuses.

Apparently, their strategy is working; my defense of Israel made me a political reactionary by definition in the eyes of someone who identifies as a social justice warrior, even though, by her own admission, she knows little about the conflict in the Middle East. But Palestine is a “social justice issue” and by her logic, you cannot be against oppression in America if you are for Israeli “war crimes.” As a supporter of Jewish self-determination in our ancestral homeland, I was a threat to the disabled.

I have a mentally disabled son with limited prospects. Most of my colleagues do not know about him. I do not discuss it in the classroom or on social media. I do not begin my sentences with, “As a parent with a mentally disabled son. …” His condition has caused enormous hardship and heartache for my family. When she accused me of hurting the struggle for disability rights, it struck deep into my heart, particularly because she knows him. I demanded she produce evidence of my ableist and transphobic bigotry, and failing that, she should apologize. 

She did neither. Instead, my colleague in communications — who, ironically, has won teaching awards for listening to the voices of “marginalized communities” —  suggested we “stop conversing.” But we had never been conversing. She was not even listening to me.

 Much of the anti-Semitism on the left is rooted in misguided enmity toward Israel because of the ways in which Palestinian advocates have insinuated their cause into every facet of the domestic progressive agenda, a practice exhibited with unusual clarity by activist Linda Sarsour’s defamatory speech at the American Muslims for Palestine conference in late November.

However, the problem runs far deeper. Remarks about Jews “oozing with privilege” echo nearly two centuries of anti-Semitic rhetoric disseminated by virulent Jew-haters and by those who are casually clueless about Jews. It is found across the political spectrum in the United States, Europe and in more recent decades, Muslim countries. 

However, such anti-Semitism also is a product of the intersectionalist paradigm propagated as religious dogma by activists and professors on the left. The notion that skin color and economic wealth are the sole factors in determining ethno-racial vulnerability in the United States simply does not work for Ashkenazi Jews. It belittles our concerns, undermines our security and marginalizes our identity.

When the shots were fired on Oct. 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, those who hate the Jews as a race decided it was time to come for us; neither our skin color nor our alleged economic affluence prevented them from finding us and gunning us down in our sanctuary. Having white privilege does not mean one is secure from racial discrimination.

There is a term for people who refuse to accept this even after it has been painstakingly explained to them by actual Jews: anti-Semite.


Jarrod Tanny is associate professor and Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is the author of “City of Rogues and Schnorrers: Russia’s Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa” (Indiana University Press).

‘No Hate, No Fear’ March Makes Jewish History

Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

The recent “No Hate, No Fear” march brought together 25,000 people, who took to the streets of Brooklyn, and likely was the most massive demonstration on behalf of Jewish safety in modern history. However, the event was extraordinary not just because of its size, nor even its ability to unite Jews across the religious and political spectrum — despite our notorious culture of intracommunity disagreement.

What really made the “No Hate, No Fear” event monumental was that in these past three years, no one has wanted to march with the Jews.

The Women’s March, which is the largest single-day protest in the history of the United States, went from spectacle to debacle because of its leaders’ refusal to disassociate with notorious anti-Semites. Rhetoric from the march’s co-chairs inflamed this controversy: Linda Sarsour told 95% of American Jews they could not be feminists; Tamika Mallory responded to anti-Semitism allegations by claiming she had the same enemies as Jesus; Bob Bland scapegoated an Islamophobic attack that killed 51 on the “American Jewish Establishment.” 

By the 2019 incarnation of the Women’s March, countless Jewish women did not feel like they could join the crowd, even if it was rallying around their rights.

When it came to excluding Jewish activists, the Women’s March was no lone wolf. 

In 2017, a march for racial justice was planned on Yom Kippur, making it near impossible for observant Jews — even the many who experience racism as well as anti-Semitism — to join in. Given this decision was made less than a month after white nationalists overtly rallied against Jewish Americans in Charlottesville, this was “grave and hurtful oversight on our part,” admitted its organizers.

This pattern continued as local movements isolated LGBTQ Jews, particularly queer women. In 2017, Jewish lesbians were tossed out of the Chicago Dyke March for carrying a Pride flag with a Star of David on it. Why? The image, which has an emblem of faith that dates back thousands of years, reminded the March’s organizers of an Israeli flag.

After Jews across the country were horrified, the organizers tweeted, “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes,” using an explicitly anti-Semitic slur coined by leaders of the KKK. Then, as if starring in a parody of an out-of-touch activist stereotype, they campaigned for $5,000 for a “self-care retreat.” 

In these past three years, no one has wanted to march with the Jews.

The Chicago SlutWalk, which advocates against rape culture, stood in solidarity with its local Dyke March instead of Jewish survivors of sexual assault and also banned similar Jewish symbols. In response to the latter’s controversy, the walk retweeted claims that the “Magen David was always a Zionist symbol and could not be claimed as a symbol of Jewish pride outside of the context of Zionism.” 

After backing off its initial denunciation of the most recognizable Jewish symbol, SlutWalk still ostracized Jewish activists. The organizers went so far as to cover up marchers who wore Jewish pride shirts and carried signs with the image of a woman wearing a Star of David necklace with an umbrella.

This pattern carried into 2019, when the Washington, D.C., Dyke March also banned rainbow flags with a Star of David on them. The organizers argued the most recognizable symbol of queer Judaism looks too much like Israeli flags; therefore, they are just a symbol of “violent nationalism.”

The same behavior greeted 2020. Amid anti-Semitic violence in Brooklyn and the same day as the “No Hate, No Fear” march, an anti-war rally in New York City became a tirade against Israel. While the protest was billed as advocacy for peace with Iran, one speaker made a point to call out the “racist monstrous state that sits on the land of Palestine that is known as Israel.” 

This rhetoric crosses the line from criticism of the Jewish state into anti-Semitism by demonizing Israel and making it the boogeyman in an unrelated conflict. The demonstration was a sharp reminder that others always will scapegoat the Jews, whether it is for people murdering us or others.

In these foggy waters of inclusion, the “No Hate, No Fear” march is a lighthouse. The protest is a radical act of rebellion. In a time where many see Jews as sitting ducks, this rally was the beacon of light that kept us moving, paddling toward a better shore.

Jews have begged other marches to disassociate with those who demonize us. There’s a reason why every time Jews are excluded or outright removed from a feminist, pro-LGBTQ or anti-racist protest, there is an uproar: We want to be there. We want to champion gender equality, queer rights, and fight against police brutality, white supremacy and systemic racism. 

Our Jewishness does not exclude us from wanting these causes to come to fruition. We are the dykes, women and victims of white nationalism. We need these movements just as much as the activists who refuse to march beside us. That is why — despite this pattern of rejection — Jews keep showing up to these spaces and for marginalized people. Not only do we love them, we are them. 

The “No Hate, No Fear” march broke the cycle of Jews being the latchkey children of social justice movements. For the first time, Jews stopped asking social justice movements to march for us or pleading for permission to march at all. We just got out there and marched.

Jews are done asking for a seat at the table. We are building our own.


Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist.

Voices Raised in Song

Photo by Debra Nussbaum Cohen

On the first night of Hanukkah, 230 Jews stood in concentric circles filling the sanctuary at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, singing together.

They sang for an hour, broke for candle lighting and a dinner of latkes and baked ziti, then gathered again for more singing from the Rising Song Institute’s Rising Song Intensive (RSI). They were led in soulful, slow versions of “Shir HaMaalot” and “Gesher Tzar Me’od” by Joey Weisenberg, a leader and creator of the new nigun movement, and Rabbi Yosef Goldman, another Jewish singer-songwriter who recently debuted an album.

As the pace picked up, Russ Agdern energetically stomped his feet along with the beat. Agdern is a founder and prayer coordinator of Shir HaMaalot, a popular monthly Friday night chavurah in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. “Singing with other people really fills me up to do the other work I do in the world,” said Agdern, 42, who by day is an organizer for the Reform movement. He has been to every RSI since 2012. 

For Agdern, this is the work of his heart. “I want to be a better service leader and there are a lot of really great teachers” at RSI, he said. “I love learning about Jewish music and new melodies, things I can use for prayer and other song spaces.”

Goldman added singing is powerful because “people have a core need to belong, to feel part of something meaningful and through group singing, especially nigunim, where barrier of language is removed, people can connect to something greater than themselves. There’s something inherently prayerful about the experience.” 

RSI and its parent, Rising Song Institute, are run by Hadar Institute, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Hadar holds adult Torah learning programs and this year added a rabbinical ordination track. The Rising Song Institute was added two years ago although the intensive program began in 2011.

“Interest has been growing steadily for 15 years, for as long as I’ve been teaching,” said Weisenberg, the prolific and charismatic singer-songwriter who is an RSI co-founder and leader. “For us, it’s an opportunity to get a lot of voices into the game, about what we can all make together.”

Only 23 people participated in the first RSI in 2011. The following year there were 29. 

There’s nothing new about Jewish music as a way to draw people together. Debbie Friedman, z”l, transposed the structure and simplicity of American folk music onto Jewish texts, creating a hugely popular body of work, as did Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The tradition dates back to biblical times.

There are a few other programs around the country: Let My People Sing in Connecticut, is independent and meets at the end of the summer, with a focus on social justice. Song Leader Bootcamp in St. Louis MO. meets in February, geared toward Jewish educators, and Hava Nashira, in Milwaukee WI. co-founded by Friedman, is a Reform movement song leading conference.

RSI draws college students to people long collecting Social Security, and mostly laypeople like Agdern along with a few professional worship leaders, like cantors. Participants come from around the corner and from as far away as Florida and Winnipeg, Canada.

“Through group singing, especially nigunim, where barrier of language is removed, people can connect to something greater than themselves.”
— Rabbi Yosef Goldman

Viva Hammer traveled from Sydney. She leads Jewish prayer gatherings around the world, and came to learn “methods to get people who are otherwise not accustomed to joining the leader in song more participating. Prayer needs to be song. Without song, prayer is practically empty,” she said.

Christmas Day was the retreat’s last day. The concluding public concert filled B’nai Jeshurun’s Moorish sanctuary to capacity with more than 700 people for a performance by Weisenberg, Goldman, Deborah Sacks Mintz and the Hadar Ensemble. 

Young adults and seniors alike were on their feet, dancing to familiar words of Jewish music set to new melodies, a sense of oneness permeating the space as those in attendance enjoyed making what is old, new again.


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a journalist in New York City.

Stop Scapegoating Zionist Jews for American Racism

Members of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s community gather in front of the rabbi’s house on Dec. 29 in Monsey, N.Y. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The Monsey attack at a rabbi’s home during his Hanukkah celebration, where a man wielded a machete, comes after a surge of recent anti-Semitic incidents in New York City. Witness Aron Kohn, who was in the rabbi’s home, recalled, “We saw him pull a knife. … It was about the size of a broomstick. He started attacking people right away.”

Federal prosecutors said the suspect, Grafton E. Thomas, who was charged with stabbing five Jewish people in a hate crime, had searched online in the weeks before the attack for “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Zionist Temples.”

This was not the first time in December that an anti-Semitic terror attack had started online, sparked by anti-Zionisim. Social media posts tied to the suspected Jersey City kosher supermarket shooter, David Anderson, pushed anti-Semitic conspiracies. Comments on a post linked to Anderson talked about the belief that Jews were using the police to further a violent agenda against black people.

This conspiracy theory, which makes Israel a scapegoat for U.S. police brutality against blacks, was developed and distributed by anti-Zionists. One of the most prominent anti-Israel groups, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), marketed a mass campaign called “Deadly Exchange” to disseminate this talking point. JVP claimed Israel was the root of anti-black police brutality such as “extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders and racial profiling.” This document spread quickly and supported the theory that Jews are responsible for modern-day racism in America.

This conspiracy theory was furthered by the anti-Zionist co-chairs of the Women’s March. Former co-chair Linda Sarsour called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “an organization that takes police officers from America to Israel, funds their trips, so they can be trained … and then they come back here and do what? Stop and frisk, killing unarmed black people across the country.” Another former co-chair, Tamika Mallory, took it a step further. The activist demanded people boycott Starbucks because it planned to enlist in the ADL’s anti-bias training, claiming in a tweet that the ADL is “CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people.”

The violence in Jersey City and Monsey were committed by virulent haters of the Jewish state.

Mallory was widely criticized for failing to condemn the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, whom she lauded. Farrakhan is the author of “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” a book released in 1991 by the Nation of Islam that asserts Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade.

In other words, it was the classic version of this modern anti-Zionist conspiracy, that Jews are responsible for racism in America, which is the same notion KKK grand wizard David Duke promoted.

All of the aforementioned has done nothing to convince JVP leadership to stop promoting its anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which led to the shedding of Jewish blood on synagogues’ floors. In fact, JVP has doubled down and absurdly featured Sarsour as the leader of a recent rally against anti-Semitism, drawing many anti-Zionists.

Mainstream media made a special effort to ignore these facts, instead connecting “expansion of Hasidic communities into New York’s suburbs” to the “flare-ups of rhetoric that some say is cloaked anti-Semitism” as the Associated Press reported. But if “gentrification” and not anti-Semitism is driving the attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, why aren’t we seeing any hipsters with smashed Kombucha bottles? Evidently, the answer is that it is more complicated than a lazy talking point.

Notwithstanding the background on the assailants, it’s imperative we realize these attacks are not just anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist in nature. The violence in Jersey City and Monsey were committed by virulent haters of the Jewish state, the latter of which sought out a pro-Israel house of faith to attack.

