In Responding to the New Anti-Semitism, Jews Must Refuse to Apologize for Themselves

In his reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the British novelist and essayist Howard Jacobson urges Jews not to internalize the messages of today’s anti-Semitism, which so often come in the form of anti-Zionism:

The modern anti-Semite is more subtle than his great-grandparents. He doesn’t smash our windows or our bones. He insinuates himself into consciences that are already troubled and works on spirits that are already half-broken. And we are too responsive to his serpent insinuations. When the history of Jew-hating in our time comes to be written, Jewish collusion in it will feature heavily. . . .

To the question, . . . “How do any of us, as Jews, fulfill the great task imposed on us [by the memory of the Holocaust]?,” here is my part-answer: stop apologizing and resist the sirens who would lure you onto the rocks of guilt and self-dislike, singing of Jewish materialism, Jewish legalism, Jewish exclusivism, Jewish supremacism, Jewish imperialism, Zionism. . . .

[A]lthough we intone the words “never again”—now as a prayer, now as a supplication, now as a commitment—we cannot rid ourselves of the fear that it, or something like it, might indeed happen again. . . . [W]e now accept that it was wild fantasy to hope that after the Holocaust we’d be left alone. . . . But we thought anti-Semitism itself might take a short break. . . . What no one could have expected was the speed with which they found a way round any such compunctions, not least by denying that anything had happened at all. Holocaust—what Holocaust? . . .

But it’s not those obsessive “deniers” who trouble Jacobson the most; rather it’s those who wish to relativize the Holocaust by means of invidious comparisons:

[There is a] moral seesaw on which Holocaust relativists love to frolic—the contestable atrocity that was the Holocaust now rising, now falling, but always ultimately outweighed by the incontestable outrage that is Zionism. . . .

“Never again” is the sacred promise we gather annually to reaffirm. It must be more than a mere wish. It binds us in the necessity to be strong-minded and alert. And that means alert, above all, to the words those with hatred in their hearts employ to exploit the guilt in ours.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Howard Jacobson, Jeremy Corbyn, Politics & Current Affairs

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays