On the surface, the recent hostage crisis in a Texas synagogue by Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen, initially seemed like a fairly run-of-the mill terrorist attack. The suspect entered the synagogue, held four people hostage, and demanded the release of his “sister” Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national who is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison for two attempted murders, among other crimes. Convicted on terrorism charges, she was once considered the world’s most wanted woman.
Contrary to stereotypes, Siddiqui was not a poor illiterate provincial but a U.S.-educated academic with a PhD. The advocates for her release at the time ranged from the Islamic State/ISIS to CAIR, a U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood front organization. CAIR dubs itself as a Muslim civil rights organization, despite being an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trials. All claimed that she had been unjustly maligned.
Over the years, Lady Al Qaeda’s case faded from public attention, as did the campaigns for her release. For that reason, Akram’s focus on this particular case at first glance appeared puzzling, once it became obvious that Siddiqui was not actually a relative of Akram but was using the Islamist equivalent of “comrade,” referencing spiritual kinship. The FBI initially stated that although a synagogue was attacked, the case had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. That raised ire in Jewish communities around the U.S., and as more information came out, it became obvious that the FBI’s seeming attempt to divest from the implication of anti-Semitism was even more misguided than it appeared to be.
Siddiqui herself was an anti-Semite, who blamed her capture on Israel and objected to having “Zionist Jews” in the jury for her trial. Moreover, Akram indicated that the taking of a synagogue in a tiny Texas town as opposed to the church across the street was in line with his view that Jews controlled U.S. policy and that therefore the authorities would listen if he took over a Jewish target.
But Akram’s personal biases are only a part of the picture. Months before the incident, CAIR renewed its efforts to liberate “Lady Al Qaeda” from federal custody, starting the Free Aafia Siddiqui movement. The campaign was allegedly prompted by an incident in August 2021 when Siddiqui was attacked by another inmate. CAIR ended up doing multiple events pushing for Siddiqui’s release over the span of a few months, raising questions about the organization’s priorities. Styling itself as a defender of civil rights for Muslim American communities, the organization is seen spending an inordinate amount of time defending one terrorist. Furthermore, throughout the campaign, which culminated in the hostage taking, CAIR lent support to one of its leaders, Zahra Billoo, who claimed that “Zionists synagogues” are behind Islamophobia, police brutality, and border control. CAIR clearly offers institutional support for the public expression of Jew hatred, which at the very least could have inspired Akram and others like him.
Akram himself comes from a Deobandi background, from a school of thought called Tablighi Jamaat, which is prevalent in Afghanistan and Pakistan and banned in Saudi Arabia, where it is seen as extremist and an “entry point to terrorism.” While CAIR is inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Egypt’s Hassan El Banna, political Islamist movements have more in common in terms of roots and political orientation than in cultural influences.
Divisive exclusionary views of non-followers and rejection of the history of cooperation between Jews and Muslims going back to the early days of Islam in Arabia is one unifying motif. In the words of one follower: “Al-Houthi, ISIS, the Tablighi group, Ibn Baz, Al-Fawzan, Shiites, Sufis, and all the Muslims of the world, before and after, firmly believe in cursing the Jews.” This attempt to hijack the perspective that the “cursing of the Jews” refers specifically to the Jews who have strayed from the “derech” and who were cursed not by the Muslims but by the warnings of their own prophets is the common denominator to various Islamist movements. The corrosive effect such line of thought has had on the Muslim world is evident after watching decades of propaganda in the media and education in countries where such movements have held sway, destroying and dividing even those societies where Jews are negligible in number and whose presence is not felt. Still the Islamist who made the comment was correct in underscoring that all Islamist movements (rather than all Muslims) do indeed share this view, and for that reason, despite their differences and struggle for power and resources, manage to cooperate and build alliances among themselves. The Zaidi Shia Houthis, influenced by Khomeinist extremism, share the same aversion to Jews, the U.S. Constitution, classical liberal values, Israel, women, minorities, and individual rights as do Muslim Brotherhood followers who originate from Sunni backgrounds.
Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood, which entrenched itself in the U.S. in the 1950s and also spread across Europe, supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran; for his part, Khomeini popularized Sayyid Qutb’s writings, which became the foundational texts of Brotherhood ideology, in Farsi. Revolutionary zeal could have been as divisive as it was unifying. The Brotherhood imagined an undefined Caliphate, whereas Khomeini pursued a strange mixture of a Persian neo-Imperialism governed by his doctrinal adaptations and distortions of Shi’a Islam.
But finding the common enemy in Jews and various others who have strayed from the tenets of their ideologies brought the two otherwise conflicting movements together. CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and other such organizations have consistently underscored their aversion to Jewish communities, not just the political issue of the State of Israel. ISNA was once part of Jewish organizational outreach efforts, but eventually left these attempts. In no cases of dialogue between Islamist groups in the US and Jewish organizations did the issue of community antisemitism and Islamist doctrinal view of the Jews ever shift, as is obvious from all public records of rhetoric by the Islamist organizations and activists.
Worse, following the Texas synagogue hostage-taking, CAIR and others raised the alarm about the possibility of Islamophobia rising as a result of an Islamist gaining the limelight, and thus perpetuated a victimhood narrative rather than joining in with other communities to condemn anti-Semitism. CAIR and other Islamist organizations will once in a while join group efforts to “fight anti-Semitism,” but only if Islamophobia is brought up simultaneously, rejecting the particularism and unique nature of rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. Victim Olympics naturally strike many as insincere and self-serving, but the situation may be more sinister. While it is certainly possible that Akram was merely inspired by CAIR’s campaign to free Siddiqui, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Akram had some organized help at various stages of his plan.
It is also clear that his target was not randomly selected, as a recording of his phone call recently revealed. Akram cursed the U.S., attacked Jews, and also boasted of having hundreds of ammunition rounds for a firearm he had illegally procured. The released details raise more questions than they answer. Where did Akram get the money to purchase the weapon? How did he, with his radical affiliation, evade U.S. security scrutiny? How did Akram get the funding to travel? Who were his contacts in the U.S.? Why did he call a female Reform rabbi in NYC—twice? Why were authorities not alerted when Akram was turned away from a local mosque in Texas after being refused a place to stay?
But the elephant in the room has thus far not been addressed: was Akram merely inspired by CAIR’s campaign or was there some level of coordination between CAIR and their more violent fellow travelers across the pond? After dodging the Holy Land Foundation indictments, CAIR took measures to restore its image by changing its board, but its co-founder and national executive director Nihad Awad remained. Furthermore, CAIR’s coordination of political causes with other Muslim Brotherhood front organizations and with NIAC, the unregistered Iran lobby group co-founded by Trita Parsi, which became best known for its defense of the JCPOA, indicate that CAIR’s ideological proclivities have not changed. It has certainly not gone out of its way to condemn Hamas. A recent sting operation revealed that CAIR has not in fact cut ties with Hamas. Hamas is another Muslim Brotherhood byproduct, designated as a terrorist organization in the U.S., and viewed as such throughout the Middle East. If CAIR is still in cahoots with Hamas, what is stopping it from working with other extremist groups such as the Tablighi group?
Perhaps this incident will finally start raising awareness in the Jewish community of the threat of political Islam to Jews specifically. While the onus of the woke ideologues is on the poorly named “white nationalism” (a term that makes no sense), anti-Semitism endemic to Islamist movements evades scrutiny by all but a few conservative-leaning groups. Alas, even the classical liberals and conservatives have overall been at best nonchalant about the threat of political Islam to democratic institutions, liberal values, and law and order. On the one hand, there is a significant ignorance of political Islam ideologies that makes many reluctant to call out its dogma for fear of inadvertently offending Muslims. On the other, the overall political context makes the problem of political Islam a low priority for most people, Jewish communities and classical liberals included.
