It was fashionable from the 1950’s through the late 1970’s for rabbis to schedule four types of sermons a month; a sermon on Israel and in defense of the same, a sermon on social action, a sermon on anti-Semitism and a sermon on Jewish values as it pertained to human concerns. In recent years I, along with many of my colleagues have found sermons on Israel less easy to give. Similarly, as anti-Semitism has ebbed that option has also, thank goodness, ebbed. We live, as the Chinese proverb would have it in interesting times. In recent days, we have received mixed news. On the one hand, the Pew Research has noted that when it comes to favored and least favored religious groups, Jews by a small percentage are the most favored; nearly 70 per cent have positive about us.
Quite gratifying! That is the good news! However, that leaves some thirty percent who are to put it mildly negatively inclined towards us. On the heels of this report has come alarming news regarding dozens of threats to synagogues, temples and Jewish Community Centers. Hoaxes, notwithstanding, these threats need to be taken seriously, and they are a form of hate mongering. Additionally, one synagogue cemetery has been desecrated with numerous tombstones overturned and others defaced and vandalized. Growing anti-Semitism is, in my judgement connected to the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement which has gained great traction on college campuses. It has become fashionable to become a detractor of Israel focusing on its foibles while ignoring equally ugly moral lapses by many other nations. Leaving aside the political concerns of how effective the BDS movement is, or how justified it is, there is no doubt that Israel is now seen as a pariah among the nations who have established a false equivalency to Apartheid.
Things go in cycles. The rabbis wondered: when the Messiah comes and every day will be a Paradise, that is to say a Sabbath, will we have any need for any Jewish holidays? If everyone, for example would not sin in a messianic age, what would be the need for Yom Kippur? But they concluded that the one holiday we would never abandon is Purim. The sages asserted that the theme of Purim is about the threat to Jews and that threat never ever goes away. As such, constant vigilance is called for. I know that many in this generation do not see Israel as heroic as our parents had. In my own view, Israel is with all its foibles a great nation. We need to assert that greatness even as we maintain the integrity to acknowledge its deficiencies. Without such assertions of its value, anti- Semitism will continue to fester and grow. It will be used to fuel what
Alan Dershowitz called “Judeo-phobia.” We have seen such a proliferation in Europe and it is sadly making its ways to these shores. As the Israel proverb would have it, “We have seen this movie before!”
Wishing one and all, in anticipation of the warmth of spring, the best Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.