When Not to Act against Anti-Semites

For a while last week, Jews were able to  indulge in a conspiracy theory of their own. “(((Echoes))), Exposed: The Secret Symbol Neo-Nazis Use to Target Jews Online,” read the headline on Mic.com, which brought to light a Google Chrome app that automatically placed a set of three parentheses around Jewish-sounding surnames to make them targets of online harassment.

The “exposure” of the “Coincidence Detector” quickly led Google to remove it from its Chrome store. But the app’s existence certainly made it seem like there were hidden forces at work. Reactions varied from horrified to amused with one pundit calling for the subversion of the symbol by asking everyone on Twitter to put three parentheses around their names — a sort of “We are all Jews” response. Other reactions were a combination of creative, dismissive, defensive or resigned acceptance responses to the offensive app.

That’s about as much time and energy as the Jewish community needs to spend on this. There is a difference between the bizarre acts of hate-driven developers and the direct, targeted hatred that can threaten the physical safety of the harassed. An  example of the latter is what happened to Erin Schrode, a 25-year-old candidate for Congress in California. “Fire up the oven” is one of the many hate-filled and obscene messages she received last week. But her attackers also posted her personal information, including her phone number and email address. It is these kinds of hate-filled threats to which the Jewish community and others of good will should vigorously respond.

The fact that many far-right anti-Semites are supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump further complicates matters. But we do not believe that a candidate is responsible for the words of each of his supporters. Calls for Trump to repeatedly distance himself from and  denounce each crackpot only serves to magnify the offending comments and ideas and does not really help.

Instead, what the Jewish community needs to do is to call on all politicians  to denounce the unrepentant white  supremacist and anti-Semitic public leaders who support them. In this vein, Trump’s public distancing from David Duke several months ago was a positive move.

By focusing our anger and indignation where it is truly warranted, we likely will have a better chance of protecting our community. But no matter how vigilant and effective our efforts, the cold, hard fact remains that we will never be able to eradicate baseless hatred from this earth.

Shameful!

Mark Wilf and Todd Morgan’s June 3 From This View column (“Survivors’ Welfare Is Everyone’s Responsibility”) lacked perspective. It notes that “Jewish federations distributed $2.8 million in federal grants to assist programs for Holocaust survivors. Coupled with matching funds, the disbursement results in $4.5 million for survivor services.”

Yet, reports in the media say that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is willing to spend $100 million to elect xenophobic demagogue (and David Duke favorite) Donald Trump as president of the United States. Four million dollars is chump-change for the likes of Adelson to provide support for impoverished Holocaust survivors.

Through such priorities, what kind of message is being sent to Jewish millennials, let alone the world? A shandah and a charpah.

Hello Jewish Times

Marc Shapiro

Marc Shapiro

This is Marc Shapiro. You probably already know me, having seen my byline in the paper or having met me out in the community. I’ve been at the Baltimore Jewish Times for almost three years, coming in as a staff writer and working as senior reporter for the past year and a half.

I’m happy to announce that I’ve been appointed the JT’s new managing editor. In this capacity, I will be leading the editorial team, prioritizing coverage, developing reporters and beats and serving as the on-the-ground eyes and ears of the paper. The JT’s interim managing editor, Melissa Gerr, will be helping me transition into this role until she leaves on June 17.

In my time here, I have covered all denominations and ethnicities that make up the Jewish community. I have written about public safety, politics, development, history, Jewish organizations and synagogues, the arts and business. My diverse reporting has been the best education in Jewish Baltimore and has planted my roots even deeper in the community.

I was born in Bronx, N.Y., and my family moved to Owings Mills when I was 5. I grew up in Owings Mills and Reisterstown, attended Franklin High School and then the University of Maryland, College Park to study journalism. I grew up attending Temple Emanuel, where I was active in the youth group. I was also a dedicated member of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, Mid-Atlantic Region, better known as NFTY-MAR, where I served as programming vice president my senior year of high school.

When people ask me about working at the Jewish Times one of things I often say is that the Jewish community is endlessly fascinating and Baltimore’s is no exception. I’ve been aware of this from a young age, and reporting on the community has truly shown me just how diverse Baltimore’s Jewish community is. From biblical scholars to eccentric artists to strong community leaders and high-powered institutions, Baltimore’s Jewish community truly has everything.

