UNLIKE THE HOLOCAUST

“It was like images out of the Holocaust,” exclaimed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein last weekend in Poway, California  as he found himself a victim of another atrocity aimed at Jews. Far be it from me to take issue with Rabbi Goldstein’s comments, but for the vast majority of us, it is most proper, especially this very week when we observe Yom HaShoah and remember the Holocaust, to realize that to make such a comparison does a great disservice to the six million.

Unlike the Holocaust, no attack on a synagogue, church, or mosque in this country is government executed and government sanctioned. The Chancellor of Germany did not come out and say “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,”  much less place a phone call to any wounded rabbi. The Third Reich was far too busy rounding up rabbis – the Nazis were very democratic, refusing to distinguish one Jew from another – and  shipping them to concentration camps where most would meet their deaths either quickly or slowly.

Unlike the Holocaust, the New York Times did not bury the story of last week’s synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, or the shooting at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, on page 23 of its newspaper. Both incidents were front page news. What takes place at a synagogue – good or bad – is treated no differently than what takes place at a church or mosque. It’s of major concern to Americans and therefore it garners front page news in newspapers throughout the nation. Whereas the Third Reich maintained the attitude of “we do not distinguish between Jews, we treat them all the same viz. like vermin,” the media in this country maintains the attitude  “we do not distinguish between religions, we treat them all the same viz. with dignity and respect.”

Unlike the Holocaust, non-Jews in this country show solidarity. At Shabbat services one week after the Pittsburgh catastrophe, we at Tiferet had visitors. Unlike other non-Jews who attend our services, either out of curiosity or out of an interest to embrace Judaism, those who joined us at Shabbat services on November 3rd of last year, did so purely out of solidarity. It was their way of saying “we feel terrible about what took place. We lack the necessary words to provide comfort and consolation. We would therefore like to visit with you, so that we can pray together.” Eight decades ago, non-Jews showed  no such solidarity. True to its designation, the silent majority said nothing. Hitler’s war was against the Jews, not the Lutherans. To quote a saying I learned after arriving in Dallas, “the Christian world did not have a dog in that fight.” The precious few who were abhorred by what was taking place, were afraid to speak out, lest they endanger their own lives. Today, days after the catastrophe at Chabad, the silent majority continues to remain silent. The ones who are afraid to speak out however, are not the precious few. They are the repugnant few, who regret that the assailant was not more successful in his vendetta against Jews. They know that American society will not tolerate individuals who harbor such views and cling to such feelings.

I have no idea what Jewish leaders – both religious, as well as lay – will be saying to those who come together to commemorate the Holocaust, this Thursday evening. Personally, I’ll be offering up a prayer. I will be thanking HaShem that I live in a country where the elected political leadership expresses solidarity when a crime is committed against Jews, where the media gives what took place full coverage and where non-Jews stand together with Jews, attesting to the fact that we are one nation under G-d.

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.