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The World's Longest Recurring Nightmare Returns

04/06/2015 08:24:00 AM

Apr6

The World’s Longest Recurring Nightmare Returns
Rosh Hashana 2006 by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

This year, a story. True story. My story and yours too. It's our story -- a composite of stories many of you have told me these past years.

A father went to visit his daughter at the university where she studied. It was a crisp Friday afternoon in the late Fall, and they planned to walk across campus to the Hillel House for the Friday night service and Shabbat dinner. The broad walkway leading through the stately campus quad was lined with tables and booths inviting students to various activities and events and causes. The father felt nostalgic for his own college days as they passed the Frat boys raising money for charity projects, sign-ups for intramural sports teams. The social causes: the campus vegetarian coop, action against global warming, gay and lesbian support groups, Christian fellowships, and banners demanding "US Out of Iraq." Close to the end of the row, they arrived at a large booth filled with people and covered with the yellow flag of Hezbollah and the green flag of Hamas.

"Come on, Dad, lets get past this," the daughter urged. But the father was interested. "No, let's take a look."

The front of the booth was decorated with a huge poster displaying an Israeli flag, except there was a swastika where the star should have been. Below was the caption: "Stop Zionist Genocide!" A young man with a bull horn screamed to the small crowd: "Justice for Lebanon! Justice for Palestine! Justice for Iraq! End the Zionist war crimes! Stop the Zionist war machine! Resist the racist Israeli apartheid state! No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

Just behind the speaker hung a large poster depicting a soup can with a picture of a child on the label and the words "Canned Palestinian Child Meat Slaughtered According to Jewish Ritual under American License." Beside this, a picture of Ariel Sharon in full Nazi uniform and regalia.

As the father began to move away, a young woman with a kaffiyah wrapped around her shoulders, stepped in front of him and thrust a clipboard into his hands. "Would you sign our petition to end all US aid to Israel and to demand justice for Palestine?"

The father took a moment to examine the petition and asked her, "If you're for justice, where is your condemnation of Hezbollah aggression and Hamas terrorism? Isn't that an important part of justice?"

"Hezbollah bravely resisted Israel's aggression and expansion into Southern Lebanon!" she retorted.

"By crossing an international border to kill and kidnap soldiers? By firing 4000 missiles into Israeli hospitals and schools and villages? That's terrorism not resistance!"

The young man on the loudspeaker began again: "End the illegal Zionist occupation! Justice for Palestine! Bring down the apartheid wall and bring home the refugees! Justice for Palestine! No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!"

The woman with the kaffiyah was joined by two male comrades. Pointing a finger into the father's chest, one of them took up the argument:
"Israel is an imperialist state created by an act of aggression. Israel dispossessed the Palestinian people from their land. Israel ethnically cleansed Palestine of its people to resettle Europeans in their homes. Israel is a racist state occupying stolen land."

Pushing the finger away from his chest, the father shot back, "Here we agree. The situation of the Palestinians is a genuine tragedy. But read your history: Israel was created by a vote of the United Nations in 1947. A Palestinian State was supposed to be established alongside. Israel agreed to that, but the Arab states try to snuff Israel in 1948, and left the Palestinians without a home. Then in 2000, President Clinton and Ehud Barak tried again to give the Palestinians a state, and they sent their answer in the form of suicide bombers. The situation of the Palestinians is indeed a tragedy. The tragedy is that the Arab world is much more committed to destroying Israel than in establishing a Palestinian homeland."

The father, the daughter, and the three young activists were surrounded by a crowd – demonstrators from the booth and students walking the campus who stopped to take in the growing melee. The father caught a glance at his daughter worried face. He mouthed the words, "I'm sorry" to her. She only shook her head. He felt a sharp shove in the back, and lost sight of his daughter. Panic began to well up in his belly.

Another of the steps forward and began to shout in his face: "America is manipulated by Israel and its lobby. It was your people in Washington – Wolfowitz, Pearle, Douglas Feith, Josh Bolton, Elliot Abrams and all your AIPAC people who convinced Bush to invade Iraq."

The crowd, the shoving and shouting, the father felt an old anger welling within. Against his better judgment he responded sarcastically: "What? You know about our Jewish conspiracy to control the American government? I bet you know about all the secret Jews in the White House, like George Bush and Condolleza Rice and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? Next you'll tell me that the Jews arranged 9/11 and got the media to blame it on Islamic terrorists?"

"Well," the young activist answered, "everyone knows they were told not to show up to work that day!"

