As has been throughout history, when the economic times become bleak, fingers start pointing toward the Jewish people. It will often begin anonymously, first with outbreaks of anti Jewish messaging in hurting communities, then the public rants by so-called scholars and community figures gain broader audiences, and it eventually gets mainstreamed into protected remarks and satirical comics in media offered as “legitimate” commentary. It then moves up to public protests and public leaders leading the fight for imaginary justice from the evil Jews.
This is not meant as a scare, as there is no looming menace here in the United States; not to say that there are no troubles brewing in European regions that have high and growing Moslem populations. Yet, the other day in a Cedarhurst commuter station of the LIRR, on a billboard that read “Jump Start Your Economy”, was the word “Jew” scrawled in graffiti. Once again, it’s not major, and it is not as bad as seeing swastikas etched into synagogue doors, but there is an element that would associate the hurting economy with some kind of Jewish involvement.
The word “Jew,” however, was not an issue for me, as it was likely the work of just one sad person. Living in New York and spending a lot of time working in the Deep South, racist comments become almost background chatter. It is not innocuous, but sometimes you need to treat it as such. What was more troubling about the scrawl at the Long Island station was what was written underneath in a different color and seemingly a different handwriting saying, “Damn Orthodox Republican S---.” Troubling to me, because that is indicative of a comment by a Jew – someone more intimately aware of the differences between the streams and the politics within.
So the scrawl was less anti-Semitic, as it was more self hatred that we see going around. That is what is presumed to have caused the destruction of the Second Temple. Self hatred, most always baseless, infighting and disharmony within the ranks of the Jewish people is tantamount to the sinat chinam that destroyed the Second Temple. In effect, it was worse than the three fundamental sins of idol worship, immorality, and the bloodshed that destroyed the First Temple.
To demean a whole community because it might have a proclivity for one party over another is racism. Taking it further, to presume that a connection to politics, support of domestic or foreign actions, or adherence to social policies one way or another are the driving reasons for the economic situation the country is in, is tantamount to how Adolph Hitler inspired a nation to attempt the annihilation of a whole people; left, right, practicing, agnostic and the totally assimilated alike. To see that coming from the direction of other Jewish people is a key reason why peace can never truly come between Israel and its rivals. If Jews hate one another so much, how can they expect everyone else to love them?
Before dismissing that comment, take a look in the mirror and tell yourself there is no truth to what I wrote.
When I was younger, I fell in love with Israel because it was the one place I felt I could be who I am without fear. If I wanted to wear a kippah at work, if I needed time off for the Jewish holidays, if I did not just want to eat the salad at an average restaurant with my colleagues eating everything else without concern, I could pretty much do that in Israel. In New York it’s not so hard either, but I worked in rural Georgia, traveled the Bible Belt and have seen parts of the country that have never seen a Jewish person up close. It’s not always accommodating or easy.
Israel was that place to me, but it is changing. New York was also that place, too, in many ways, but that, too, is changing. The ultra-orthodox dislike, not merely disagree with, but dislike, those who do not see religion as the rigid and uncompromising structure it has become to them. The modern orthodox are all but disappearing as its offspring are either maker sharper turns to the right or just forgoing practice entirely; the same goes for the Conservative Jews, while the Reform and Reconstructionists are all but fading into total assimilation and disbelief in the need for any Jewish ideology at all. The UJA’s own population survey backs this up, showing that ultra orthodoxy is growing while every other stream is bleeding. What makes it worse is that still, almost each feels a moral superiority over the other – and has no problem expressing it in ugly ways.
The eruv battles in such places like the Hamptons and Tenafly, New Jersey, where we see Jews acting with vitriol towards other Jews, is as good of an example as the rocks thrown at modern Jewish people by the haredim in Israel’s town of Bet Shemesh. Sinat chinam is that venomous hatred that brings people far from Rabbi Akiva’s version of Jewish law, the version that advises us to love others, as we ourselves would want to be loved. It brings people to this regressive sense of self-righteousness that brings us to the brink of the way the Israelites were acting when the Second Temple fell and they were cast into exile. And in this exile they learned to rebuild and flourish to the point where we have become so comfortable that we can start hating one another again.
When the great Jewish satirist Sholom Aleichem penned the quote for Yente the Matchmaker, “if G-d lived on Earth, people would break his windows,” he knew back then what has become clearer today. Unity must come if the Jewish people are to truly thrive together among a world that is prone to distrust them.
Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president of the New York public relations agency,5WPR