The era of claiming one is “not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist” is gone. We no longer can afford to hold philosophical debates about the validity of this ideology and its place in our community. Anti-Zionist organizations, their rhetoric and online incitement have furthered the wedge between black and Jewish communities — and it has cost us lives. We must put human lives first, before any more blood is spilled.


Hen Mazzig is an Israel-based writer, international speaker and social activist from Tel Aviv. Follow him: @HenMazzig. 

City of Fear: The Fallout of Monsey

People walk through the Orthodox Jewish section of the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn on Dec. 31. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Where once there was confidence and ease in being a New York City Jew —  whether you were a Seinfeldian Upper West Sider or more a Brooklyn Chasid tucked into the comfort of a tightly knit community —  now, there is fear.

After weeks of assaults, including 10 separate attacks over the eight days of Hanukkah, Jews of every denomination in the New York area are grieving, stunned by the violence and deeply shaken. People who are identifiably Jewish, especially those wearing the distinctive garb of Chasidim, feel especially vulnerable.

“The rate and severity of these attacks is not random. It feels like an explosive expression of anti-Semitism,” said Yocheved Sidof, mother of five and executive director of Lamplighter’s Yeshiva, which she founded, in Crown Heights. There are 147 students in grades K-12.

“It feels surreal that walking from my home to work, I traverse three corners that have had violence in just the past couple of weeks,” she said. “For my young children to even know where those corners are and feel targeted, that feels inexcusable.”

Sidof said she has been flooded with calls from anxious parents since the Monsey attack. Lamplighter Yeshiva is in a predominantly black corner of Crown Heights, she said, and she is keenly aware of the narrative accepted by some local African Americans and Caribbean Americans that Jews are “the white oppressors associated with skyrocketing housing costs.”

School staff and parents have heard, “Get the f— out of here, Jews” from locals, but Sidof said, “Thank God there hasn’t been any violence.” The school has full-time security guards but is investigating ways to beef up safety precautions, Sidof said. She also is planning an event with black members of the local community at the playground next to Lamplighters.

About 1.5 million Jews live in New York City and there are some 2,000 Jewish institutions, including synagogues, schools and camps. Anti-Semitic incidents have seen a sharp increase in 2019 over 2018, up 63%, according to New York City statistics. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) charts a smaller uptick from January through November 2019 over the same period in 2018. In figures provided to the Jewish Journal, the ADL measured it rising from 218 to 256 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault in New York City.

The upward trend and severity of many of the attacks is traumatizing many.

Rivky Feiner has lived in Monsey all her 46 years. A consultant to nonprofits and mother of five children ranging in age from 8 to 26 years old, she never expected anything like the machete attack to happen in her quiet suburb. “It’s very frightening. How did he even know about the rabbi’s house? He might have seen visibly Chasidic people walking in and thought it was the shul. I just don’t know.”

She added, “We crossed a line” into new territory “and we can’t go back, so how do we move forward? My kids are frightened. How do we feel safe?”

About 1.5 million Jews live in New York City and there are some 2,000 Jewish institutions, including synagogues, schools and camps. Anti-Semitic incidents have seen a sharp increase in 2019 over 2018, up 63%, according to New York City statistics. 

It also is reawakening the worst imaginable past traumas. An elderly Holocaust survivor in the area was at a meeting the day after the Monsey attack with Steve Gold, who is co-president of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County, in which Monsey is located. “He said he was going home to pack his bag and have his passport out so that when they come for Jews here, he could escape,” Gold related.

“This wave of violence [against Jews] seems to be the worst, most sustained and lethal in the history of this country,” said David Myers, the Sady & Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA. “It is hard not to ask oneself, ‘Does the U.S. now join so many other places in the world as being unsafe for Jews?’ ”

A few days after the home invasion in suburban Monsey, the thoughts of many in the area are turning to larger approaches beyond increasing police patrols to try to interrupt this terrible pattern of daily attacks on Jews in the New York area. Some are calling for changes in laws; others for building bridges between the black and Jewish communities, where the relationship has grown increasingly tense. Others are demanding major initiatives by elected officials, some of which already had been announced at the many press conferences held in Rockland County and New York City in the first two days after the Monsey attack.

One major new effort announced on Dec. 30 by UJA-Federation — which does not cover Rockland County — and Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York is a $4 million Community Security Initiative headed by expert security analyst Mitchell Silber. The money will fund Silber’s position and those of six security professionals who will be assigned to areas spread across the New York City region to assist Jewish institutions in strengthening their security. That $4 million nearly equals the JCRC’s entire 2017 budget, according to the most recent tax filing available.

Response from elected officials and leaders of various communities came swiftly after the Monsey attack whipped around the internet.

Members of the Guardian Angels patrol in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Dec. 31.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Black Leaders’ Responses

Rev. Al Sharpton — who has been widely disliked and distrusted in the Jewish community since he escalated tensions and disparaged Jews during the 1994 Crown Heights race riots — held a press conference on Dec. 30 surrounded by an array of black church leaders, the leader of the regional NAACP and elected officials, along with Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.

Sharpton alluded to the past troubles when he said at the press conference, “You cannot be anti-hate and pro-civil rights only one way. We rise particularly since the incidents involve blacks that have been arrested and charged, and say we condemn any attacks, any hate crimes, any efforts by anyone to impede the continuing move toward trying to heal whatever we have had to heal in the black and Jewish community.

“We are not unaware there have been tensions, but we have also been those who have strived to work those tensions out down through the years, and this will not set us back. We will stand with any move in our community to investigate hate crimes no matter who the hated and who the hater. We want to be crystal clear that we encourage members of our community to stand for what is right and righteous.”

Rev. Cornell Brooks was president and CEO of the NAACP through early 2017 and now is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School. In November, he called on America’s four living former presidents to issue a “national state of emergency on hate” and convene a national summit on hate and democracy. 

In an interview, Brooks quickly cited Poway, Calif., where on April 27, a 19-year-old suspected of firing an automatic rifle killed one woman and injured three others at a Chabad synagogue, and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were killed during Shabbat services in October 2018. He also talked about “the recent uptick in and around New York” and asked, “How many Jews have to be attacked for us to realize we have a problem morally?”

Brooks said the approach to hate crimes must change nationally and on every government level. “We see a standardized response — talk retrospectively, prosecution at the back end without policy on the front end. It’s one thing for the NYPD (New York Police Department) to quickly respond. It’s another to prevent the perpetrator in the first place and to have a White House that speaks to these issues.”

Elected Officials’ Responses

New York state Attorney General Letitia James was among the first elected officials to weigh in on the horror in Monsey. “I am deeply disturbed by the situation unfolding in Monsey, New York, tonight,” she tweeted the night of the attack. “There is [zero] tolerance for any acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation. I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night,” posted James, who is black.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the Monsey attack “an act of domestic terror.”

Four Jewish New York state and city lawmakers representing heavily Orthodox areas issued a letter on Dec. 29 calling on Cuomo to institute a state of emergency and employ state police and the New York National Guard to “visibly patrol and protect” Orthodox Jewish communities. They also asked Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence, and that the special prosecutor “immediately assume control of cases already under the jurisdiction of local district attorneys.”

“It is no longer safe to be identifiably Orthodox in the State of New York. We cannot shop, walk down a street, send our children to school or even worship in peace,” wrote New York State Sen. Simcha Felder, State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and New York City Council members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger.

Just after the Monsey attack, Deutsch tweeted, “Can Jews walk down the street without being attacked? Can Jews shop for groceries without being attacked? Can Jews pray without being attacked? Can Jews ride the subway without being attacked? No — we can’t. We are sick of words. We need concrete action!!!”

On Dec. 29, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced what he is billing as a “major new effort” to address hate crime in New York City: dramatically increased police patrols in ultra-Orthodox areas and multi-ethnic interfaith Neighborhood Safety Coalitions in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park to bring together community leaders. He also announced a major educational initiative in public middle and high schools in those neighborhoods. It appears, from the city’s description, that it will entail discussion with public school students of hate crimes and how to prevent them, and bringing in members of the Jewish community to talk with them.

The red-bereted, red-jacketed Guardian Angels also deployed its unarmed patrols throughout those same three Chasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods on Dec. 30, promising to keep up its crime-deterring presence.

Jewish Leaders’ Responses

Just about every Jewish group issued a statement or offered interviews after the Monsey attack, which seemed to mark a tipping point in public outcry about the violence against Jews. Threaded throughout all of them was a sense of anxiety —  and demands that elected officials strengthen hate crime laws.

Sheila Katz, CEO of the 90,000-member National Council of Jewish Women, grew up in Rockland County not far from Monsey, in a Reform-affiliated home in nearby Suffern. “Jews being attacked in their homes, walking to synagogue, in their supermarkets. Hanukkah is a time of celebrating freedom from persecution and instead, we’re living in fear and mourning,” she told the Journal.

“This wave of violence [against Jews] seems to be the worst, most sustained and lethal in the history of this country,” said David Myers, the Sady & Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA. “It is hard not to ask oneself, ‘Does the U.S. now join so many other places in the world as being unsafe for Jews?’ “

She urged New York and federal legislators to expand hate crime laws. “We’d like to see the New York state hate crimes law — and the federal government, as the United States Commission on Civil Rights recommended in its November 2019 report — place a greater emphasis on collecting hate crime data. In addition, we’re advocating for the passage of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act” in Congress, she said. 

“By better tracking and reporting incidents of hate crimes nationwide — which these measures will work toward — we’ll be better positioned to prevent and address these horrific attacks against the Jewish community and all marginalized communities.”

While Katz lit her Hanukkah menorah in a more convenient place in her Washington, D.C., home most nights of the holiday, she said that after the Monsey attack, that changed. “I’m putting my menorah near the window to make sure we’re all being a light in the darkness and showing up as Jews, saying, ‘We’re here and going to continue to be proud of our identities and combat anti-Semitism.’ ”

Agudath Israel of America, which represents the interests of the ultra-Orthodox community, wrote in a statement: “We beseech those in government to do everything humanly possible to halt this cancer. Continue increased patrols; apprehend and prosecute criminals. Get them — and keep them — in jail, to the fullest extent allowed by law. Enhance security funding to our vulnerable structures; work with us to provide training, so those within can protect themselves when necessary.”

It concluded: “We pray to the Almighty for a recovery to those injured in last night’s attack. We also pray that He grants those in leadership the fortitude to boldly do what is right, and heal, or remove, this malignant hatred in our country.”

Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, told the Journal, “The most important thing is for us to stop the hand-wringing and rhetoric and focus on concrete action in the short and long run. To make communal institutions safer and to engage in really serious community and school education efforts so this disease of hatred of all types is brought to a halt. That is a long and drawn-out battle.

“Perpetrators of hate crimes need to be treated by the criminal justice system in a fundamentally different way. We need to have laws that characterize violent hate crime as domestic terrorism and deploy law enforcement and judicial and prosecutorial resources that are necessary with real significant penalty,” he said. “It is terrorism.”

“A virus depends on the environment, and the environment today is user-friendly to the virus, to anti-Semitism.”

— Abraham Foxman, director of the Center of the Study of Anti-Semitism, New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage

All the arms of the Conservative movement together wrote: “We thank law enforcement for their hard work and call on them to redouble their efforts to provide protection. We urge political and civic leaders to speak louder still and to work together even more closely to stem this tide of hatred and to address any repetitive pattern emerging from these attacks and those of the past year in the New York area. We must not allow acts of anti-Semitism to become the new normal.”

Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs tweeted soon after the Monsey attack, “We are outraged by the bloody machete attack in Monsey. We pray for the injured and call out for more protection. This week’s litany of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in NY must be stopped. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us!”

Others weighed in, as well.

“Antisemitism is not a threat to the Jewish community alone. It’s a danger to our democratic institutions and free society,” said Ira Forman in a statement. Forman is the senior adviser for Combatting Antisemitism at Human Rights First, a nonpartisan human rights advocacy organization. He previously served as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism under President Bill Clinton.

“Confronting this rising epidemic is a task that requires bipartisan, long-term approaches at the federal, state and local levels. Confronting this scourge demands principled leadership from elected officials, thoughtful educational initiatives, evaluation of our justice system, and a commitment of resources to push back against hate.”

Community members gather outside in Monsey. Photo by Getty Images

Ongoing Black-Jewish Tension

Nearly all of the attacks have taken place in communities where there has been ongoing tension between the black and Jewish — specifically Charedi —  communities. 

Monsey is near New Square and Kiryas Joel, villages devoted to the communities of Skver and Satmar Chasidim, respectively. No one else lives there. The East Ramapo School District, which covers those communities, controls the local public schools and the public funding that goes to the Chasidic communities for things such as special education and textbooks. Chasidim began voting other Chasidim onto the school board, quickly taking it over. They drained the budget, leaving little funding available for the public schools and leading to state government investigations and lawsuits — and a great deal of animus among the area residents, most of them black or Latino, whose children attend those schools.