The political apathy is explainable by several factors. First, political Islam groups have made a cozy alliance with Democratic party operatives, through a combination of generous political donations and influence campaigns, and by outright disinformation, presenting themselves as the mainstream of Muslim American communities and as the authoritative voices on Muslim civil rights issues. In reality, these groups are a fringe minority recycling and cross-pollinating members from charity to charity, who nevertheless go to great lengths to suppress alternative voices. CAIR and others receive the sort of support that nascent community organizations do not; they portray themselves as pan-Islamic organizations ignoring the fact that Muslim American communities are culturally and religious diverse.
They have also gained legitimacy by being the only game in town and forming partnerships with political training groups, intelligence agencies and law enforcement, and soft power institutions. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is dying throughout the Arab world, and its leadership in Europe has splintered between Turkey and London. Faced with corruption, internal power struggles, mismanagement, and conflicting priorities, the movement seems to be propped up more by leftist fellow travelers and the media than by the natural following it once enjoyed. Perhaps the repeated corruption, ethical violations, and mismanagement by Islamists in power have done more damage to the image of political Islam movements than any counterpropaganda could. In the U.S., however, the trend is going in the opposite direction, at least in the levers of power if not objective recruitment numbers.
The more conservative-leaning population in the United States may not be sympathetic to Islamists but does not prioritize their threat either, choosing to focus on either violent terrorist organizations or on state actors such as Iran, China, or Russia. The threat of ideological infiltration and subversion of U.S. educational, political, and media institutions is seen to be more a result of “woke” ideology than Islamism. However, Islamist movements are typically flexible in their partnerships, which results in sometimes surprising alliances of woke ideologues and conservative Islamists. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s support for radical/woke leftist causes at home while pulling the support for conservative Old Guard and regimes in Muslim majority states is just one absurd example of this apparent double standard. Conservative-leaning audiences are not primed for fighting ideological threats. Political leaders (with few exceptions) either generalize and project Islamism on Muslims, incurring a backlash, or otherwise rank the threat of political penetration as low on the radar if not outright paranoid. Others do acknowledge the threat but still see state actors as the immediate danger. Unlike state actors, political Islam movements are hard to define and quantify—and they change names and identities to avoid detection and designation.
There is also a category of political leaders who are fully aware of the Islamist threat but intentionally refuse to confront it; while even corruption cannot force them to go outright against the party line on such organizations, they can be convinced to keep silent, avoid raising awareness, or downplay the priority. At the end of the day, only a handful of effective political leaders understand the full scope of Islamist activity and the danger it presents but fighting in isolation generally does not lead to successful legislative or executive outcomes. So far no Republican administration has moved to crack down on Islamist financing.
To change the status quo, it is not enough to propose bills outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood or designating it as a terrorist organization, particularly since no administration is likely to move on such an effort. The reasons for that include the different legal definitions of terrorism in the U.S. from that of other countries that have already done so; effective political lobbying by Muslim Brotherhood front organizations and their partners in U.S. government institutions; a general lack of interest and consensus; and a lack of awareness among voters. Educational outreach, public hearings on transparency and ideology of these organizations, and mobilization by soft power institutions such as think tanks are necessary to make this cause a priority. Furthermore, viewing Islamists as an organized crime structure rather than as terrorists might be an easier track to pursue legally, given that terrorism is only one aspect of the Islamist threat, propaganda and political operations, such as lobbying and potentially bribery, being far more prevalent and successful in the United States. Likewise, pro-Islamist institutions are funded far better than their opponents.
Those who are concerned about Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism should push for the creation of viable educational and investigative initiatives and mechanisms. Jewish and pro-Israel groups should not rest on the laurels of fighting popular causes du jour such as white nationalism but be at the vanguard of addressing emerging and growing threats before they gain political leverage. The Lady Al Qaeda campaign may be an early effort by Islamists to promote and whitewash anti-Semitic terrorists, but it is not the only one. DAWN MENA, a Washington-based organization claiming to fight for human rights and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, has formed a partnership with the U.S. State Department to address the killers of Jamal Khashoggi, another Muslim Brotherhood activist and anti-Semite. But upon closer examination, this seemingly humanitarian effort has focused on getting Israeli cybersecurity companies such as NSO banned in the United States, while their social media accounts in Arabic call for BDS and spread blood libels claiming that Israel is an apartheid state.
The Jewish community and the United States in general can no longer afford the luxury of willful blindness and complacency when it comes to the danger of political Islam and its role in governance. Bigotry against Muslims needs to be fought, but the foundation for response to biases lies in the US Constitution, Jewish value of human lives, and independent thinking, not in concepts promoted by ideologues and developed with the sole purpose of chilling debate of religion’s role in society. Finally, the greatest danger of political Islam is to other Muslims. Muslim communities in the US recognize the danger of divisive religious and political efforts; the Jewish organizations should embrace and support individuals who understand the common threat Muslim Brotherhood fronts present to Muslims and Jews by promoting hatred, exclusivity, and fanaticism.
The Big Lie Comes to Colleyville: Fairy Tale vs. Storied Truth
I won’t be adding anything new to the accounts of the recent hostage-taking in Colleyville, Texas, an incident that offers a paradigmatic example of today’s anti-Semitism in action (there’s brief summary at the end). An 11-hour synagogue stand-off, international terror connections, crazy recorded rants, a brave rabbi, a hostage escape, a SWAT raid: movie-of-the-week material, at least, if not an action blockbuster. But it was largely ignored or downplayed as it was taking place, got shrugged off by the media afterward, and has already disappeared from the news cycle and general awareness.
I also won’t be trying to convince anyone that what’s happening is really happening: that there is a worldwide increase in anti-Semitism; that the new variant of “the longest hatred” (Robert Wistrich) is anti-Israelism – from bad faith “criticism of Israel” and vicious anti-Zionism to terror and all-out war; and that the gravest threats come from Islamic supremacists, abetted by a self-deluding anti-Western political Left with growing mainstream dominance, followed by old-fashioned Christian and white supremacist Jew-hatred. Nor will I give other examples of blindness to anti-Semitism when the perpetrator isn’t politically useful, or of the worldwide acceptance of easily disproven lies.
In 1892, in an essay discussing the wide circulation of blood libels, Ehad Ha-am wrote that one of the common responses to Jewish denial was an incredulous: “Do you want me to believe that the whole world is wrong and the Jews are right?” In 2002, in response to Israelis denying that they had massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin, Kofi Anan, then Secretary General of the UN said, “Are you trying to tell me that the whole world is wrong, and the Israelis are right?” [Richard Landes]
To put it brutally: if you don’t feel in your bones the pounding echoes of previous anti-Jewish mobs, from medieval Europe to the Muslim Middle East, from Imperial and Soviet Russia to the Shoah, then I’m probably not addressing you—unless such a global pogrom, however implausible it may seem at first, is so horrifying that you feel compelled to consider and investigate the possibility.
Like my previous essay about anti-Semitism for White Rose Magazine, “Looking Left, Looking Right,” this is for anyone who would oppose it wherever it’s exposed, not for those who prefer to appease or hide behind it. But we are in a unique position today, however dire. We can see the thing for what it is: a 2,000-year-old scam, one big pathetic lie. Incident after incident, spin after spin, it’s the same move over and over. Armed with the long view, we have a lever with which to shift the world. And though no weapon guarantees success, true knowledge does truly empower.
A delusional anti-Jewish obsession has haunted the West since Christianity’s emergence, the Middle East since that of Islam, and even the modern world’s secular “progressivism.” And there are few areas of contemporary political culture that remain untouched, insofar as they’re influenced by these Christian, Islamic, and secular “progressive” forces; indeed, politics is often given over entirely to it.
