With the exception of the glorious weather, the summer of 2014 was deeply depressing. There was the collapse of the Mideast peace talks. Then came seven weeks of war in Gaza with much of the world seemingly more critical of Israel for aggressively defending itself than of Hamas for initiating, prolonging and expanding the conflict. Hamas fired from within civilian areas and encouraged their citizens to stay put rather than escape from Israeli-targeted buildings. Yet the onus of a United Nations commission on human rights violations no doubt will highlight alleged Israeli violations, once more equating the arsonist and the fireman.
One outcome of the war was a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic rallies, attacks on synagogues and other violent acts, particularly in Europe. The head of the organized Jewish community in Germany says the level of anti-Semitism is the worst now since World War II, with the debate over whether we are seeing a new wave primarily of hatred from Muslims from Arabic and Turkish communities or of “traditional” right-wing neo-Nazi types and left-wing sympathizers of the Palestinian plight.
There is a measure of comfort in seeing an uptick in aliyah from countries like France, attributed not only to the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish attacks but also to national economic woes and a large dose of Zionism. More Jews coming to Israel may be a silver lining, but in the 21st century one would hope that emigration to the Jewish state was a positive response to religious faith and/or Zionist culture rather than to fear of living openly as a Jew in Europe.
Still, our tradition teaches us to look to the future with hope, not resignation. And the fact that a new generation of Jews has witnessed an outbreak of blatant anti-Semitism and bias against Israel could serve as a catalyst for reflection on the Jewish condition and renewed activism. It is up to our community to be creative and proactive in approaching these issues.
On Long Island the strong interfaith ties between several rabbis and Muslim religious leaders helped prevent an ugly break over differing Mideast views. As our Stewart Ain reports this week, the religious leaders were able to issue a joint statement of common goals for the future after the Muslims had made public a letter during the Gaza war that was highly critical of Israel.
“Crises in relationships can be opportunities as well,” noted Rabbi Noam Marans, an interfaith expert at the American Jewish Committee.
It’s up to us to take up the challenge.