There is a Facebook page called “Stop Anti-Semitism.” It is one of many pages which track anti-Semitic incidents across the globe with the goal to obliterate anti-Semitism. I am appreciative of organizations such as these, since I believe it is important to stay abreast of the trends and be aware of what is happening.
But what can we actually do to stop anti-Semitism? After all, this is the intent of many of these types of organizations. The anti-Semitism police sniff out the slightest hint of anti-Semitism and share it publicly, calling on business owners, politicians, or celebrities to cease their anti-Semitic activity, hoping that their small act of battle will win the war.
There are dozens of organizations and media devoted to combating this disease by sharing the facts and the true ugly face of anti-Semitism. But as long as we are treating the symptoms, we are not addressing the cause.
While different forms of racism may be quite successfully combated with education, anti-Semitism is not simply another form of racism. Anti-Semitism is a direct communication from G-d; to see it otherwise is not consistent with the history. It doesn’t take a spiritual individual to see that anti-Semitism has a much more powerful influence and causes much more illogical destruction than other forms of racism. How can you look at the massacre of the Jews by the Babylonians, Romans, Cossacks, Germans, Poles, or Arabs and think it’s just run-of-the-mill racism?
Anti-Semitism has attempted to eradicate the Jewish people and their unique claim of direct, G-dly revelation with an entire nation. Social and economic oppression were merely stepping stones to more developed methods of destruction. The Nazis were particularly known for their systematic approach to the destruction of Jews; it wasn’t enough to bar them from professions, or to keep them out of the public space. It was ultimately aimed at destroying the heart of Judaism; Nazi Germany was not private about its dedication to the desecration of morals, for which the Jews were, at least technically, a compass.
There’s a story which is told to young Jewish students when learning the Torah. As the story goes, G-d went to the different nations of the world and asked them, “Do you want this Torah?” The nations of the world turned Him down, finding it too much of a burden. When G-d came to the Jews, the Jews said, “We will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). We accepted this role without question – well, at least initially. The questions came later.
In technical terms, we signed a contract with G-d. He said:
If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.Exodus 19:5-6
It is the Jews who brought monotheism and the accompanying ethics G-d demands of us into the world. It is the Jews who brought order and light to the world. And the Nazis, and so many others before them, wanted to extinguish this light.
In fact, it is through anti-Semitism that G-d wishes to reeducate us about our role. When we forget our role, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head to remind us. Anti-Semites persecute us precisely because of our assigned role as ambassadors of morality to the world. Even if we’re not actively in the profession, it’s what we were assigned to do. And when we don’t even attempt to accomplish the task we are assigned, G-d uses other people to forcefully remind us who we are.
The first thing the Nazis did was to remind us exactly who we were – not Germans, but Jews. Even the Jews who barely associated with Judaism had to register as Jews and were prohibited from marrying non-Jews. In essence, by alienating us, they were demonstrating the truth that we needed to be separate and different from the other nations.
The problem is, we Jews wish to be like the other nations. This is exactly what G-d said we were not supposed to do. We signed this contract; G-d is merely pushing us to uphold our end of the bargain.
In order to be a holy nation, we have specific instructions on how to do it, where to do it, and when (all the time). The “how?” Shabbat, kashrut, marital purity laws, business dealings, etc. The “where?” Where else but the land G-d gave to us?
As we read in Parshat Re’eh two Shabbatot ago, the choices are clear: we can either choose the blessing of following G-d, or the curse of turning away from Him.
See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your G-d, but turn away from the path that I command you this day, to follow other gods, whom you did not know…
For you are about to cross the Jordan to come to possess the land that the Lord your G-d is giving to you. When you have occupied it and are settled in it, take care to observe all the laws and rules that I have set before you this day.Deuteronomy 11:26-28, 31-32
So, in addition to the injunction for us to be a holy nation and to choose the blessing of following the commandments, G-d also specifies that we must be in our land. When we accept the ways of the other nations and their countries as our home, we are subsequently reminded of who we are and where we belong.
We cannot fulfill our roles if we are on vacation. Throughout history, one could argue that exile was unavoidable. Yes, it was quite difficult for people, even in a country as close to Israel as Yemen, to travel by foot to the Holy Land. The terrain was difficult, and roaming bandits made it a treacherous journey.
Suffice it to say, we’ve had our list of excuses – until recently. We ran out of excuses in the years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and especially since then. And in the 2000s when Nefesh B’Nefesh came along and made it even easier to move to Israel, it became apparent that all our ancestors’ prayers for a mass return to Israel were for naught if we shrug it off and continue acting as though there is no Israel. We blithely pray for a return to Jerusalem while ignoring the reality all around us.
you’ve never really listened
to what God has always
tried to tell you
yet you keep hoping
after your mock prayers
salvation will arrive.Rumi
The exile mindset has solidified and penetrated the conscience of Jews everywhere. “Next year in Jerusalem,” but we don’t really mean that, unless it’s for vacation. “Rebuild Jerusalem, the Holy City, speedily in our days,” but we don’t care that it’s already being rebuilt – sure, the Temple isn’t standing, but even that is more attainable now than it’s been for many centuries.
This leaves us Jews in the diaspora with a reality which I believe too many are loath to face. Either our prayers are completely false, in which case we should probably remove those prayers and stop pretending to actually want to return to our land. Or the prayers are real, and not only are they real but they are literally in the process of being answered, and we should make our plans, pack up, and do our part to rebuild Israel.
Because we, as Jews, all have our assigned roles. First, we must be a holy nation, true to His calling. Second, we must take part in the rebuilding of Israel with our people, observing G-d’s commands in His land, the one He gave to us.
As long as we refuse this, the Anti-Semitism will continue to rise, and the curses we are choosing will chase us.