In the view of Gold of the Rockland Jewish Federation, “There is absolutely a link between here and Ramapo,” he said. “The hate is out there in the open every day. In some Facebook groups, all they want to do is bash the ultra-Orthodox community. There was a comment today. Someone said, ‘The perpetrator didn’t stab enough of those Jews.’ ”

Missing Accountability

Anti-Semitism is “a virus without an antidote or vaccine and it’s always been present,” said Abraham Foxman, director of the Center of the Study of Anti-Semitism at New York’s Muse  um of Jewish Heritage. Foxman led the ADL for 28 years, until 2015. “A virus depends on the environment, and the environment today is user-friendly to the virus, to anti-Semitism. The environment kept it latent. We, in the last 50 years in this country, developed a firewall, a social consensus of what is proper and improper and there were consequences for wrong behavior. Truth was a weapon. People were held accountable for their behavior.”

But that has changed. Foxman cited the recent example of a member of Jersey City’s Board of Education who, after the murderous attack on a kosher market in December, posted: “Where was all this faith and hope when black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the Jewish community?”

Many have called for the Board of Education to fire her, but Joan Terrell-Paige remains a trustee of the body. Foxman said, “She’s still on the job. So, where’s the accountability?”

Gold told the Journal that social media companies need to be held accountable, as well, because they provide environments where hate, at times, grows unchecked.

Just about every Jewish group issued a statement or offered interviews after the Monsey attack, which seemed to mark a tipping point in public outcry about the violence against Jews.

“There needs to be some responsibility by Facebook administrators,” Gold said, for what goes on in Facebook groups, like some focused on Rockland County and the Lakewood, N.J., area, where tensions between the ultra-Orthodox community there and other local residents is running high.

“They need to monitor these groups 24 hours a day. They say, ‘What do you want from us? We can’t monitor it.’ That’s B.S.,” Gold said. “The laws pertaining to regular media should pertain to social media.” Because of stereotypes, rumors and lies spread on social media, “no one knows what’s true anymore. Something needs to be done. There have to be some type of repercussions.”

Members of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s community gather in front of the rabbi’s house on Dec. 29 in Monsey, N.Y. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Bail Reform Worries

New York state passed a new bail reform law that took effect Jan. 1. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “It will eliminate pretrial detention and cash bail as an option in an estimated 90 percent of arrests.” There are exceptions to the new law in cases of domestic abuse, sex offenses, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit murder. But there appears to be none in connection with hate crimes.

Tiffany Harris, 30, was arrested and charged with attempted assault as a hate crime in the face slapping of three young Jewish women — in separate attacks — while yelling, “F— you, Jews!” on Dec. 27 in Crown Heights. She told police that she did it because they are Jewish, officials said. She was released without bail shortly after. A day later, she was arrested again, suspected of punching another person in the face. She again was released without bail because the charges were misdemeanors. Harris reportedly has been arrested 13 times in total, mostly for assault.

Fagin said New York state’s legislature needs to amend the law so those assaulting Jews in a hate crime don’t get away so easily. “The legislature knows how to draw distinctions. When it wanted to take sex offenders out from under the new law, they did it,” he noted. “We need to make the same distinction with hate crime.

“We simply cannot live as a society when those who commit hate crimes against any group are released and do it again the following day. We are turning our streets into a jungle,” he said.

Potential Retaliation

The Jewish security patrols known as the Shomrim in most Chasidic communities have vowed to beef up their presence in light of the recent violence. 

There are others urging Orthodox Jews to arm themselves. A recent article from The Jewish Press is titled, “Experts Suggest 6 Firearms That Will Fit in Your Tallit Bag,” for purposes of concealed carry in synagogue.

“I completely broke down. I cried.” — Moshe Wigder, Jewish actor

There are videos like one titled, “Wild West, Monsey Style,”  which shows four young Chasidic men toting what appear to be assault rifles as they saunter through a parking lot.

That attitude has one Monsey local very worried.

Moshe Wigder is an actor in one of the hottest off-Broadway shows in New York — the Yiddish “Fiddler on the Roof.” Raised Chasidic, mostly Satmar, he left Orthodoxy a while back but has lived in Monsey for about four years. Wigder was onstage in Manhattan when Grafton Thomas allegedly was swinging his machete, trying to murder Jews in his hometown.

Wigder already was deeply affected by the long string of attacks on Jews in New York and Jersey City. There is a scene in “Fiddler,” after the Jews have been expelled from Anatevka, in which his character, Mordkhe, enraged, talks to Tevye and says, “We can’t allow this! An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” Tevye puts his hands on Mordkhe’s shoulders and says, “Then the whole world will be without eyes or teeth.”

When he went offstage, checked Facebook and saw what had just happened in Monsey, Wigder said, “I completely broke down. I cried.”

The fear he knew as a Chasidic child with long side curls and a large yarmulke came flooding back. “I know that immediate fear. Whenever the goyim got drunk on Halloween or New Year’s Eve, we were afraid to walk in the streets, in Lakewood and in Brooklyn. They would throw things at us,” he recalled. 

His anger, like Mordkhe’s, also has been awakened. Chasidim “happen to be the easiest targets because they’re a visual representation” of Jews, he said. “There has been a lot of tension with the black communities (in places he has lived) and that’s not helping anyone.” If the violence against Jews continues and it sparks any retaliation, “We’re going to have two minorities, then, without eyes or teeth.”


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a journalist in New York City.

An Open ‘Thank You’ List to Those Who Made Our Lives ‘Richer’

I’m a relative newcomer to this magical place called Israel. Although I’ll always remain a proud American, my love for my new home increases each day. It’s populated by diverse, argumentative and combative people. But despite our many differences, we’re united by a sense of belonging and rootedness, of having come home after surviving a journey that should have destroyed us centuries ago.

Now, some folks out there don’t particularly appreciate the sentiment. Some of you are doing your best to thwart our progress. Some are aiming for much, much worse.

But here’s the thing. Without intending to, you’ve contributed to our well-being far more than you could ever know. Here’s my list of people to thank for making our lives “richer” in 2019.

To the Palestinians — Without the constant exhortations from your religious and political leaders to kill us, we could be repeating past mistakes when told that we needed to jump-start the peace process through “confidence building” giveaways. You’ve made things much easier by upping — to account for inflation, I guess — your pay-to-slay payments to the families of those who kill Jews, and for the school curricula that deny our existence while teaching martyrdom as the highest goal. Today, there are no illusions and no negotiating partners.

To the United Nations — Your poisonous obsession with demonizing Israel reminds us that much of the world has not come around to accepting our existence any more than it did when Jews couldn’t find a refuge from the Holocaust.

To Iran — For those who think that Israel can ignore what the world thinks, we have Iran and its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies to remind us that one misstep on our part, one moment in which we lose our vigilance or our edge, and we can be incinerated.

To Jeremy Corbyn — Thanks to the (politically) late-lamented head of the British Labour Party, for reminding us that a pillar of Western civilization could come that close to installing a brazen anti-Semite as its head.

To white supremacists — Thank you for reminding us that the post-Holocaust frowning upon public Jew hatred has come to an end. The most virulent and primitive anti-Semitism is back — coupled with hatred of people of color, immigrants and others. (Here is the real intersectionality!) For that reason alone, we need a strong Jewish state!

To “The Squad” — You showed us the limits and fragility of congressional support when the leadership of the Democratic Party could not bring itself to censure Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for her overt anti-Semitism. When the media give free passes to Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), no matter how sophomoric, ill-informed (like Tlaib’s recent depiction of the terrorist attack on the Jersey City, N.J., grocery store by blacks with links to the Black Hebrew Israelites, as the work of “white supremacists”), or just plain hatred-inciting they may be, we realize that for some Americans in positions of power, that race, gender and victimhood mean more than facts.

To Jewish Voice For Peace — We needed to show the world that Jews can be foolish and/or anti-Semitic. You did it for us by actively supporting the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Despite our many differences, we’re united by a sense of belonging and rootedness, of having come home after surviving a journey that should have destroyed us centuries ago.

To (too many) Western churches — We’ve lived with the hostility of the elites leading the 590 million-strong World Council of Churches since before our founding. Along the way, we learned that the Mennonites (many of whom were Hitler’s eager supporters in his search for Aryan communities) never had anything positive to say about us, and the Quakers were certainly not our friends. This past year, we saw the Anglican Church of Southern Africa take delegitimizing Israel to new depths, while the U.S. version (the Episcopal Church) became the first mainline denomination to ratchet up a boycott of Israeli goods. Rick Wiles and TruNews reminded us that anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the U.S., with claims that we are “fake Jews” and responsible for all global problems. So deeply rooted that they could find tens of thousands of viewers in the evangelical heartland. We thank all of you for reminding us that it is easier to profess love than meaningfully demonstrate it.

To the campus and academic communities — We have watched as Israeli speakers were shouted down on campus after campus until they could not continue — while administrations consistently did nothing to protect free speech. We’ve seen Jewish students bullied inside and outside of classrooms, sometimes for being pro-Israel, at other times simply for being Jewish. We observed a federally funded program at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill that featured a comedian telling openly anti-Semitic jokes. At Oberlin College, students set up a memorial to Islamic Jihad terrorists.
We thank you for reminding us that IQ and moral rectitude have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

To intersectionality devotees — How could we demonstrate to the world that anti-Semitism is not restricted to alt-right lunatics and Nazis, if it were not for activist and former Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour (Israel is “built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else”; “nothing creepier” than the Jewish liberation movement) types? Thanks for explaining to us that we suffer from white privilege because half of us in Israel are non-white, we would never have realized it.

Here is why we are counting all the blessings you provided us.

The United Nations World Happiness Report has Israel in 13th place, ahead of the U.S., the U.K., Germany and every other Middle Eastern country. This despite having to send our sons and daughters to our borders every day — from which too many don’t return — to prevent our neighbors from achieving their announced goal of pushing us into the sea. For that privilege, we pay ridiculously high taxes and live with the scorn and derision of a world that never forgot anti-Semitism.

Why are we still so happy? It is because Israel is one of the few places where people still can feel a deep sense of mission and purpose. Israel is one of the only places on Earth where increasing income does not mean having fewer children. On Israel Independence Day, that sense of purpose is palpable. Every patch of grass is covered with people celebrating love of country. Can you still remember when the U.S. was like that?

As the quality of life keeps improving, this sense of national purpose could easily evaporate. Each of us could easily turn to our own smaller universes, if we no longer had to worry about simple survival. The beauty of the entire enterprise — and the willingness of all of us to participate in it — would fade. We would lose our best and brightest to emigration.

You are the reason why we have not gone spoiled and soft. You know — like Europe. But you remind us each day that we need to steel ourselves and to be prepared to go it alone. You had no intention of assisting us — au contraire! We do regret, however, what you’ve done to the people you thought you were befriending. Your encouragement does nothing substantive for the Palestinians other than prolonging their agony, enabling them to stay away from the negotiating table that could give them the better life they need and deserve.

Finally, all of you make us appreciate the millions of true friends we have in the U.S. and beyond.

May the New Year bless our true friends.


Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

De Blasio Politicized Anti-Semitism — and Endangered Jews

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks on stage during People en Español 6th Annual Festival To Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Getty Images for Festival People en Español)

Last week, a flurry of anti-Semitic attacks plagued New York City during the Festival of Lights. On Dec. 23 in Manhattan, an assailant reportedly punched and kicked an elderly Orthodox man, shouting, “F—you, Jew bastard!” That evening in Brooklyn, police received a report that teenagers assaulted a Jewish 6-year-old and 7-year-old. 

On Dec. 24, a group hurled a drink and anti-Semitic hate speech at a Crown Heights resident. Two days later, police arrested a woman for spitting slurs and then bashing a Jewish woman in the face with a bag.

By Dec. 27, an attacker slapped three other Jewish women while shrieking anti-Semitic epithets. Hours later, a man entered the Lubavitch World Headquarters, threatening to shoot the Jews inside. On Dec. 28, another assailant carried out a similar threat. A man trespassed into a rabbi’s home and started stabbing people at a Hanukkah party. 

This pogrom is not a sudden phenomenon; it’s an escalation of assaults Jews have experienced in NYC for years. 

How did this happen? How did New York Mayor Bill de Blasio fail to stop it?

De Blasio, like many in office, only confronted anti-Semitism when he could pin it on a political rival. “The ideological movement that is anti-Semitic is the right-wing movement,” de Blasio said last June. His inability to acknowledge, let alone address, anti-Semitism without politicizing it may have contributed to the violence in his city.

“I want to be very, very clear. The violent threat, the threat that is ideological, is very much from the right,” the mayor said of anti-Semitic hate crimes, which spiked by 20% in NYC this year. Yes, right-wing hate has led to Jewish bloodshed in Pittsburgh and Poway. However, there is no evidence those individuals beating Jews in New York hold reactionary views.

It took until September for de Blasio to admit mainly youth and mentally ill people, not neo-Nazis, perpetrate assaults on Jews.

Still, days after four people were murdered in a Jersey City kosher supermarket, de Blasio continued “right washing” anti-Semitism. “The violence overwhelmingly is coming from right-wing forces, white supremacist forces, direct linear descents of Nazism and fascism and the Ku Klux Klan. That’s the reality,” de Blasio said in December, refusing to ascribe any ideology to the Jersey City shooters. However, the Anti-Defamation League uncovered numerous social media posts linking one of those assailants to the anti-Semitic offshoots of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement.

The truth is, this anti-Semitic frenzy never should have escalated to the point where these tactics were necessary.

Given the kosher supermarket shooting was 2019’s most lethal anti-Semitic episode, claims like “anti-Semitism is a right-wing force” no longer are valid. This idea is even less valid when you take into account the assailants planned to murder 50 Jewish children with a pipe bomb in the yeshiva
next door.

Yet, de Blasio continued to put politics before Jewish people’s safety.

