The brutal assaults on Jews across America, incessant for more than a year but increasing now in intensity and frequency, are – after taking into account all the facts, circumstances, assortment of perpetrators and potential causes – ultimately inexplicable. There is no rational reason for it. And that should open our eyes to a new reality.
From the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to the machete attack in the shtiebel in Monsey, and including the almost daily assaults and harassments of Jews across the metropolitan area and in Teaneck as well, Jews are wondering what the future holds and where is the support from the American political and civilian establishment?
There is some good news emerging from the spate of attacks. In Monsey, Jews resisted, fought back, and after five people were stabbed, the assailant was repulsed, fled and later apprehended. That has not always been the case. Too often, Jews have been docile and passive, punched, knocked down and pushed without any response. Such docility only encourages more attacks, as every bully knows.
In Monsey, Jews resisted, fought back, and after five people were stabbed, the assailant was repulsed, fled and later apprehended.
It is important to mention that unlike the European persecutions of old, here the government protects us and prosecutes the attackers. That is a major distinction and one that engenders hope and security. What doesn’t is the response of the political establishment that issues florid statements advocating love and tolerance, vitriolic statements denouncing hate and intolerance, and proposes a bevy of new laws that cannot apply to past attacks and will not deter new ones. Hate crime legislation, more gun control laws, or labeling assailants of Jews “domestic terrorists” are all empty gestures; if the clearly delineated prohibitions against homicide and assault are insufficient, then new and more arcane laws will not deter anyone. But laws are the politician’s stock in trade and enable them to proclaim that they are doing “something.”
What metropolitan area politicians will not even entertain is the relaxation of the issuance of gun carry permits that will enable Jews (and others) to defend themselves against an immediate assault. The dastardly attack on the church in Texas was ended within seconds by parishioners who shot and killed the assailant, period. Had the attacker in Monsey carried a gun rather than a knife, the result would have been horrific. When will our liberal politicians wake up, show some courage and actually – strong words ahead – change their minds on something and even exercise some political courage? For all their high-sounding rhetoric and concern for Jews, as long as they continue to pander to the anti-Second Amendment lobby and deprive law-abiding Americans of their right of self-defense, the blood of future victims, G-d forbid, is partly on their hands.
Similarly, the politicians have been too reticent to expose the identity of almost all the recent perpetrators in New York and New Jersey: they have been black Americans. That point is worth noting for several reasons. Had they been white supremacists (as the Pittsburgh murderer was), we would not hear the end of the recriminations against this ugly ideology. Politicians and commentators would be contorting themselves and drawing labyrinthine diagrams trying to connect this dot and that dot until they could pin something on President Trump. The fact that the assailants are mostly black has left them tongue-tied. The ADL is as paralyzed today as it was during its shameful silence through the Crown Heights pogrom in 1991.
Every black assailant is just a lone wolf and they are all mentally unstable. Sure.
As a result, every black assailant is just a lone wolf and they are all mentally unstable. Sure.
It must be mentioned in the current climate that these miscreants do not represent the black community and that blacks, indeed, are not generally anti-Jewish (although their rates of Jew hatred, and even animus towards Israel, do exceed that of the general population). To blame all blacks for the actions of a few would be as foolish as it is false.
Only thoughtless promoters of identity politics would, in any event, pin the actions of a handful of people on the rest of that ethnic group, whichever it is. But what is troubling is the lack of response from black leaders, partly because there really is not a black “community” with its own leadership and spokesmen. There are local leaders who try to positively influence small groups of people, and there infamous race hustlers who shake down politicians for money and the media for sympathetic coverage – but no leaders.
So aside from Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, who forcefully denounced Jew hatred, there hasn’t been a meaningful word spoken by one of the celebrity black personalities (unless I missed something). Where is Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson? Where is Cory Booker? Where is the call for soul-searching in the black community? It is not enough to just perfunctorily denounce Jew hatred; that should be obvious even as it would be welcome.
Where is the heartfelt search for the answer to the question why are blacks suddenly attacking Jews in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Teaneck, Monsey and elsewhere? What currents or trends are coursing through the black community that are contributing to this environment? What can be changed in the curriculum offered in the schools, the education offered in churches, or the values being taught in homes? What is motivating these evildoers?
It is disconcerting that there has been such a tepid response from the officialdom of the black community. Contrast that with the outrage heard ‘round the world when the floundering actor Jesse Smollett falsely claimed to have been assaulted by two white, MAGA- hat wearing white supremacists who, allegedly (!) , were foolhardy enough to walk through a black neighborhood in Chicago late at night carrying a noose and kidnapping one of the most well known blacks in the city. Cory Booker, Al Sharpton, Kamala Harris, Jessie Jackson and even Michelle Obama pounced on this hoax and used it as a hammer with which to club white America, and have never retracted or apologized.
