Louis Farrakhan

Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism

Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism

Some 15 years ago I wrote a piece on anti-Semitism for an online Jewish publication that began as follows: “It is an irony of Jewish life that it took the Holocaust to give anti-Semitism a bad name. So widespread was international revulsion over the annihilation of six million Jews that following World War II anti-Semitism, even of the polite variety, became the hatred one dared not publicly express. But only for a time.”

Saturday’s synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh underscored how anti-Semitism is no longer the hatred one dares not publicly express — though that’s been obvious for some time to all who cared to recognize it. I've tried to make the point in numerous GetReligion posts.

The details of what happened in Pittsburg, on the Jewish Sabbath, are by now well known, thanks to the wall-to-wall coverage, much of it sympathetic, detailed and excellent — including their understanding of the Jewish religious and communal aspects.

The extensive coverage is entirely appropriate, I’d say. Because more than just a display of vicious anti-Semitism, what happened in Pittsburg was an American tragedy. It underscored how threatened the nation is today by our corrosive political environment.

That’s likely to continue, if not intensify, regardless of the outcome of next week’s midterm elections.

The coverage I’ve found most worthwhile has not been the breaking news stories, though the facts of the story are certainly critical. Instead, it's the "explainers" that have actually repeated what I've read over and over in Jewish, Israeli and even mainstream American and European media for years now. And which I believe is what the vast majority of self-aware diaspora Jews have long known and feared — that Pittsburgh was only a matter of time.

I highlight them here to underscore what I believe is a critical point. That Jews or any other minority can only be safe in a pluralistic society that tolerates — no, embraces — diversity, be it religious, ethnic, racial or opinion (the last within broad reason; no yelling fire in crowded theaters).

One news backgrounder I liked is this comprehensive story from The Washington Post that ran Sunday. Here’s its lede:

This is what they had long been fearing. As the threats increased, as the online abuse grew increasingly vicious, as the defacing of synagogues and community centers with swastikas became more commonplace, the possibility of a violent attack loomed over America’s Jewish communities.

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A rabbi (who belongs on your sources list) unpacks info on Orthodoxy and Zionism

A rabbi (who belongs on your sources list) unpacks info on Orthodoxy and Zionism

One of the oddest incidents during The Religion Guy’s decades on the beat was an annual Nation of Islam rally in Chicago led by Minister Louis Farrakhan (who was notably entangled with President Barack Obama’s former United Church of Christ pastor).

The oddity was that Farrakhan, America’s most prominent anti-Semite, invited Jewish rabbis to speak.

Not routine rabbis, of course, but spokesmen for Neturei Karta of Monsey, NY, a fierce faction of Orthodox Jews that condemns Zionism as “heresy” and accuses Israel of committing “aggression against all peoples.”

Orthodox Judaism’s traditional opposition to Zionism was a theme in Chaim Potok’s beloved 1967 novel “The Chosen” (a must-read for religion writers of all kinds). Potok depicted a friendship after World War Two between two Orthodox boys, the son of an ardent Zionist educator, and the heir to a Hasidic dynasty opposed to establishment of modern Israel.    

Reporters on foreign affairs, politics, and religion should be aware of Rabbi Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University, whose latest column for the interfaith journal First Things discusses Orthodoxy and Zionism.  If not there already, carmy@yu.edu  belongs on your prime source list, since Orthodoxy is trickier to cover than Judaism’s other branches.   

Carmy makes a key point: “Secular journalists typically ascribe pockets of rigorously Orthodox antagonism to Zionism to the belief that Jews will only govern themselves in the land of Israel when the Messiah comes.”

That’s true for some Hasidic groups, he says. But historically, the rest of Orthodoxy had a different objection.

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