While Jews were being beaten on his streets, the mayor scolded his conservative predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, for comments about George Soros the ADL said promoted Jewish conspiracy theories. “I know Rudy Giuliani is determined to set new lows in pathetic, spineless behavior these days — but this anti-Semitic rant is particularly dangerous,” de Blasio immediately tweeted in response.

It’s not that New York’s and Jersey City’s violent hate crimes are coming from de Blasio’s left-wing allies; however, they aren’t in the name of conservativism, either. The brutal anti-Semitism on the streets of those cities has been mostly apolitical, unlike de Blasio’s response to them.

It took until anti-Semitic assaults were occurring daily for the mayor to finally try to protect Jewish New Yorkers. After the sixth anti-Semitic Hanukkah attack, de Blasio announced he would increase police presence in Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg. The decision has raised legitimate concerns about increased police brutality in minority neighborhoods. But the truth is, this anti-Semitic frenzy never should have escalated to the point where these tactics were necessary.

De Blasio refused to acknowledge anti-Semitism as anything other than the fault of his political enemies. Unwatched, the pot boiled. Now it’s overflowing.


Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist.

A Story of Media Bias

Police officers stand guard as the press gathers outside the home of a rabbi where a machete attack injured five people during a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey, N.Y., on Dec. 29, 2019. (Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times recently reported what to some was an uncomfortable fact. In a front-page story about the horrific attack at a rabbi’s house last week in Monsey, N.Y., the Times reported the attacker was black. It quoted Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance, who said the rash of attacks in the New York area has been perpetuated by African Americans.

On one level, you have to give credit to the L.A. Times for having more journalistic courage than The New York Times. In story after story, the N.Y. Times didn’t identify the attackers as black. Why is this important? As the Talmud states, “knowledge of the illness is half of the cure.” If the Jewish community is to stop this newest round of hatred, it needs the partnership of responsible black leaders. With their help, we can better understand the challenge and find solutions. 

However, hiding the identification of any attackers as being black will not solve the problem. (Note: Many mainstream publications and broadcast media have a policy to not specify the race of a suspect unless it is germane to the story.)

L.A. Times reporters Maria La Ganga and Laura King faced a dilemma. This detail didn’t fit into the neat box that says “all anti-Semites are white nationalists.” In response to that dilemma, the reporters contacted Rebecca Pierce, whom the reporters called a Bay Area writer and filmmaker familiar with the intersection of Judaism and challenges of the black community. Pierce is a black Jew and a supporter of anti-Israeli measures such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Clearly, Pierce is someone whose views are an anathema to the majority of American Jews. Now, the story had a new angle: Pierce said she was troubled that increased police presence in Jewish neighborhoods would make black residents uncomfortable. The subtle message was that Jews defending themselves might be racist.

“I had thought that after the Times came under new management, the havoc inflicted by its Chicago owners would be undone and the Times would return to the glory days of real journalism.”

Neither La Ganga nor King interviewed a Jewish leader from New York. They didn’t quote a resident of Monsey, where the attack occurred. (The story, which ran in the Dec. 30 edition, had a local angle. La Ganga reported from L.A. and King from Washington, D.C.) The reporters could have sought out black Orthodox Jews in L.A. or New York and asked for their reactions. Instead, they contacted an outlier to Jewish life, someone who lives in San Francisco to comment on black and Jewish relations in New York.
This not journalism. It’s not even “fake news.” It’s a report with the agenda of “Oh, we found out the uncomfortable truth that blacks are attacking Jews, and now we even found a black Jew who says, “Don’t defend yourself because you might upset me.’”

One might wonder if there is a responsible adult at the L.A. Times who would ask, “Is this really the story? Maybe we should interview some of the Jews in New York who were attacked. Why are we searching out an anti-Israel propagandist from San Francisco to opine on hatred in New York? And if we are quoting her, at least, why not identify her as a black Jew whose views are hostile to Israel and most Jews?”

I had thought that after the Times came under new management, the havoc inflicted by its Chicago owners would be undone and the Times would return to the glory days of real journalism. In an era of Facebook feeds and political polarization, we desperately need this. As Californians, we look to the Times to inform us, challenge us and even anger us with quality journalism.

The rise of anti-Semitism is deeply troubling. We desperately need greater wisdom to better understand how to face this challenge. Sadly, the Times failed in its mission as a news outlet to do this, and failed us, the readers.


Rabbi David Eliezrie is the president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His email is rabbi@ocjewish.com.

The Symbols Behind the Hate

A participant wears a kippah during a "wear a kippah" gathering to protest against anti-Semitism in front of the Jewish Community House on April 25, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

I’m getting dizzy. A string of anti-Semitic attacks is putting all of us on edge. I’m on information overload — the horrible facts, statistics, “thoughts and prayers,” condemnations, defiant responses, etc. What can I add to the conversation?

Perhaps just one thing: some reflections on symbolism. 

I guess I’m obsessed with symbols. I want to believe that life is more than what we see, that there’s some mystery and meaning behind the dry facts, even dry facts about terrifying hate crimes.

Let’s start with the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.

There’s something disturbingly symbolic about attacking Jews as they pray in solemn observance. They’re sitting ducks. And an attack on their house of worship symbolizes that Jews everywhere ought not feel safe in the one place they’re supposed to be able to congregate.

And then there was the kosher market shooting in Jersey City, N.J., where two Jews — a mother of three who was co-owner of the store, and a rabbinical student — were killed on Dec. 10. The student was a shopping duck. The symbolism was hard to ignore because the message was clear: Jews won’t even be safe in a market.

Next, there’s the sidewalk. It seems that every week, Jews are attacked on New York sidewalks. They’re walking ducks. Everyone ranging from corporate executives to the homeless walks on the sidewalk but the symbolism is obvious: Yes, the sidewalks are for everyone except religious Jews, who ought to stay home.

That is, until they’re targeted at home, as were the victims in the Dec. 28 machete attack in Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home in Monsey, N.Y. If a Jew can’t even be safe in his or her home, there’s only one symbolic conclusion: The Jew — his or her mind, body and soul — ought not to exist at all.

All hate crimes are abhorrent but there’s something particularly cowardly about attacking the pious.

And what about Jews themselves? What’s our symbol? Well, there are many. But in the case of the Orthodox Jews in distinguishable Jewish attire on the sidewalk who get sucker-punched in the back of their heads, I see only one symbol: unguarded piety.

All hate crimes are abhorrent but there’s something particularly cowardly about attacking the pious, whether Christian worshippers in Sri Lanka or a Jew on the way to afternoon prayers in Crown Heights, N.Y. Some Jews in Monsey reportedly have armed themselves with assault rifles but all I see is the sheer cowardice of their attackers.

New York’s response has been to ramp up police presence in Jewish neighborhoods. This, too, is symbolic in two ways: First, the fact that, like in France or Israel, Jews need police presence to ensure their safety is a crucial turning point in our history in the United States.

Second — and this is important —  increased police presence, even if it’s to protect Jews, could be construed by some as symbolic of possible police harassment of others. One friend posted on Facebook this week about a conundrum of identity versus morality: As a Jew, he was clearly grateful about police presence but as a social justice warrior, he was concerned that the police would racially profile black people in the neighborhoods where Jews had been beaten up, slapped and stabbed.

My final column of 2019 was dedicated to Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. My first column of 2020 was spurred by Congregation Netzach Yisroel in Monsey. Whether spelled “Nessah” or “Netzach,” the word means “eternal.”

The prophet Samuel understood symbolism. He wrote, “Netzach Yisroel Lo Yishaker” (1 Samuel 15:29), meaning, “The eternity of Israel will not lie.”

No, we won’t lie down. 

And we won’t stop sitting in a synagogue. 

Or shopping in a kosher market. 

Or walking on the sidewalk.

Or celebrating Judaism at home. 

In fact, a few hours after the attack in his home, Rottenberg led dozens in thunderous prayer and song as a way to “close” Shabbat. Why? Because he believed the incident was “an open miracle,” given how much worse it could have been. 

Clarity rooted in gratitude. There’s nothing more eternal than that.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

Jewish Groups React to Monsey Stabbings

People hold signs of support near the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. Five people were injured in a knife attack during a Hanukkah party and a suspect, identified as Grafton E. Thomas, was later arrested in Harlem. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Jewish groups have expressed shock and horror over the stabbings that occurred at a rabbi’s house in the New York City suburb of Monsey, N.Y., on the evening of Dec. 28.

The attack occurred at Chabad of Suffern Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home as he was lighting the candles on a menorah to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah. The attacker stabbed five people, including Rottenberg’s son. As of Dec. 30, two of the victims were listed in critical condition and the other three had been released from the hospital.

Grafton Thomas, 37, was arrested on Dec. 29 in connection with the attack. He faces five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary.

Anti-Defamation League New York and New Jersey Regional Director Evan Bernstein told the Journal he was amazed that Rottenberg and the congregants were still praying and singing following the stabbings.

“They were not going to let this horrific incident impact their ability to celebrate that holiday, and I think it shows the resilience of the Jewish community in these moments that are so difficult,” Bernstein said.

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris condemned the stabbings in a Dec. 29 statement. “We are witnessing a full-fledged epidemic of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York region. In the last week alone, there has been at least one each day,” Harris said. “What we need is a sustained, get-tough, zero-tolerance policy by local and state officials. And that policy must take equally seriously each incident, whatever its source might be. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.”

He also said, “The promising light of this holiday season must defeat the utter darkness of those who commit such violence in the name of hatred.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper called on President Donald Trump to direct the FBI to create a national task force to protect Jews from anti-Semitic attacks. 

“Enough is enough. Jews should not have to fear for their lives in America to go to their houses of worship,” Hier and Cooper said. “The FBI must step up and take the lead in all recent violent hate crimes targeting religious Jews.”

StandWithUs issued a statement, saying the attack “is yet another urgent reminder of the need to confront anti-Semitism at all levels and in all corners of society. Unfortunately, this rise in anti-Semitism also makes clear that Jews in the U.S. and beyond must invest in serious security, learn self-defense, and work with local allies and law enforcement to ensure their safety.”

Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin called for anti-Semitic acts to be treated as domestic terrorism and praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for proposing a law to classify anti-Semitic acts as domestic terrorism.

“This was the ninth anti-Semitic attack in the New York City area in the past week,” Fagin said. “It is the fundamental responsibility of government to protect the safety of all of its citizens. This responsibility must be effectuated with all resources necessary to accomplish this purpose.”

Other anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in New York during Hanukkah included a man punching and kicking a Jewish man while shouting, “F— you, Jew” on Dec. 23, a woman hitting a Jewish woman with a bag on Dec. 26 and a man on Dec. 27 threatening to shoot people at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn. 

Bernstein told the Journal he has never seen so many anti-Semitic incidents occur in such a short period during his six-year tenure as regional director of ADL New York and New Jersey. 

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “After the hateful assaults we saw this past week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it is heart-wrenching to see the holiday of Hanukkah violated yet again. We are outraged because the answer is clear: the Jewish community NEEDS greater protection.”

10 Simple Rules for Thinking About Anti-Semitism in America

A Hasidic man walks by a police car in a Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Anti-Semitism is a sign of a society in crisis

When a majority of American Jews pointed at Donald Trump as the main culprit of anti-Semitism in America – it was both absurd and concerning, because it proved that many Jews no longer understand anti-Semitism and its main causes. Anti-Semitism is an ancient phenomenon for which the main reason is generally understood: a society in crisis tends to search for scapegoats, and the Jew is a handy scapegoat (but not the only scapegoat: hate crimes against other groups are also on the rise). Why is the Jew a handy scapegoat? Because the Jew is always in the minority, religiously and culturally. And also because there is a deeply-rooted tradition of suspecting the Jew. That is to say, anti-Semitism will decline only when the social crisis that America is going through subsides. Until then, no matter which candidate is elected president, brace yourself for this unpleasant challenge.

 

Jews are not responsible for anti-Semitism

It is most shameful, and yet very common, to blame the victim for his own troubles. Unfortunately, this is not only common among the haters of Jews, it is also somewhat acceptable among Jews. They’ll say things such as: they hate us because of Israel. Or because we are successful. Or because we are progressive. Or because we are against Trump. But in saying all these things we confuse a reason with an excuse. These aren’t reasons to hate the Jews – these are the excuses of people who hate the Jews.

 

This is not about political opportunities

I get the feeling that this lesson is something that Jews are finally beginning to understand. Benjamin Wittes wrote in The Atlantic that “the bottom line is that anti-Semitism does not align with any simple political narrative you try to map it onto. Jews should know better than to play games by trying to force an alignment that doesn’t exist. Doing so trivializes a weighty history.” I believe this is part of a new trend among Jews to finally get over their past instinctive tendency to politicize anti-Semitism. After the Pittsburgh massacre, I wrote here the following words: “treat this butchery of hate not as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Make it personal. Make it about love. Mourn it.” Of course, I take no credit for changing the minds of Jews. I have no idea how such a thing can be done with this group of stiff-necked people. It is experience that begins to alter their response to anti-Semitic attacks. It is the realization that anti-Semitism is too serious to be treated as an opportunity to score a cheap political point.