Is it too much to ask that they demonstrate some of the same distress for real attacks on real Jews by real blacks? Their silence is as deafening as it is painful to bear. Mayor de Blasio’s platitudes aside, the new bail reform law has already released Jewish attackers back on to the street hours after they arrested, prioritizing the interests of criminals over those of decent citizens. That is truly clueless and a shameful sign of the times.
Indeed, most politicians who denounce the “climate of hate” are often oblivious to the hatred emanating from their side of the aisle and the demonizing of their political opponents. That has always existed notwithstanding the hypocrisy involved. What’s worse today is the nonstop presence of a tendentious media that magnify every event and then distort its lessons through its preferred prism of understanding, and the ubiquitous social media outlets that have unleashed people’s worst instincts with very few real consequences to the offenders. Hatred today has a force multiplier that it has never had before.
What can be done? In the last seventy years, Jews hopefully have learned, from hard experience and the establishment of the State of Israel, that Jewish blood is not cheap. No Jew should stand by idly and passively watch another Jew being beaten or harassed. Of course don’t be foolish, over-aggressive, disproportionate in response, or a vigilante – but also don’t be docile. Jews should respond blow for blow – two blows for every one blow – to every unprovoked attack. It has been painful to watch videos of Jews in Brooklyn being knocked down – and the victim can’t or won’t respond.
Jews who are walking and talking on their cell phones are easy targets, vulnerable to assault and almost powerless to resist or retaliate.
In the current environment, Jews have to be vigilant. I dare say that Jews who are walking and talking on their cell phones are easy targets, vulnerable to assault and almost powerless to resist or retaliate. Loss of the cell phone walk and talk is a great sacrifice but an unfortunate necessity until the situation stabilizes. (It also helps you avoid walking into other people or oncoming traffic.)
The spirit of Hanukkah was the capacity of a small group of Jews to rise up in righteous indignation and fight back against our oppressors. It was not all latkes and jelly doughnuts. We are not protected by organizations that pride themselves on counting the number of attacks on Jews, and actively oppose the self-defense measures that could increase our sense of security. The Torah demands that we act in our own defense, as the Jews in Monsey did several nights ago.
But we have to reckon with another phenomenon as well. The white supremacists who attacked Jews in Poway and Pittsburgh are fringe actors who enjoy no support from mainstream society. Their hatred is boundless, unassuageable, and they threaten not only Jews and blacks but American society generally.
The recent attacks against Jews that did not originate with white supremacists or neo-Nazis are inexplicable. There is no rational reason why these black Americans, random or not, should be attacking Jews. Blacks have prospered under the Trump economy as never before. Black unemployment is at an all-time low and black businesses have thrived. Black support for Trump is growing, even as the fatherlessness of the average black home remains pervasive, troubling and the cause of much mischief. None of this explains why some would therefore just attack Jews.
Every galut ends. I am not a prophet – but I do know that this galut will end as all the others have ended.
If it is inexplicable, then that too is teaching us something. Every galut
ends. That is the first reality of Jewish history. The second reality of Jewish history is that each inhabitant of a particular galut
has denied the first reality that every galut
ends, until it has been too late. If this rash of violence against Jews could be attributed to a particular cause – we did X or Y and brought it on ourselves – then we would comfort ourselves by saying that if we just stop doing X or Y, then the danger will pass and this galut
will continue as before.
When the aggression is inexplicable, we have to look for the source elsewhere. I am not a prophet – but I do know that this galut will end as all the others have ended. That is a simple truth of Torah. Is anyone confident that the United States ten years from now will be the same as it is today – more united, peaceful and prosperous? (The US today is relatively peaceful and prosperous but not at all united.) Will it more supportive of Jews or of Israel? Or will it be more divided, spiteful, and debt-ridden, with each group competing for tinier shares in a smaller pie of resources, with some imposing its amoral notions on all others, with growing disenchantment of those who see the America they knew slipping away from them, and with the looming day of reckoning because of the deficit that now exceeds $22 trillion and is unstoppable?
When this galut ends, it will be possible to trace back the steps that led to its decline and its inhospitability to Jews. The signs are there, as is the land of Israel that beckons all of us.
Perhaps that is the only conclusion that makes any sense. Are we ready to draw those conclusions? Or will we content ourselves with prayer vigils, politician’s clichés, barricades and security enhancements and deflecting words?
Those are the good questions that should be uppermost in the minds of Jews.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, Eastern Regional Vice-President at the Coalition for Jewish Values, and author of “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.”