This extraordinary fact, however, is totally counter to mainstream perception, where merely pointing out anti-Semitism often results in an instant and unrelenting barrage of denials and counter-charges. It is routinely dismissed (“That’s not anti-Semitic”), mocked (“LOL! You Jews are always whining about being the victims”), accused of bad faith (“You’re only saying that to distract from Israeli crimes”), condescendingly scolded (“Why don’t you learn from your own past suffering?”), and heartlessly attacked (“You Jews are the real Nazis today!”). This is epitomized in anti-Zionism, a structure of thinking that
… elaborates a whole system of political references (I dare not say political analysis, nor even political reflection) in which double standards and inverted terms are constant features. Should Israel be as much as mentioned, a machinery for the projection of obsessive hallucinations comes into play. The anti-Zionist thinks, or pretends to think, in black and white. [Jacques Givet]
The anti-Semite thinks in black and white, or pretends to think in black and white, or simply pretends to think. Why the pretense, though? Because adults know we’re meant to think. When we do come together, we know it’s best if we’ve arrived at an agreement, each of us following our own path to get there. So the anti-Semites must at least make a show of it, or we might reject them as mere childish bullies. Unfortunately, none of us is really grown up. Pretense can convince us, if we’re not ready to see through the smile to the dead eyes, if can’t discern the sick fear behind the self-righteous rage.
In his essay “Fairy Tale or Myth?” David L. Miller contrasts the one-sided stereotypes of fairy tales with the moral ambiguity of mythic figures:
In myth, for example, we see Aphrodite, who has a beautiful loving side as well as a bitchy jealous side. In fairy tale, on the other hand, the mother is not given a name. She is called simply and unambiguously the Beautiful Queen. If a bitchy side needs representation in the story another character is invented, for example, the Wicked Stepmother. … [T]he fairy tale’s wish is that variety … may all be one. The frog is a prince. The prince becomes king. The girl becomes a woman. And the two become one. Thus it is that the fairy tale fantasy takes hold of us not by any particular content, but by the strategy of its genre.
The mythic complexity Miller refers to is more realistic—provides a truer model of real life—than the fairy tale world, which we leave behind as we become adults. Fairy tales, he suggests, may even represent “remnants of rites of passage in which a youth attains an adult identity.”
Rite to Remain a Child
One needn’t personally “hate Jews” (as conventional anti-racism presumes) to perpetuate anti-Semitism; one has only to accede to the mentality that ends up demonizing them. Thus anti-Zionism, with its cartoonish visions of Jewish violence and rapaciousness, can’t even imagine the most basic human reasons for Israeli actions—no natural desire for self-defense, no understandable drive for self-determination, not even the traumatized response to repeated and near-genocidal persecution.
Denuded of its elaborate pretenses, the anti-Semitic mind can only answer the question “Why do Jews do these evil things you claim?” with “Because they’re Jews.” Why does the Wicked Stepmother act wickedly? Because that’s who she is, what she is, all she is. But no real person is defined by a single trait, no real-world actions are without authentic motivation, no real evil is without its evil sense—and no collective, no people, is composed of anything other than people. Unlike a child, who simply thinks childishly, an adult must cling to unconsciousness to demonize successfully. Anti-Semitic convictions are not simply mistakes. The double-standard for Jewish actions, more than mere repetition, has an aim, a function: to ritualistically invert reality, turn us away from the facts, distract from the real aggressors, present the oppositeof truth, lock us into the lie of fairy tale thinking. Pretend thinking.
One could analyze the incident at Colleyville and trace the outlines of the fairy tale leading to the monstrosity: the hostage-taker’s background in an Islamic world saturated with fantasies of global Jewish power; his connections with a network of Islamists bent on their own fantasy of global power; the incident as such, in a setting unrelated to Islamist goals except by the fantasy of Jewish power; and the bizarre cover-up of the real, anti-Semitic power-players by our own representatives of public power and by those with the power to inform our self-understanding.
One might recognize, through all of this, a clear and singular drive, even on the part of ostensibly opposed sides: “to remove … fundamental ambiguity,” as Miller says of fairy tale thinking, “to make the life-story one-dimensional, replacing the ambivalence of the concrete images of daily experience with abstract ideas.” And one might see, in this commitment to childish fantasy, the pursuit of reality-shaping power, indeed the longing for total control – like a child!
None of this has gone previously unremarked. Others have dissected the immaturity, projection, paranoia, and power-lust of anti-Semitic thinking. And “demonization” is already part of our regular vocabulary to describe it. I wonder, though, if we recognize the truth shining through the lie. Falsehood feeds uncreatively on truth, and thereby becomes its unwitting, unwilling carrier.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s aim was true when he managed to hit the terrorist with a chair, giving the remaining hostages a chance to escape. In that moment, the whole of this story was given another twist—not just the Congregation Beth Israel story, but the ancient one that begins with “the Jewish people …” There are many others, but this story—a true story, about truth—does end up speaking to everyone. The Christians believed they took it over, then Islam thought it got the last word, and even rationalism, though lacking a deity, follows the same basic form: with its (1) singular truth, each variation (2) addresses humanity universally, (3) cutting across tribes, ethnicities, and cultures, and ideally forming (4) collectivity by (5) each individual’s acceptance of this truth—though it never quite works out that way, because (6) truth, in reality, always divides us.
One might say there’s a fairy tale notion of truth that unites us all happily ever after, and an adult version that moves through the real world in real time, with allies who stand by it and enemies who attack it. And though the war causes flesh-and-blood casualties, its theatre of battle is really thought. (Even “post-truth” is just another twist in the plot, a new foe come to test truth’s mettle. Like all of them, it’s ultimately futile: to defeat truth’s claim, it can only claim to be … truer!)
Truth is, not only did those Jewish people survive in Colleyville, not only do Jewish people survive despite Nazism’s attempted genocide, but the Jewish people survive. Yet history shows every aspect of this peoplehood targeted in turn: the religious dimension (“Christ-killers”), the geographic (exile and diaspora), the communal (ghettoization), the genetic (“racially inferior”), the cultural (“Degenerate Art”), the political (“Israel is illegitimate”). Taken together, what do these amount to but personhood itself? Thus each onslaught has been meaningful. We are each spiritual, biological, geographical, civil, social, creative beings—persons. (One needn’t share all the aspects to belong to “the Jewish people,” as there are genetically Jewish atheists and genetically diverse converts, any more than being a person requires embodying every dimension of humanity—there are apolitical hermits.)
The Big Truth is that the Big Lie—whether wielded by Judeophobic Christians, Nazis, Islamists, “progressives,” anyone—consistently generates not only specific lies, but the very opposite of truth. The Big Lie points nowhere else, because without truth it’s not only powerless and empty, but non-existent. This is clearer now than ever before, because we can take the long view: we can hold the whole story at once; we can spot the Jewish people’s enemies repeating the same old scam; we can see through it, as the accusers project their childish wishes and nightmarish acts onto innocents; we can identify personhood in all its complex reality, that they would replace with Demons and Demon-Fighters; and we can recognize their power-lust for what it is: a terrified and terrorizing immaturity.
A singular truth (what it means to be a person, to be people) addresses humanity universally (the patterns of anti-Semitism are objectively evident and revelatory), cutting across tribes, ethnicities, and cultures (all the “righteous among the nations” can see it), ideally forming collectivity (the anti-Nazi Resistance united people from all backgrounds and every walk of life) by each individual’s acceptance of this truth (one person at a time, there’s no other way). And being real, this truth divides: it is “us” versus “them.” But anyone can grow up.
The fight to defend the truth of the Jewish people—which, like the truth of Colleyville, exposes itself in every attempted cover-up and shines through every tell-tale dissimulation—is the fight for the possibility of truth itself. And the fight for truth is, in the end, always the defense of reality against those who would attempt to deny and overpower it. Fight back, throw the chair, wield the Big Truth and flip every little lie (they’re nothing but truth, inverted). The truth of reality is on your side, where the Jewish people placed themselves at the start of the story.
