Rabbi Ben Shull

Rabbi Ben Shull

I write today about some very old wounds.

Wounds that go back thousands of years. Wounds carried by every Jew — some on their bodies, all on their souls: the wounds of Jew-hatred.

Many call this hatred of my people anti-semitism. I choose not to, for the term anti-semitism was itself created by a Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist who popularized it in the late 19th century.

He was attempting to make Jew-hatred appear scientific by categorizing Jews as a racial group (Semites), and thus make this ugliness more acceptable in “polite” society.

Of course, Jews are not a race (one trip to Israel will disabuse anyone of that canard) and Jew-hatred is anything but polite. Jew-hatred is coarse, vile and all too often deadly for Jews and non-Jews as well.

Over the past several years we have witnessed a resurgence of this ancient hatred, even here in America. The old, ugly, slanderous views of Jews as money grubbing and secretly plotting world domination are put forward on social media and elsewhere across the internet. They are even voiced by some of our leaders, on both sides of the political spectrum.

Acts of violence against Jews make the headlines — 11 Jews murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a machete wielding Jew-hater invades a rabbi’s home on Hanukkah injuring several Jews. But other acts of hatred against Jews escape broad media attention.

Jewish students are harassed, verbally and physically, on college campuses by Israel-hating provocateurs. Orthodox Jews are accosted by teenagers on the streets of New York. Synagogues are covered with Jew-hating slogans and symbols by anonymous vandals.

Here in America the list goes on and on. And in Europe and other parts of the world, acts of Jew-hatred are more frequent and pernicious.

As you might imagine, this recent upsurge in Jew-hatred opens old wounds for Jews. We know all too well our history. We remember the common refrain of Jews in ages past, “It certainly couldn’t happen here” and “Lie low and it will all blow over.”

And we know, sadly, that they were wrong.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake. That is why we Jews will stand up and speak out against Jew-hatred, using whatever power we possess to beat it back.

That is why we Jews support a strong and vibrant state of Israel, the only place in the world where Jews have some true control of their destiny.

That is why we Jews are reaching out to all Americans of conscience, to our friends and neighbors, counting on you to join us in confronting this evil in our midst.

The famous German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller wrote a speech after World War II as an act of contrition, about the danger of hatred when left unchecked. These are his words in poetic form. May we keep them always in our memory:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Ben Shull is rabbi of the Jewish Congregation of Venice.


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