This drove the crowd into a frenzy. As two university policemen arrive, the daughter found her father grabbed his hand and yanked him out of the crowd. The shouting and chanting behind them, they make their way through the campus toward the Hillel House.

He puts his arm around his daughter. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you." 
"You didn't embarrass me, I was just scared. Those guys just scare me."
"Yeah. Me too." 
"Dad, why do they hate us so much? What did we do?" 
He gathered his thoughts to try to explain to his newly adult daughter one of the great mysteries of Jewish life: "You remember those science fiction shows we used to watch together, like the Twilight Zone, where a guy discovers that he's a character in someone else's dream or someone else's nightmare. That's what anti- Semitism is. We're trapped in someone else's nightmare.

"The anti-Semite constructs a fantasy world, in which the Jew becomes the personification and embodiment of all that frustrates him, all that makes him feel powerless, all that brings him down. He assigns to the Jews all sorts of supernatural powers, and the wildest evil intentions. It's his fantasy, so it's not really about us, or anything we've done. That's why you can have vicious anti-Semitism in places where they don't even have Jews! For the anti-Semite, the Jew is a character in a fantasy. In Christian mythology, it's Judas, the betrayer of God's son, and the Jewish mob who demanded a crucifixion. In their fantasy, we are the killers of God, the killers of the dream, the destroyer of redemption."

"But that was ancient history," the daughter pressed, "why now? Haven't we grown beyond that?"

"It would be nice to think so. But now there's Israel. Israel is the new element in the anti-Semite's fantasy. World anti-Semitism now has a living effigy of the collective Jewish people to attack. And because Israel has real power to defend itself, because for the first time in 2200 years Jews are prepared to fight back and to fight to win, the anti-Semites go crazy."

As they walked through the campus, he asked himself the same question: Why now? And what next?

The Hillel House was a warm and welcoming hive of activity, filled with the aromas of baking challah and chicken and the sounds of excited college kids.

"I have to go help with the dinner," the daughter explained to her father. "Why don't you rest up in the library."

Alone in the library, the father returned to his child's question, why now?

"B'chol dor va'dor omdeem alaynu l'chalotaynu" In every generation, the Hagaddah laments, they rise up against us to destroy us. But we thought it was over, finished. We thought anti-Semitism was relegated to museums and textbooks. Surely the Holocaust changed things. Didn't it? Surely the Holocaust demonstrated conclusively the demonic, destructive power of hate. Surely the sacrifice of 6 million Jewish souls cured, once and for all time, the world's insatiable craving for Jewish death! Surely the world's shame and remorse would prevent anyone from ever again evoking the ancient hatred. But as novelist Cynthia Ozick writes, "Naively, foolishly, stupidly, hopefully, a-historically, we thought that the cannibal hatred, once quenched would not soon wake again. It has awakened." (Rosenbaum, p. 596) It has awakened in Islamic lands, in Europe, and even in America. The world's longest recurring nightmare has returned.

During the Millenium of 2000, the United Nations commissioned a group of eminent Arab social scientists to research and draft the first Arab Human Development Report. The report is a ruthlessly honest assessment of the dismal backwardness of Arab life. In the Arab world, the report notes, illiteracy is rampant and rising, and scientific scholarship virtually not existent. Income levels are shockingly low, health care primitive, and social services atavistic. Governments are brutal and authoritarian and civil liberties non-existent. While the world grows more global and inter-connected, Arabs grow more xenophobic and insular. This is unusually honest talk for the Arab world. But when it comes to accounting for all this, the report points beyond internal forces within Arab culture and tradition, to Israel.

Israel's occupation of Arab lands is "one of the most pervasive obstacles to security and progress [harming] nearly all aspects of human development and human security, directly for millions and indirectly for others. Israel, "casts a pall across the political and economic life of the entire region....[It] freezes growth, prosperity and freedom." (Schoenfeld, p. 28. The text of the UN Arab Human Development Report is available online, http://www.undp.org.sa/Reports ) Tiny Israel, with six million people, and no oil, and no water, is responsible for the economic and cultural degradation of 320 million Arabs from Morocco to Iraq to Saudi Arabia and the Sudan.

European-style anti-Semitism, argues Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, was always alien to Islam. But over the past generation, anti-Semitism has been imported, internalized, and Islamized, so that it now functions as a common staple of Islamic and Arab thought, and the classic images of European anti-Semitism have found their way into the popular culture of the Islamic world. The fantasy of the all-powerful, diabolical, scheming, destructive Jew is alive within the Arab world.