In my capacity as managing editor, I will continue to work to ensure that all facets of the Jewish community have a voice. And that’s a two-way street, so I invite and welcome all to contact me to talk about Jewish Baltimore. I can be reached at mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com and 410-902-2305. I look forward to working with you.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Voice of Reason

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief

It’s hard enough sometimes for individual human beings to be consistent with their speech, making it seem as if some of us really are of two minds. Extend that reality to an entire community and it would seem as if it would be nearly impossible for all of us to speak with one voice.

For Baltimore’s Jewish community, that voice has more often than not belonged to Arthur “Art” Abramson, the longtime executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council who after almost 26 years at the helm, stepped down on May 13. When it came to issues of importance to us, or legislation worth pursuing, it’s been the BJC that has attempted to crystallize the tens of thousands of viewpoints into a coherent and useful message.

It hasn’t always been easy.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Abramson’s first task upon arriving here from Texas — he was community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston for seven years; before that, he worked for the American Jewish Committee in Washington state — was corralling a board of 189 people and restructuring the BJC into a leaner and meaner organization. Today, the BJC’s board counts around 60 people.

Among Abramson’s accomplishments is the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, securing state funding for the Maryland/Israel Development Center and expanding dialogue between Baltimore Jews and other faith communities.

Having a voice, however, is one thing. Knowing how — and when — to use it is another matter entirely. And it’s not as if the BJC’s internal debates haven’t at times bubbled up to the surface or left all of its constituents happy. To the dismay of some and to the cheers of others, the BJC failed to support efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, although it didn’t oppose those efforts either. (Its Montgomery County counterpart, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, was firmly behind the legalization drive.) And in last year’s debate over the merits of the Iran nuclear deal and the dangers faced by Israel, some were critical of the process the BJC employed to arrive at its position. (It blasted the deal and in July 2015 urged President Barack Obama to negotiate a better one.)

But the controversies have been outliers. And keeping everyone happy is an impossible standard.

“Art had to walk the lines between the various agendas in the Jewish community, and I think he was able to do that fairly well,” says Sandy Teplitzky, president of the BJC from 1992 to 1994 and a member of the search committee that brought Abramson to Baltimore.

For close to three decades, Abramson, who holds a Ph.D. from UCLA, has managed to be an erudite voice of reason in a very crowded room. Even as the BJC enters its next chapter, Abramson’s influence will likely be felt for a long time.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

The Power of Internal Peace Parshat Bechukotai

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiThis Torah portion is called by our Sages, “the Torah of the Kohen-Priests” — the religious leadership of  Israel whose task it was to minister in the Holy Temple and to teach Torah to the nation. A public remnant of their priestly function still exists, when the Kohanim bestow the priestly benediction upon the congregation during the repetition of the Amidah, every morning  in Israel and during the major festivals in the diaspora.

The problem with this, however, are the concluding words of the blessing: “Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.” What is the significance of the words “with love”? And if the Kohanim don’t feel the emotion of love toward the congregation, does this invalidate their benediction?

We will discover the answers, as well as the proper interpretation of the priestly benediction, in an investigation of our Torah portion, which begins, “If you will follow my decrees and  observe my commandments … then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will give its produce. … You will eat your bread to satiety and you will dwell securely in your land. I shall provide peace (shalom) in the land and you shall lie down at night without fear. … A sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.”

On the one hand, the Bible guarantees that if we as an  entire nation will follow the biblical commandments in  the land of Israel, the soil will provide us with the requisite nourishment and there will be peace in the land. On the other hand, in the very next verse, the Bible tells us that we will pursue our enemies with the sword and a hundred of our men will slay a thousand of the enemy. Is this a picture of shalom, of peace? Even if we are defeating our enemy by the sword, this does not mean that we have no casualties at all! This hardly suggests a cessation of the sword altogether.  In this context, what did the Bible mean in its earlier verse, “And I shall provide peace — shalom — in the land?”

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra provides the answer with his one word commentary on the word shalom, peace: “Among yourselves,” beneichem. The Bible is telling us that if we  follow the commandments and live in peace and harmony amongst ourselves in Israel,  if there be no swords of  internecine civil wars within the nation, then we will be able to soundly defeat any enemy who might rise up from without to destroy us. Shalom means internal peace, the love of our Israelite siblings, which can only come after we vanquish our enemies roundabout!

