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.
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
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
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?”
Labels: Hillel, Israel, Kehilat Benei Torah synagogue, Mark Kirk, Soviet Jewry