This Yom Kippur, We Face Apocalyptic Times
More and more, I am beginning to feel that we live in apocalyptic times. I am far from being a prophet of doom, nor do I generally take a pessimistic view of the world around me, but current events seem so jarring and unusual that they demand to be noticed.
I grew up hearing about how people sleepwalk into disaster, and if only European Jewry in the 1930s had been more proactive in looking for solutions to the evident impending doom — and if only the allied powers had not been so sanguine about Hitler and later Stalin — so much tragedy could have been averted.
To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m not sure that overwhelming circumstances can ever be mitigated, and human history demonstrates that periods of calm are always followed by periods of crisis, and then again by periods of calm. We never “learn” from history, because there is no “we.”
“We” are made up of too many moving parts, with most of those parts well beyond the control of ordinary mortals.
But that does not excuse us from reading the writing on the wall when it is flashing in front of our eyes in glowing neon lights. Whether we can do something to avert tragedy is a moot point, but that doesn’t excuse us acting like ostriches with our heads deep in the sand.
First and foremost is the spectacular failure by Israel and its supporters, including a majority of the Senate and House, to reverse the insane nuclear deal reached between a U.S.-led group of countries and Iran — a deal that has formally become a reality this week.
What seems more staggering than the U.S. President’s and Secretary of State’s stance on this issue is the often overlooked fact that in no other country in the world besides the United States has this deal been opposed at all by any political, ethnic or religious group – including Jews. This, despite the fact that everyone agrees – even the deal’s most enthusiastic supporters – that barring a miracle, Iran is guaranteed nuclear arms in 15 years.
Last week, the three most important leaders in Europe, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, wrote a joint article in the Washington Post, headlined: “Why we support the Iran deal,” in which they declared: “We condemn in no uncertain terms that Iran does not recognize the existence of the state of Israel and the unacceptable language that Iran’s leaders use about Israel — Israel’s security matters are, and will remain, our key interests.”
But they then went on to say that there is no “expectation that Iran’s external policy would change any time soon.”
So where does that leave their ally Israel? And what about their own security? How do they feel safe with Iran getting nuclear weapons in just 15 years? Is London safe? Paris? Berlin?
Then there is the refugee crisis in Europe. Unprecedented numbers of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa are flooding — literally flooding — into Europe. Hundreds of thousands of them –72 percent — are young men. Yes, you read that right. Not families with children, or elderly people, but young Muslim men escaping the mayhem of their birth countries for the safety of Europe.
How safe will Europe be in a decade if this demographic turns against the freedoms we all take for granted? This is not a group of immigrants who love and cherish the freedoms and democratic rights our immigrant ancestors craved when they escaped from whatever oppressive country they were born in.
The war in Syria is between Assad and ISIS, so young Syrian immigrants probably identify with one or another of these two brutal groups. In Afghanistan it is the Taliban or the warlords. In Iraq it is ISIS or Iranian proxies. In Libya it is violent tribal groups. The word from Europe is that it is the duty of the West to take care of the downtrodden and unfortunate. So true, although if memory serves me correctly, the world was not so keen on downtrodden and unfortunate Jews both before and after the Second World War.
So what is the writing on the wall telling us? Is it telling us that countries that open their doors to these refugees will be oases of tranquility and economic growth, political stability and multicultural tolerance? I think not. But the Western world seems powerless to take up its own side in the fray, so consumed is it by misplaced sympathies and bankrupt political rhetoric.
And finally, we have the debacle of the election in the U.K. of a new leader of the Labour Party – led until only a decade ago by Tony Blair (whose middle-of-the-road democratic socialism enabled him to understand the existential dangers posed by violent regimes and the economic dangers of excessive social spending). The new guy, Jeremy Corbyn, openly fraternizes with antisemites, blood-libel believers and Hezbollah and Hamas leaders – all of whom he calls his friends – while he has never met an Israeli politician and probably never will.
So on Yom Kippur, when we utter the words during our mussaf prayers: וְכָל בָּאֵי עוֹלָם יַעַבְרוּן לְפָנֶיךָ כִבְנֵי מָרוֹן – “All the inhabitants of the world will pass before you like a flock of sheep” – in the year ahead, it would be wise to remind ourselves that when we said those words last year, there was no Iran deal; Europe was not in the midst of an existential immigration crisis; the U.K. did not have a leader of the opposition with a 30+-year record of antisemitism; and — closer to home – there was not the kind of overt anti-Israel rhetoric and discourse that allowed a conservative media pundit to tweet about the debating Republican candidates, “How many [expletive] Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”
I’m not sure what we can do about it, but we would be foolish to ignore it.
Wishing you a meaningful Yom Kippur.