 

America has not yet become anti-Semitic

Two of the three indicators of anti-Semitic trends in the United States seem to point upwards. These are the number and volume of actual attacks against Jews, and the way US Jews perceive the significance of the threat. But there is a third indicator – possibly the most significant of the three – that we tend to neglect. That is, public opinion towards Jews. For now, this indicator is a cause for comfort. The Jews are still a well-regarded minority in America, as the PEW warmth thermometer proved again in 2019. For now (and we must be cautious about such conclusions), “America” is not becoming more anti-Semitic. It is rather a small minority of bigots and haters who makes trouble. That’s important to remember.

 

Anti-Semitism is not the result of a lack of strategy

When there’s a crisis, there’s a tendency for institutions, governments, pundits and think tanks to come up with bureaucratic solutions. A world body that can direct the fight, for instance, or an office within a government that can push for more resources, coordination, and synchronization. On Sunday, Zvika Klein wrote that “The State of Israel and the Jewish communities need to establish a single headquarters to coordinate the issue.” The Jewish People Policy Institute, for which I work, recommended “that the Israeli government entrust the handling of anti-Semitic incidents to a single body with powers and executive ability.” By all means, let everybody coordinate their strategies and pool their resources, as long as we remember that anti-Semitism is not a problem that the Jews can fix by having a more efficient bureaucracy. It is a problem from which the Jews suffer, and from which they can merely offer certain escapes, be it Aliyah (as Israeli leader Avigdor Lieberman proposed), or self-defense (as David Suissa suggested).

 

Pragmatic suggestions ought to be considered with pragmatism

After Pittsburgh, I wrote that “the question of security, of guards, of locked gates, is not very interesting. It is a technical question, one of risk assessment, of cost-benefit assessment.” What I mean by this is that part of being serious about anti-Semitism is to also cast aside certain ideologies and become more pragmatic about guarding Jews. Imagine the following dilemma: One opposes current US gun laws. But then one discovers that such laws can be useful for those wanting to be better prepared for attacks on Jews. What is to be done in such a case? My argument is that a wave of anti-Semitism ought to point us away from ideological purism, and towards pragmatism. Does this mean that I think Jews must purchase guns? No, it does not. But this does mean that they ought to be able to consider it as a pragmatic means to a certain aim – defending Jews from attacks – rather than as a broad ideological question.

 

Anti-Semitism weakens the commitment of many Jews

As much as we (Jews) would like to think that anti-Semitism brings us together and unite us in a fight against a common enemy – this is not exactly true. The Jews respond to anti-Semitism in two main ways. Committed Jews are becoming even more committed. They find purpose and meaning in the fight against the baseless hatred of anti-Semites, and are rejuvenated by it. Alas, there are quite a few Jews in America who cannot be defined as highly committed to their Jewishness. For a large share of these Jews, the natural response to anti-Semitism is going to be simple: they’ll lower their Jewish profile even further. If they used to attend a synagogue once a year, they will now skip it. If they tended towards having a Bar-Mitzvah for their children, they might now reconsider. If they had a Menorah (maybe alongside a tree), they might consider the possibility that this exposes them to attacks. In other words, anti-Semitism is not just a physical challenge for Jews who want to practice their Judaism, it is also a challenge for those of us wanting as many Jews as possible to keep their attachment to the tribe.

 

Israel cannot do much more than offer itself as refuge

Israel cannot eliminate anti-Semitism. In fact, it tried and failed. When the early Zionists were thinking about their revolutionary project, they were naïve enough to believe that when the Jews had a state, the hatred of Jews would subside (because they would no longer be different from other nations). As we all know, this proved not to be the case. Israel thrives as a Jewish State, and yet many people continue to hate Jews. So what can Israel do to help the Jews who suffer from anti-Semitism? Unfortunately, not much. To quote what I already wrote and explained in some detail: “The only thing that Israel can really offer in response to anti-Semitism is something tried and true: its existence. Israel can and must continue to be a Jewish safe haven, ready to accept Jews in distress from anywhere in the world. Israel’s law of return enables every Jew who feels the need to flee persecution to find a home in the Jewish state and become a citizen.”

 

Anti-Semitism is normal

This is as depressing as it is true. The short respite from anti-Semitism that Jews experienced in many western countries in recent decades was the aftermath of the horrors of the Holocaust. For some decades, the still-fresh memories were powerful enough to erase most anti-Semitic thoughts from the public sphere. But as with all other memories, this one also fades with time, and is becoming less effective in the way it impacts societies. As a JPPI report phrased it recently: “The proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and the US… amounts to a quantum leap and reflects a waning of Holocaust awareness.” Does this mean that the Jews must accept this reality? Of course not. But they do need to come to grips with the possibility that what the current generation of them (us) consider normality was in fact a mirage. For a few decades we lived in abnormal times, and could entertain the belief that anti-Semitism was no longer a significant factor of Jewish life, or that America was a place where the rules of history were different. Now, we must acknowledge the possibility – if not yet the certainty – that we were wrong. That the waning of anti-Semitism was merely a temporary halt, and that this halt is over.

 

Anti-Semitism is not the end of the world

For many decades, for centuries, our ancestors had to live with anti-Semitism. Today, we have more power than most of them had, more wealth, more resources, more connections, more allies. Anti-Semitism is a threat to Jews, but it is not a new threat. And luckily, for American Jews, it is very far from becoming existential threat. Thus, our response to this wave of nasty hatred ought to be measured, calculated, and calm. In their long history, the Jews have proved that they can overcome much greater challenges than a few bigoted Americans who think they’ve found an easy victim. This means that there is a certain standard we have to meet. As a famous Israeli song says it: we overcame Pharaoh, we can overcome this.

————

Shmuel Rosner’s book #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution (with Prof. Camil Fuchs) is available on Amazon.

 

After Monsey, Letting the Light Guide Us

Police officers stand guard as the press gathers outside the home of a rabbi where a machete attack injured five people during a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey, N.Y., on Dec. 29, 2019. (Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images)

Saturday night, at a Hanukkah party in Los Angeles, I heard about an antisemitic attack in New York, in which a suspect wielding either a knife or machete – depending on which news source you read – broke into a Hasidic home and stabbed several of the occupants, who were lighting the Hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah) at the time. It happened in Monsey, a Hasidic enclave in Rockland County, New York. I was immediately transported back to my childhood and my many visits to that town, where my grandparents lived as observant Conservative Jews, a minority group within the larger Hasidic Jewish population.

Driving into the hamlet of Monsey, my mother always pointed out the disappearance of the TV antennae from the rooftop, a visible rejection of some of the trappings of American materialism and the connection to secular society. They had no TVs in these households, we were told, and we gazed out the window with incredulity at those rooftops and at the Jews who walked the streets in full Hasidic garb, at this community that, while also Jewish, was so different from the way we “did Jewish.” This was a place with Hasidic-run groceries and businesses, and even the ShopRite in Route 59 had been impacted by the density of the religious population: its massive aisles boasted an impressive array of kosher products.

While the TV antennae visual probably doesn’t resonate any more because the internet provides all kinds of access to forbidden images, I remember the effect of all these sights: these Jews lived in a world apart from American society, as much as was possible, protected from profanity and lewdness and secular influence, as stringently Jewish and religiously observant as the citizens wanted to be. That circle of protection was shattered with this antisemitic incident.

But it doesn’t matter where this attack happened. Hate doesn’t adhere to geographical boundaries, or religious ones either – while writing this piece, I received news of three people being shot in a church near Fort Worth, Texas, and across the pond, antisemitic graffiti in Hampstead and Belsize Park in London. So this isn’t a Monsey problem, or even a New York problem. It’s a global society problem. So how are we, as a global society made up of local provinces, preparing to combat hate, racism and intolerance of the “other”?

To say that I am saddened by these latest attacks, and by all the attacks that preceded it, is a gross understatement that stymies me as a writer. How can I explain, in a word or phrase or hot take, how disheartened I am by the unchecked rise of intolerance, racism and hate that leads people to attack those who they perceive as “other”? How can I unpack how confused I am about the path ahead, wondering if the extreme love and light we champion as salve for the deep wounds inflicted by extremist hate and darkness are powerful enough to make a difference. Responding to the Monsey stabbing, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called the hatred “an American cancer on the body politic.” If we’re in that metaphor, where is the chemo or radiation to kill these life-threatening cells and neutralize this illness?

I don’t have a foolproof solution, resplendent with strategies, appeals to lawmakers and law enforcement, or plans for community outreach and education. The task seems enormous, too systemically ingrained to make a difference. But the one approach that seems to make sense to me right now is drawn from an emotional parallel to how we may be approaching climate change: we all have to do our part, every day, even if it seems small and insignificant. We must bring light–to illuminate, to highlight justice. Just because the work is great and we may not be able to finish it ourselves doesn’t exempt us from doing our part.

So, for tonight, it’s okay to feel the pain, and take refuge in the dark, illuminated by the flickering lights of the Hanukkiyyah, that seem to signal both life’s hope and instability within the same flames. Because if there’s anything we learn from Hanukkah, it’s that small efforts can triumph in seemingly impossible battles, and that a single vial of oil, a single unit of energy, potential and illumination, can generate light beyond its perceived capacity. May the same be true of our efforts to combat antisemitism and intolerance. As we light tonight, with the Hanukkiyyah finally complete, we will hold the victims of this week’s antisemitic attacks in our hearts, as we do whenever violence renders us raw. And after this night of extreme candlelight, we will think about all the ways we can move forward. Tomorrow, we will be the light.

No More Sitting Ducks: Jews Need to Learn Self-Defense

Joseph Gluck (R) talks to the press as he describes the machete attack that took place earlier outside a rabbi's home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Monsey, New York, on December 29, 2019. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

After each anti-Semitic attack, Jews seem to get weaker and more vulnerable. One reason is that instead of taking real action, we prefer to mostly complain and release cliché-ridden statements expressing our “outrage” and “demanding action.”

For those with a political agenda, such condemnations can be useful. If a white supremacist attacks Jews, for example, Donald Trump-hating Democrats will be all over it. If the attacker is Islamic or from the left, Republicans will feast.

Remember when anti-Semitism would bring Jews together by uniting us against a common enemy? What happened? Vicious, partisan politics happened. In these days of trench political warfare, every incident is seen through one lens: How can we use this to help our side win in November?

The alarming string of attacks in New York City by blacks against Orthodox Jews doesn’t fit into a neat political narrative. Had the perpetrators been white supremacists, we can be sure the progressive community and mainstream media would have gone into overdrive.

Progressive activist Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz posed this question on Facebook to his comrades: “Do you only rally against acts of hate against minorities if done with a gun & done by a white supremacist (i.e. fits the set narrative)?”

In an open society where millions of people can circulate freely, it’s unfair to expect authorities to protect each individual Jew.

In any event, it seems as if we reached a tipping point with the Saturday night attack in Monsey against Orthodox Jews celebrating Hanukkah. Coming on the heels of similar assaults over the past couple of weeks, there are signs that groups from across the spectrum are trying to put politics aside and saying, “OK, enough is enough.”

The real question is: What will we do? Will we continue to settle for empty statements of condemnations demanding that “this must stop”? Will activist groups feast on the fundraising boost triggered by fear? Will we put all the responsibility on the government and local authorities to protect us?

It’s fine to demand more from law enforcement, but that only goes so far. You can’t put a guard in front of every Jewish house. Faster response times don’t help when the violent act has already been committed. Certainly, authorities can do a better job of tracking hate speech and trying to anticipate hate crimes, and legislators can strengthen the laws.

And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite word — education. Yes, I dream of the day when education will make people stop hating Jews.

But let’s be realistic: No matter what we do, no matter how many task forces we launch and “state of emergencies” we declare and community security initiatives we organize, there still will be Jews who are vulnerable targets.

This is especially true for the large, ultra-Orthodox community in the New York area, who have become virtual sitting ducks for anyone wishing to harm Jews. In an open society where millions of people can circulate freely, it’s unfair to expect authorities to protect every Jew.

That’s why Jews must learn to better protect themselves — personally and physically. They must learn self-defense. It’s as simple, and painful, as that. 

Most of the recent attacks in New York have used knives and fists rather than guns. A self-defense technique like Krav Maga could be invaluable both to counter and deter such attacks. There are many other techniques and tactics. The point is, we need to put individual self-defense on the communal agenda.

Look at Israel: Is there a nation in the world that has faced more anti-Semitism? The Jewish state has survived for so long because it has understood that bullies prey on fear and are stopped not by reason but by force. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality.

In fact, it was the throwing of a coffee table against the attacker that prevented worse carnage in the Monsey incident. As reported on CNN, when Josef Gluck realized the rampage wasn’t over, he grabbed a coffee table, went after the assailant and “hit him in the face.”

If Torah study makes us stronger, well, so does Krav Maga.

According to the CNN report, the attacker came after him, saying, “Hey, you! I’ll get you.” But Gluck kept screaming, “He’s coming!” and warned everyone to flee. And guess what happened soon after that? The assailant decided to leave.

Did the coffee table counterattack help? You tell me.

Subjects like self-defense are unsettling. No one likes to fight. It would be so much more civilized if we could just count on governmental and communal institutions to protect us. But they need help. They can’t do it alone. Each Jew is a target, and there are simply too many targets.

We can do our share by strengthening these Jewish targets and making ourselves less vulnerable. Yes, Torah study makes us stronger, but so does Krav Maga.


