Holocaust Remembrance and the New Anti-Semitism
This past week, Jewish communities throughout the world, as well as many non-Jewish communities, marked May 2, Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with meaningful commemorations and ceremonies. Our great Torah scholar, Maimonides, lists “remember what Amalek did” and “do not forget what Amalek did” as two separate but closely related Torah mandated mitzvot. Neither command has any designated time or place to be fulfilled. They can be accomplished every day, at any time.
How do we fulfill each command? “To remember” is accomplished by verbally identifying and/or visibly displaying what happened. “Never forget” is an ongoing and constant command. We are forbidden to lapse into the frame of mind that what happened to us by Amalek was just something that took place long ago. Relegating and pushing the horrific and murderous, calculated and premeditated assaults on Jewish communities throughout the world, to the recesses of our consciousness is also prohibited by the Torah. Rather, the mental experience of Amalek should be with us daily. We should learn from those past atrocities and be on guard for dangers in the present. Together, these two mitzvot are the basis for the various forms of commemorative activities that took place Thursday at Posnack School and throughout the world.
The nation of Amalek, of course, is not limited to the biological descendants of the ancient tribe, known in the Bible by their progenitor’s name, Amalek. He and his offspring are first mentioned in Genesis 36:12. However, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in line with the teaching of both his father Rav Moshe Soloveitchik and grandfather Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, often remarked that Amalek includes any person or group of people that maintain a certain corrupt philosophy and distorted psychology. Their mission is the destruction of the Jewish people for no other reason than they are Jewish. Psalm 2 encapsulates their design, “…they conspire against Hashem and His anointed.” We refer to that attitude today more commonly by the sanitized and politically correct term, anti-Semitism. But let’s be truthful, straight forward and direct, it means anti-Jewish.
In our modern world, nothing has changed. We are in fact forewarned of this perennial situation by our Torah, “Hashem maintains a war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:16) Having just celebrated the holiday of Pesach, we are all too conscious of the words in the Haggadah, “In every generation, a nation arises to destroy us, but Hashem saves us from their hand.” Even at the Pesach Seder we fulfill the two commands of “remember Amalek” and “never forget Amalek.”
Make no mistake about it, today’s Israel bashing is nothing less than anti-Jewish. Not only does this form of anti-Jewish activity take place in countries around the world such as France and Belgium but it is growing right here in the United States, particularly on our college campuses. Just consider some of the most recent anti-Israel/anti-Semitic occurrences right here in the USA: some of our congressional districts are now represented by anti-Semites, some who openly associate with Louis Farrakhan and/or receive financial support from groups and organizations that are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic; our federal Congress cannot pass a unified statement condemning anti-Semitism; the murderous rampage that took place last October 27 at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the most recent deadly attack the last day of Pesach at a synagogue in San Diego; over last weekend, none other than the New York Times, a news publication representing the most sophisticated, modern and advanced country in today’s world, the United States of America, published 2 blatantly anti-Jewish cartoons. Anti-Semitic cartoons, you should know, were staple in the tactics used by the propaganda machine of the Nazi’s in Germany. What’s the expression: “A picture is worth a thousand words!” An apology, how pathetic for a so-called enlightened publication. Where is the outrage from all the Time’s subscribers?? One bright spot, earlier this week the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill to combat anti-Semitism in Florida’s public schools and colleges.
So, I urge all of you to subscribe to Palestinian Media Watch (see and read what Israel’s Muslim neighbors are saying about the Holocaust) and to go on YouTube and watch “Crossing the Line 2” produced by Jerusalem U.com. Jerusalem U along with other pro-Israel advocacy organizations such as Stand With Us, Step Up For Israel and The David Project provide excellent curricula and resources. We use them here at Posnack. Visit their websites as well. The video “Crossing the Line 2,” presents an excellent way to tell if criticism of Israel is legitimate or really just a cover for anti-Semitism. It is called “The 3 D’s” test or definition of anti-Semitism proposed by human rights advocate, Natan Sharansky.
If the rhetoric delegitimizes, demonizes or applies a double standard in its critique of Israel, (3 D’s), then it crosses the line and becomes anti-Semitic language or speech. One example of delegitimizing speech is if it questions the right of the country of Israel to exist on the land that it does. The modern countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia were all carved from the same swath of land. Until 1916 that territory belonged to Turkey, rulers of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey lost this vast land mass to the British and French in World War I. England and France then divided the area and created each named country above. If one is illegitimate, all are equally illegitimate.
Demonization takes place when Israelis, in particular, and Jews, in general, are depicted in cartoons as greedy bankers squeezing the world of all its money; as baby killers and prison wardens due to security checkpoints at entryways between Israel and its neighbors or defensive barriers built to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks (irony of ironies the IDF soldiers are caricatured as Nazi storm troopers); or the recent cartoon in the New York Times depicting the distorted head of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the body of a dog leading a kippa-wearing President Trump. (Check out PMW, Palestinian Media Watch, or Google vintage anti-Semitic cartoons from Nazi Germany to see the striking similarities of cartoons then and now)
Double standard is plain to see when, for example, Israel is singled out by the UN Human Rights Council for committing the greatest number of human rights violations of all UN member nations. Never mind the abuse of women in many Muslim run countries in the Middle East and Africa. Where is the NOW organization or other progressively-minded people speaking out against these and other human rights crimes happening routinely in these cultures and societies? Yet these same people are quick to condemn Israel’s democratically elected government and its laws calling Israel an apartheid state. I challenge anyone to compare any Muslim run country and society to Israel’s. Which is correctly and aptly racist, sexist and repressive? This false characterization of Israel is an affront to any black person who once lived or had family who lived in the once truly apartheid South Africa.
Living in the post-Holocaust era, we have taken on a corollary of the two mitzvot in the Torah. That corollary bears the slogan, “Never Again!” But this corollary can only be fulfilled when we look honestly at the events going on all around us. We must be courageous to speak out and identify the enemy for what they are. They are not just the “JV team,” or “beatniks,” “hippies,” and rebellious college teenagers of the ’50s and ’60s. No! What is taking place around the world, in our America Jewish communities, and on our college campuses right here in Florida is nothing other than anti-Jewish speech and assault. We must make the commands to “remember” and “never forget” a regular part of our life.
May Hashem continue His protecting care over the nation of Israel, the Jewish people and all peace-loving people the world over.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan