Addressing Antisemitism: Insights from Jerusalem Amidst the Israel-Hamas Conflict

The more things change, the more they remain the same: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Isaiah 2:3: Ki mi’tzion tetzeh Torah, oodvar Hashem mi Yerushalayim (Out of Zion will come forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem)

Are Pro-Palestinian Activists Antisemitic?

As the Israel-Hamas conflict persists in Jerusalem, some have wondered how to differentiate between anti-Israel sentiments and antisemitism: Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet asks the question: “Why was Yishai Rebo, an Israeli singer, who interprets biblical texts, performing for a Jewish audience met at a Harvard venue with vehement pro-Palestinain protests? This reveals how “Today, ‘Hating Israel’ is the correct way to hate Jews!” This incident illustrates the contemporary fusion of antisemitism and anti-Israel protests and how animosity towards Israel is used as a socially acceptable facade for anti-Jewish sentiments.

 

What is Antisemitism?

In my view, antisemitism involves spreading false information about Jewish people for different reasons. whether it’s the ancient accusation of being responsible for the death of Jesus, the false belief in blood libels, ie that Jews use Christian children’s blood to bake their Passover matzah, or the stereotype of Jews controlling the media and finance, or Jews being labelled as rabid capitalists or communist revolutionaries; These misconceptions about Jews change over time, but the underlying prejudice stays the same.

Throughout history, antisemitism has manifested tragically, from medieval blood libels and expulsions to the horrors of the Holocaust. These myths and stereotypes have justified discrimination, violence, and even genocide against Jews in Germany. Understanding this history is crucial to recognizing how these prejudices persist in new forms today.

The Connection Between Antisemitism and Pro-Palestinian Activism

Pro-Palestinian discourse frequently centers on misinformation about Israel, which is often attributed to a larger ideological conflict.

Nonie Darwish is a prominent figure whose personal story sheds light on the deep-rooted conflict and the ideological struggle surrounding Israel and Palestine. Born in Cairo and raised in Gaza, Darwish experienced firsthand the intense indoctrination against Israelis. Her father was an Egyptian military officer, which further immersed her in an environment that viewed Israel as an adversary. Over time, Darwish began to question and eventually reject the anti-Israel rhetoric she was brought up with, recognizing it as propaganda. Her testimony highlights the pervasive misinformation that fuels the current conflict.

Her daughter, Shireen Said, continues this narrative. Their stories illustrate how deeply ingrained beliefs and misinformation can perpetuate hostilities. Their experiences underscore the importance of critical thinking and open dialogue in addressing and resolving longstanding conflicts rooted in ideological and cultural indoctrination.

Antisemitism and Pro-Palestinian Activism Clash at Universities

The recent Israeli-Hamas conflict has led to tensions on campuses, with reports of incidents that are perceived as antisemitic in connection to pro-Palestinian activism. This issue has been ongoing for many years, as evidenced by a 2014 YouTube video in which Jewish students on American campuses shared the antisemitism they experienced from pro-Palestinian groups in 2014! These incidents, including hate speech, vandalism, and social exclusion, are unfortunately not isolated to the recent events; They demonstrate a long-standing challenge within academic environments.

 

The persistence of these incidents suggests that much work remains to be done to ensure that campuses are safe and inclusive for all students regardless of their political or religious affiliations. Universities must continue to develop, enforce, sustain, and strengthen policies that protect all students from any form of racism including antisemitism and foster an environment of respectful dialogue and mutual understanding.

Statistical Data

Data from organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) show a significant rise in antisemitic incidents globally, particularly during times of heightened conflict in the Middle East. These statistics underscore the need to address this issue comprehensively.

“Out of Zion Will Come Forth the Law”

To delve deeper into the underpinnings of this terrible virus of Jew-hatred called “antisemitism” we turn to Judith Klitzner, a renowned Bible scholar. Klitzner points to the theme of sibling rivalry found in Genesis. She argues that the most significant challenge Jews and non-Jews face today is internal discord, which mirrors the familial strife depicted in biblical narratives. This perspective is crucial in understanding the broader context of antisemitism, that pits brother against brother in the current conflict. (*1)

 

Klitzner’s insights extend to examining how the biblical Pharaoh’s rhetoric enslaved the Jews despite Joseph’s pivotal role in Egypt’s survival. Similarly, she reflects on Isaac’s experiences with her hostile neighbours, offering timeless lessons on dealing with animosity and prejudice. (*2)

Ways to Combat Antisemitism

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and the surrounding pro-Palestinian activism reveal a complex web of historical, ideological, and theological threads. Antisemitism, often veiled as anti-Israel sentiment, continues to manifest in various forms. By revisiting our sacred texts and historical experiences, we can learn to address these age-old hatreds and foster a more truthful and harmonious dialogue. The Torah, from Jerusalem, still has much to teach us about confronting and overcoming the prejudices of our time.