The Fight Against Anti-Semitism: United We Stand—Divided We Fail

Photo by Oleksii Liskonih/Getty Images

Anti-Semitism is on the rise. On a virtually daily basis at least one new incident of antisemitic activity is reported, here in the United States and in countries around the world. This bigoted treatment of the Jewish people—which has continued for over 2,000 years and culminated in the murder of some six million Jews, seemed largely to have faded into the fringes of society for several decades that followed the Holocaust. Sadly and shockingly, however, anti-Semitism is once again metastasizing and appears to be seeping into the cultural and political mainstream. And, as it has done throughout history, the so-called “new” anti-Semitism has morphed to include demonization and delegitimization of the modern representation of the Jewish collective: the State of Israel.

For those of us who devote our time, energy and resources to exposing and fighting this virus, aptly described as “the oldest hatred,” and supporting the continued thriving of the Jewish state, the preceding paragraph is certainly not news.  And while there may be many nuanced differences in our approaches,  we can all agree that the problem is getting worse. Not only is anti-Semitism becoming commonplace and, in some contexts, surprisingly acceptable; it is growing in intensity. Anti-Semitism no longer finds expression through mere words alone, but is increasingly manifested through conduct, including vandalism and destruction of property,  physical violence, and even murder.

While this situation undoubtedly presents cause for concern, for heightened awareness, and for increased efforts on our part, it also presents us with a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity that we cannot afford to squander. I daresay an imperative. In fact, it’s ironic, in light of the nature of our work, that like-minded organizations have not yet seized the opportunity  to combine efforts.

When educating about anti-Semitism, I (not unlike many others) like to stress the importance of focusing less on organizational differences, and more on finding common ground. I talk to students and community members about developing relationships with non-Jewish individuals and groups, for example, and working with them toward common goals. This doesn’t require complete agreement on all issues. But we must possess   the ability to identify and agree on the essentials of accomplishing the mutually desired outcome of combating anti-Semitism together.  It also assumes the willingness to ignore non-essential differences in the furtherance of that outcome. This same ability and willingness are what we must adopt—immediately—if we sincerely hope to succeed in our shared goal of curtailing the spread of anti-Semitism.

I am not naïve as to some of the reasons for the lack of cooperation within this important area of our work, (for example, concerns about fundraising and about being perceived as the organization doing the best work in this space).  Sometimes there is even infighting between Jewish groups, which sadly adds fuel to the flame of hatred being stoked by the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people—a flame we must work together to extinguish.  We are all being naïve if we continue to allow concerns about funding  to dictate a climate of competition rather than cooperation toward our shared urgent objective.

The enemies of tolerance are unified. They are consistent in strategy and messaging and there is a virtual absence (at least publicly) of any sense of competition or clamoring to be the best among the haters. Make no mistake: They have created a coordinated effort on many fronts and we must learn from their successes.  Nothing less than a similar display of strength and unity—of consistency, cooperation, and collaboration—will suffice to effectively combat the virulent disease of anti-Semitism.

This reality has been rightly recognized by influencers throughout history, from Aesop to Patrick Henry to Winston Churchill, in the oft-repeated sentiment: united we stand, divided we fall. It is time we heed their warning. It is time we set aside our non-essential differences and move together in the same direction toward our common purpose.


Carly F. Gammill is the Director & Counsel for Litigation Strategy at the Center for Combating Antisemitism, a division of StandWithUs.

Spate of Anti-Semitic Incidents Shows that ‘Action is Your Cue’

Photo by Ryan Torok

On Dec. 17, anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas and the words, “it’s time to pay,” were found spray-painted on three westside schools. On Dec. 18, a man accused of ransacking a Sephardic synagogue in Beverly Hills was apprehended in Hawaii, in what police are investigating as a hate crime.

The latest spate of anti-Semitic activity in our community — barely a week after six people were slain in a targeted antisemitic attack in New Jersey — has contributed to a growing climate of fear.

Fear is human and understandable, but that doesn’t make it tolerable. Fear makes us feel helpless, and too often, we cope by bunkering down and ignoring the scary reality that Jews in America are less safe today than they have been in decades.

As someone who has devoted my adult life to studying how hate leads to mass violence, I implore you: Do not shrug these incidents off and go about your day. Do not become numb to hate or degrade your worldview to accept antisemitism as a fact of life.

Take action. Reject hate. And help spur understanding.

History does not repeat itself, because circumstances are never identical, but remember that anti-Semitic enmity is as old as Jews themselves. I recently read a book published in 1936 entitled, “How to Combat Anti-Semitism in America.” It easily could have been written today.

One of its authors, Jessie Sampter, writes, “Can antisemitism be successfully combatted in America or anywhere else? The fight, under this name or another, is centuries old but has never been finished.” She goes on: “Anti-Semitism is a form of war and has the same causes,” describing those acts of war as ranging from a “prohibition to visit a summer hotel” to the “butchery of a family.”

Never mind history repeating itself, it just never stopped.

In the same volume, non-Jewish writer John Milton Caldwell urges the Jewish community to “be Jews with all your might!” in the face of hatred, and in particular urges young people “to not underrate their own powers” and be “thoroughly Jewish in a gentile world.” Faced with Nazism in Europe at the time and a rising tide of antisemitism in America, he states, “Action is your cue!”

What does action look like today?

Earlier this year, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA, teenage sisters Sabrina and Sydney Brandeis took a stand against hate in response to a series of incidents at their school, which included identity attacks through graffiti and verbal abuse. They launched Diversity Undivided, a community event that features exchange students, LGBTQIA+ students and others to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. They initiated the program as part of USC Shoah Foundation’s Stronger Than Hate video challenge, which they won, earning funds for their education and for their school.

Another important — and least explored — form of action is equipping ourselves to counter the online world that feeds the hatred we see on our streets. Fearmongering has become de rigueur today, and social media amplifies the most toxic voices. The result is often a distortion of facts that can be incredibly detrimental to our capacity to combat hate. One need not look far to find evidence of bias in reporting of antisemitic acts, and it is vital that we educate ourselves and our children in how to read and interpret news and information objectively.

Sometimes it can feel like it’s never enough. When it seems that we read about another instance of antisemitism in this country almost every day, it’s easy to become exhausted and complacent.

But as challenging as our present moment is, it is nothing compared to what we know could happen if antisemitic hate goes unchecked. Our promise to “never forget” is also a promise to “never relent.” It is a hopeful sign that, in Beverly Hills, the city council and law enforcement took decisive action: They made the arrest of the Nessah Synagogue perpetrator a priority—which meant deploying resources to send multiple detectives out to Hawaii.

We must continue to do everything within our power to combat rising antisemitism around the world, to support greater education for ourselves and our children, and to lift each other up as we refuse to back down in the fight against hatred in all its forms. All these decades later, action is still our cue!

Police Arrest Suspect in Connection With Nessah Vandalism

Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills (Wikimedia Commons)

Authorities have arrested a 24-year-old Pennsylvanian man in connection with the vandalism  at Nessah Synagogue this past Shabbat.

The Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) announced Dec. 18 it had arrested Anton Nathaniel Redding, 24, of Millersville, Pa, in  Hawaii. He was charged with vandalism of a religious property and commercial burglary. The charges include a hate crime penalty enhancement.

In its statement, BHPD said Redding was apprehended as a “result of a thorough investigation, review of surveillance footage and the processing of forensic evidence.”

BHPD worked with federal and local law enforcement agents. After discovering Redding was in Hawaii BHPD  Redding was eventually located in Kona  and taken into custody.  He is currently being held in Hawaii without bail ahead of an extradition hearing. Once extradited he is slated to appear at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles.

BHPD said it detained another suspect on the evening of Dec. 14. “However, that subject was excluded as a suspect based on forensic evidence and was ultimately released from detention.”

Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch applauded BHPD’s work. He issued a statement saying,  “I said we would catch this guy and we did. The criminal who we believe desecrated a holy place on Shabbat is now in custody thanks to the superb work of the Beverly Hills Police Department. The Beverly Hills community is strong and will not be intimidated by despicable acts. Our thoughts remain with the Nessah community as they work to move forward from this terrible crime.”

The incident occurred around 2 a.m. on Dec. 14. The suspect desecrated Torah scrolls, overturned furniture and ransacked several areas of the Beverly Hills sanctuary, which serves the Iranian-Jewish community. An employee at Nessah discovered the burglary hours later around 7 a.m., on Shabbat. Nothing was stolen and nobody was injured.

 

 

 

When the News Gets in the Way

Since this is our last issue of 2019, I had written a light-hearted, end-of-year column that was all set to go to the printer — until, that is, an accumulation of hot news items got in the way.

The column was a breezy reflection on the value of dreams. Now all I can dream about is that we’ll have a week quiet enough to publish it. For now, we must deal with the business at hand — an avalanche of news, mostly bad, some historic.

I’m writing this column early in the morning in the lobby of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (with a little white cat swirling beneath my chair), having just participated in a four-day “Strategic Dialogue” between Israeli leaders and officials from Australia and the U.K.

Guess what people were asking me about at the closing gala? Yup, a certain synagogue incident in Beverly Hills. A potential future prime minister, Gideon Sa’ar, had just delivered a candid address, and people couldn’t stop talking about the ransacking of a sanctuary in Beverly Hills. Maybe it was the ZIP code. 

A few days earlier, we were abuzz about the midnight deadline that had just passed in Israel triggering an unprecedented third election in 12 months. The next day, we were consumed with the election results in the U.K., which are paving the way for Great Britain’s historic divorce from the European Union. 

In the meantime, other news items were intruding, like the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, for only the third time in U.S. history. 

Maybe instinctively, that’s why I stuck with the free speech cover — because Eisgruber’s ideal discourse is needed now more than ever.

And did I mention the latest deadly attack against Jews, this one in Jersey City,  and the president’s controversial executive order to combat BDS and anti-Semitism? Oh, and I almost forgot: The festival of Hanukkah is coming up!

In the middle of this news tornado, I was still working on a cover story I had planned for several weeks on one of my favorite topics: The state of free speech in America.

So, I had a decision to make: Should I bump the free speech cover for one on the killings in Jersey City? Or the presidential impeachment? Or Brexit and the fall of the anti-Semitic Jeremy Corbyn? Or Trump’s controversial executive order? Or the impossible stalemate in Israel? Or the attack at Nessah Synagogue?

While the free speech issue is timeless, the others are timely. Which should go first?

Maybe it’s because of my intense jet lag, but, as you can see, I decided to stick with the cover story on free speech and deal with the hot issues inside the paper.

For one thing, free speech is the foundation of a free society, not to mention the foundation of my profession, journalism.

But there’s something else: Free speech has become timely. That’s because it has come under assault, especially on college campuses, from activists who focus on its “microaggression” side effects rather than its fundamental value.

In these chaotic times, we need the freedom to rise up against the forces of hate, the wisdom to engage with dignity those with whom we disagree, and the curiosity and humility to constantly search for the truth.

These sentiments should not be casually dismissed by free speech junkies like yours truly. As I write in the story: “Our world is changing. As an evolving society, we are becoming more inclusive and sensitive to people’s feelings of alienation. Inclusivity is giving free speech a run for its money.”

The thrust of the story is on the innovative thinking of one man in the eye of the storm — Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber.

Eisgruber is a man of deep thought, empathy and cautious optimism. He argues that a vigorous free speech can coexist with a noble value like inclusivity. He threads the needle by reframing the free speech debate around “truth-seeking,” and seeing universities as “truth-seeking institutions.”

Under this unifying ideal, Eisgruber marries two seemingly opposite values. Indeed, as I write: “If the ideal revolves around the search for truth, the greater the inclusion of different voices, the deeper and broader that search will be.”

I encourage you to read the entire story. It is based on a remarkable keynote address Eisgruber delivered recently at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, titled “Contested Civility: Free Speech and Inclusivity on Campus.” 

I call the address “remarkable” because it aspires to a higher level of discourse that honors intellectual rigor and human dignity in equal measure.

Maybe instinctively, that’s why I stuck with the free speech cover — because Eisgruber’s ideal discourse is needed now more than ever.

In these chaotic times, we need the freedom to rise up against the forces of hate, the wisdom to engage with dignity those with whom we disagree, and the curiosity and humility to constantly search for the truth.

If one considers that ideal a ray of light, well, maybe this was a Hanukkah cover story after all.

Happy Hanukkah.

Let’s Talk About Trump’s Executive Order

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s been more than a week since President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism on college campuses, citing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Among the targets of the order is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The ammunition: An ability to withhold funds from campuses that allow the harassment of Jews. The assumption: BDS is anti-Semitic at its core.

Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color or national origin” (religion isn’t mentioned) in programs that receive federal funding. The order calls on government departments enforcing title VI to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. 

Critics of the order are concerned about how it will affect free speech, i.e., pro-Palestinian advocacy and criticism of Israel’s government policies. Would criticism of Israel qualify as anti-Semitism?

The response to Trump’s order ranged from the ignorant (Jews are not a people), to the confused (the president decided that Jews are a people), to the ridiculous (this feels like the first step toward making Jews wear yellow stars). Some Jews reacted positively (they hope it will be enforced in a fair manner). Some went overboard (the order will go down in history as one of the most important events in the 2,000-year battle against anti-Semitism). But all in all, the president’s attempt to rein in the enemies of Jews was met with skepticism — from Jews. As The New York Times wrote: “Jewish communities viewed Mr. Trump’s order in competing and discordant ways.” 

Why debate the order? The obvious answer is because in the eyes of many Jews (and non-Jews) Trump can do no right. But beyond this fact, four arguments were made against the executive order. 

