Learning Lessons from the Anti-Semite

The ADL is proud of its latest global poll showing that over 1 billion people harbor anti-Semitic beliefs. No, they aren’t happy with the results, but they are proud of the scale of the survey and confident it gives an accurate assessment of where the Jewish world is at this point in history.

All of the top 10 leading anti-Semitic countries…are Muslim/Arab countries. Actually, they have a clean sweep of the first 16, with Greece interrupting the roster by tying with Turkey for 17th place.

Germany comes in with 27% of the population reporting anti-Semitic views…Wow. It’s painful reading the report. Such anger burns inside. In Germany, 52% of the population feels that, “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” I’ll be honest here, and perhaps a bit crude, when I tell you my first thought to this was, “yeah, well, screw you.” For the record, 33% of the Germans blame hatred of Jews on “the way Jews behave.” Yeah, that must be it.

Poland is at 45%. The most anti-Semitic country in Eastern Europe. I wish I could say I was surprised or that this was something I never expected. When I was in Poland a decade ago, the mayor of Lodz told us that there was no anti-Semitism in Poland, and anyway, “it’s worse in Germany.” Guess not.

An amazing 53% of South Koreans hold anti-Semitic views…gee, what did we do to them? Oh right, this actually doesn’t have much to do with anything Jews did to anyone.

It isn’t polite to say there a bunch of idiots out there, but 38% of those surveyed (corresponding to a bit more than 2 billion people) think that the Jews constitute anywhere from 10-20% of the worlds population. Um…we’re somewhere around 0.19%

I don’t know if this is interesting or not, but men tend to be more anti-Semitic than women, Muslims more than Christians, and elderly people more than young.

On the flip side, countries where there are 10,000 or more Jews seem to hold lower anti-Semitic beliefs. I guess to know us is to love us? Or, perhaps, just perhaps, Jews have gotten wiser and left for safer lands.

In the western world, having a greater number of years of schooling results in lower anti-Semitic views. Conversely, the more years you learn in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the more anti-Semitic you are likely to be. Can’t help but wonder what they’re teaching in universities there…

One very interesting figure is a measurement of how many respondents had actually met Jews – over 70% had not. Over 90% of those in Asia have never met a Jew once.

The global anti-Semitic rate is 26%; that shoots up to 74% of populations in the Middle East and North Africa. On the bright-side, they like us in Australia and New Zealand!

After spending some time reading the results, a Jew (at least this Jew) is left feeling shaky, depressed, and angry.

Shaky because this is a world in which my children have to grow. We have many allies; but there are those who hate so deeply. I’ve known that, of course. It takes a special kind of hatred to slit the throat of an infant or shoot a missile towards a city knowing it could hit a school as easily as it could hit an open field….and we live with the knowledge that they will rejoice so much more if it hits the school.

Shaky and depressed because if they can hate us without even knowing us…what hope do we have of changing their attitudes and shaky because 67% of the world either believes the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that it isn’t accurately being described to them. And worst of all, the younger the person, the less likely they are to believe.

Shaky and depressed and angry because if someone had asked me to guess at these numbers, I would have been wrong in many cases. I would likely have gotten close to the levels of hatred among the Arabs. After all, they live in a culture that worships everything we denounce; and denounce almost everything we worship.

Shaky and depressed and angry because while I didn’t expect more from the Poles, I did expect more from the Germans.

And angry most of all because we all want to believe in a better world for our children than the world we live in, the world our parents and grandparents knew. What this survey does is tell us the opposite.

We are no safer in Europe today than we were in 1939 and thinking that “they” learned something from the Holocaust is a myth. As someone who lives in Israel, I feel more certain than ever that the future of the Jewish people rests here in this land, and no where else.

My children grow up strong and safe, behind an army with the power to crush those who seek to do us harm. Yes, crush. If you attack us, we will crush you up to the limits of our ability and yes, within the limitations of what the world will allow…sort of.

That means we’ll fight you hard and long. We’ll push you away, push you down and when the world says “Stop, Israel, pull back,”…we’ll give one more good punch and then stop. Until the next time you attack us, and then we’ll do it again, each time just a bit harder, just a bit longer. We’ll remember this survey and know that the world didn’t stop it before; they wouldn’t really stop it again – that’s our job, our responsibility, our promise.

We’ll watch Iran and other countries and fight any way we can, quietly or loudly, because, as this survey shows, we can’t really trust anyone else to do it for us.

And we’ll have to keep watching out for all the Jews around the world. In introducing his organization’s survey, Abe Foxman (National Director of the ADL) writes:

“Most importantly, the survey will, we hope, begin conversations among governments, scholars, NGOs and others around the world on attitudes toward Jews, and lead to new initiatives to counteract these pernicious attitudes.”

Let the conversations begin – among governments and scholars and NGOs and others…but let it also begin conversations in every Jewish home. Wherever you live – look at the results of this survey and measure your country. If you live in France, second only to Poland, you should already be planning your escape. Spain, Austria, even Belgium…time to think.

I’m all for working to change these “pernicious” attitudes but somewhere deep inside of me is the feeling that it is time to surrender. If we haven’t succeeded in 2,000 years, perhaps even 3,000 years, what chance is there that we will succeed now?

I commend the ADL for this survey and am so impressed by the magnitude – over 100 countries, over 50,000 interviews. At some point, though, I think the lessons to be learned come not from those we have known to be anti-Semitic, but from ourselves. When you know they will hate, no matter what the truth, what benefit is there in leaving your children exposed?

When will Abe Foxman and the ADL come out with the conclusion so many of us have already turned into reality?

In 1897, Theodore Herzl published an article called Die Menorah – The Menorah…it is a most fascinating and telling article. Perhaps the conclusions to this survey can be found in an article written 117 years ago…if we have the courage to listen.

