Dear Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld,
I read your recent article about our duty to let our Jewishness be heard. In it you question the “greatness" of Muhammed Ali and I thought that your answer, of learning from his example of not being shy to voice one’s opinion, was spot on! The boxer (ironically enough) was a spokesman for the conscientious objector movement against our disproportionate and corrupt involvement (President Johnson’s and Nixon's lies) in the war in Vietnam. Ali was not afraid to speak his mind with a position that was very much not in vogue at that time and he spoke it unabashedly and indeed with pride (yes, I agree, his form of ‘yarmulke').
It was encouraging to read, as you state in your article, that there was a presence of thousands of Jews for the anti BDS event sponsored by the Israeli Mission to the UN. Yes, there is a need for the Orthodox community to stand up more often and make a difference in the secular world. This could be for us to publicly condemn and deconstruct the BDS movement or as I have tried to make a case in our community and the community at large about standing behind a proposal of legislation to mandate character development for all schools k thru 12. You stated in your article that “No one cares. They (the BDS movement) protest loudly and we respond meekly.” How sad is it that we don’t utilize our own power!
BDS talk has been going on since 2005 https://en.wikipedia.org/.../Boycott,_Divestment_and... It is an international
movement and in my opinion has been steadily gaining strength during that time. Legislatively we have seen some push-back as with the action of our NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and for that he should be thanked and praised, but the ignorance of the college youth in this respect may not yet have peaked. Pls look at the youtube of Ami Horowitz wherein he solicits college youth to contribute towards the cause of Hamas bombing Israeli civilian establishments - https://youtu.be/-kNH46tlcwM . The Wikipedia article states that "In June 2015, the Rand Corporationreported that a successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, if it could be maintained for 10 years, could potentially cost the Israeli economy $47 billion." Though it goes on to say that there are no hard models to derive such data from, it is nonetheless a frightening thought that the historical dragon of anti semitism can take on the form of economic slaughter. Financial actions against a country can strangle a people too. Despite this, I have not heard in the last 10 years, of much public reaction from the Orthodox community to counter this other than the appeals we make to legislators in our visits to Washington through NORPAC. NORPAC is a wonderful organization but legislators don’t care that much if the constituents don’t show they care, if the wealthy donors don’t care or if the message is not prominent enough in the popular culture. Thank G-d most of the American people support Israel but there is a concerted effort through propaganda and lies to wear down this good will of the majority of our citizens and replace it with the age-old canards about the ‘evil Jews’ and in this case the Israeli crimes being perpetrated against Palestinians. You said it yourself, “They protest loudly and we respond meekly” and I think that we could say it a lot louder!
Why don’t we organize rallies in Manhattan the way we did for the Iran deal and have dynamic speakers thunder through megaphones the retorts of what the truth is??? Don’t we have dynamic enough speakers to do that? I’d bet that world famous Allan Dershowitz would lend his voice if he was invited to do so. Is there a lack of truth to our side that we have say our retorts “meekly” so no one can hear it? Why don’t we stage mass rallies against those colleges and universities most blameworthy of not allowing a free discussion by right-wing and pro-Israel speakers and authors to share their thoughts with our college youth?
It is all very good to have remembrances of the Shoah and to say Tehilim for the Israeli civilian and soldier victims of terrorism but is that all we can do? When does our ‘hishtadlus' come in? Remembering the Shoah without modern day ideas on how to better the world through socio-political solutions is impotent and self defeating. Brutal terrorism and cultural delegitimization of the Jews, as we saw from the Hitler era, are forces that work together and feed off each other. Of course we must remember and of course we should ask Hashem for his help and salvation but we must also do what is in our power to do - which in this case is to raise the conscience and morality level of the world around us through insisting that character development be taught in schools and educating the world on the true level of morality and justice of the state of Israel.
Young Israel of KGH just had the privilege of hearing your sister, Mrs. Debby Spero, one of Yad Vashem’s veteran tour guides, give a moving lecture about the strength of the will to live on the part of the ‘kedoshim’ who were taken from us during the Holocaust. She also paid homage to the 26 thousand noble souls among the gentiles, recognized at Yad Vashem, who were ‘mesirat nephesh’ to save Jews during that time, often at the cost of their own lives. These lofty souls are known as the “Chasidei Umos Ha’olam”. We can not say, as some Rabbis do, that ALLgentiles are ‘sonei l’yaakov’ and that is decreed in the Torah in the story of “Eisov” (Esau). We can not profess to know the nature of any other soul including that of gentiles, unless they manifest their soul’s character through sustained or some profound action. Therefore we must initially presume that every human being is capable of developing their character potential as much as we could develop our own. Mrs. Spero, honestly, wondered aloud, whether she would be capable of the level of mesirat nefesh that those righteous gentiles achieved.
She spoke of a tragic incident of Hungarian Jews captured by the Nazis and were brought to and trapped in a shul before they would be transported to their demise. The captives knew that this is their end and they posted notes of their last will and testament on the walls of the shul. The contents of these writings were captured later by Jewish Partisans who were able to enter the shul and transcribe these notes to paper before the evidence would be destroyed. In these notes, almost without fail, these Jewish captives, after affirming the value of life, would proclaim in one word their wish against their captives - “revenge!”. I ask what better revenge is there than to be a light unto the nations and teach the world what the face of morality and true character looks like. This would enable people of faith of whatever legitimate religions to practice in peace. We must do our share to promote the sprouting of more Chasidei Umos Ha’olam and defeating anti semitism and other hateful beliefs. That is a true revenge!
Shtettle-like insularity and condemnation in Eastern Europe and Russia was imposed upon the Jewish community. But in a land where the constitution of the United States promises freedom of expression and religion, it is incumbent upon us to hold colleges and universities to these American ideals i.e. to allow free discussion on college campuses to debate the issue, the merits and demerits of the BDS movement and other issues of morality and values. We are not to allow the academic world, to practice at the height of their arrogance, blind liberalism and naked anti semitism unopposed speech which violates a fundamental American precept and law - especially in the case of public universities. Currently, propaganda and bold-faced lies flow freely unimpeded which reportedly has already indoctrinated 30% of our youth in colleges and universities to believe in the modern day ‘blood libel’ this time in the form of BDS. Let the self-hating Jews who go along with modern day Joseph Goebbel's propaganda, deal with their own consciences. I agree with you - The Orthodox with its enlightened view of morality and justice should stand up and take a public stand - and not ‘reply meekly’.