How an anti-Semitic Instagrammer made me break my silence.

This past Shabbat Rabbi Efrem Goldberg gave a powerful sermon  that stressed the importance of speaking out against injustice.  He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke about this theme in his speech on March 8, 1965.  This is not the exact quote in Rabbi Goldberg’s sermon, but very similar.  “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”  Rabbi Goldberg continued to explain that there are times to remain silent— such as when we receive personal insults. And, there are times for NOT remaining silent — actually expressing moral outrage— for example, when leaders make publicly anti-Semitic statements.

At my home at Shabbat lunch that day we discussed how we were not sure how the rabbi meant to suggest one knows which action is warranted (silence or outrage) in any particular moment.  I thought he meant that the distinguishing factor was whether the insult was public and against an entire group of people (public outrage should be expressed) or whether it was private and silence was the better action.

King’s words and Rabbi Goldberg’s sermon spoke to me personally because just that week I had an Instagram user privately message me and try to convince me that black people are the true descendants of the children of Israel as described in the Torah.  Maybe I should have not engaged with him in the first place, thinking we could have a civil discussion.  Part of his proof was the following prophesy that Moshe gives to B’nai Yisrael in the Torah:

“Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods--gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and in the evening, ‘If only it were morning!’--because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.” (Deuteronomy 28:68)

He (or she) then wrote “You’re saying this happened to your people? And you’re still under this curse? Then why in many countries, especially America, Jews are the most successful and privileged and live in the best neighborhoods? You own the media, Hollywood, Banks, sports entertainment. In America, and many American politicians have duel-Israeli citizenship.  These are the people we’re supposed to believe is under a curse?  Not the negros who own nothing anywhere, and are at lowest places of society?”

I chose to ignore the anti-Semitic characterization of Jews “owning” the media and so on.  In chose  silence and so instead I replied as follows:

“The enslavement of blacks by whites is proven by actual documents that no one refutes.  It is an embarrassment to the American people that this was part of our history.  It was not just enslavement but really dehumanization to a degree that had lasting implications.  It was REAL and racism is REAL.  No one is going to refute that.  The future prophesied slavery of the children of Israel as described in Deuteronomy 28 was not (in my opinion) meant to be taken literally as a historical occurrence and if it did happen it was thousands of years ago.  We don’t have documents like we have from the civil war era; we don’t have that level of proof.  Whether or not the Israelites where returned to Egypt by ships and enslaved a second time as described in Deuteronomy is not so relevant to me.”

“What is relevant is that the Torah teaches that we should care for the stranger and outsider, for the widow and orphan, for the poor and needy.  These are lessons we get from the stories in the Torah which are relevant to all people.”

“So again, historically, whether my ancestors experienced the curses in Deuteronomy 28 I can’t say for sure is a historical fact.  What I do know is that Judaism values human dignity, we support the underdog, we work to end injustice.  This is why the black and Jewish communities were such natural allies during the Civil Rights movement and why for example Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked in Selma with MLK Jr (see photo above of Heschel and other civil rights leaders).”

“The Jewish community  has always supported initiatives for social change and have been some of the biggest movers and shakers in the social justice & racial justice movement.  Also, in the world today there is still so much racism and bigotry against people of color and also so much anti-semitism.  This is also why the black and Jewish communities are natural allies , both being subjected to the hate of neo-Nazis.”

As you see I did not address the anti-Semitic assertion that the Jews “control” the world.  The person did not reply to me, and I thought for days about whether I should follow up with him and address his  anti-Semitic remark.  After Rabbi Goldberg’s sermon I thought about it even more.  Was this a time to remain silent?  Or a time for expressing moral outrage?  In the end, I decided not to reply to him directly but rather to express my outrage here.

So let me be very clear:  The Jews to not control the media, or Hollywood, or politics, or any other segment of our society.  I’m a Jewish leader, and I would know.  It is not ok to suggest that Jews control these things because it is a paranoid conspiracy theory that leads people to hate and fear Jews for no reason.  We have a long history of supporting other minorities and I hope that other minorities will see us as allies, not as a people with whom to “compete” about who has suffered more in history or who has a true historical connection to the land of Israel.

Love and common experiences have to unite us, and when they do, we should join together in fighting our common enemy—the white surpemicist who believes that only people like himself are deserving of blessing, protection, and respect in society.

When is it imperative to speak out, and when is it required of us to remain silent? Your comments are welcome.