The most popular modern anti-Semitic book is The Protocals of the Elders of Zion. This book portends to reveal the inner workings of the secret Jewish cabal plotting to dominate the world. Soon after its appearance in the 19 th century, the book was proven to be a fabrication created by the Czarists police as an incitement and justification for their pogroms. Everyone knows it's a lie, but today, The Protocals of the Elders of Zion is widely reprinted and available in the Arab world. In 2002, it was made into a 41-episode prime-time docu-drama and broadcast throughout the Middle East on Egyptian TV during Ramadan. (Schoenfeld, p. 11. See BBC, "Egypt Airs Anti-Semitic Series," http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2409591.stm )

In the anti-Semitic fantasy, the Jew takes on supernatural powers and desires the most demonic, most threatening, and most fearsome evil. In 2002, a leading Saudi newspaper, Al Riyadh, published an "expose" about the Jewish holiday of Purim:

"The Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastry (Hamantaschen). The practice cannot be carried out if human blood is not spilled. For this holiday, the victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew – that is a Christian or a Muslim. His blood is taken and dried into granules. The cleric blends these granules into the pastry dough. Let us now examine how the victim's blood is spilled. For this, a needle-studded barrel is used; this is a kind of barrel, about the size of a human body, with extremely sharp needles set in it on all sides. These needles pierce the victim's body...and the blood drips from him very slowly. Thus, the victim suffers dreadful torment – torment that affords the Jewish vampires great delight as they carefully monitor every detail of the bloodshed with pleasure and love that are difficult to comprehend." (Schoenfeld, p. 17. See: http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP35402)

In fundamentalist Islam, the Jews has been turned into the enemy of God, the Islamic equivalent of the anti- Christ. One of the founding theoreticians of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, Sayyid Qutb, wrote an influential essay in the 1950's entitled, "Our Struggle with the Jews." According to Qutb, it is Jewish wickedness and deception that keeps Muslims estranged from the truth of their faith. The Jewish goal, he argues, is to destroy Islam. In the time of Mohammed, it was sufficient to expel the Jews from Arabia. In modernity, he write, "Allah brought Hitler to rule over them." Now, "let Allah bring down upon the Jews people who will mete out to them the worst kind of punishment, as a confirmation of Allah's unequivocal promise." (Schoenfeld, p. 41. Lewis, ch 8, "The War Against the Jews"; See Robert Irwin, "Is this the Man who Inspired Bin Ladn?" in the Guardian, November 1, 2001 -- http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,584478,00.html ).

Hassan Nasrallah, the corpulent head of Hezbollah, whom we heard so much from this summer, stated in 2000, that anyone who reads the Koran "cannot think of co-existing with the Jews, of peace with them, or about accepting their presence, not only in Palestine of 1948 but even in a small village in Palestine because they are a cancer which is liable to spread again at any moment." (Schoenfeld, p. 44, See "Hassan Nasrallah: In His Own Words, CAMERA, http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=11&x_article=1158 )

For sixteen centuries, anti-Semitism incubated and developed in Europe as a dark fantasy of Christianity. In the 20 th century, it is transformed into the secular nightmare of Nazism. In the late 20th century, it moves to the Islamic east. And now, it has returned to be re-imported to its homeland in Europe.

The fantasy of the demonic Jew has returned to Europe. According to a European Union poll taken in 2003, 59% of Europeans consider Israel as a greatest single menace to world peace, more than Iran, North Korea or Pakistan. In the Netherlands, the number rises to 74%. ("Israel Outraged as EU Poll Names it Threat to Peace," Guardian, November 2, 2003, http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1076084,00.html ) A taboo has lifted on a new European anti-Semitism, not directed at individuals Jews, but at Israel as the collective Jew. "The key motif, [of this new anti-Semitism]" writes British journalist Melanie Phillips, "is a kind of Holocaust inversion, with the Israelis demonized as Nazis and the Palestinians being regarded as the new Jews. Israel and the Jews are being systematically de-legitimized and dehumanized – a necessary prelude to their destruction." A German university poll taken this year among 3000 Europeans found that 50% equate Israeli policy toward Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews. (See, Geopolitical Review, "A Poll is Worth a Thousand Words," December 8, 2004, BR> http://www.geopoliticalreview.com/archives/000591a_poll_is_worth_a_thousand_wor.php )

According to Phillips, "Europe has waited for more than a half-century for a way to blame the Jews for their own destruction." Europe has waited a half-century to be able to throw off the shame of the Holocaust and to say to Jews, see, you're just like us. Or worse, Europe has waited a half-century to say, you deserved it.