Footnotes:

 

  1.  Judith Klitzner, Your Brother’s Blood is Calling Out, Ikar, YouTube, 4/29/2023, Based on the following biblical texts: Genesis 37: 3-4,

    “And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of his old age; and he made him a fine woolen coat. And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully.” 

    and  Genesis ch 45: 3-15

    “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come closer to me,’ and they drew closer. And he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. For already two years of famine [have passed] in the midst of the land, and [for] another five years, there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance. Hasten and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘So said your son, Joseph: “God has made me a lord over all the Egyptians. Come down to me, do not tarry. And you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children and your grandchildren, and your flocks and your cattle and all that is yours. And I will sustain you there for there are still five years of famine lest you become impoverished, you and your household and all that is yours.” ‘And behold, your eyes see, as well as the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth speaking to you. And you shall tell my father [of] all my honor in Egypt and all that you have seen, and you shall hasten and bring my father down here.” And he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and afterwards his brothers spoke with him.

  2. Judith Klitzner,  Torah  from Israel, Skokie Valley,  Ba-Yamim Hahem, Baz-man Hazeh, From Chanukah to October 7,

 

Skokie Valley

Francisco Gil-White: Geopolitical and Historic Insights on Jews, Israel, and the Battle Against Antisemitism

The following interview with Francisco Gil-White provides deep insights into the historical, political, and social dynamics surrounding Jews and Israel today, alongside the broader issues of prejudice and propaganda targeting Jews over the last century.

Contributions of Jews to Western Civilization

Francisco Gil-White, a Mexican Catholic scholar, political anthropologist, historian, and author, highlights the profound influence of Jewish thought on Western civilization. He explains how Jews transformed the violent Roman totalitarian system into a more just and equitable society based on the Mishna and texts by Hillel the Elder. These ancient texts introduced fundamental concepts such as the equality of all men under one G-d, the pursuit of justice, and the importance of caring for the stranger, widow, and orphan.

Shaping Our Models of Reality

Gil-White emphasizes that the average citizen’s worldview, or “model of reality,” is significantly shaped by the media. He discusses how the nineteenth-century bogus racial theory, the “science of eugenics,” gained acceptance among Western elites and influenced Nazi racial dogma about Jews. He questions whether Western countries were merely appeasing Hitler or secretly supporting him, given their alignment with these theories.

 

The Impact of Russian Propaganda

He delves into how Russian propaganda at the turn of the century, particularly the publication of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” by the Russian Secret Police, fueled global antisemitism. This fabricated document falsely accused Jews of controlling banks and governments, spreading fear and prejudice worldwide.

 

Historical Ties and Propaganda

Gil-White explores the historical ties between the Nazis and the Arab world, focusing on figures like Haj Amin Al Husseini. He discusses the role of propaganda in shaping societal perceptions, refuting antisemitic stereotypes with historical evidence, and addressing persistent myths about Jewish control of the media and big business. He argues that the ease with which Europe rounded up and murdered six million Jews should dispel any notion of secret Jewish powers.

 

Challenging Authoritarianism and Divisive Ideologies

Gil-White stresses the importance of challenging authoritarian regimes that use antisemitic rhetoric to suppress democratic ideals and promote totalitarian agendas. He critiques the current trend of supporting Hamas and the Palestinian cause, attributing it to divisive ideologies propagated in academia and the influence of radical Muslim immigration. He encourages critical thinking to promote social harmony rather than division.

The Repercussions of Antisemitism

Gil-White passionately argues that combating antisemitism is crucial for safeguarding the Western social fabric and is in humanity’s best interests. He points out that Jews have played significant roles in shaping Western civilization and laments the erosion of critical thinking among the younger generation. He critiques Western power elites for fostering radical Islamist elements and covertly supporting the Arab genocidal cause.

Confronting Authoritarianism, Radicalism, and Divisive Ideologies

In his analysis, Gil-White highlights how authoritarian regimes have historically utilized anti-Semitic rhetoric as a means of suppressing democratic ideals and promoting their own totalitarian agendas. He emphasizes the importance of challenging these harmful stereotypes whenever they surface.

Gil-White points out the importance of critiquing the current trend of supporting Hamas and the Palestinian cause, which he believes runs counter to the values upheld by the United States and Israel. He attributes this trend to divisive ideologies propagated in academic settings over the past several decades and to the influence of radical Muslim immigration. Ultimately, Gil-White’s perspective encourages listeners to approach these complex issues critically to promote social harmony rather than division.

