Even after a rash of terrifying Anti-Semitism, the Jewish left still does not get it

As the secular year 2019 ends, we looked back last week at the top eight reasons that made Donald Trump the “first Jewish president.” So much positivity, and yet during this administration, our people have never experienced so many acts of violent anti-Semitism in this country, with the week of Chanukah having as many incidents in this state alone as the candles on a menorah.

This past Motza’ei Shabbos, a disturbed man ran into the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey and went around slashing family members and guests with a knife, with five men being taken to a hospital with injuries. Had the people not defended themselves with furniture, there would have been more victims that night. Knowing his license plate number, the alleged perpetrator, Thomas Grafton, was tracked to Harlem, where NYPD officers cornered his car and arrested him within hours of the attack. Inside Rabbi Rottenberg’s home, blood on the floor served as a reminder of the deadly potential in this attack, which was the 13th anti-Semitic incident in three weeks, and less than two weeks after the massacre in Jersey City that killed a police officer, grocery store worker, and three Jewish individuals.

This past Sunday evening, the final night of Chanukah was rainy and cold, but on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills, Chabad of Rego Park director Rabbi Eli Blokh and Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh spoke of the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, and they encouraged turnout as a response to the dark events of recent days. He was joined by Alexa Weitzman, a local resident who affiliates with an independent congregation. “It is important that we come together across backgrounds, start a conversation, and move forward as a community. Chanukah is a hopeful experience,” she said. Weitzman recognized that those who appear visibly Jewish are at greater risk of anti-Semitism, and non-Orthodox Jews should have this understanding. “The menorah lighting was a wonderful event; it brought us together.”

In Kew Gardens Hills, Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer was joined by Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal and Councilman Rory Lancman on the final night of the holiday, lighting the menorah on Main Street.

At the Grand Army Plaza, the tallest menorah in Brooklyn was encircled not only by Chabad shluchim and local residents, but also by dozens of politically progressive Jews in an expression of solidarity. On the campaign trail in Iowa, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders mentioned the stabbing directly in a tweet. “I’m outraged by the knife attack in Monsey. We must confront this surge of anti-Semitic violence, prioritize the fight against bigotry, and bring people together – instead of dividing people up.” He later lit the final candle at a public ceremony in Des Moines.

To see our liberal brethren paying shiv’ah calls, attending vigils, and typing tweets of sympathy is nice, but would it mean a much-needed recognition that anti-Semitism is not limited to white supremacists? A few hours before the stabbing in Monsey, Jewish leftists were tweeting outrage at New York Times columnist Bret Stephens’ op-ed titled The Secrets to Jewish Genius that suggested that Ashkenazi Jews were genetically predisposed towards intelligence and success. Stephens’ use of a report by a researcher who promoted white supremacist views in the past is troubling, but then look at all the Nobel laureates who are Jewish. This alone could have been enough for Stephens to make his point, had he not cited anthropologist Henry Herpending.

A week earlier, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani gave a rambling interview to New Yorker magazine where he disparaged liberal financier George Soros. “I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about – he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion – synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel.” Jews on the political left were outraged with Giuliani’s apparent paskening of who is a Jew based on one’s observance and Zionism. Had Giuliani stuck to examples of Soros’ liberal politics without declaring himself a Jew, dayeinu.

The Jewish left appears to be more outraged by statements of questionable Jewish content than the sources of anti-Semitic attitudes that resulted in actual violence against Jews. When Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio separately spoke of increasing patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, some of our leftist brethren tweeted concerns for people of color who were historically mistreated by the police. Even as they stand with Orthodox Jews at vigils, they cannot bring themselves to recognizing the source of the problem. Likewise with Sanders, who tweeted sympathy for the victims in Monsey but has not distanced himself from Linda Sarsour.

Our progressive brethren should start with the following thoughts:

  • Orthodox Jews are not occupiers. We have the same right to settle in Jersey City or Bed-Stuy as an African-American does. We also have the right to reclaim our ancestral land as any other indigenous people on this planet. Our presence in a neighborhood may discomfort some people, but it does not displace them.
  • Nor are we gentrifiers. When rents and property values increase, Orthodox Jews feel it as any other group. With tuition, shul membership, food, larger households, and tz’dakah obligations, an increase in rent, gas prices, or utility bills is much more painful for an Orthodox family.
  • Nor are we uneducated, as the recently released city Department of Education report noted. Our yeshivah graduates emerge with sharp minds, as productive members of society. It is our constitutional right to choose the education of our children.
  • Orthodox Jews are not strange for wearing traditional garb. A society where everyone under age 35 has a tattoo should also be accepting of a community where everyone seemingly wears the same type of hat. Likewise, when a hijab and an afro are protected by law as expressions of one’s heritage, the same can be said of the sheitel and shtreimel.
  • Our concern about rising crime is not rooted in racism; it is directly connected to our sense of security and past incidents. This explains why many Orthodox Jews in the city are opposed to the bail reform law passed last April and the planned closing of the Rikers Island jail. When most of the attacks against urban Orthodox Jews are committed by minority individuals, it is not unreasonable to ask their communities to address the matter.

Orthodox Jewry is quite diverse in its hashkafic and political views, but what unites us is apparent at the Siyum HaShas. It is our loyalty to Hashem and our desire to learn the continually expanding body of halachic case law handed down through the generations. The event is organized by Agudath Israel of America and it is open to anyone with an admission ticket. Recognizing the value of the Siyum as an educational tool, the organizers have been generous with press passes, and seats reserved for political leaders, and pre-event publicity. It provides a window into the world of Jewish Orthodoxy. I hope that the conversation emerging from the final night of Chanukah will be amplified with the Siyum HaShas.