The father looked out the library window onto the campus and grasped the painful irony of the whole afternoon. There has always been a strain of American anti-Semitism. But it lived on the barbaric edges of American life among the uneducated, the unlettered and uncultured: The ranting of Father Coughlin, the Grand Order of the Ku Klux Klan, the shadowy world of skinheads, the radical racist Right. Jews have always feared strong expressions of American nationalism and nativism, expecting to find anti-Semites hiding behind the waving flag. We look suspiciously at the fundamentalist Christian right, despite their strong support for Israel, anticipating at any minute Pat Robertson's call for America to become a Christian nation with no room for us. But the one place Jews would never have expected anti-Semitism to grow and flourish, was the college campus.

What an irony! What is college for American Jews? College is a defining experience. For American Jewish families, college has never been just a step toward economic advancement, a gateway to a brighter future. After potty training and learning to walk, college is an essential developmental stage for a Jewish youngster. We trust the American university to make our children into adults. We trust the American university as a sanctuary of education and scholarship which we deem holy. Of all places, the college campus is the new home of hatred for Jews in America.

At a another time, he would call the university's dean of students and describe the afternoon's events. "Don't you have rules against hate speech?" he inquired.
"I'm sorry for what happened to you and your daughter and I certainly hope you're both okay. But I must tell you, it's a difficult call," the dean responded. "We want to encourage a free flow of ideas, an open, uncensored debate about issues. Just because someone objects to Israel's policies, its practices, its government, doesn't make them anti-Semitic and doesn't make their statements hate speech. Even if their objections are stated in very strong language. That's still protected political speech." 
"Of course, criticizing Israel's government is not anti-Semitism. In Israel it's the national sport. But this goes well beyond criticism. To call for Israel's destruction and the decimation of its people, to celebrate the murder of Israelis by suicide bombers, to fly the flag of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, doesn't that contribute to a hostile and threatening environment for Jewish students?" 
"Yes, it's definitely a sensitive area. I agree that Jewish students will find it very difficult to hear. But even that sort of rhetoric still falls under political speech, not hate speech."
"No," the father retorted, "here you have old-fashioned anti-Semitism hiding under the banner of protected political speech, hiding within the anti-Israel rhetoric. How else do you explain the Nazi images and language? How else do you account for the classic images of Medieval anti-Semitism, including the blood libel? If this isn't hate...

He realized that the dean had long since stopped listening to him, so he tried one more tactic. "Tell me honestly, would you be as tolerant of this kind of discourse if we were talking about gay and lesbian students or African-American students or even Muslim students?"
This hit a nerve. "Well, I assure you, we do everything in our power to keep all our students safe from threats. I will promise you that we will look into this." 
"I appreciate that. Thank you for your time." As he hung up the phone he remembered once meeting a surviving member of the White Rose, the circle of courageous German students who protested the Nazi take-over of Germany's universities in 1940. Someone asked this survivor why he thought it was so easy for the Nazis to assume control of the universities. And he answered: Universities are liberal institutions, by and large. People in the university believe in reason, in progress, in the rationality of all people and the possibility of rational solutions to all problems. They have no way to comprehend hate, or brutality or evil. And so they simply turn away and pretend it isn't there. They would rather deny the experience of the victim, than jeopardize their conception of a reasonable world. They can't look into the eyes of hate. VA parent, according to the Talmud, is obligated to teach his or her child three things: the wisdom of Torah to nurture a spiritual life, the practice of a trade to provide a means for temporal life, and how to swim. The father sat in the library of the Hillel House and realized that for the first time that he understood what the Talmud meant. But then he worried. Did he teach his daughter to swim in the cold waters of history? Did he teach her to navigate and master the currents and riptides of a world that would seek to drown her spirit and engulf her faith? Will she turn afraid and seek to hide her Jewish soul? The daughter found her father deep in thought. "You still thinking about today?" 
"Yes. It's hard to let go." 
"Well come on downstairs, it's time for the service to begin."

As they entered the common room, he received a round of applause from the Jewish students who had witnessed the incident.

The program director got up before the group. "I want to welcome everyone, especially our visitors. Before we begin, I have a few announcements of upcoming events. We are gathering names of those who would like to represent Hillel at the upcoming rally for Darfur."