This is a critical message, especially during this time of the year. The Sages of the Talmud teach us that we must waive weddings, haircuts and group festivities from Passover until Lag B’Omer because 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiba died during this period. Their fatal flaw was their lack of respect for each other.

The lesson is the same: Only if we Jews are at peace with each other internally will we be able to overcome our external enemies who threaten to  destroy us. Our parsha teaches that the primary meaning of the word shalom is peace within Israel; it is as if the Torah is teaching that our problems with the Palestinians are far simpler to work out than our problems with each other, within the family of Israel!

Now we can resolve our query. The priestly benediction requests that “G-d bless you and keep you; G-d cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; G-d lift up His face towards you and grant you peace.” The culmination of the benediction is shalom, peace. The Kohanim introduce the benediction by defining its most important feature: “G-d has commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love” — not that the Kohanim must feel love when they bless, but that their blessing for Israel is love, that all of the Jews feel love for each other. Our nation must achieve the internal peace and brotherly love which will make Israel invincible vis a vis her enemies. This is our greatest challenge!

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Heed Brandeis’ Call To Be Better Jews

One hundred years ago, the great jurist Louis D. Brandeis was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Brandeis was the first Jew to serve on that court.

Brandeis was a non-observant Jew, even a non-religious one. And yet, he became the leader of American Zionism. He came to understand the centrality of Israel to Jewish redemption. Brandeis said: “To be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.”

Brandeis did not have to stand up for the Jewish people. But he did.

Ask yourself: What are you doing to stand up for our people?

The Talmud states, kol yisrael areivim zeh b’zeh, “All of the Jewish people are responsible for one another.”

Right now, your brothers and sisters are under attack for being Jews.  What are you doing about it?

 

Recently, we observed Yom HaShoah and remembered our 6 million brothers and sisters who died in the Holocaust. Then, we paused for Yom Hazikaron and reflected on the sacrifices of those who fell in the defense of Israel. And then we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, the 68th birthday of the reborn Jewish state.

Right now, your brothers and sisters are under attack for being Jews in Israel, in Europe and right here in the United States. What are you doing about it?

On American college campuses, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head under the guise of anti-Zionism, the thin veneer of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

You are comfortable. You are secure. But will your children and grandchildren be comfortable and secure? What kind of Jewish future will you leave to them?

Do not be silent. Stand up for the Jewish people. Stand up for the Jewish state.

Take your family to visit  Israel. Study there. Help your children and grandchildren to study there. Support organizations that fight BDS and  anti-Semitism. Support Jewish day schools. Support Jewish summer camps. Support our elderly. Teach our Jewish youth ahavat yisrael — the love of Israel and the Jewish people.

Justice Louis Brandeis did great things for the law and  for the United States. He did these things not despite his Jewishness, but because of it.

Think about it.

David Wecht is an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. This article is adapted from remarks he delivered in Philadelphia on occasion of Jewish Law Day on May 10.

Survivors’ Welfare Is Everyone’s Responsibility

They survived unimaginable horrors yet went on to live productive lives, despite the haunting memories, the profound loss and physical scars from years of deprivation. Now many Holocaust survivors need our assistance so they may live their twilight years with dignity in their homes and communities.

Most Holocaust survivors are in their 80s and 90s, and an astounding 25 percent of them in the United States live in poverty, struggling to meet basic needs for food, housing, health care and transportation. Many live alone and have no extended family who survived the Holocaust. Spouses who used to provide support are no longer living. Each year, just as we lose many survivors, we also see others coming forward, identifying themselves as Holocaust survivors in desperate need of assistance.

For many survivors, social services are their lifeline. Home care, the most expensive of these vital services, costs an average of $20 per hour per survivor. With approximately 125,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S., it will take extensive resources to serve even the neediest of survivors. The German government, through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, provides the majority of the funding for social services, but survivor needs are exceeding available funding.

Local communities have taken note, and we’re inspired by the philanthropic campaigns that are working to educate the community. Together we’ve raised more than $30 million over the past couple years.

And government leaders are recognizing the specialized  assistance that aging Holocaust survivors require. Vice President Joe Biden announced the White House’s initiative to help Holocaust survivors in 2013. This  resulted in numerous avenues for assistance.

In March, Jewish federations distributed $2.8 million in federal grants to assist programs for Holocaust survivors. Coupled with the required matching funds, the disbursement results in $4.5 million for survivor services. For the first time, the federal government will soon issue guidance to states on serving Holocaust survivors, as required by the Older Americans Act Reauthorization that cleared Congress in April.