A. That the order puts all Jews in “Israel’s basket.”
B. That the order stifles a necessary debate about the occupation.
C. That the real problem is the president’s allies on the right.
D. That the act will not help, and perhaps hurt, Jewish students.

These points often overlap and muddle the conversation about the order. Point A concerns how Jews see themselves and how they’re perceived by others. Point D is about tactics — was this the best way to protect Jews? Point B concerns the nature of the BDS movement. Point C is about having the right priorities. 

These points ought to be discussed separately and calmly, and without reference to Trump’s other qualities (except when this is relevant, mostly for point D, where the identity of the man signing the order might have ramifications for the preferred tactics). 

Having such a passionate discussion isn’t easy. Covering it in a limited space is almost impossible. But let’s begin with a simple suggestion: Let’s first acknowledge the possibility that the president’s aim was to help, not hurt, Jewish Americans. It was, as defined by his senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, to make sure that “to the extent that Jews are discriminated against for ethnic, racial or national characteristics, they are entitled to protection by the anti-discrimination law.”

Let’s first acknowledge the possibility that the president’s aim was to help, not hurt, Jewish Americans. 

Can we go as far as to accept such an assumption? If we can agree on that, we’ll be in a much better position to dispassionately debate whether the order could help Jews. Would it? On the one hand, it put college campuses on notice (if they fail to protect Jews from harassment, the schools  might suffer financial consequences). On the other hand, it further angers BDS supporters and provides them with rhetorical ammunition (if you support Trump, we know who you are). On the one hand, it acknowledges the connection of Jews with Israel (the ethnicity factor). On the other hand, it calls the spade (BDS) a spade. 

It’s difficult to foresee the exact impact of the order on the state of the Jews in general and on the atmosphere in college campuses in particular. This depends on the way the order is interpreted and implemented in the real world beyond celebratory ceremonies in Washington. Some critics say this could stifle a free debate about Israel. Would it hurt your feelings if my instinctive response to such suggestion is “I really wish it would?”


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain.

Did Covering Up Black Nationalist Hate Lead to Kosher Market Shooting?

Recovery and clean up crews work the scene in the aftermath of a mass shooting at the JC Kosher Supermarket on Dec. 11, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images

The New York Times called Black Hebrew Israelites “sidewalk ministers” who practice “tough love.” The Washington Post described them as nonviolent and their anti-Semitic “street preaching” as “commonplace, a familiar if odd accent to city life.”

That “odd accent to city life” in Jersey City came amid a hail of bullets as two supporters of the racist black nationalist hate group opened fire in the JC Kosher Supermarket. Despite initial media and authority claims that the Jewish market had not been targeted, shooters David Anderson and Francine Graham ignored passersby on Martin Luther King Drive to get to the store.

When the shooting ended, Moshe Hersh Deutsch, a yeshiva student known for his charity work; Leah Mindel Ferencz, a mother of three who helped her husband Moishe run the market; and Miguel Jason Rodriguez, a dedicated father working at the kosher market, were dead.

In online comments, Anderson, the black nationalist gunman, cheered anti-Semitic violence directed at Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. One of his favorite YouTube videos shows a Black Hebrew Israelite preacher telling a Jewish man, “The messiah, who is a black man, is going to kill you.”

The hate group believes its members are the true Jews and that other Jews are satanic imposters. Online, Anderson echoed these views and expressed his conviction that law enforcement was working for the Jews to kill black people. This conspiracy theory may have drawn him to the kosher market, which is next door to a synagogue and yeshiva.

Anderson hated cops and Jews. He killed both. After killing Det. Joseph Seals, a father of five, Anderson and Graham headed to the kosher market in their fortified U-Haul van stocked with weapons and explosives. Moishe Ferencz had just left for the synagogue next door. 

Truly standing up against racism and anti-Semitism means jettisoning partisan agendas for the truth.

First responders Officer Ray Sanchez and Officer Mariela Fernandez were wounded. But Anderson and Graham soon were under siege. Outnumbered and outgunned, they died alongside their victims.

However, the attack might never have happened if police had been prepared for the terror threat.

In 2017, the FBI warned of the rising danger of “Black Identity Extremists” (BIE). The FBI’s warning to police departments came after the ambush killing of five police officers in Dallas by Micah X. Johnson and Gavin Long’s murder of three officers in Baton Rouge, La. Anderson had praised Long as having seen “an injustice that needed to be corrected, and he obeyed the commandments of TMH [The Most High] God.”

The FBI’s warning was shut down by progressive media outlets, activist groups and politicians who claimed black nationalist groups weren’t violent, that the term “Black Identity Extremism” was racist and a problem didn’t exist. A New York Times op-ed had warned of “The F.B.I.’s Dangerous Crackdown on ‘Black Identity Extremists.’ ” The actual danger lay in the failure to crack down on these domestic terrorists.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), despite representing a partially Jewish district, attacked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the FBI and other officials over the BIE category. “I don’t believe black identity extremists exist, and I believe the FBI should retract the document and send out a document throughout law enforcement saying that black identity extremists do not exist,” she insisted.

This year, under pressure, the FBI jettisoned the BIE term — just in time for the kosher market shooting.

The FBI report helps law enforcement officers like those shot and killed in Jersey City prepare for coming threats. By killing the BIE classification, Rep. Bass and the media may have cost lives. On Twitter, Bass responded to the shooting by stating, “The creeping rise of anti-Semitic crimes and violence throughout this country must be identified, confronted and ultimately stopped.” But it was her own actions that helped cripple the FBI’s ability to identify the Jersey City killers.

And behind this defense of racist and violent black nationalist hate groups were progressive politics.

Earlier this year, a confrontation between Covington (Ky.) Catholic students at a pro-life rally in Washington, D.C., and Black Hebrew Israelite protesters led to media articles whitewashing the hate group. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has her own history of anti-Semitism, claimed the students were “taunting five black men,” instead of standing up to five bigots.

The New York Times equivocated that members of the hate group “use blunt and sometimes offensive language, and gamely engage in arguments.” The “offensive language” and argumentative style of the Times’ favorite hate group was shouting anti-Semitic slurs at Jews.

A YouTube playlist by Anderson focused on these anti-Semitic incidents. In one video, a Black Hebrew Israelite preacher shouts, “Satan is in you!” at a Jewish man. “You stole our history. You are pretending to be us.” A preacher in another video calls a Jewish teen a member of the “Synagogue of Satan.”

“We want our book back and we want our land back,” he demands. “Go back to Russia.”

You can see why Rep. Ilhan Omar  (D-Minn) might have felt called to defend the racist hate group.

Some incidents have been even uglier. A video that doesn’t appear on Anderson’s playlist showcases a Black Hebrew Israelite preacher shouting, “The Holocaust is a damn joke! Heil Hitler!”

KKK leader Tom Metzger has described the Black Hebrew Israelites as “the black counterparts of us.”

Why, then, did the media and politicians such as Rep. Bass fight so hard against identifying them as racists? The New York Times concluded its whitewash of the hate group with a quote by a UCLA professor: “To many black people, Hebrew Israelites are a harmless part of their communities.” To many white people, so were the Klan. Racists mostly are a problem for people of other races.

A father of five with a badge, a mother of three running a grocery store, a man working to support his daughter and a young man known for his kindness did not have to die. If the FBI had been allowed to tell the truth about the Black Hebrew Israelites, they might be alive today.

Truly standing up against racism and anti-Semitism means jettisoning partisan agendas for the truth. After the attack, Americans Against Anti-Semitism uploaded a video of ugly reactions at the scene.

“I blame the Jews. We never had a shooting like this until they came,” one resident bellows.

“My children are stuck at school because of Jew shenanigans.”

“Four of y’all are dead, right? That’s great,” a man says.

“Get the Jews out of Jersey City!” someone else shouts.

This is the everyday hate we don’t talk about. If you want to understand why children are beaten on Brooklyn streets and why a kosher supermarket was shot up, it’s because some kinds of anti-Semitism are politically incorrect and other kinds are politically correct.

Evil needs silence and complicity to succeed. The cover-up of black nationalist terrorism accomplishes both.


Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

Trump’s Order Is a Bipartisan Idea

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event where U.S.-Japan trade agreements were signed at the White House on October 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump also spoke about the U.S. Southern Border, Syria, and the current impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Protecting Jews against anti-Semitism at educational institutions receiving federal funding has been an objective of both Democratic and Republican administrations. So why has President Donald Trump’s executive order extending Civil Rights Act protections to Jewish students elicited such strong reactions, both in support and in opposition? Because we live in an emotional, hyper-politicized world that often overlooks broader historical context.

Title VI was enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity or national origin in educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The Department’s Office for Civil Rights requires all federal agencies providing financial support to enforce Title VI. Title VI originally did not include religious groups, so the new executive order clarifies that “individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices.”

This “group” protection based on “common religious practices” is a bipartisan idea. Under the Barack Obama administration, a 2010 letter from the assistant secretary of education for civil rights clarified that, “While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion, 14 groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith.”

Despite the George W. Bush and Obama administrations’ efforts on this front, they were unable to secure the protection of Jews facing discrimination and a hostile environment on campus. But how is a hostile environment for Jews even possible? Jews tend to be viewed on campus through a prism of ethnicity, privilege and power. Jews are usually (and incorrectly) perceived as being ethnically white, part of a privileged class with socioeconomic status and, therefore, having power and the ability to influence. In this equation, Jews are seen as part of the white majority.

There also is a lack of understanding of how Jews are treated on campus, particularly if they express views about Zionism and the Jewish homeland. 

The president’s executive order is not an attempt to redefine Judaism or American Jews’ identities.

Increasingly, simply being Jewish is enough for Jews to feel insecure on campus. An example of this occurred at the University of Toronto when there was an active campaign against allowing Jewish students to have access to kosher food.

I have spent the last two decades working on college campuses. What began as criticism of Israeli policies has morphed on some campuses into an openly hostile environment for Jewish students, especially those who identify with Zionism.

Too many university administrations have been unwilling to display moral courage and stand up against the pressures of outside organizations, Arab governmental funding, radical Islamist positions espoused by university-sponsored student groups, and faculty who abuse academic freedom and disregard academic responsibility. If universities want to accept financial assistance from the federal government to cultivate and enhance area studies such as Middle Eastern studies, the agenda must be for the pursuit of scholarly inquiry and critical thinking about the history, politics, cultures and people of the region, including the nation-state of Israel. It cannot be a political agenda that demonizes and seeks the destruction of only one country.

The president’s executive order is not an attempt to redefine Judaism or American Jews’ communal or individual identities. However, it recognizes Jews are both a religion and a people.

How do American Jews and non-Jews find common ground and recognize this hatred of Jews for their religious ideas and practices, their identity as a people, and their national homeland is a direct assault against our democratic society? It is our job to hold one another accountable, to feel empathy and compassion, and to fortify a community that seeks justice and protection for all, regardless of partisanship.


Rachel Fish is the executive director of the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Corbyn’s Defeat Is Only Half the Story

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks onstage during an election campaign event at the O2 Apollo Manchester on November 7, 2019 in Manchester, England. Earlier in the day, the Labour leader unveiled the parties' new campaign bus, emblazoned with the slogan 'It's Time for Real Change'. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

When erstwhile Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana in 1991, his opponent was former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who had previously been indicted for bribery and obstruction of justice. Despite Edwards’ checkered political biography, his supporters knew that the prospect of electing an unapologetic racist to statewide office would be unacceptable to most Louisiana voters, even those who were uncomfortable with the allegations against Edwards. As a result, they concocted a campaign slogan that will go down in the annals of political history.

“Vote for the crook,” the bumper stickers read. “It’s important.”

Separated by a few decades and the Atlantic Ocean, the just-completed election British election offered a similar dynamic for many of that nation’s historic Labour Party constituencies — including the Jewish community — of Great Britain. Incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson had frequently and fervently offended the ideological and personal sensibilities of many left-leaning voters, but like Edwards, he was blessed by the quality of his opposition. Given the choice between a conservative pro-Brexit Tory and the avowed anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn, British Jews voted in large numbers for Johnson.

“Vote for the obnoxious nationalist buffoon,” the slogans from Labour’s evacuees might have said. “It’s important.”

Johnson’s victory spared Britain of the horror of a prime minister whose hatred of Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel have infected Labour Party politics for years. But for those of us who worry about the resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism from both the extreme left and extreme right, Corbyn’s defeat provides only a small amount of solace. As many observers in this country often say about various aspects of President Donald Trump’s political persona, Corbyn was less the cause of growing anti-Semitism in Great Britain than he is a symptom of it.

Corbyn’s loss will give Labour a new opportunity to confront the growing anti-Semitism in its ranks and hopefully to quarantine it to prevent its further spread. More troublesome is that it appears Corbyn’s defeat had little to do with his belligerence toward the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland. Conservatives made their largest gains in the northern part of the country, in rural areas and working-class communities that had fueled the passage of Brexit three years ago. The landslide was caused largely by Labour’s inability to talk to these voters and the party’s muddled message on European separation.

The anti-Semite might have lost, in other words, but he didn’t lose because he was anti-Semitic. Jewish voters and other supporters of a strong and secure Israel will benefit from Corbyn’s defeat, but we shouldn’t pretend that we caused it.

“Corbyn was less a cause of British anti-Semitism than a sympton of it.”