Summarized by the blog FirstOne Through: “A British Muslim flew thousands of miles to take Jewish hostages in Texas in an attempt to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a noted anti-Semite serving time for trying to kill American soldiers and plot a mass casualty attack in New York City. The hijacker, Malik Faisal Akram, yelled at the people praying on a Sabbath morning in synagogue, ‘Jews control the world, Jews control the media, Jews control the banks,’ and said that the Jews ‘can call President Trump and he will do it [release Siddiqui] because Jews control everything.’” The rabbi and hostages escaped after 10 hours, and the hostage-taker was killed when the FBI stormed the building. Stephen Pollard in The Jewish Chronicle captured, in one particular example, the common media and political reaction, which has left the Jewish community aghast: “I don’t think I have ever seen a more grotesquely skewed report of a major terrorist incident than last night’s BBC report, which could only have happened if all involved went through a series of intellectual contortions to avoid mentioning antisemitism.”
I can feel my body weakening The weariness accompanying every step The stubbornness of my frozen joints My body is failing me And my mind is starting to give in as well It’s hard to remember that there were times When I wasn’t so frail When I was young and happy Before this mess the monsters created.
The hunger, the starvation Carves a black hole of emptiness In my stomach It grows, it widens It seeks to destroy my body It knows it has already taken my mind
My children will never be ones To so loosely claim In a fit of anger and annoyance “Mother, I am starving” They know what it is to starve My grandchildren will never say “Father, I am hungry” Because they will not have known What it meant
I can’t sit up anymore My back and hips constantly hurt And I can barely move them Even when I’m lying down I feel like a puppet Whose strings have been cut A forgotten child’s toy Tossed aside Abandoned for the newer Shinier model
The cold is a constant torture The wind bites and stings Cracking my hands and lips Until they bleed.
More people fall ill Corpses pile up Rations are cut
Death is all around us Inside us Is us Some of us look like sunken imitations Of the reaper himself The cold is as unrelenting as always Ornery in its refusal To loosen its tight hold against our necks.
I stop eating There is no point I know I am to die I am glad to give more food To my loved ones So I accept my unavoidable death I have but two regrets That my children will watch me die And that the meager but helpful Rations of a fourth person Will be cut upon my last breath
The people I am with My family My husband and children Seem to float silently around me Ghostly incarnations Of the man and children they once were I mourn the death of their innocence Never again will they play in a sandbox Without thinking of the dry earth Our weak bodies shoveled To make room For more crops And more graves Life and death Occupying the land together So that we may benefit From the decaying bodies Of our fellow humans
My vision turns misty I feel trapped in a clouded painting My surroundings familiar yet mysterious Beautiful yet haunting Trapped in a clouded painting Knowing that someday soon I too will disappear into the fog
Hannah Tenzer Engel was born in Poland in 1900 and died in Uzbekistan in 1943.She is Nili Ivan’s great-great-grandmother.
In our time, it is more important to be hard and relentless than genteel and unobtrusive lest history repeat itself.
Today, January 27th, is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. For this reason, this date was chosen as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Several years ago, the World Jewish Congress launched the #WeRemember campaign in the face of studies that have shown that half of young people in the West today have not heard of the Holocaust. Think of it. Half.
Curiously, and sadly, it took the United Nations sixty years to give recognition to this most seminal and apocalyptic event in human history. The organization at whose entrance are carved the words of the prophet Isaiah—”Swords shall be beaten into plowshares and nation shall not make war against nation anymore”—got around to commemorating Holocaust remembrance only in 2005. We are not only still waiting for Isaiah’s prophecy to be realized but also for that day when those other prophetic words “Justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream” have life breathed into them.
Our lesson from this duty of remembrance is clear. The litmus test of mankind’s civility is not how we treat those who are many, or agreeable, or privileged, or quiescent, but how we treat those who are few, and different, and alienated, and stubborn. The world is still failing that test.
Ungracious consumerism and a suffocating self-absorption filled with false pieties act as excuses for inaction and leave little resolve to remedy the malignancies of hate, jealousy, and greed with the compass of compassionate conscience.
In our time, we are not only haunted by the mounds of ashes that once were 12 million citizens of a “civilized” Europe—six million of them Jews—but also by the bloated bodies floating in the Yangtze of Mao’s China; the corpses frozen in the wastes of Stalin’s Gulag; the betrayals of the free peoples of Hungary and Czechoslovakia; the deaths of Freedom Riders in the American South; the killing fields of Vietnam and Cambodia; the bodies rotting in the jungles of Rwanda and in the fetid marshes of the Balkans; the millions slaughtered in Darfur.
I mention these other catastrophes not to draw parallels to the Shoah—a singular historical tragedy because though not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims—but because one would have thought that mankind would have learned the lessons of vigilance from that horrible era. It has not. Yet despite our failures we cannot give up. If Holocaust Remembrance is to have living meaning—if the souls of the martyrs are to be given proper tribute—it is only our memory and witness that will move us at all times and in every generation to manifest testaments of courage.
As we face today’s dire challenges, we must be ready to assume individual responsibility. Each of us drawing strength from the sure knowledge that one person can make a difference. That we have a duty to follow Gandhi’s counsel and act quickly to arrest, “the evil that staggers drunkenly from wrong to wrong in order to preserve its own immortality.”
The survivors of that horrible time understand this too well. On this day, 77 years ago, they may have been freed from the hellish bondage of Auschwitz but then they had to set out into the world and try to make some sense—or some peace—with a world that had sunk to the lowest circumstance of devastation and degradation. Imagine their feelings of despair, filled with all the futility of a silent cry. The searing pain in one’s heart, the weight of the rock of Camus’ Sisyphus as he fell from the mountaintop once again.
It has always been a source of awe that the survivors re-engaged in the world. They built new families and new hopes but also never forgot to bear witness. As they returned to their home towns and discovered trenches holding the butchered remains of tens of thousands who had been their friends and families, they did not just mourn. They acted. They raised memorials to the victims of the horror in order to say “We are here! The butchers have not won because we remember!” And indeed they also questioned, “Why did I survive?” and “What can I believe?” But they strove forward.
We must never cease speaking these truths clearly and candidly. We must never cease creating portraits of remembrance. No matter how harsh. It is important to tell it straight. For in our time, it is more important to be hard and relentless than genteel and unobtrusive.
