SINAT CHINAM REDUX

Although accurately translated as baseless hatred, Sinat Chinam has been understood as to what lengths one will do to turn against one’s own people. The Talmudic story that serves as the basis for Sinat Chinam explains that Sinat Chinam resulted in the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

American Jewry experienced a most bitter taste of Sinat Chinam toward the end of last week, when it was discovered that it was a Jew – a teenager with dual American/Israeli citizenship – living in Ashkelon, who was behind the bomb threats at Jewish Day schools, JCC’s, and synagogues throughout this country. Far be it from me to decide what punishment, if any, is due him – (I have already decided, but anything I say or print will be held against me) but there is simply no forgiveness for the irreparable damage that he caused.

The teenager caused so many of us to draw the wrong conclusion. Justifiable or not, countless American Jews felt that it must be some “right-wing nut” or sympathizer of “humiliated” Palestinians who was behind all this. At present, tensions are high enough between a good many Jews in this country and these two groups. Thanks to the teenager currently in Israeli custody, fuel has been added to the fire. Quite frankly, this is worst that can happen as far as ecumenism. And this is coming from a rabbi who so often gives new meaning to the word “provincial” when it comes to interacting with the outside world.

He caused a good many of us to review the meaning of “land of the free and home of the brave.” Once upon a time, our children and grandchildren answered “nothing” when we asked them: “What took place at school today?” For the last period of time, not only have we been afraid to ask, but we feared that we might be confronted by an excited eight year old exclaiming: “Guess what? We had a bomb scare at our school today!”  The more sanguine among us might very well have waxed philosophical, finding comfort in that it was “only” a scare and not the real thing. Then again, who ever thought that one should have to resort to being sanguine when it came to bomb threats at our schools, our JCC’s, and our synagogues?

There are deranged individuals in our society.  Quite often, they lack the creativity and ingenuity to devise and plot and scheme. And so, they are rarely a threat to others. For this we are extremely grateful. The Jewish teenager in Ashkelon provided these deranged individuals with fodder. We call it copycat crimes. And so, few should have been surprised – unnerved yes, but surprised no – when a bomb threat was called into our JCC here in Dallas, after the Israeli teenager had been apprehended.

Most of us recall the Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” There are only so many times that the authorities will give top priority to a bomb scare. Sooner or later, thorough investigations will give way to cursory inspections. Heaven forbid that a cursory inspection fails to detect a real bomb resulting in carnage and destruction.  I would like to believe that the teenager in Ashkelon would not have gone any farther than calling in bomb threats; I shudder to think what a “copycat” deranged individual might have done. Would he too not have gone any farther than calling in the bomb threat? Or would he have gone all the way?

Sinat Chinam is hate for no reason. Unfortunately the teenager now in custody in Israel provided us with many reasons.

OF BOMB SCARES AND BOMB CARES

Bomb scares called in by phone to Jewish institutions such as JCCs and synagogues are deplorable; vandalism at Jewish cemeteries even more so. As macabre as this may sound, bomb scares pale in comparison to actual bombs going off without any warning. As macabre as this may sound, cemetery desecration pales in comparison to Jewish homes being vandalized and “Jude” painted on the windows or front door.

As one whose maternal grandmother was widowed at the age of 25 when her husband was murdered along with all the other Jewish men – all victims of a pogrom in the Bessarabian shtetl where they lived – bomb scares and even cemetery desecrations don’t throw me into a panic.

Instead, I draw strength because leadership of Jewish communities speaks out. From time immemorial, there have been Jewish communities, yet, only within the last century in this country has there been any semblance of Jewish communal leadership. In the Ukrainian town of Berdichev, there was no Jewish leadership. Berdichev was known for its great rabbinic personality Levi Yitzchak, not for its JCC or its Jewish Community Relations Council – neither of which existed during Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s time. When Jews of Berdichev suffered indignation or even calamity from those who despised them, they had absolutely no recourse. Even in this country it wasn’t until the last half-century that American Jews, along with their leaders, finally abandoned their “shah shtill” attitude when it came to Jewish issues.

I draw strength because the American Government listens. Close to 75 years ago, a group of 400-plus American rabbis gathered courage and traveled to the nation’s capital three days before Yom Kippur to draw President Roosevelt’s attention to the destruction and annihilation of European Jewry. The President avoided meeting with the rabbis not only because of concerns of diplomatic neutrality, but because some of his Jewish aides and several prominent American Jews felt that the delegation (the vast majority of  whom were Orthodox as well as recent immigrants to this country) were not representative of American Jewry, and that such a meeting would stir up antisemitism.

FDR is long gone. So too are those American Jews who were concerned lest they appear “too Jewish.” Now we have Chanukah celebrations as well as Passover Seders at the White House. No longer are Jewish delegations – rabbinic or lay – turned away.

I draw strength because our politicians make an attempt to address the situation. While I personally fail to see any connection between hastily planned whirlwind visits to Israel and bomb scares to JCCs and synagogues, in no way can I look askance at a governor from the state of New York boarding a flight to Ben Gurion airport.

What would really give me reason to draw strength will occur when pastors and priests throughout this country make it a point to speak out against bomb scares and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. It would be a marvelous mitzvah for pastors and priests throughout this country, as they find themselves at the beginning of the Lenten season, to speak out against bomb scares and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and to remind their parishioners that anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.

I would hope that Christian leaders will begin to speak up and speak out about what is taking place. When that takes happens, I will ask that you join me in drawing strength. Chazak! Chazak!