Out of the back came a biting voice. "Listen, today, we almost bought it defending Israel. Don't you think we should cool it on Darfur and concentrate on Israel for a while?" Half the room murmured in agreement until another student arose to respond: "Why, just because you lose interest, does that diminish the suffering over there? Did you forget that 400,000 people have been murdered in Sudan? Didn't we once promise "Never Again" or was that just when we felt like it?"

The program director, noting the time, moved on. "Okay, anyone who wants to participate in the Darfur action, please sign up. Now, we've arranged for a dialogue meeting with the Muslim Student Association." At this, the room fell apart.

"Those bastards? Why on earth would we want to meet with them, especially after today?"

"Especially today you should meet with them."

"The only Jews they want to meet are dead Jews!"

"How can you say that? I have friends in that group. Not everyone there is a monster."

"You can't make peace with those people. Hasn't history taught you anything?"

"Well if you don't try to make peace, what kind of future are you shaping? What kind of Jewish attitude is that? 
And so it went for a good five minutes. Until the Hillel rabbi arose and called the room back into order.

"Look. Let's acknowledge what happened today. And let's acknowledge how we feel right now."

"So what can we do?" came a voice from the back, "how do we stop these guys?"

The rabbi responded: "Well first, we can't do this ourselves. If we want to confront these guys, even if we want to go to the university and get them off campus, we'll be better going as a coalition."

"Who is going to want to help the Jews?" came the biting voice from the back.

"The girl who is heads the Christian fellowship lives on my floor," one of the students offered, "I know she's been to Israel a couple of times. I talk to her about joining us."

"Yeah, and the guy who is chair of the African-American Students' Union just got back from service in Iraq. I know him, he'll help us."

"I have a lit professor who was raised in Germany and has always expressed a sensitivity about how Jews are treated. I know he'll want to be involved."

"This is important," the rabbi approve, "The hatred of Jews is very, very old. But now we have allies, those who would stand with us against hate. That's new. And that's important."

"Is that it? Do we just get rid of them? Can't we somehow change their minds?" inquired the voice in the back.

"The way you heal anti-Semitism attitudes is to share real conversation so that we become real people to one another. Not characters in one another's fantasies, but real people with real stories and real pain. That's the purpose of dialogue. Now the Muslim Students have asked us for a dialogue. Now can we ask again if anyone would like to participate?"

Every hand in the room went up.

"Good, that's better. Dialogue works. It changes people. You'll see."

But the voice in the back wasn't satisfied. "I have a baseball bat in my room. Don't you think that would be a better response?"

Everyone laughed. The rabbi wisely answered. "I know you're angry. But there is one thing we must affirm immediately: The worst way for Jews to respond to hate, to anti-Semitism, to anti-Zionism, the worst way is to stop being Jewish. Jews are not hard. Jews are not cold. Jews are not indifferent. Jews are not insular. Jews are not uncaring. Jews are not angry. Jews are not hateful. No matter who hates us. No matter what they do to us. The worst way for Jews to respond to hate is to stop being Jewish.

You remember the midrash: When Moses brings the people across the Red Sea into freedom, the Torah say, v'yaminu b'adonai u'b'moshe avdo. They trusted God and Moses, God's servant. A skeptical rabbi once asked: "Of course they trusted! Of course they believed! They saw the plagues, they saw the pillar of fire, they saw the Sea Split. After all those miracles, who wouldn't believe?"

The rabbis of the academy scolded him. "After generations and generations in slavery; after seeing countless children thrown into the Nile, after witnessing their elders crushed beneath the blocks of Pharaoh's monuments, after all the cruel humiliation and oppression and brutality of slavery, the fact that they still had hope and would step forward with Moses into an uncertain, was a greater miracle than the Splitting of the Sea. A greater miracle than Splitting the Sea is the opening of a heart to hope." Jews face hate and they don't grow angry; they don't turn bitter; they don't become cynical and selfish. Jews step forward toward a Promised Land. The worst thing we can do in the face of hateful anti-Semitism is to stop being Jews.

"Now, let's do what Jews have always done, even in very bad times, let's pray, let's sing, let's welcome one another to Shabbat."

The father watched is daughter rise to light the Shabbat candles.

He listened to the voices of the students rise together in prayer, joyfully welcoming the Shabbat.

He joined the circle of student as they rose to embrace one another – a circle of friends, a circle of prayer, a circle of faith. And he thought that maybe, just maybe this generation had learned to swim after all.

This year, may all our children learn to swim.

Shana Tova.


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