Last week, Jews everywhere observed a Memorial Day of huge and stratospheric proportions: Yom Ha Shoah, otherwise known by so many as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the time in world history where the forces of mass murder on a horrific scale were marshaled together all over Europe to succeed in eliminating, murdering and wholesale slaughtering 6 million Jews to forever wipe them out as a people.
But not a surprise. The only surprise was that the Nazis used the smoke of World War II to burn, cremate and shoot to death so many Jewish individuals throughout Europe that the mind, after seventy years, still finds difficulty absorbing the horrors of such a nationally inspired and deliberate attempt of mass human extirpation. So much so that humanity had to find a word for it….Holocaust…or Shoah.
But no surprise, for the hatred of Jews everywhere had always been prevalent in primitive Christian Europe. The Jews had been labelled “Christ-killers, and seen as a threat to be converted, expelled or put to death with the sword. Martin Gilbert, that master British historian, writes in his book, “The Holocaust”: “In 1543 Martin Luther set out his honest advice as to how Jews were to be treated. First, he wrote, their synagogues should be set on fire. Jewish homes should be broken and destroyed. Jews, then, should be put under one roof, or in a stable, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land.”
Continues Gilbert: “Luther’s advice was typical of the anti-Jewish venom of his time. Mass expulsion was a commonplace of medieval policy. Indeed Jews had already been driven out of almost every European country…and yet more were still to follow. Jew hatred, with its two thousand year old history, could arise both as a spontaneous outburst of popular instincts, and as a deliberately fanned instrument of scapegoat politics.”
Not least in America as well. It all began … well, where did it all begin? It certainly wasn’t with the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, because the JCC in Los Angeles had already been targeted for attack in 1999, as had the JCC in Kansas 15 years later. The Tree of Life atrocity has since been followed by the Chabad center killing in Poway, California. And growing instances of anti-Semitism in word and/or deed is growing at an alarming rate. Just witness the public statements of Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio- Ortez and Rashida Tlaib, all freshmen congresswomen, who have not been afraid to speak ill of Jews and/or Israel behind a facade of equal opportunity.
This has only paralleled events in Europe, where anti-Semitic incidents, reflected in attacks, slurs, swastika-graffitti signs have exploded at unprecedented rates thus far. The anti-Semitic/anti-Zionistic statements by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labor Party, has been only the tip of the anti-Semitic iceberg that has had British Jewry worrying deeply about that party’s future, and the path it is descending into. German Jews are now afraid to wear skullcaps in public for fear they will be assaulted, or worse. Politicians from Hungary, Poland, and France had made racist statements against Jews that would have been unheard of in the past.
And when on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays Jews go to their synagogues, it is very hard not to notice the security guards and officials protecting the houses of worship from hate-filled left-and-right wing extremists without feeling some level of concern and sadness for how bad things have descended for the current Jewish populations in America and around Europe.
From Martin Luther to the 21st century of humanity, hatred towards, and animosity against Jews, seem to have changed so little, and we may well wonder if things will get even worse. And many will hide their anti-Semitism by publicly declaring their resentments against Israeli policies towards Palestinians, Hamas terrorists, and whatever strikes them at the moment. For if there is ever an overwhelming level of frustration to these hate-filled mongers, it is that Israel exists as a place of safety and succor for Jews everywhere. No longer subject to the tsunami tides of national hatreds against us, Jews have the very best safety resort, not subject to the loud innuendos of anti-Semitic naysayers and condemnations.
And that’s where the BDS movement attempts its nefarious policies against Israel as it feels strongly motivated to limit, if not sabotage, the efforts of Israel to widen its economic and political agendas to successfully embrace world politicians from all parts of the current spectrum.
We cannot rest with any assurances that these attacks will ever cease. But the commonality, friendship and support of the silent majority gives us hope that as bad as things have become, they will be neutralized by the goodness of so many others for whom the Jews are seen as the bastion of hope in a society that must embrace diversity from all backgrounds for ethnicities who have afforded so much towards their countries of birth.
Rabbi Chaim Landau is Rabbi Emeritus at Ner Tamid in Baltimore.