Sunday, January 29th | 7 Shevat 5783

February 17, 2020 7:50 am

The Power of Jewish Values

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avatar by Shmuley Boteach


The Israeli flag at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Hynek Moravec via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Jewish people are once again facing an upsurge in antisemitism. Beyond that seemingly eternal struggle, the Jewish people, especially those in the New York area, have at least three other priorities: Repairing and strengthening Black-Jewish relations; advancing Holocaust memory as the world begins to forget; and ensuring the security of Israel, as it is beset on three sides — Hamas to the West, Hezbollah to the North, and Iran to the East.

I’ve been especially alarmed at the deterioration of relations with my brothers and sisters in the African-American community. I and many others have worked for years to help build these relationships. Now, extremists who are not representative of the larger African-American community are attacking Jews in the streets of New York, and radicals have turned the civil rights movement on its head by attacking the State of Israel in the name of Palestinian rights.

The hijacking of Black Lives Matter has been accompanied by the equally specious intersectionality debates on campus, where Jews are accused of being beneficiaries of “white privilege,” even as we remain the most persecuted minority in the history of the world. These activists are also equating Israel’s government with the disgusting Afrikaner regime in South Africa.

As preposterous as those comparisons are, even more absurd is the suggestion that Jews, who have faced persecution and annihilation for centuries and are comprised of people who are as much a rainbow coalition as any you will find in America, are in any way at odds with the black community. When I took Al Sharpton to Israel in 2001, what most surprised him was seeing massive numbers of African-Jewish refugees, from Ethiopia and elsewhere, finding sanctuary in Israel.

As antisemitism has spiked around the world, including here in the United States, Holocaust memory has become more important than ever. The challenge is becoming greater as fewer survivors remain as witnesses to give first-hand testimony to the horrors of their experience. Now, we must increasingly rely on the government to ensure that future generations are taught the lessons of the Shoah. It is heartening that more states are making Holocaust education compulsory.

Nowhere is preserving the Holocaust more important than in Poland, where three million Jews, 90% of the Jewish population prior to the war, were murdered. For all of the controversy that has sometimes surrounded the actions of the government, Poland has done a tremendous job of ensuring that the sites of persecution and murder are maintained to ensure the evidence of those crimes kept alive, so future generations will know why we can never be silent when confronted by genocidal threats such as those emanating from Tehran.

Finally, it would be nice to say that Israel is secure today, but that, sadly, is not the case. In addition to direct threats, Iran’s tentacles stretch across the Middle East, as it seeks to surround Israel with its proxies. Hamas, with its genocidal charter against Israel, continues to fire rockets aimed at Israel’s civilian population, and incendiary balloons and kites to literally set the land on fire. Hezbollah, another genocidal enemy, is building terror tunnels and amassing hundreds of thousands of rockets on Israel’s northern border. Fatah continues to educate the next generation of Palestinians to hate their Jewish neighbors and engage in terror.

Israel can defend itself, but the US-Israel relationship is vital to ensuring its security. The United States is the only country that can be counted upon to protect Israel’s interests in negotiations, and to have a role in promoting peace. The bipartisan support Israel enjoys has made it possible to obtain billions of dollars in military aid and support for the development of life-saving weapons systems such as Iron Dome.

Ultimately, however, it is the values that Americans and Israelis share that guarantees the special relationship will endure. They are values that were articulated by the greatest American of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr., who re-imagined the Hebrew Bible as a liberation manifesto and offered its prophets — Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah — as trumpets of human liberty and dignity.

Jewish values make the Jewish people a light unto the nations. And it’s specifically values that America needs today more than ever if we are to unite a fragmented nation and project American light into a world growing increasingly dark with the rise of human-rights abusing dictatorships like Russia and Turkey.

The Biblical mandate of the Jewish people is to “repair the world under God’s sovereignty.” We do this primarily by influencing the world with our values and recognizing those individuals who have done their utmost to live by, inspire, and promote values-based leadership.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 33 books, including the upcoming Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent Into Genocide Memory Hell. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.

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