Dismantling Stereotypes

Gil-White asserts that Jews have continually contributed positively to humanity. He debunks negative stereotypes and advocates for the protection and inclusion of Jewish minorities and support for Israel against antisemitic enemies like Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah. His multidisciplinary background lends weight to his insights on these complex societal issues.

And why is this powerfully important for all of us?

There is no better way to explain this than by sharing this brief video from the Shine A Light Organization with you.

Francisco Gil-White’s expertise and deep understanding are evident in his advocacy against various forms of antisemitism, from subtle prejudices to overt acts of violence. His efforts aim to foster greater understanding and empathy across all communities.

I encourage you to follow Francisco Gil-White and draw your own conclusions. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Jerusalem’s Unique Purim Celebration: A Blend of Festivity and Tradition

Nestled in the heart of Jerusalem, where ancient cobblestone streets seamlessly merge with modern vibrancy, lies a celebration like no other: Jerusalem’s Unique Purim Celebration. This annual event effortlessly blends the energy of festivity with the richness of tradition, creating a captivating tapestry that embodies the essence of this beloved holiday.

While Purim is observed globally on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, Jerusalem, classified as a “walled city” in sacred texts, is celebrated a day later. On the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday, March 6 and 7, the vibrant spirit of Purim permeates the streets of Jerusalem, alive with costumes, parades, festive meals, and joyous gatherings.

To outsiders, Purim may evoke parallels with festivities like Mardi Gras or Halloween, given its theme of costumed revelry. Yet, Purim transcends mere merriment. This Jewish holiday is rooted in deep spiritual and meaningful traditions and encompasses both material and spiritual dimensions.

The material celebration is a spectacle enjoyed by people of all ages, featuring enthusiastic participation in costume-wearing, impromptu plays, and the exchange of food gifts known as Shalach Manot. The festivities culminate in a joyous family meal, a seudah, in the late afternoon before the holiday’s conclusion.

However, Purim’s spiritual facet is equally significant. Central to this dimension is the Hebrew reading of the Megillah, which narrates the Purim story. Notably, women hold a special connection to Purim, as listening to the Megillah is one of the few commandments specifically incumbent upon them. Queen Esther, the text’s heroine, underscores women’s significance in this celebration.

The Megillah is chanted in synagogues or private homes, fostering widespread participation in the communal listening experience. This year, I attended the evening Megillah reading at Simhat Shlomo, my former Yeshiva in Nahlaot, near the bustling Jerusalem open-air market, the Shuk. The scene in the Shuk was electrifying, with open stalls selling customary Purim masks and treats, restaurants resonating with music, and people dancing into the night. The infectious merriment even infiltrated a cell phone service store in a Jerusalem mall where I happened to be.

Captivated by the festive spirit, I seized the opportunity to capture videos within the Yeshiva during the Megillah reading. Now, immersed in Purim’s vibrant atmosphere, these recordings encapsulate the essence of the celebration.

A diverse assembly of men, women, and children eagerly gathered, anticipating the arrival of their Megillah reader, Rabbi Leibish Hundert. In the meantime, they entertained themselves with lively tales and joyful singing.

With anticipation in the air, Leibish commenced the Megillah reading.

In the afternoon, I was graciously invited to join my nephew, niece, and other family members for a delightful Purim feast, where we shared laughter, exchanged stories, and savoured traditional delicacies.

Jerusalem’s Purim Celebration is a testament to its blend of festivity and tradition, seen in vibrant streets, joyous gatherings, and spiritual practices. This annual event goes beyond mere merriment, exploring the holiday’s cultural and spiritual significance. Each part adds to Jerusalem’s Purim experience, from Megillah readings to costume parades. It reminds us of Purim’s legacy, uniting communities in celebration and reflection.

For those seeking additional Purim Torah, I recommend exploring an earlier blog post, “What Purim Can Teach Us Today.”

Deuteronomy: Lessons from the Fifth Book of Moses

The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as Moses’ ‘second telling,’ recounts the story of the Israelites’ forty-year journey through the desert, chronicling their trials and triumphs. As Moses nears the end of his life, he imparts timeless wisdom for navigating life’s challenges. The sacred text includes his pleas for forgiveness, as well as his reflections on justice and mercy.

Moses Pleads for Forgiveness

The LORD deemed the Israelites stiff-necked, prompting Moses to plead for mercy. Despite the people’s transgressions, Moses interceded, offering himself for their forgiveness.

