Saturday, January 03, 2015

American Jews need Save-Soviet-Jewry Effort

The November 18 attack on the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood should have put to rest the belief that Arab opposition to Israel is anything but anti-Jewish.  Unfortunately, the Jewish community’s response to it has been tepid, at best, confused, and confusing.  Many American Jews and American Jewish organizations are more concerned with appearing liberal than with defending their people against a serious threat; more afraid of being called Islamophobic than of Jews being murdered in Israel.  Their general silence and inaction indicate that they find it okay for Arab media and their partisans to refer to Israel incessantly as Nazis; but God forbid we identify the “Final Solution” embedded in anti-Israel politics.  Recognizing those realities that the synagogue attack brought so sharply into focus would shatter their cherished myth that the Israel-Arab conflict is merely political and can be solved by talk and giveaways.  More than that, the lack of unequivocal condemnation of the attack by Arab leaders also shatters their other myth:  that of the moderate Muslim country.  There might be moderate Muslims but no moderate Muslim country.

The Parliament in “moderate” Jordan, did observe a moment of silence after the attack—but for the two Palestinian terrorists.  The Speaker prayed for them and called them martyrs.  Usually, however, only “radical” Muslim leaders expressed their approval by praising the anti-Jewish act; “moderate” Muslim leaders expressed theirs by refusing to condemn it.  Not to be outdone, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack for the cameras, but blamed Israel for it.

We need a “Save-Soviet-Jewry” type effort.

Those of us who were around in the 1970s and 1980s will remember that back then, you could not pass a synagogue without seeing a large banner proclaiming, “Save Soviet Jewry.”  Our people were being persecuted in the Soviet Union, whose leaders wanted to eradicate their Jewish religion and identity.  A few, like Natan (then Anatole) Sharansky, who later became an Israeli Cabinet Minister, got some attention, but most suffered anonymously.  Members of the American Jewish community saw their persecuted brothers and sisters and recognized their obligation to save them.  More importantly, they acted on that obligation.

We lobbied Washington and our local officials.  We prevailed upon other religious bodies to recognize the atrocity, and their moral obligation to join us and let Washington know their position.

Average Jews who you might see at the office or in the supermarket went to Russia at their own expense.  They smuggled in religious books and other Jewish artifacts at considerable peril to themselves; and they let Jews there know that they were not alone.  It became common for Jewish children reaching their Bar and Bat Mitzvah to be “twinned” with Soviet children who did not have the freedom to celebrate this most important rite of passage; we did it for them.  Most Jewish children in religious schools had at least one Soviet Jewish pen pal.

There was no attempt to “understand” the Soviets or find the “good” in their communist ideology; and remember that back then, there were still those who defended communism as a “good idea in theory.”  No one felt compelled to say, ‘Well not all Russians are bad,’ because like similarly compulsions today, it did not change the heinousness of the action.  It did not matter if we were liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat; whether our synagogues were Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist.  Our organizations, long dedicated to a universalist image, put that aside to defeat the existential threat to our people.  And defeat it we did.  Before it was over, we helped get 1.2 million Jews out of that communist hell.   The rest found freedom not that many years later when “the evil empire” fell and that existential threat died with it.  The American Jewish community’s recognition of what all of us faced and our success in defeating it strengthened our identity, and helped us realize that we could in fact stand strong for our people, that the only thing that could stop us is ourselves.

And standing up for Israel is in our interests as Americans, too.  Our only constant ally in the region, Israel mourned after 9/11, while Palestinians gave out sweets to celebrate the terror attacks.  Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) tells how, beyond that, Israel sent us a body of experts so we could get our planes back in the skies.  And imagine for a moment what the 1991 Iraq War would have looked like if Israel had not taken out Sadam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.

Interfaith prayer meetings and understanding might in the end be needed for true peace, but right now, our priority is survival.  Those who minimized that in favor of political correctness can no longer do so in light of the November 18 attack.  As a start, Jewish organizations and those who stand with us against a final solution, should inform those Arab and Muslim organizations that they no longer can believe their statements of goodwill unless they unequivocally condemn the Jerusalem synagogue attack and all anti-Jewish actions.

American Jews need to recognize what comes first in Rabbi Hillel’s famous formulation:  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?”

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