Johnson triumphed by assembling a Trumpish coalition that would not have felt at home with Margaret Thatcher’s (or even David Cameron’s) Tories. But this working-class cohort and its nationalist and isolationist tendencies are beginning to look like the future of conservative-leaning politics in both Britain and the U.S. for the foreseeable future. This type of nationalism is often accompanied by anti-Semitism from the far right, a bookend for the hatred that Corbyn and his colleagues bring from the left.

Jewish communities in the U.S. and worldwide will make limited progress in confronting this two-headed menace until we decide that we must fight back against this hatred from the ideological fringes on both sides. The selective outrage that motivates progressives and conservatives alike to minimize anti-Semitism when it appears in their own ranks while raging only against those in other party will undermine any forceful counter from the Jewish community and our allies. And our defenses against this resurgent anti-Semitism will continue to be compromised.

Corbyn is gone. So is former Trump right-wing strategist Steve Bannon. But the twin movements they inspired will continue to fester until we decide to take on both of their challenges, not just the more comfortable of the two.


Dan Schnur is a professor at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine University. 

Anti-Semitism Town Hall in Beverly Hills Dec. 18

Following the attack on Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills on Dec. 14, The Israeli-American Civic Action Network is hosting a Town Hall for Action on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. the Beverly Hilton in conjunction with the City of Beverly Hills.

The Town Hall is titled: Combating Anti-Semitism, Creating Safe Communities.

Following Saturday’s attack, the Israeli-American Civic Action Network issued the following statement:

“Enough is enough, from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jewish communities are under attack,” said Vered Nisim, ICAN California Chairwoman. “Just a few days ago Jews were killed in Jersey City, and now today this vandalism, how many Jews have to die and how many synagogues have to be destroyed before serious action is taken?”

The Town Hall is free, however RSVP’s are required. Click here to reserve tickets 

 

Make No Mistake, Anti-Semitism Happens Everywhere

Photo by Try Media/Getty Images

Articles about rising anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews in German streets often are paraded as proof as that European Jewry has no future, and why Jews belong only in Israel.

You rarely find articles about another trend: Israelis leaving Israel.

Israelphiles might not think the miraculous country is such a stressful, troubled, difficult place to live, because pro-Israel propagandists post messages about how Israel is so strong; how it effectively fights terrorism (while actually having a record of giving in to terrorism, i.e., the Oslo Accord and Gaza pullout); how, statistically, Israelis are happier than others; how only in Israel can you walk on biblical lands; how Jews rose from the ashes to create self-sovereignty.

It’s true that Israelis live lives of great purpose. Some — especially immigrants from Western countries, who make the greatest material sacrifices — feel better about this great purpose when the media goes berserk about anti-Semitism in Europe. I know I used to.

People often ask if I’m scared living in Germany. Not as scared as I was living in Israel during the Second Intifada, when I was afraid to go on a bus, eat in a café or dance in a nightclub lest I get blown up. Those were the hardest years of my life. But I stayed and fought through the violence out of my love for Israel.

But journalists aren’t as interested in the frenzy of violent Palestinian anti-Semitism. Israel probably has more “no-go zones” per capita than Europe. Religious Jews wouldn’t dare set foot in some Arab-Israeli towns. In Palestinian cities, where Israelis aren’t allowed to enter, I’m not even sure what would happen to a kippah-wearer, because it’s hardly been tried. In Jerusalem’s Old City, Jews repeatedly have been attacked simply for looking Jewish. The kind of Jew-hatred taught in “Palestine” — under Israel’s nose — is second to none.

Mainstream foreign media usually bury such stories or, worse, blame the “Occupation.” Zionists worldwide will not blame the Israeli government for its weakness in combating anti-Semitism on its own turf; rather, they’ll attack Europe and the media for standing idly by. I guess it’s much nobler to die under a Jewish government in Israel as a “martyr” (even if Judaism doesn’t have “shahids”).

Journalists aren’t as interested in the frenzy of violent Palestinian anti-Semitism. Israel probably has more “no-go zones” per capita than Europe.

Sometimes I wonder if this “rising European anti-Semitism” narrative is being hyped up or deliberately crafted. Pop psychology dictates you materialize what you focus on. No wonder that weeks after Germany’s anti-Semitism czar, Felix Klein, announced Jews shouldn’t wear kippahs in public, they were attacked in Berlin and Hamburg.

It’s as if the pundits want there to be more anti-Semitism, especially the right-wing brand, which distracts from the politically incorrect Islamic breed. The topic of anti-Semitism gives journalists juicy subject matter as well as reasons for nonprofits to send out email solicitations. Meanwhile, people mostly ignore the Islam-appeasing, anti-Israel left (epitomized by the U.K.’s Jeremy Corbyn).

Most Israelis like to think persecution only comes in the form of the “goy.” Unfortunately, on a day-to-day basis, I often have felt more mistreated by social, economic and security policies of the quasi-socialist Israeli government than I have in Germany.

I was reminded of that during a recent visit to Israel. My joy was cut short because Islamic Jihad decided to shoot rockets at Israel for the umpteenth time. For an entire day, without warning, the government shut down schools all over the country. My friends and family didn’t go to work unless their offices had shelters. Everyone complied as if rockets are simply rain. But for some reason, anti-Semitic attacks have been allowed to become routine in Israel.

As most Israelis living in Europe can attest, life is much easier there. I’ll go so far as to say the modern Germany day-to-day system seems to operate more by the golden rule: Treat residents as they want to be treated.

Less red tape makes it easier to start a business; unlike in Israel, with its highly regulated, monopoly-filled economy that makes it among the most difficult for starting a business within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Cost of living matches salaries, unlike in ever-expensive Israel. Traffic moves and it’s easier to get around, unlike in Tel Aviv, where the ill-organized subway construction has caused chronic gridlock for years. My German clients generally and generously pay me on time, unlike some Israeli employers. And don’t get me started on a third election, which displays contempt for the electorate. But I suppose that kind of contempt can’t be categorized as anti-Semitism.

Zionists will argue that the meaning of Israel overrides such “material” opportunities, but that logic gives the Israeli government a pass from creating conditions for citizens to live better, easier and in more dignity with all they go through.

I’ve been accused of bad-mouthing Israel when Israel needs all the support it can get. However, braggadocio and bravado don’t necessarily make people like Israel or Jews any better. Honest vulnerability often is much more attractive and results in sympathy. And honest, public discussion should spur the Israeli government to enable the truly secure, peaceful, easy day-to-day life Israeli citizens deserve.

Knowing Israel also is my home gives me confidence to live in Germany. I’m so thankful for Israeli citizens who are on the front lines. Let’s support and protect one another, not try to “best” each other as to whom is the better Jew or Zionist. Let’s work together to ensure Jews feel safe everywhere — especially in Israel, where I’ve felt the most scared living as a Jew.


Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her website is oritarfa.net.

Silence on Israel Results in Fear on Campus

Photo from Flickr.

As a freshman at Columbia University in September 2000, the toxic anti-Israel atmosphere burgeoned in front of my eyes with the start of the Second Intifada. My roommate, a political science major, went toe to toe with anti-Semitic professors in classrooms, who presented Israel as an apartheid, imperialist state. He received hate email for his “dissenting” views, and we felt compelled to lock our door at night. I thought to myself, “He could fight the fight better than me.”

I was silent.

The predecessors of Students for Justice in Palestine filled College Walk, physically intimidating Jews walking to the dorms.

The evidence appeared before me, but I remained silent.

Fifteen years ago, I was a music major at Columbia University and a Talmud major at the Jewish Theological Seminary, removed from university politics, both on campus and in the world at large. I had a purpose and a goal: Enter rabbinical school and serve the Jewish people as a pulpit rabbi. Israel was a personal subject; a place I knew I loved; an illustration to my daily prayerbook; a homeland to which my grandfather made aliyah at the age of 80, following three of his children and more than 20 grandchildren.

Late last month, the Columbia College Student Council voted to hold a referendum to gauge student support for whether the university should divest itself from certain Israeli companies (BDS). I was sad and disappointed. The university that allowed me to think critically now allows its students to promote a position of BDS, which hides behind the mask of anti-Semitism.

College students are running to their rabbis, fearful of speaking about Israel on their campuses.

I now recognize the consequences of remaining silent; if I had used my voice when I was a student, today’s students — many with no knowledge of Israel’s history and mission — would be facing a different college experience.

As a rabbi at Sinai Temple, I listen to the stories of Jews exiled from their home countries simply because they are Jews. For them, Israel was the only place of refuge in the world. So many of our parents and grandparents came to the United States to distance themselves from anti-Semitism. For the past century, they have lived the American dream, freely expressing their Judaism and love of Israel.

Yet, nothing has changed. College students are running to their rabbis, fearful of speaking about Israel on their campuses, hiding their Stars of David, and asking us what to do.

In fall 2007, Columbia University invited then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the student population. Today, it is not only the former Iranian president but students in the classroom and on public sidewalks who spew hatred of Israel and of the Jewish people. While I understood as a student that my rabbinic career would include political activism and the responsibility to teach a love of Israel, I never imagined the need to prioritize the defense of the Jewish people and our right to exist in a sovereign state.

Today, as I see the attacks on Israel getting worse, I am speaking up. I am silent no longer.

On the last night of Hanukkah, I am scheduled to travel to Israel with the AIPAC Leffell Fellowship in an effort to teach rabbinical students from around the country and across denominations how to preach Israel from the pulpit, sharing the intricacies of Israel’s relationship with Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. I will explain how my closest friends are pastors, with our only common bond being a love of Israel.

It is easy to sit in a room, raise your hand to vote for a BDS referendum and tell the world the wrongs of Israel. It is difficult yet fulfilling to stand up, tell the truth and make friends across a divide to create a better tomorrow.

Israel can, should and will bring us together.

Today, I speak loudly. Not only for myself, but for all those students walking silently to their classes, who fear raising their voices. I speak for them so one day, they can speak for themselves.


Rabbi Erez Sherman is a rabbi at Sinai Temple.

Trump’s Executive Order on Anti-Semitism Will Define Judaism as A Nationality

HOLLYWOOD, FL - DECEMBER 07: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a homecoming campaign rally at The Diplomat Conference Center for the Israeli-American Council Summit on December 7, 2019 in Hollywood, Florida. President Trump continues to campaign for re-election in the 2020 presidential race. (Photo by Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Dec. 11 to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses by defining Judaism as both a nationality and religion.

According to The New York Times and Jerusalem Post, by defining Judaism as a nationality and a religion anti-Semitism will now be under the purview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Under that law, federal funding can be withheld from institutions that engaging in discrimination.

The executive order will use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which states that criticism of Israel that delegitimizes and demonizes the Jewish state and engages in double-standards is anti-Semitic.

A senior administration official told the Jerusalem Post, “We began to focus on this issue in the late winter/spring of this year when we were alarmed frankly at a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric, including unfortunately from leading political figures. We looked at the data, and we saw that there’d been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, and we began a policy process to figure out physically what we could do on the subject.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “[The executive order] will have an immediate impact on US campuses plagued with anti-Semitic and extreme anti-Israel acts, where many University officials complained that the lack of a working definition of anti-Semitism hampered efforts to deal with anti-Semitic incidents on campus. Now, through this executive order, necessitated by Congress’ failure to pass legislation, university officials and Jewish students will be better equipped to deal with hate attacks often associated with the anti-Israel [boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaigns.”

Lawfare Project Executive Director Brooke Goldstein similarly said in a statement provided to the Journal, “Today, the President of the United States is expected to announce a groundbreaking Executive Order that acknowledges Judaism as a nationality—not just a religion—which for the first time grants Jewish people the same protections every other ethnic minority enjoys under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The reality of the Jewish heritage and national identity has long been recognized, but has not been codified into law until today. This comes on the heels of repeated incidents of anti-Jewish discrimination on college campuses across the country. The Lawfare Project has been on the frontlines of the fight against this type of discrimination with our Campus Civil Rights Project and our groundreaking civil rights lawsuits, and welcomes this historic step from the Trump administration. While we don’t yet know the exact text of the order, we applaud the concept of granting Jews equal rights under the law.”

Republican Jewish Coalition Chairman Norm Coleman also praised the executive order in a statement.

“President Trump has shown himself to be the most pro-Jewish president as well,” Coleman said. “Today’s executive order will have a real, positive impact in protecting Jewish college students from anti-Semitism.”

However, there has been a  huge outcry on social media about an executive order that classifies people as Jewish over being classified as Americans.

Leah Litman, an assistant law professor at the University of Michigan, tweeted:

Jewish Democratic Council of America Executive Director Halie Soifer tweeted that the executive order is “attempt to gloss over his anti-Semitism & direct role in our rising insecurity.”

Ellie Cohanim Named Deputy Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism

Photo courtesy of IAC

U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr announced on Dec. 6 that Ellie Cohanim has been tapped to serve as deputy special envoy to combat anti-Semitism.

Carr tweeted: “Ellie will be a strong asset in combatting anti-Semitism around the world. Congratulations Ellie! We’re thrilled to have you on board!”

Cohanim tweeted: “It is my honor & privilege to join @USEAntiSemitism under the leadership of SEAS Carr, to serve my great country, & to fight #Anti-Semitism.”

According to her LinkedIn page, Cohanim’s family fled Iran in 1979 to escape rising anti-Semitism. Her background includes working as senior vice president and correspondent for Jewish Broadcasting Service (JBS) and development executive for the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York from 2004 to 2006. She also served on the boards of the American Jewish Committee’s New York region and the New York Jewish Community Relations Council.