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:9-10)

Moses dared to confront G-d, voicing his concerns:

“Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’

With fervent pleas, Moses implored G-d for forgiveness:

“But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:32, New International Version)

After forty days, Moses returned with new tablets, signifying divine forgiveness celebrated as Yom Kippur. The tablets convey G-d’s message with these decisive words:

“Salachti k’idvarecha/I have forgiven as you, (Moses), requested.”

Justice and Mercy

The following passage illustrates the concept of ‘din v’chesed,’ which balances justice and mercy, guiding introspection and communal repentance. According to this belief, God is a compassionate judge who acknowledges that people are not perfect and encourages them to keep growing and improving. God carefully evaluates every action, providing opportunities for progress even in small steps. For the Jewish community, God is the ultimate authority when it comes to judgment and redemption.

Reflecting on one’s achievements and failures becomes essential, akin to the introspective process of Elul leading to Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, communal prayers meticulously enumerate various sins, yet the responsibility for each rests solely with the individual. Have you treated others with respect? Have you been fair in your dealings?

The confessions within our prayers are private dialogues whispered solely between you and God. We acknowledge that ultimate judgment lies in God’s hands. On Yom Kippur, we recite the poignant prayer popularized by Leonard Cohen’s song, ‘Who by Fire,’ contemplating the diverse fates that await each of us—the fitting consequences in the coming year.

Moses’ Legacy and Teachings

Legend has it that Moses lived to the age of one hundred and twenty, and the traditional Jewish blessing for longevity is “ad meah v’rim,” meaning “May you live to one hundred and twenty!”

Moses, known as Moshe Rabbeinu, provided a leadership blueprint throughout his life, characterized by dedicated service to others. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reiterates many previously given biblical commandments and lays a blueprint for establishing a just community—a timeless challenge.

Commandments Highlighted in Parsha Ki Tetze:

For a glimpse into Moses’ instructions, consider some of the commandments highlighted in this week’s Torah reading, Parsha Ki Tetze (When You Go Out to War). The Parsha commences with the scenario of Eshet Y’fat To’ar, addressing the situation of a beautiful non-Jewish woman taken captive in war. Subsequently, the Torah outlines the procedures for a Jewish soldier seeking to marry such a woman captured in battle.

Among the commandments covered are:

  • How to deal with the rebellious son;
  • The command to shoo away the mother bird before taking her young (known as “shiluach haken”);
  • The prohibition of mixing wool and linen together (“sha’atnez”);
  • Laws against adultery and kidnapping;
  • The allowance for divorce in cases of failed marriages;
  • The obligation to promptly pay workers, particularly day laborers;
  • Moses also emphasizes the importance of showing extra care for widows and orphans due to their heightened vulnerability;
  • Lastly, the mandate to uphold honesty in all business dealings, one of three commandments promising longevity.

Remembering the Exodus and Eradicating Evil

We are reminded daily of the Exodus from Egypt, a central theme in our prayers. We sanctify the Sabbath and the holidays through the Kiddush ritual with wine at our tables.

Our Parsha concludes with a directive to completely eradicate Amalek and their descendants, a nation that viciously attacked the Israelites during their desert journey, indiscriminately targeting the weary women and children. This command underscores the imperative to eliminate the memory of their heinous actions.

Continued Learning and Hope

During Rabbi Stewart Weiss’s enlightening discussion, I gained a deeper understanding of the laws of Parsha Ki Tetze. These fundamental values and principles require ongoing contemplation, similar to the periodic reaffirmation of marital vows.

The assigned Haftorah for this week is Isaiah 54, also known as Rani Akara. This portion is part of the “Haftorot of Consolation for the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple,” and it prophesies a hopeful future for Israel. It envisions a Jerusalem with expanded borders, welcoming new inhabitants, and resounding with joy and celebration. Some scholars interpret this vision as having been fulfilled with the recent return of Jews to their ancestral homeland after millennia of exile.

As we explore Deuteronomy, its timeless truths and enduring relevance continue to resonate with us. We take inspiration from Moses’s unwavering faith, commitment to justice, and vision for a future filled with hope and happiness.

The Intersections of Judaism and Buddhism with Rabbi Lew

At a family gathering in January 2012, hosted at the Stanford Hillel House in Palo Alto, California, I was introduced to a discourse by Rabbi Lew on the comparison of Judaism and Buddhism. Intrigued, I decided to extend my stay to attend his lectures.

Rabbi Lew’s presentation delved beyond conventional religious traditions, exploring the core tenets of Buddhist philosophy and Jewish thought, primarily focusing on the Fourth Noble Truths. His discussion offered an in-depth analysis of spirituality and philosophy, eloquently illuminating the essence of existence and the pursuit of nirvana to transcend life’s challenges. In the Buddha’s Two Noble Truths, the root cause of universal suffering inherent in human existence is the craving or desire for what one lacks. The subsequent pair of Noble Truths delineate pathways to alleviate suffering, primarily by releasing desires.

