After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend, Joe Magun, came over to me.
“Shalom”, he said. “Your abba told me you just came back from Lithuania.”
“Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in the courtyard?”
“Yes, I did. In fact, we helped them make minyon.”
His eyes opened wide in joy at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”
We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right — his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.
We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of long Island. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.
Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance at their watches let me state emphatically, unmistakably “ I have no pathology of hate, nor am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the countryside. I am not a pessimist, nor prone to panic attacks. I am a lover of humanity, all humanity.
Whether they worship in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple or don’t worship at all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but what I do have is hatred for those who hate, intolerance for those who are intolerant, and a guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.
Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.
I recall a conversation with my father shortly before he died that helped me understand how perilous and how broken is our world; that we are living on the narrow seam of civilization and moral oblivion. Knowing he had little time left he shared the following – Shal. I am ready to leave this earth.
Sure I’d like to live a little longer, see a few more sunrises, but truthfully, I’ve had it. I’m done. Finished. I hope the Good Lord takes me soon because I am unable to live in this world knowing what it has become.
This startling admission of moral exhaustion from a man who witnessed and lived through the Depression, the Holocaust, WWII, Communist Triumphalism, McCarthyism, Strontium 90 and polio. – Yet his twilight observation was – The he worst is yet to come. And he wanted out.
I share my father’s angst and fear that too many do not see the authentic, existential threat we face nor confront the source of our peril. We must wake up and smell the hookah.
Lighten up, Lewis. Take a chill pill, some of you are quietly thinking. You’re sounding like Glen Beck. It’s not that bad. It’s not that real.
But I am here to tell you – It is. Ask the member of our shul whose sister was vaporized in the Twin Towers and identified finally by her charred teeth, if this is real or not. Ask the members of our shul who fled a bus in downtown Paris, fearing for their safety from a gang of Muslim thugs, if this is an exaggeration. Ask the member of our shul whose son tracks Arab terrorist infiltrators who target – pizza parlors, nursery schools, Pesach seders, city buses and play grounds, if this is dramatic, paranoid hyperbole.
Ask them, ask all of them – ask the American GI’s we sit next to on planes who are here for a brief respite while we fly off on our Delta vacation package. Ask them if it’s bad. Ask them if it’s real.
Did anyone imagine in the 1920′s what Europe would look like in the 1940′s. Did anyone presume to know in the coffee houses of Berlin or in the opera halls of Vienna that genocide would soon become the celebrated culture? Did anyone think that a goofy-looking painter named Shickelgruber would go from the beer halls of Munich and jail, to the Reichstag as Feuhrer in less than a decade? Did Jews pack their bags and leave Warsaw, Vilna, Athens, Paris, Bialystok, Minsk, knowing that soon their new address would be Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau and Auschwitz?
The sages teach – Aizehu chacham – haroeh et hanoanolad – Who is a wise person – he who sees into the e future. We dare not wallow in complacency, in a misguided tolerance and naive sense of security.
We must be diligent students of history and not sit in ash cloth at the waters of Babylon weeping. We cannot be hypnotized by eloquent-sounding rhetoric that soothes our heart but endangers our soul. We cannot be lulled into inaction for fear of offending the offenders. Radical Islam is the scourge and this must be cried out from every mountain top. From sea to shining sea, we must stand tall, prideful of our stunning decency and moral resilience. Immediately after 9/11 how many mosques were destroyed in America? None. After 9/11, how many Muslims were killed in America?
None. After 9/11, how many anti-Muslim rallies were held in America? None. And yet, we apologize. We grovel. We beg forgiveness.
The mystifying litany of our foolishness continues. Should there be a shul in Hebron on the site where Baruch Goldstein gunned down twenty-seven Arabs at noonday prayers? Should there be a museum praising the U.S. Calvary on the site of Wounded Knee? Should there be a German cultural center in Auschwitz? Should a church be built in the Syrian town of Maarra where Crusaders slaughtered over 100,000 Muslims? Should there be a thirteen story mosque and Islamic Center only a few steps from Ground Zero?
Despite all the rhetoric, the essence of the matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim community has the absolute, constitutional right to build their building wherever they wish. I don’t buy the argument – “When we can build a church or a synagogue in Mecca they can build a mosque here.” America is greater than Saudi Arabia. And New York is greater than Mecca. Democracy and freedom must prevail.
Can they build? Certainly. May they build? Certainly. But should they build at that site? No — but that decision must come from them, not from us. Sensitivity, compassion cannot be measured in feet or yards or in blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not.
If those behind this project are good, peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they claim, then they should know better, rip up the zoning permits and build elsewhere.
Believe it or not, I am a dues-paying, card carrying member of the ACLU, yet from start of finish, I find this sorry episode disturbing to say the least.
William Burroughs, the novelist and poet, in a wry moment wrote – After one look at this planet, any visitor from outer space would say – I want to see the manager.
Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. Gog & Magog. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West Bank. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street. It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater – in every place of innoceence and purity.
Israel is the laboratory – the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.
In the Six Day War, Israel was the proxy of Western values and strategy while the Arab alliance was the proxy of Eastern, Soviet values and strategy. Today too, it is a confrontation of proxies, but the stakes are greater than East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel in her struggle represents the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda, Iran, Islamic Jihad, represent the world of psychopathic, loathesome evil.
As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel’s galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel’s gallingplight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew.
We are the trial balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from “good guy” then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda.
Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has reached epic proportions in the West; from the Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from university campuses to British teachers unions, from the International Red Cross to Amnesty International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello, from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There is a message sent and consequences when our president visits Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and not Israel.
There is a message sent and consequences when free speech on campus is only for those championing Palestinian rights.
There is a message sent and consequences when the media deliberately doctors and edits film clips to demonize Israel.
There is a message sent and consequences when the UN blasts Israel relentlessly, effectively ignoring Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, North Korea, China and other noxious states.
There is a message sent and consequences when liberal churches are motivated by Liberation Theology, not historical accuracy.
There is a message sent and consequences when murderers and terrorists are defended by the obscenely transparent “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
John Milton warned, “Hypocrisy is the only evil that walks invisible.”
A few days after the Gaza blockade incident in the spring, a congregant happened past my office, glanced in and asked in a friendly tone –
“Rabbi. How’re ya’ doing?”
I looked up, sort of smiled and replied – “I’ve had better days.”
“What’s the matter? Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” he inquired.
“Thank you for the offer but I’m just bummed out today and I showed him a newspaper article I was reading.
“Madrid gay pride parade bans Israeli group over Gaza Ship Raid.” I explained to my visitor – “The Israeli gay pride contingent ffrom Tel Aviv was not allowed to participate in the Spanish gay pride parade because the mayor of Tel Aviv did not apologize for the raid by the Israeli military.”
The only country in the entire Middle East where gay rights exist, is Israel. The only country in the entire Middle East where there is a gay pride parade, is Israel. The only country in the Middle East that has gay neighborhoods and gay bars, is Israel.
Gays in the Gaza would be strung up, executed by Hamas if they came out and yet Israel is vilified and ostracized. Disinvited to the parade.
Looking for logic?
Looking for reason?
Looking for sanity?
Kafka on his darkest, gloomiest day could not keep up with this bizarre spectacle and we “useful idiots” pander and fawn over cutthroats, sinking deeper and deeper into moral decay, as the enemy laughs all the way to the West Bank and beyond.
The threat is so unbelievably clear and the enemy so unbelievably ruthless how anyone in their right mind doesn’t get it is baffling. Let’s try an analogy. If someone contracted a life-threatening infection and we not only scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted that the bacteria had a right to infect their body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria would be satisfied and stop spreading