D’var Torah for August 30, 2019

On Wednesday the Rockland County Republican Party released the a deeply disturbing video on social media. Though it was taken down by Thursday though you can still find it on YouTube https://youtu.be/ooe-f00l0pk While showing images of the ultra-Orthodox community with ominous music in the background the video proclaims, “What’s at stake? Our homes, our families, our schools, our communities, our water[1], our way of life … if they win we lose … a storm is brewing in Rockland.” The video is filled with antisemitic tropes but defended under the guise of “overdevelopment.”
On Tuesday in Lincoln Terrace Park in Crown Heights, Abraham Gopin, a Chasid, was attacked while exercising. A young man approached him, shouted an antisemitic slur before hurling a large paving stone at Gopin. He knocked out Gopin’s front teeth and fractured his nose.
As Eli Steinberg wrote for the Forward, “You’ve all heard the story: A Haredi Jew violently assaulted in broad daylight somewhere in New York City. It happens so often now, with what is almost a chilling regularity, it’s virtually impossible to miss. According to the NYPD, anti-Semitic hate crimes have skyrocketed in the past year; the 145 complaints so far in 2019 alone are sharply up from 88 in that same time frame a year earlier — a year which itself saw a 22% increase from 2017.”[2]
Thankfully the Rockland County video was condemned not only by New York’s Attorney General, but also by the Republican Jewish Coalition. Unfortunately this is not usually the case. The rise in antisemitic attacks in New York are called out by the Orthodox community, but rarely discussed in the non-Orthodox world. Trump’s questioning of Jewish loyalty is called out by the left, while Tlaib’s questioning of Jewish loyalty is called out by the right.
Sadly, antisemitism is becoming an increasingly partisan issue, while being excused if one supports the politician or party of the person spewing the hate. Antisemitism is antisemitism, and it must be called out and condemned regardless of who is speaking it. To all politicians I say, stop using Jews and/or Israel to further your political ambitions. Your use of us, only further endangers us from those who would seek us harm.
Back to the video, are there bad actors in the Orthodox community? Absolutely. Is overdevelopment a cause of major concern, certainly. However, these issues need to be challenged through all appropriate legal channels. Laws, regulations and rules must be enforced. Rockland Clergy for Social Justice is one such organization fighting on behalf of the students of East Ramapo School District. Among the members of this organization are a number of Rockland rabbis, myself included.
In contrast to the video, there are ways to challenge frustrating developments in Rockland County without putting a target on the back of Jews writ large. It is one thing to challenge the actions of a person. It is another to indict a whole community. Anger towards Jews leads to violence towards all Jews. For as we know, when one Jew is assaulted simply for being Jewish, we all become targets to be assaulted. Lest we forget, the communities that were attacked in Pittsburgh and Poway were not, for the most part, Orthodox communities.
The Rockland Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education recently welcomed back to Rockland Dr. Deborah Lipstadt. Dr. Lipstadt’s new book Antisemitism: Here and Now, confronts the reality of modern day antisemitism. I plan on speaking more about it at our upcoming High Holy Day services. Needless to say, there are ancient tropes being resurrected by all sides for political, social, educational, and geographic reasons, to name a few.
We have an obligation to ourselves and our brethren to call out antisemitism wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. Or to borrow from that disturbing video, “if (anti-Semites) win, we lose.”
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] The virulent accusation of Jews poisoning the wells dates back to the early middle ages. It is a trope that sadly has never gone away, and many Jews have been murdered after being accused of poisoning the water of a local community.