I am from Poland From the town of Przemyśl Where my family has lived For generations
But I am also from Uzbekistan From rice warehouses And starvation And cold metal guns And Communism
I am also from Israel From the promised land And a country of refugees Returning to their true homeland
I am also from America From New York, and Massachusetts, and Florida From old age homes And apartments And shacks And holes in the ground And all the other places Where I slept at night
I am from bread From rising yeast And kneading dough Both in the palaces Of Polish royalty And later in bakeries Owned by the USSR
I am from my family From the Engel name And the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
I am from the dough Wrapped around my waist In an attempt At thievery So I could feed My little brother I am from the lies I told the guard that day About my husband in the war And my four children
I am from the black market From rice and flour And rifles and middlemen
I am from survival From instinct and hunger And fear That kept me alive
I am from cleaning Communist houses And working until My hands bled But still going to sleep With a rumbling stomach I am from my teeth falling out Declaring my mouth an unfit place to live Even in a body so young As fourteen years old
I am from happiness From Joe, Simcha From night shifts And stolen kisses And a wedding so simple It was decorated with our love
I am from the gulags And the camps From cold winters and hot summers From tuberculosis And malnutrition
I am from the diseases that So thoroughly wrecked The continent of Europe The pandemics of evil That took 85 million lives In 85 million different ways Nazism and Communism
I am from the roots I grew In two different lands And the knowledge I learned too late That no amount of Milk and honey Replaces memories. No amount Of friends Replaces family No amount of Freedom Replaces The bitter taste Of captivity No amount of “After” Changes the “Before”
I am from the little mental souvenirs Gifted to me by the Nazis and the Red Army
I am from my mother’s dying breath And the first cries of my sons And with my children, The second generation Of survivors, I start to heal. Heal in the way, That wearing long-sleeves, Can trick your mind into Believing your scars aren’t there. I heal in the fact That I have become The missing piece of My own puzzle That I can be for my sons What I had for so little time A mother
With the third generation I heal some more And I accept the Eternal scars and bruises But never talk of them. So I become a grandma An apple-pie making Hugs and kisses dispensing Grandma And it is strange to think That these hands That roll out the dough And slice the apples Are the same hands that Suffered as they baked bread For Stalin’s armies The same hands That held my mother’s Still-warm body As all the warmth left
Many of us Do not live to see The fourth generation But I am one of the lucky ones I have always been One of the lucky ones To the fourth generation I become a little old lady With wispy, bleached hair Always sitting in her armchair In that corner of her living room Feet propped up Watching a game show I am quiet Perhaps a little frail But only in the way That being in my 90s Makes me fragile They do not know How a mountain of strength Can lie in the smallest of hills
My great-grandchildren Are told my story But they have trouble believing it They cannot comprehend The systematic murder They cannot fathom The starvation and the death They cannot realize That the truth is the hardest Pill to swallow My great-grandchildren Take it with glasses of water And spoonfuls of sugar But they can never understand However hard they try And they do try
But they learn their lesson too late And I have already gone
So that is why there will be Poems and stories And songs and quotes And conversations and paragraphs Because we remember And we miss you We miss the parts of you we knew And the ones that we were told But matter just as much And never again Will we take the time We have with someone for granted Because after all, Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, But today is a gift, And that’s why we call it the present.
Lucy Engel was born in Przemyśl, Poland, and fled to Uzbekistan at the age of 14 to escape the Nazis. Her mother, Hannah, died there. Lucy, her father, and brother survived. In Uzbekistan, she met her husband, Yosef Goldwasser. After the war, she and Yosef returned to their hometowns in Poland looking for family. They found no one. Later they found out that all but two had been murdered. In 1950, they moved to Israel, and ten years later immigrated to America with their two sons. Lucy passed away in Florida in 2018, and lived to know all five of her great-grandchildren, including the eldest, Nili.
One Day I Wrote Her Name Edmund Spenser
One day I wrote her name upon the strand, But came the waves and washed it away: Again I wrote it with a second hand, But came the tide and made my pains his prey. “Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain essay A mortal thing so to immortalize; For I myself shall like to this decay, And eke my name be wiped out likewise.” “Not so,” quoth I; “let baser things devise To lie in dust, but you shall live by fame; My verse your virtues rare shall eternize, And in the heavens write your glorious name: Where, whenas Death shall all the world subdue, Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
Wonder Ibn Arabi
Wonder, A garden among the flames! My heart can take on any form: A meadow for gazelles, A cloister for monks, For the idols, sacred ground, Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim, The tables of the Torah, The scrolls of the Quran. My creed is Love; Wherever its caravan turns along the way, That is my belief, My faith.
Love Is Enough William Morris
Love is enough: though the world be a-waning, And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining, Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder, Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder, And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over, Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter: The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.
I want to write different words for you Nizar Qabbani
I want to write different words for you To invent a language for you alone To fit the size of your body And the size of my love.
I want to travel away from the dictionary And to leave my lips. I am tired of my mouth I want a different one That can change Into a cherry tree or a matchbox, A mouth from which words can emerge Like nymphs from the sea, Like white chicks jumping from the magician’s hat.
Take all the books That I read in my childhood, Take all my school notebooks, Take the chalk, The pens, And the blackboards, But teach me a new word To hang like an earring On my lover’s ear.
Translation: Bassam Frangieh and Clementina Brown
The Morse Code of the Heart Diane Ackerman
Poems arrive as meteorites. Collecting them, I try my best to impart impulses, the Morse code of the heart, but I do not understand the vernacular of fear that jostles me until art occurs, or why knowing you from afar spurs hours of working myself into the stars. Well, I do know, but I fight its common sense: I try to stabilize us through eloquence. It’s an old story, better told than I tell, how artists shape what hurts like hell (usually love) into separate empires of lust, tenderness, and lesser desires
Touched by An Angel Maya Angelou
We, unaccustomed to courage exiles from delight live coiled in shells of loneliness until love leaves its high holy temple and comes into our sight to liberate us into life. Love arrives and in its train come ecstasies old memories of pleasure ancient histories of pain. Yet if we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls. We are weaned from our timidity In the flush of love’s light we dare be brave And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.
Love and Friendship Emily Bronte
Love is like the wild rose-briar, Friendship like the holly-tree The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms But which will bloom most constantly? The wild-rose briar is sweet in the spring, Its summer blossoms scent the air; Yet wait till winter comes again And who will call the wild-briar fair? Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now And deck thee with the holly’s sheen, That when December blights thy brow He may still leave thy garland green.
Eternal Love Moshe Katz
While now my heart May always stay empty
Though tears have dried Leaving behind residue of loss
It is a void A space that reverberates still
With memories eternal Which remind and sustain
Love which even gone Can never be forgotten
There is love That changes your being
Writing itself so deeply That it is entwined with your DNA
Though it might appear mortal Something which lives and dies
The lives it touches Know with quiet certainty
That its memory Will echo in eternity
The Old Testament, my spiritual text, is incredibly violent and perplexing. God communicates with rivers of blood and murdering angels. And yet, at the same time, there is nothing more secure, more anchoring, more evocative of peace, than the Torah. How can this be?
Here are my reflections.This is a series of Shabbat greetings, meditations on the Parsha, the weekly Torah reading. I start with images that capture the Torah passage. I splinter them, layer them, and finally reconcile them. I like to use layers of transparency. This is how we experience the world. If you focus one way, here is one truth. Look slightly deeper, here is another. It is hard to see, really see each one, all at once. But from another angle, all is in perfect accord. And here we are, wondering. Samara Alpern
A couple of weeks ago, a terrorist, let his name be erased, traveled all the way from Britain to Texas with a ‘plan’ to free another terrorist from prison. He bought a gun from a street criminal and drove to the town of Colleyville, fifteen miles from Fort Worth. After taking tea with the rabbi of a local synagogue, the terrorist took him and three other Jews hostage at Shabbat services. After eleven hours of threats and anti-Semitic ravings, the rabbi threw a chair, the hostages ran, and the FBI opened fire, neutralizing the terrorist.
Depressed about how quickly America forgot, I heard a call to worship. I decided to go to shul to vote with my feet and my heart.
I am not much of a virtual worshipper. I think of ‘virtual’ as almost—or not—real. Just because an experience is easy to have, does not mean that it is real. I believe in G-d. I do not believe in hiding from terrorists or COVID-19.
On Saturday morning I put on a Ralph Lauren gray suit, Oxford shirt, yellow tie, and black shoes. I clipped my orange and black Princeton Center for Jewish Life kippah to the back of my head.
There is a big steel door at the outside entrance to our temple, with anti-vehicle bollards on the other side. When I reached the door, I handed my tallis bag to the temple’s two armed guards. They patted it down to ensure there was no weapon inside. Although one is not supposed to carry money on Shabbat, I took my wallet, so I could show my vaccine card as well.
The process reminded me uneasily of 2002, when I went to a synagogue on the Ku’Damm in Berlin. There was an ammoed vehicle parked in front. At the door a German policeman with a submachine gun stood. When I entered, a bored, tattooed woman with a punk haircut was operating a smaller version of a TSA airport security conveyer. The device also operated as a kind of “Shabbat violator detector” for people carrying phones, money, or car keys.
