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The Holocaust and Today’s Antisemitism

This past week Jewish communities throughout the world, as well as many non-Jewish communities, marked April 8th, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with meaningful commemorations. Our great Torah scholar, Maimonides, lists “remember what Amalek did” and “do not forget what Amalek did” as two separate but closely related Torah mitzvot, incumbent on every Jewish man and woman alike. Neither command has any designated time or place to be fulfilled. In fact, they can be accomplished every day, at any time.

“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 thinking that what happened to us by Amalek was just something that took place long ago. Relegating and pushing that tragic event to the recesses of our consciousness is thus prohibited by the Torah. Rather, the mental experiences of Amalek, past and present, should be with us daily. We should learn from those 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 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. 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 PC term, anti-Semitism. But let’s be truthful and straight forward, 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.  In May of 2020 the ADL’s published report noted anti-Semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2019 with more than 2,100 reported acts of anti-Semitism. The AJC’s 2020 “The State of Anti-Semitism in America,” states “more than one in three American Jews (37% of survey respondents) have been victims of anti-Semitism over the past 5 years. 22% on social media. Of those, 67% on Facebook, 33% on Twitter, and 12% on Instagram.” Their findings also show a strong link and correlation between hostility toward Israel and anti-Semitic acts.

Just last Thursday, in a conversation between Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Miller of the New York branch of the JCRC, the Congresswoman blamed Israel for the lack of peace with the Palestinians. She cited the “settlements as the central issue,” and “their existence is not the way to get to the two-state solution.” Regardless of your thoughts on the “two-state solution,” there was no peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors long before any settlements existed. Settlements, now many of which are populated cities, did not arise  until after 1967 when Israel conquered this land in a defensive war for its national survival. This “inconvenient truth,” and its consequences are never mentioned by today’s anti-Semites.

According to a recent article, March 2021, published by the Reut Group, an Israeli think tank dedicated to the right of Jewish self-determination in the State of Israel and the continued meaningful existence of the Jewish people, a new approach to anti-Semitism has taken hold among “progressive circles,” including some of our leading universities. It is identified as “erasive antiSemitism.” “This term refers to a de facto undermining of a Jewish narrative to self-determination. The goal of its proponents is to negate the rights of Jews individually or collectively to define their own identity, experiences and vulnerability.” (Reut Group, March 2021)

However,  most preposterous of all current anti-Semitic slander was recently reported by Professor Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University. In their “Anti-Semitism Report for 2020,” they found, “Blaming the Jews and Israelis for developing and spreading the coronavirus (or Judeovirus) was the main motif of this year’s anti-Semitic manifestations.” One Greek newspaper, “The Makeleio,”  even compared Albert Bourla, the Jewish CEO of Pfizer to the infamous Dr. Mengele. (Times of Israel, Nov. 13, 2020)

Living in the post-Holocaust era, we have taken on the corollary of the two mitzvoth 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, whomever they are: politicians, entertainers, educators, athletes, clergy, anyone and in any profession.  “Never Again” applies not only to Jews but to any person or people subjected to persecution and dehumanization. What is taking place around the world, at our college campuses, and right here in Florida, is nothing other than anti-Jewish speech and assault. We must make the mitzvot to “remember” and “never forget” a regular part of our life.

In this merit may Hashem continue His protecting care over the nation of Israel, the Jewish people and all peace-loving people the world over.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Robert Kaplan