I am pleased — but that is not the right word — I am saddened, sobered, and frightened by the fact that others have now joined me in this view. Many of the distinguished academic presenters at Yale University’s superb conference on global anti-Semitism shared at least a part of this vision.
Aaron Klein wrote a book with the terrifying title: The Late Great State of Israel. Recently, Italian parliamentarian and author of Israel is Us: A Journalist’s Odyssey in Understanding the Middle East, Fiamma Nirenstein, asked me to write a piece for the important Italian newspaper, Il Foglio. My piece will appear in their pages right before an October 7th rally for Israel which will take place in Rome at the Temple of Hadrian. Speakers include the former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, professor Shmuel Trigano, politician and journalist Giuliano Ferrara, plus scores of European parliamentarians and intellectuals.
We know that Jews were savagely, repeatedly persecuted and murdered all over Europe, which culminated in a Holocaust in which six million Jews died. People may not realize that Italy also persecuted, massacred, taxed, and humiliated its Jews for 2000 years; the word “ghetto” comes from the word for “an iron foundry” which was the site of the Jewish ghetto in Venice. Indeed, Italy later surrendered the Jews of Venice to Hitler. The great Italian-Jewish author, Primo Levi, was captured in the Italian Alps by Italian fascists and sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis.
I am thrilled that Italy and other Europeans will be standing for Israel. Poor Europe: They persecuted and murdered the friendly Semites, the productive and assimilated Semites, and now they are being overrun by more hostile, non-assimilated Semites. One might view this as cosmic justice, but I can’t; European ideas, art, and people have meant too much to me, and, despite its morally flawed history, I want European civilization to survive this onslaught.
New York City Jewish leader Howard Teich just sent me an amazing 4,000 word sermon which was delivered by Rabbi S. Lewis in Atlanta. I tried to find Rabbi Lewis but could not do so. His 2010 Rosh Hashana sermon was very long — but to the point. It is titled, in Yiddish, “Ehr Kumt” (He is Coming), or as I would say, a la Yeats, “the bloody beast is back.” I hope Rabbi Lewis does not mind my sharing 1,400 words of his sermon here:
EHR KUMT, by Rabbi S. Lewis
I thought long and I thought hard on whether to deliver the sermon I am about to share. We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to gobble up our brisket, our honey cakes and our kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred – but not too much. We want to be guilt-schlepped – but not too much. We want to be provoked but not too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.
I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling obligation, a responsibility to articulate what is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be heard. And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say but by what is painful to express. I am guided not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am guided not by delicacy but by urgency.
We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn’t know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn’t refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn’t call the Gestapo, militants. We didn’t see the attacks on our Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did not justify the Nazis rise to power as our fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people. We did not apologize for Dresden, nor for The Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein, nor for D-Day.
Evil – ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity and an exquisite understanding of what was at stake.
Not all Germans were Nazis – most were decent, most were revolted by the Third Reich, most were good citizens hoisting a beer, earning a living and tucking in their children at night. But, too many looked away, too many cried out in lame defense – “I didn’t know.” Too many were silent. Guilt absolutely falls upon those who committed the atrocities, but responsibility and guilt falls upon those who did nothing as well.
In WWII we won because we got it. We understood who the enemy was and we knew that the end had to be unconditional and absolute. We did not stumble around worrying about offending the Nazis. We did not measure every word so as not to upset our foe. We built planes and tanks and battleships and went to war to win … to rid the world of malevolence.
We are at war. … Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists.
To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable.
(Rabbi Lewis talks about a trip he took to a European synagogue. One of his aged Atlanta congregants once prayed in that now almost completely deserted synagogue. He tells the rabbi about a Sabbath there in the late 1930s. )
I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the shul” (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin’s mentor – he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist radical, whose politics were to the far right.) Joe continued “When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘EHR KUMT. YIDN FARLAWST AYER SHTETL – He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’”
We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right — his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.”
We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of long Island. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.
(Throughout the sermon the Rabbi carefully assures his listeners that he is a “lover of humanity,” “tolerant,” a “Democrat,” an ACLU member, and in no way a “bigot.” If one does not do so, many people won’t listen to you.)
Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers…The good Muslims must sponsor rallies in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square, in the UN Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeena condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent – thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.
Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.
Lighten up, Lewis. Take a chill pill, some of you are quietly thinking. …It’s not that bad. It’s not that real.” But I am here to tell you – “It is.” Ask the member of our shul whose sister was vaporized in the Twin Towers and identified finally by her charred teeth, if this is real or not. Ask the members of our shul who fled a bus in downtown Paris, fearing for their safety from a gang of Muslim thugs, if this is an exaggeration. Ask the member of our shul whose son tracks Arab terrorist infiltrators who target – pizza parlors, nursery schools, Pesach seders, city buses and play grounds, if this is dramatic, paranoid hyperbole.
Ask them, ask all of them – ask the American GI’s we sit next to on planes who are here for a brief respite while we fly off on our Delta vacation package. Ask them if it’s bad. Ask them if it’s real.
…From sea to shining sea, we must stand tall, prideful of our stunning decency and moral resilience. Immediately after 9/11 how many mosques were destroyed in America? None. After 9/11, how many Muslims were killed in America? None. After 9/11, how many anti-Muslim rallies were held in America? None. And yet, we apologize. We grovel. We beg forgiveness….
Israel is the laboratory – the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West….
As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel’s galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel’s galling plight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew. .. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from “good guys” then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda…
Isaiah warned us thousands of years ago — “Oye Lehem Sheh-Korim Layome, Laila v’Laila, yome – Woe to them who call the day, night and the night, day.” We live on a planet that is both Chelm and Sodom. It is a frightening and maddening place to be.
I know that there are those sitting here today who have turned me off. But I also know that many turned off their rabbis seventy five years ago in Warsaw, Riga, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cracow, Vilna. I get no satisfaction from that knowledge, only a bitter sense that there is nothing new under the sun…
A rabbi was once asked by his students….“Rebbi. Why are your sermons so stern?” Replied the rabbi, “If a house is on fire and we chose not to wake up our children, for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be love? Kinderlach, ‘di hoyz brent.’ Children our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber.”
Democracies don’t always win.
Tyrannies don’t always lose.
My friends — the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber. EHR KUMT.
Rabbi Lewis: Amen.