I do not remember much of the service as I don’t speak German. I do remember sitting next to a French Jew, who said he was from Strasbourg. After the service we went our separate ways. I looked back and saw a flash of white on his head. Even then, I feared for him. I turned around, ran back, and said in my worst high school French, “Monsieur! Monsieur! Votre kippah!” He turned, nodded, and carefully put his head covering in his jacket pocket.
Twenty years ago, Jews from different continents praying together in the former heart of Nazism was an affirmation. I never thought such fear and darkness would sweep over America.
Fast forward to January 2022. I put my mask on and kept it on for the whole service, even for singing and chanting. There was a good crowd of perhaps one hundred and twenty people to hear and celebrate with the well-prepared bar mitzvah boy. But before COVID we would have been in the larger chapel with five hundred people. I saw just a few people I knew.
But I did get to put on my tallis and pray with a minyan. We read the portion where Moses brings the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people. One commandment is “Thou shalt not murder.” It is not “Thou shalt not kill.” For any who might mourn this or future terrorists, the Talmud says “if someone comes planning to kill you, you should hurry to kill him first.”
As the service closed, we said kaddish, the memorial prayer. (Not for the terrorist.) An older man I knew stood up to pray by himself. As is our temple’s custom, I went to say kaddish with him. I spontaneously patted him on the arm, even in this time of no human contact.
You could say the big crowd was making a defiant return to the synagogue. But I felt a sense of loss as well. Jews have lost so many souls. We are a remnant of a people long oppressed and massacred.
Was the terrorist at Beth Israel in Colleyville disappointed to find just four Jews to hold hostage or harm? Perhaps he was glad to find so few adhering to a religion he found so threatening. He reaped the publicity he sought, as his hostages were joined by an Internet minyan, swelled by thousands of voyeurs to Jewish suffering, until Facebook and the FBI cut off the feed.
Ironically, fear of COVID kept dozens of Jews from harm’s way on that Shabbat in Texas. For two years before the latest anti-Semitic assault, fear has kept Jews from synagogue. Fear about being victims of a disease that has killed 900,000 Americans. Fear of catching COVID in a now nearly-empty temple.
After two years of the coronavirus, how many of us still will not eat in restaurants, go to a movie, get on a plane, shop in a store? You can watch synagogue services on the Web in your underwear, no need to leave home.
With the modern version of “synagogue for shut-ins” you can hear prayers between texts and tweets, washed down with coffee and Danish. No one will ask if you have a kippah, offer you a tallit or prayer book, or surprise you with an aliyah to the Torah.
You won’t be a target sitting on your comfortable couch. But Jews have died sanctifying the Holy Name for more than two thousand years. For so many to hide from a virus with a low mortality rate seems an abandonment.
Even the government seems to be trying to drive us from our synagogues. To “protect” us from the coronavirus, California Governor Gavin Newsom closed all houses of worship in 2020. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” California lost 5 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court for this violation of religious freedom.
Still, the fear factor has made worship mostly virtual for non-Orthodox synagogues, like the four-person ‘minyan’ in Colleyville. We have lost so many during COVID, not just our dead, but those who have drifted away. And many suffering from COVID’s economic devastation are unwilling to pay temple dues to watch services on the internet.
You can watch non-Orthodox streams of Judaism stream services on Shabbat. But you can’t shake hands, nod, or sing prayers and blessings with the crowd. You certainly cannot taste the Shabbat kiddush, another casualty of COVID in many synagogues.
The unaffiliated and the unchurched are another potential loss. How will people find us if our doors are closed and locked? For those interested in Judaism or thinking about conversion, this is another stumbling bloc. While ever-growing security is necessary, it becomes just another barrier for the convert to climb over.
Perhaps the latest terrorist will wake Jews up not just to fears for our lives, but to fears for our souls.
On my way out, the guards printed up an ID badge and gave it to me. It showed my “fully vaccinated” status and membership. Better yet, it made me younger, using a fifteen-year-old picture from the database. I do not mind wearing the badge to synagogue identifying me as a Jew, because that is what I am.
My wife and I really like reality competition TV. I use the term to differentiate from other types of reality TV that turn a camera on some businesses like Pawn Stars or Property Brothers. Those can be interesting, but I can take them or leave them. Other reality shows like Keeping up with The Kardashians or The Real Housewives of wherever are just ways for people to make themselves feel better about their lives by watching rich or famous or rich famous people squabble. I have enough people squabbling in my life to need to watch it on TV.
We like the competition shows like America’s Got Talent, Survivor, American Ninja Warrior, Dancing With the Stars, and Shark Tank. Each contestant has some story of overcoming obstacles. My wife and I tease each other that we simply haven’t overcome enough obstacles to compete, let alone win, any of these shows..
I know that the producers of these shows manipulate our emotions to root for the contestants. And some of the obstacles seem manufactured, especially those contestants who “overcame childhood bullying”. I mean, really? If that were a significant obstacle to overcome, my wife and I would both qualify. Wasn’t everyone our age the subject of bullying? Except for the bullies, I suppose. We just dealt with it and learned to get over it.
The thing we love most about watching these shows, is that in the end, the winner is the person who… well, who actually won because of their skills and talents. OK, our favorite doesn’t always win. Sometimes someone wins by accident or by popularity—no competition is perfect. But the person who does win is usually, though not always, one of the contestants who worked the hardest and did things right. In other words, they represent the American dream.
While the mainstream media is reporting on race riots, affirmative action, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter and white supremacy (and at the same time white fragility), the people on these reality competition shows represent the entire spectrum of races, economic situations, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and whatever other categories the progressives are trying to divide us by. These people shake each other’s hands, wish each other well, hug each other, root for each other, cry when they lose and even sometimes cry when their competitor loses. All of which doesn’t stop them from competing hard and often performing amazing feats of strength, intelligence, endurance, or creativity. Isn’t having this opportunity the definition of the American Dream? We don’t always win, but we know we have a shot at it like everyone else.
My wife and I often cry in sadness for the losers who tried so hard but didn’t quite make it, hoping that they will eventually reap some reward, like an investment or a successful career by some other means. Like dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling who, after losing America’s Got Talent went on to become a worldwide sensation. We also often cry in happiness for the person who spent a lifetime crafting a skill that no one recognized until they won a competition, like singing ventriloquist Terry Fador, who, after winning America’s Got Talent, is now one of the biggest attractions in Las Vegas after years of performing at kids’ birthday parties and nearly empty venues.
The diversity of these winners, based on talent alone rather than “equity programs,” may be best represented by Eugene Landau Murphy Jr, the car washer who had just lost all of his belongings when he was robbed the day before auditioning for America’s Got Talent. He had never sung in front of an audience. A silly, gum-chewing guy in jeans and dreadlocks who opened his mouth to smoothly sing the best Sinatra songs since… well, since Sinatra. He was an anti-stereotype. He won and now has a successful singing career. And like all the winners, he gives back to the community to help others reach their dreams, based on their talents not their identity.
Unfortunately, these shows sometimes go off the rails because the producers decide they need to influence the criteria to be “more fair,” “more woke,” or to “provide equity.” As in the broader society, these efforts fail and undermine the whole concept of competition and fairness. Several years ago, Survivor divided teams by race. From that biased starting point imposed by the producers, the competitors ended up competing and ignoring racial classifications. As they should. This season, the producers picked a particularly “diverse” set of contestants, meaning hardly any white people except those who identified as some “nonbinary gender.” Plus, they decided to be so woke as to modify the game whenever any contestant was offended. So, host Jeff Probst’s signature call to “come on in, guys” was replaced by “come on in,” simply because one contestant, who after a day of thinking about it, decided “guys” was inappropriate. Like corporate America and mainstream media, one tiny minority of easily offended people dictated the rules for everyone else. Survivor had become a microcosm of the worst of America. We couldn’t watch past that first episode.
