For the January Jews in the News discussion at the North Shore Towers, we examined some major news stories having impact on the Jewish community in 2018. Based on a collection of news articles, plus input from our current event discussion this morning, the following stories rate high:
- The tragic shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue: I cannot imagine any news story having greater impact on the Jewish community. The murder of eleven souls probably represents the single worst anti-Jewish attack in U.S. history. Aside from the tragedy, the vast outpouring of support for the American Jewish community was comforting and reassuring. The prayer memorial I attended after Pittsburgh took place at a mosque and not at a synagogue. The Islamic Center of Westbury, Long Island hosted a vigil attended by people of various faiths. It should not take a tragedy of such magnitude for people to mobilize in brother and sisterhood, but the expressions of unity fill me with hope about a future world of peace.
- The U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem: I admit to having been lukewarm about the Embassy. For me, there were other issues which took precedence. On the other hand, it is ridiculous that only Israel is denied a right to have its capital recognized by other nations. Throughout the world there are countries with egregious human rights records, yet their capitals play host to international embassies. Why must Israel be the exception? Nevertheless, while moving the Embassy may have satisfied our American administration, there is no evidence that the move provides any benefit for Israel. If over the next five years other nations follow suit and move their embassies to Jerusalem, then we can talk about benefits. In the meantime, the ceremony to mark the new Embassy included a Habad rabbi (someone not representative of the greater American Jewish community) and a pastor criticized as a bigot. The Embassy move, therefore should be recognized for what it accomplished AND failed to accomplish.
- Increase in American Antisemitism: Although most reported US incidents of antisemitism concern vandalism and not physical injury, the sharp increase of antisemitic events in our country and in Europe do alarm us. Although we need to address this worrisome increase, the most effective way for American Jews to fight anti-Jewish bias is to immerse ourselves in serious Jewish living. Author Deborah Lipstadt recently wrote about countering the ‘oy’ with the ‘joy’; we can only effectively combat hatred by embracing our Jewish culture and tradition. By identifying our Judaism in terms of antisemitism exclusively, we create a Judaism devoid of content. Nevertheless, we lament antisemitism on the college campus, as well as the antisemitic statements from leaders of The Women’s March.
- The Relationship between Israel and American Jews: Michael Oren, former Israel Ambassador to the US, wrote about What Israel Owes American Jews. He reminds us that the Jews murdered in Pittsburgh worshiped at a Conservative synagogue. Do Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox elements in Israel honestly believe those Jews died in Pittsburgh because they worshiped in a place of heresy? Enough already…Oren also suggests that if Israeli Orthodox Jews expect American non Orthodox Jews to consider Israel their spiritual homeland, then they need to reciprocate such recognition.
- Finally, American Jews are nervous about the anti-Israel sentiments of newly elected Congresspeople. Organizations (like AIPAC) and individuals (like ourselves) will hopefully reach out to help ‘educate’ these new politicians. On the other hand, we should be excited about the 28 Jews in the House and the nine Jews in the Senate. The Jewish presence in Congress is certainly an important story from 2018; not merely because of their election but by virtue of the roles they can play in governing our country.