These survivors are our  heroes, our teachers and our mentors. One day they will no longer be with us. Until that day comes, we are obligated to ensure that they live their  remaining days and years in dignity.

When future generations ask if the Jewish community took care of its Holocaust  survivors, let that answer be a resounding “yes.”

Mark Wilf is president and co-owner   of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and a board member of 70 Faces Media. Todd Morgan is the founder and chairman of Bel Air Investment Advisors. Together, they co-chair the Jewish Federations of North America’s Fund for Holocaust Survivors.

At Odds with Party

The appointment of Jim Zogby, Colonel West and Keith Ellison to the Democratic Party Platform Committee is very troubling.

Although purported to bring “balance” to the Democratic Party’s position on Israel and the Palestinians, both Zogby and West have in the past questioned Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland and Jewish claims to the area.

Their support of Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas and Hezbollah, who have each proclaimed their goal as the eradication of Israel and making the Middle East cleansed of Jewish existence and Jewish history, is more than provocative. It smacks of a brand of anti-Semitism that  relies on hatred and a denial of history. Since we have already seen, through the desecration of Joseph’s Tomb and Rachel’s Tomb, that this is more than pure rhetoric, we must take them at their word.

As a lifelong Democrat, I find myself at odds with my party. While I continue to support its domestic policies, by and large, I view this development to be a challenge to my existence.

‘Seeds of Love’

Shirley J. Shafran (Jerri to all who know and love her) has relinquished the reins as  Congregation Kneseth Israel’s  pre-school director.

Jerri is known for her laughter and giving hugs. She is as beloved by her staff as she is by the children. Her caring, friendship and boundless love for the children is evident by their love and devotion to her.

Although the leadership reins will change hands, the seeds of love, knowledge and learning that Jerri has sown will continue to grow. She will not be forgotten.

Asleep at the Switch on BDS

In recent years, BDS has become the scourge of the organized Jewish community and the government of Israel. Everyone from B’nai B’rith International to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the Israeli economy is not only anti-Israel, but also anti-Semitic. This past Tuesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, led an anti-BDS conference sponsored by a host of centrist and rightwing Jewish groups that was designed to “create practical tools to battle BDS by training students to serve as ëambassadors’ against boycott.”

It is clear that to Netanyahu, Danon and others, BDS is to the legitimacy of Israel what Iran is to Israel’s physical existence. And we agree. But many rightly argue that notwithstanding its importance, a blanket one-size-fits-all condemnation of BDS is overly simplistic.

With so much at stake, it was disheartening to learn that Israel’s state comptroller, Judge Yosef Shapira, issued a report concluding that the government is failing in its fight against BDS and rising anti-Semitism. Thus, according to the report, “Israel is not effectively countering the overt hostility from different parties abroad that cast doubt on Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish nation-state.”

The report traced the failure to the erosion of the foreign ministry’s authority, as Netanyahu has, since 2009, spun off the ministry’s public diplomacy efforts to various other offices — causing overlapping authority and turf wars. The Strategic Affairs Ministry, in particular, came in for strong criticism. Netanyahu gave the ministry the BDS portfolio, and significant funding, in 2013.

While those findings may be correct, there appears to be another reason for concern about anti-BDS strategy. For several years Israel has sought to get European capitals from Madrid to Kiev to outlaw endorsements of the BDS movement as hate speech. Those efforts have failed. Indeed, just last week, the Netherlands followed Sweden by declaring calls to boycott Israel as legally protected free speech.

On the merits, the Netherlands is right. Advocacy for BDS, standing alone, isn’t hate speech. Israel is also correct, however, that the analysis changes when such advocacy is coupled with unsupported accusations, lies and other hateful tropes about the Jewish state. In that case, the totality of the circumstances crosses the line and turns otherwise free speech into something else. The problem is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to legislate the distinction, and any attempts to do so could likely backfire. For example, what would prevent the Dutch Parliament from declaring speech supporting the right of Israeli settlers to live in Judea and Samaria as illegal hate speech?

Israel is not only falling short in achieving results because of governmental mismanagement of the anti-BDS agenda, its international strategy needs attention as well. Nothing less than a complete rethink of the agenda is necessary. If the Jewish state can’t get its act together on BDS, can diaspora voices be expected to do any better?