With that one unfortunate exception, these competition reality shows give me hope. They seem to be real melting pots where someone’s skills and talents outweigh their skin color, their chosen identity, or their ancestral grievances. I truly believe that the majority of Americans want a color blind society. We believe in competition as well as good sportsmanship. We admire the desire to get ahead based on abilities and nothing else. We know that people of all kinds can compete and get along whether they win or not. And we encourage people who lose to try again.
In summary, I believe the America presented by progressive politicians and woke news media is fake, but reality competition TV represents the real America. At least, I need to believe that to believe that America and its principles are alive and well and will endure.
I didn’t know about the hostage seizure at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue until Saturday late afternoon, hours after it started. The news that an attacker had seized the rabbi and three congregants—as part of a plan to free a woman serving an 86-year sentence in a Texas prison for attacking U.S. military officers in Afghanistan—brought back memories of past attacks on Jewish houses of worship, including the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, in 2008 (six dead); the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (11 dead); Passover 2019 in Poway, California (one dead); and Hanukkah 2019 in Monsey, New York (one dead). This time, the crisis ended with a SWAT attack that killed the attacker before he could harm any of his four hostages at Congregation Beth Israel (CBI).
The CBI terrorism has special resonance because I grew up in Texas as part of a family that has been in Texas since just after the Civil War. While I left Texas and have been living in the Northeast for more than 40 years, I still embrace an identity as a Texas Jew. My great-great-grandfather, Chayim Schwarz, was the first ordained rabbi in the state, when he moved there from Germany in 1873. My parents were married there at Temple Emanuel in McAllen, where I drop by for services when I’m in the Rio Grande Valley for my high school reunion.
At times like these, differences between Texas and New York or liberal or conservative or Zionist or secular or religious don’t matter. While I’ve read at least one article knocking CBI Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker’s positions in Jewish politics, that has absolutely no meaning for me. An attack on one Jew is an attack on all of us; distinctions between religious practices and political leanings only deepen energy-sapping divisions. Terrorists don’t distinguish between Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, and neither should we make fine distinctions in taking action in solidarity with Jews in danger. For evidence of the negative impact, remember that enmity among Jews contributed to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 CE (Common Era, otherwise AD). In the words supposedly spoken by Benjamin Franklin at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or . . . we shall all hang separately.”
The CBI attack and the successful outcome will long be studied. Were the security procedures sufficient, and how did the law enforcement agencies respond? Where did U.S. border controls break down to enable a foreign national with a criminal record to enter the country? What planning and financing supported the attack?
My own views on responses reflect my experiences with Jewish sites in Israel and elsewhere, as well as what I’ve seen from attacks on places of worship in Texas. My action bias is going to show here, no doubt reflecting my youth spent absorbing stories of the Alamo, the War for Texas Independence, and the rough life on the frontier—the Texas history taught in schools when I was growing up in Mission, Texas, in the 1960s and 1970s. Such episodes inspired the same sort of fervor, I imagine, as when Hebrew schools relate stories of Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the miracle of the Six-Day War of 1967.
I’ve seen the armed security forces in Israel, and they’re not for show. In Amsterdam, a security officer questioned me before I could attend services at the Portuguese Synagogue. In the 1980s, I passed machine gun-toting guards outside the Great Synagogue of Florence. U.S. synagogues now show far more security during the High Holidays. That includes my synagogue, Chabad of Bedford, N.Y.; Chabad is an Orthodox movement based in Brooklyn also called Chabad-Lubavitch. One of the men held hostage at CBI has already called for more active shooter training.
My own thinking is aligned with that, and I’m fine with the notion of armed, properly trained synagogue members. Concealed carry may be impractical, illegal, or wildly unpopular in blue-state synagogues, but I could see that as part of the security mix. If a potential attacker knows his lifespan could shrink to 10 seconds if he starts threatening and shooting at a school or synagogue, he may reconsider his plans. Numerous examples show effective armed response, such as the almost-instant killing of a shooter at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, in 2019. He had killed two parishioners who drew on him, but others responded.
Would this approach work at synagogues? I don’t know. That’s each organization’s call. But I’m not opposed to it. CBI took a different approach, and it worked. I’m all in favor of diverse approaches, and if an institution opts for the West Freeway Church strategy, I’d say go for it. That’s the Texan in me.
The need for urgent actions takes my memory back to the 2008 Mumbai massacre at the Chabad House. In its aftermath, I attended a memorial service in Connecticut organized by Chabad. While grieving, speakers stressed the need to take spiritual action in the face of the bloodshed (more good deeds, charity, and study of religious texts, for example). It reminded me of the slogan adapted from the last words of labor activist Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn, organize!” I liked that approach.
How’d that play out? I’ve taken responsibility for my safety. That involved a 10-week course in Krav Maga, the self-defense system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It focused on responding to a threat and getting away, not finding your calm meditative center. In other words: take action. Its workouts exhausted me; at one point a sparring pad I held got kicked so hard it hit me in the face and knocked the lenses out of my glasses. I also joined the Community Emergency Response team (CERT) when I lived in Westport, Connecticut. The training included a sobering session on active-shooter responses; a policeman explained the evolution in law-enforcement tactics since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
This basic awareness of personal defense and community protection makes sense on a larger scale. Be your own bodyguard, take responsibility for your safety. Stories coming out of Colleyville indicate that active-shooter training paid off, and I assume those lessons will inform safety approaches at any vulnerable institution. I imagine we’ll talk about security measure at my synagogue in the wake of the CBI episode, frankly addressing vulnerabilities and procedures. The Westchester suburbs feel safe for me—but recent history shows any place can feel safe until the seconds when it is not safe at all.
On Saturday, January 15th, a man entered a synagogue in Texas and took four Jewish people hostage. His name was Malik Faisal Akram. He was a British Muslim from a town in England called Blackburn. Akram held the rabbi at gunpoint and tried to demand the release of a famous female terrorist named Aafia Siddiqui, who is being held in a Texas federal prison. During the hostage crisis, Akram held Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker at gunpoint for eleven hours, demanding the release of Siddiqui. In other words, Akram was acting as a terrorist to demand the release of other terrorists. He intentionally chose Jewish people as hostages to hold in ransom for his demand. In the end, Akram was killed by the police in a shootout and the hostages escaped.
After Akram’s death was announced, the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page posted an announcement expressing the hope that: “May the Almighty forgive all his sins and bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise.” Keep in mind, Akram came from their community. He wasn’t just a terrorist to them; they knew him personally. He was friends with people in this town. The post continued by expressing sympathy for his family, “May Allah give strength and patience to his loved ones in dealing with their loss.”
When I saw the post, I sent the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page the following question: “Does the Blackburn Muslim Community believe that Faisal Akram should be rewarded with ‘Paradise’ for taking an American rabbi hostage at gunpoint?” In response, they sent me this message, “A generic post was used for a death announcement of a local individual before we learnt of the exact nature of the incident which had taken place abroad. This post has since been removed.” However, the post has not been removed, the post is still up on their page, with a slight modification, which announces the date of a service in his name.
I have never been to Blackburn, England. The town has a population of 120,000 people, which is roughly the same size as my own hometown. In my hometown, most of the Jewish people in the community know each other. I imagine, most of the Muslim community in Blackburn know each other as well. I know that it is perfunctory for a religious community to send out an announcement when a member of the community dies. I also assume that the same language is generally repeated and it is normal to express sympathy for the family. That being said, Fasial busted into a synagogue and held Jews at gunpoint.