The Menorah – by Theodore Herzl

ONCE THERE was a man who deep in his soul felt the need to be a Jew. His material circumstances were satisfactory enough. He was making an adequate living and was fortunate enough to have a vocation in which he could create according to the impulses of his heart.

You see, he was an artist. He had long ceased to trouble his head about his Jewish origin or about the faith of his fathers, when the age-old hatred re-asserted itself under a fashionable slogan. Like many others, our man, too, believed that this movement would soon sub-side. But instead of getting better, it got worse. Although he was not personally affected by them, the attacks pained him anew each time. Gradually his soul became one bleeding wound.

This secret psychic torment had the effect of steering him to its source, namely, his Jewishness, with the result that he experienced a change that he might never have in better days because he had become so alienated: he began to love Judaism with great fervor.

At first he did not fully acknowledge this mysterious affection, but finally it grew so powerful that his vague feelings crystallized into a clear idea to which he gave voice: the thought that there was only one way out of this Jewish suffering-namely, to return to Judaism.

When his best friends, whose situation was similar to his, found out about this, they shook their heads and thought that he had gone out of his mind. How could something that only meant an intensification and deepening of the malady be a remedy? He, on the other hand, thought that the moral distress of modern Jews was so acute because they had lost the spiritual counterpoise which our strong forefathers had possessed.

People ridiculed him behind his back, some even laughed right in his face, but he did not let the silly remarks of people whose judgment he had never before had occasion to value throw him off his course, and he bore their malicious or good-natured jests with equanimity. And since his behavior otherwise was not irrational, people in time left him to his whim, although some used a stronger term…to describe it.

In his patient way our man over and over again displayed the courage of his conviction. There were a number of changes which he himself found hard to accept, although he was stub-born enough not to let on. A man and an artist of modern sensibilities he was deeply rooted in many non-Jewish customs, and he had absorbed ineradicable elements from the cultures of the nations among which his intellectual pursuits had taken him. How was this to be reconciled with his return to Judaism? This gave rise to many doubts in his own mind about the soundness of his guiding idea…

Perhaps the generation that had grown up under the influence of other cultures was no longer capable of that return which he had discovered as the solution. But the next generation, provided it were given the right guidance early enough, would be able to do so. He therefore tried to make sure that his own children, at least, would be shown the right way; he was going to give them a Jewish education from the very beginning.

In previous years he had let the festival which for centuries had illuminated the marvel of the Maccabees with the glow of candles pass by unobserved. Now, however, he used it as an occasion to provide his children with a beautiful memory for the future. An attachment to the ancient nation was to be instilled early in these young souls.

A Menorah was acquired, and when he held this nine-branched candelabrum in his hands for the first time, a strange mood came over him. In his remote youth, in his father`s house, such little lights had burned and there was something intimate and homelike about the holiday. This tradition did not seem cold or dead. The custom of kindling one light with another had been passed on through the ages.

The ancient form of the Menorah also made him think – from what had it first been devised? Obviously, its form had originally been derived from that of a tree: the sturdy stem in the center; four branches to the right and four to the left, each below the other, each pair on the same level, yet all reaching the same height. A later symbolism added a ninth, shorter branch which jutted out in front and was called the shamash or servant. With what mystery had this simple artistic form, taken from nature, been endowed by successive generations?

And our friend, who was, after all, an artist, wondered whether it would not be possible to infuse new life into the rigid form of the Menorah, to water its roots like those of a tree. The very sound of the name, which he now pronounced in front of his children every evening, gave him pleasure. Its sound was especially lovely when it came from the mouth of a child.

The first candle was lit and the origin of the holiday was retold: the miracle of the little lamp which had burned so much longer than expected, as well as the story of the return from the Babylonian exile, of the Second Temple, of the Maccabees. Our friend told his children all he knew. It was not much but for them it was enough.

When the second candle was lit, they repeated what he had told them, and although they had learned it all from him, it seemed to him quite new and beautiful. In the days that followed he could hardly wait for the evenings, which became ever brighter. Candle after candle was lit in the Menorah, and together with his children the father mused upon the little lights. At length, his reveries became more than he could or would tell them, for his dreams would have been beyond their understanding.

When he had resolved to return to the ancient fold and openly acknowledge his return, he had only intended to do what he considered honorable and sensible. But he had never dreamed that on his way back home he would also find gratification for his longing for beauty. Yet what befell him was nothing less.

The Menorah with its growing brilliance was indeed a thing of beauty, and inspired lofty thoughts. So he set to work and with an expert hand sketched a design for a Menorah which to present to his children the following year. He made a free adaption of the motif of the eight arms of equal height which projected from the central stem to the right and to the left, each pair on the same level. He did not consider himself bound by the rigid traditional form, but created again directly from nature, unconcerned with other interpretations which, of course, continued to be no less valid on that account.

What he was aiming for was vibrant beauty. But even as he brought new motion into the rigid forms, he still observed their tradition, the refined old style of their arrangement. It was a tree with slender branches; its ends opened up like calyxes, and it was these calyxes that were to hold the candles.

With such thoughtful occupation the week passed. There came the eighth day, on which the entire row of lights is kindled, including the faithful ninth candle, the shamash, which otherwise serves only to light the others. A great radiance shone forth from the Menorah. The eyes of the children sparkled. For our friend, the occasion became a parable for the relighting of an entire nation.

First one candle; it is still dark and the solitary light looks gloomy. Then it finds a companion, then another, and yet another. The darkness must retreat. The young and the poor are the first to see the light; then the others join in, all those who love justice, truth, liberty, progress, humanity and beauty.

When all the candles are ablaze everyone must stop in amazement and rejoice at what has been wrought. And no office is more blessed than that of a servant of light.

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