Rabbi Lew’s captivating presentation engaged the audience, sharing a poignant anecdote about introducing the First Noble Truth, emphasizing the universality of suffering. He recounted moments when the audience felt relief, expressing a sentiment akin to ‘You mean it’s not just us!’ This shared recognition deeply resonated, highlighting the commonality of human experience transcending cultural and religious boundaries.

Suffering and its Role in Jewish Thought

In Jewish thought, suffering is significant and can be traced back to the first Masechet *2 of the Talmud Berakhot 5B *3. Rabbi Lew extensively delves into this profound theme from various perspectives, covering essential questions like the nature of suffering, its purpose, the comparative value of enduring it versus avoiding it, and its possible spiritual benefits. In Talmudic tradition, the Gemara *4 meticulously discusses the subtleties of torment and adversity, covering countless pages without arriving at a conclusive answer. The lesson concludes by providing an enlightening narrative that offers guidance and clarity amidst the vast array of philosophical inquiry.

Rabbi Yoḥanan’s student, Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba, fell ill. Rabbi Yoḥanan entered to visit him and said, “Is your suffering dear to you? Do you desire to be ill and afflicted?” Rabbi Ḥiyya said to him, “I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward, as one who holds this suffering with love is rewarded.” So Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him, “Give me your hand.” Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba gave him his hand, and Rabbi Yoḥanan stood him up and restored him to health.

Similarly, Rabbi Yoḥanan fell ill. Rabbi Ḥanina entered to visit him and asked, “Is your suffering dear to you? Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him, “I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward.” Rabbi Ḥanina said to him, “Give me your hand.” He gave him his hand, and Rabbi Ḥanina stood him up and restored him to health.

The Gemara asks, “Why did Rabbi Yoḥanan wait for Rabbi Ḥanina to restore him to health? If he could heal his student, let Rabbi Yoḥanan stand himself up.”

The Gemara answers, “A prisoner cannot generally free himself from prison but depends on others to release him from his shackles.”

Towards the end of the class, Rabbi Lew shared an exciting chapter of his life with us while we had dinner and chatted. He used to be a carefree and content Zen Buddhist priest in the lively streets of San Francisco. However, his life took an unexpected turn when he fell deeply in love with his future wife, which led him to undergo a significant transformation. This transformation led him to embrace the roles of a husband, father, and devout practitioner of Judaism while stepping away from the peaceful embrace of Buddhist philosophy.

Judaism vs. Buddhism

During a presentation, Rabbi Lew discussed the differences between Judaism and Buddhism, highlighting the foundational teachings of Buddhism’s third and fourth Noble Truths. These truths serve as the basis for the 8-fold path, consisting of eight practices to alleviate human suffering, including right view, right resolve, right speech, proper conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi.
In contrast, Rabbi Lew challenged the idea that Judaism’s primary goal is to fix suffering. Instead, he explained that Judaism aims to make every moment sacred by connecting with the divine daily. To achieve this, Judaism has a set of guidelines called “halacha,” which provides directions on how to live in every moment and is based on the Torah and the oral Torah, consisting of 613 mitzvot or demands for leading a righteous life.

Rabbi Lew emphasized that in Judaism, “right living” means “bringing holiness to every moment.” This profound approach resembles how Judaism and Buddhism address suffering despite diverging narratives. Rabbi Lew’s message resonates through his works, including “One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi,” which narrates his story of becoming a compassionate hospice worker and an ordained rabbi overseeing a growing congregation in San Francisco.

His other notable works include “This Is Real, and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation” and “Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life.” Rabbi Lew’s insights continue inspiring and enlightening readers, even after his unexpected passing in 2009.

 

Footnote:

  1. The Fourth Noble Truth in Buddhism is about the path to end suffering, called the Noble Eightfold Path. It is a set of principles and practices to achieve liberation from despair and enlightenment. The Eightfold Path comprises eight essential elements that are interconnected and meant to be practiced simultaneously. These elements are Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
  2. A Masechet is a section of the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism.
  3. Talmud Berakhot 5b is a specific page in the Berakhot section of the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud’s pages are divided into two sides, an “a” and a “b” side. Each side features discussions, commentaries, and debates among rabbis on various topics related to Jewish law, ethics, and theology.
  4. The Gemara is a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, considered one of the two components of the Talmud, along with the Mishnah. It extends the Mishnah, providing additional discussions, debates, legal interpretations, stories, and anecdotes related to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and theology.