As Trump mentioned in the opening of his address to congress, from East to West coast America, Jews are troubled and distressed by bomb threats and vandalism in Jewish cemeteries. Strangely, no one knows who is behind this wave of incidents, and yet too easily fingers are pointed at Trump and his administration as the root cause, expecting them to provide the solutions as well.
First, we should open our eyes and recognize that anti-Semitism been on the rise worldwide for a number of years now, well before the recent elections. What’s more, it has been pervasive on both the right and the left.
American campuses have become breeding grounds for anti-Semitic sentiments. A 2014 study on anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses by the Louis D. Brandies Center in Connecticut provided a quantitative measure of the degree of anti-Semitism found on campuses and affiliated institutions, and also gathered qualitative impressions from Jewish students such as this: “The divestment campaign and other anti-Israel campaigns are intertwined with rampant anti-Semitism.” In 2015, the Anti-Defamation League reported 90 anti-Semitic incidents on US campuses, twice as many as the year before.
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In liberal democracies such as Sweden and France, Jews have been living in fear, facing death chants and hate crimes. Labor and Democratic parties across the Western World have exhibited alarming levels of anti-Semitism. So, painting the rise of Right Wing political parties as the cause of anti-Semitism is simply groundless.
The US elections certainly brought to light many of the societal ills in America, from the lingering degradation of America’s industry and Rust Belt cities, to its deep socio-economic inequalities and social polarization, as well as the anti-Semitic currents that have been brewing in America for years.
In fact, anti-Semitism has been around for millennia, transcending politics, religions, and cultures.
Jews Are Dangerously Divided
In such a climate of fear and threat, what worries me most is the growing division amongst Jews themselves. Liberal Jews and Conservative Jews have become so alienated from one another that each side feels the other behaves against the interests of the Jewish people and against their core values. Ironically, the greatest of Jewish values is unity above differences, as famously stated in the greatest law of Torah, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.
The inability of Jews to rise above their differences of opinion shows how distanced we have become from our true heritage. This must quickly be amended, not only because it is our true goal as a people, but because it now puts us in grave danger. We may have different political opinions, but we are all Jews, and for anti-Semites, that is enough.
Instead of allowing politics to divide us, as they do so well, Jews must come together. This is not only a mechanism for fending off threats in the natural world, historically, it has proven to safeguard our people. It is written in the book Maor VaShemesh that “the prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship within Israel, no calamity can come upon them.”
What Jews Have that America Desperately Needs
While safeguarding Jewish communities is good enough reason to come together, there is an even deeper reason that Jewish unity must now be our first priority. The wisdom of Kabbalah explains that it is the historical purpose of Jews to demonstrate unity and to model corrected societal relations for others. It is no coincidence that famous anti-Semites such as Henry Ford knew this as well. In his book, The International Jew—The World’s Foremost Problem, he wrote that “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
Although long forgotten, Jews once lived under principles of true equality and mutual concern. We became a nation at the foot of Mount Sinai only when each person present accepted the condition of being “as one man with one heart.” In the centuries that followed, Jews practiced the method that allowed them to rise above their differences to create increased social cohesion and unprecedented human development. It was only after the destruction of the Temple, in the long exile that followed, that this unity was forgotten.
As Jews dispersed the world over, they contributed to the social, economic and cultural development of every society they entered. However, this development was not led by the unifying principles able to balance and harmonize these societies, and as gaps and divisions between people worsened, blame and hatred always appeared and the Jews were pushed out.
Today, as anti-Semitism is growing once more, Jews must finally provide the model of societal cohesion that only they can. Our ancient calling has become so pressing and relevant that ignoring it will have hazardous consequences.
The current wave of threats towards Jews is not about Trump – it’s about imperative change that needs to happen, change that Jews must initiate and play a determining role in. We must see that our true Jewish power, both to protect our communities and to contribute to the world, lies in our ability to unite above all differences, and that this wisdom is deeply ingrained in our heritage.
Jews must be the ones to, in Trump’s words, help to “build bridges of cooperation and trust–not drive the wedge of disunity and division.”