Author’s Note: I wrote this article for the January issue of The Scroll. I wrote it not too long after the shooting attack in Jersey City and all the anti-Semitic attacks that took place in New York City during the month of December.
There are certain things you should never do when you’re angry. One of them is to write an article. Trust me on this one. This is the second article I am writing for this month’s Scroll. I already wrote the first one and boy was it a humdinger. I got it all out in that one. But I will never publish it because it was too over the top. I called out specific politicians and parties. I took no prisoners. It was everything I have ever told myself that I would not do in these pages.
Still, I am glad I wrote it. I was able to crystallize my message in my head by cutting through some of the anger I have been feeling.
I believe that political messages are not generally appropriate for these articles. I have my political beliefs, of course, and I am passionate about them. But I rarely discuss them and I especially do not wish to use these articles as a vehicle for expressing them. I believe that my words in this publication should discuss issues that are relevant to us as a people and a Congregation, without getting into people and parties. I believe that mentioning people by name can make a sermon or article partisan, and when you do that the message can get lost, especially in today’s hyper-partisan world. If you say a nice word about the President you will have someone screaming that you’re a racist, misogynistic, homophobic piece of trash for “supporting” him. Say something bad about the President and someone else will jump down your throat because they think he is GEOTUS (God Emperor of the United States) – and no, I am NOT making that up.
It’s ridiculous. It’s insane. And, most of all, it is scarily dangerous.
People have stopped talking to each other. They have wrapped themselves in cocoons of like-minded opinions and have stopped thinking critically. Facts do not matter anymore. All that matters is what you “think must be” and then you tailor the narrative to your already determined point of view. If you ask me, it’s disgusting. And both parties do it.
But, this is nothing new. This has been going on since the days of Clinton and maybe even earlier. It has gotten progressively worse over the decades and it is now at a crescendo. And, because of it, people are now dying.
Yes, I said it. People are dying.
You see, our inability to discuss issues has paralyzed our ability to deal with them. There are certain things that are so clear, so obvious, one would think that only the blind, stupid or crazy would not see them. If that is the case, I wonder if the entire world has not gone insane.
We live in an era where extending federal protection to Jews on campus under Title VI is called antisemitism and a vicious attack on Jews in Jersey City is blamed on the victims or on “white supremacy.” (Just for the record, the perpetrators in the Jersey City attack, which seems to have been intended to take place at a Yeshiva with 50 children in it, were not white supremacists.) We live in an era when an orthodox Jewish commentator is called a white supremacist when he is himself constantly attacked by anti-Semites on both the right and the left. In short, we live in a time when facts no longer matter and truth is whatever you wish it to be.
If we cannot stop the madness and call out the problem properly in all its forms and from all directions, right or left, more people will die.
It is not my purpose in these paragraphs to accuse or exonerate anyone. Certainly, there is what to call out from both sides. Whether it be the President’s foot-in-mouth twitter disease, the rabid anti-Semitism of the alt-right, the support for blatant anti-Semitism in the form of BDS on the left or the violence of Antifa (just to name a few issues), we have to call it out and fight it.
But, it’s more complicated than that. Perpetrators on the right have to be called out by those of us who are on the right and perpetrators on the left must be called out by those of us on the left. If one side calls out the other, it goes nowhere because it gets put down to partisan nonsense.
I confess that I am beginning to feel despair. There is no honesty in discourse anymore. Racism and anti-Semitism have no place in our public sector and must be rooted out. There must be no quarter given to this evil. We must fight them at every turn, in private and public.
This is not happening, though. People on the left tend to think that the real danger is the crazies on the right and people on the right tend to think that the real danger is the crazies on the left. The truth is that all the crazies, whether they are on the left or the right are dangerous, and scarily so. At the end of the day, I do not care if the person shooting at me is a fan of President Trump or Rashida Tlaib. I just care that he or she is shooting at me.
The alt-right is a clear and present danger. So is the alt-left, if I may coin the term. That anyone can think in any other way is truly frightening to me.
In the aftermath of the Jersey City terrorist attack, for that is what it was, we have learned more disturbing things. We learned that residents in the neighborhood felt it was the Jews’ own fault that the attack happened. We have learned that even an elected official, in the person of an elected member of the Jersey City Board of Education, feels the same way and has publicly expressed that opinion. They may have complaints about the Jewish community in one form or another, but can there be anything on this earth that can justify an attack of that kind? If the victims had not been Jews, would this even be a question? And, if it is even a question, could that question not be extended to our own doors?
Jewish lives matter. Jewish blood cannot be cheap. We will no longer sit still while the groundwork is laid, as it was in Germany, for us to be marginalized and eventually led to the slaughter. Those days are gone and they can never return. Never again means more today than ever before.
It is time to fight. It is time to remember where our loyalty lies. It does not lie with a politician or a party. It lies first with ourselves and then we go from there.
Hillel said it best when he put down our priorities in Pirkei Avot. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?”