I used to work as a cashier in a used furniture store. One time, I was robbed at gunpoint. I was working in the middle of the day by myself when a slender man came into the store and asked if we sold big-screen TVs. I told him that we didn’t, but he might be able to get a TV at a pawn shop down the street. He responded by saying that pawn shops were overpriced and he was hoping to find a good deal. Our entire conversation was completely routine. He started to walk toward the door and even said, “Thank you.” When he got to the door, he suddenly screamed out: “F*ck!” Then he spun around and pulled out a silver pistol and pointed it at my face. Then he yelled, “Bitch, give me all the money! I want all the money!”
In the movies, there are always scenes when the bad guy pulls out a gun on the hero, and the hero always says something witty about how he is not afraid. That’s not what it is like, I promise. If you think you are brave, then wait until you really believe that someone is going to shoot you in the face. It reduces you to a sniveling pile of rubbish.
Akram pulled out a gun on a group of Jewish people while they were worshipping. He pulled out a gun hoping to kidnap Jews and trade them for a terrorist. This raises the question: Is there any reason that a person can find to defend his actions? If you are a moral person, then the answer is no. Which brings me back to the post by the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page. After it was announced that Akram was killed while in the process of kidnapping Jews, they wrote a post saying that he should be rewarded with “the highest ranks of Paradise.”
It should be noted that, the next day, they finally released a bland post condemning Faisal’s actions. But they still have a statement on their Facebook page saying that he should be rewarded with “paradise.” Rewarded for what? How are non-Muslims supposed to interpret these words? Do these words mean that Akram should be rewarded with paradise for taking part in jihad against Americans? For kidnapping Jews? Or can these words really be seen as a perfunctory statement released for the death of a member of the community? Are these words merely the standard comments wishing that every Muslim be rewarded with heaven?
I understand that it would be very strange to wish that a member of your community be sent to hell, so it does make sense that they would wish for him to be sent to heaven. That being said, it is also understandable that these words would be viewed as problematic by the victims of his crimes. Even more thorny, do these words allude to a bigger problem of anti-Semitism in the British Muslim community? However these questions are answered, it certainly seems inappropriate to write a post calling for Akram to be rewarded with paradise immediately after kidnapping Jews.
Malik Faisal Akram, on January 15th, 2022, held a number of hostages in a Texas synagogue. He demanded that his “sister, Aafia,” be released from jail and that he be allowed to speak with her. Aafia is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence at the Carswell Federal Medical Center after attempting to kill U.S. military personnel. Unsurprisingly, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is lobbying for her to be released from prison. In fact, enthusiastic anti-Semite Linda Sarsour is one of those leading the charge. Now, of course, CAIR is claiming to “stand in solidarity” with the Jewish community–as they do every time it is politically expedient for them to do so.
All of this comes after Zahra Billoo, San Francisco Bay’s Executive Area Director of CAIR, marked synagogues and Jewish organizations as targets for boycotts and harassment, claiming that “Allah has promised us victory.” This kind of conspiracy theory-riddled talk has no place in the public sphere, especially for a self-proclaimed “advocacy, anti-hate group.” This chilling language sounds no different than the radicalized Christian white supremacists who have targeted mosques and synagogues in recent years. The time has come for the United States to do as the United Arab Emirates did years ago: label CAIR as an organization with ties to terrorism.
The same way that the Jewish Defense League (JDL), Westboro Baptist Church, and other such organizations have been labeled as terror groups or ostracized as bigoted organizations, so, too, should CAIR. There are far better and more tolerant advocacy groups for Muslim Americans that deserve to be uplifted more than this one. If American values include interfaith coexistence, then CAIR cannot possibly adhere to such values based on both its actions and its words.
Of all of the pro-abortion talking points, only one seems to be the most honest to their cause, and that is the argument of personhood; is the fetus a human being, does it have value, and is it worth protecting? These are the questions to which pro-abortion advocates tend to resoundingly answer “no.”
This is not a debate about controlling women’s bodies, or being “only pro-birth,” this is a very sober fight for the life of our next generation; and the fight surrounds the question of intrinsic value. Do our children have intrinsic value? That’s the question to which pro-life advocates emphatically answer “yes.”
Pro-abortion advocates tend to use arguments like these:
“If you’re so pro-life, what about kids in foster care? Don’t they deserve to be loved? Would you adopt them, or do you only care about them being born?”
“If you’re so pro-life, what about kids born into poverty? Are you prepared to support the babies you advocate for?”
“If you’re so pro-life, do you support forced vasectomies? Men are involved too!”
“Halacha says that a woman can have an abortion if the baby is threatening the life of the mother. You wouldn’t want the mother to die, would you?”
Let us address these points.
Firstly, Christian pro-life advocates make up the largest majority of adoptions. 5% of practicing Christians in the United States have adopted, which is more than twice the number of all adults who have adopted. Secondly, in regards to donations to charities, “Some studies…have estimated that faith motivates as much as 75 percent of all charity in the United States.” Lastly, forced vasectomies do not kill anyone, unlike abortions. Those facts should be enough to quell petty arguments, right? Wrong. These arguments do not matter in the macro. They do not matter because at the crux of the pro-abortion argument is that a woman should be able to terminate her pregnancy for any reason she wants to, because “it’s her body”. So, any response to the pro-abortion argument regarding the life or viability of the fetus does not matter. If they did, the statistics previously linked would turn everyone pro-life.
No, it doesn’t matter if every single pro-life advocate adopted 25 children each and effectively ended the foster care industry. It doesn’t matter that there are almost zero cases where the mother quite literally has to choose between her life and the baby’s life, and even in those scenarios, the doctors perform an emergency C-section, where the baby still has a chance of surviving.
Former abortionist, Dr. Anthony Levantino states here:
“I was faculty at the hospital for nine years, and I saw hundreds of cases of really severe pregnancy complications — cancers, heart disease, intractable diabetes out of control, toxemia of pregnancy out of control. And I saved — in those nine years — I saved hundreds of women from life-threatening pregnancies. And I did that by delivering them — by ending their pregnancy by delivery, either induction of labor or caesarean section. Delivering the baby. And I always tell people: in all those years, the number of babies that I had to — that I was obligated to deliberately kill in the process — was zero. None.”
(The full context of Dr. Levantino’s quote can be found here.)
Pro-choice activists don’t care that, in those scenarios, doctors still do whatever they can to save both the mother and the baby’s life. The mother choosing her own life doesn’t mean her physician must kill the baby; it means that saving the mother’s life is top priority while attempting to save the baby’s life as well. But again, none of this matters, because the pro-choice/pro-abortion argument would either shift to another red herring, or simply argue that “she can do whatever she wants with her body”. That’s the crux of the argument, and that is where focus of the rebuttal should be.
The root of this debate is simply determining whether or not a fetus is a human being, so let’s talk about that.
The definition of an embryo is an unborn or unhatched offspring in the process of development, in particular a human offspring during the period from approximately the second to the eighth week after fertilization (after which it is usually termed a fetus).
And according to Encyclopedia Britannica, an embryo is “…the early developmental stage of an animal while it is in the egg or within the uterus of the mother. In humans the term is applied to the unborn child.”
The definition of a fetus is “the unborn young of any vertebrate animal, particularly of a mammal, after it has attained the basic form and structure typical of its kind”
In those definitions, the aspects that get focused on the most are the time periods; the pro-abortion argument says what is in the womb is technically only a fetus after about 8 weeks, therefore, before that, it’s nothing but a ‘clump of cells.’ That argument is dangerous, evil, and plain wrong. A two-day old embryo has zero probability of turning into anything else except a human being. There is no chance it could turn into a watermelon, or a rock, or a piece of string, or anything else other than a baby human. The only thing that can happen to it other than developing into a human is not fully developing at all, and that is called a miscarriage, which unfortunately happens to about 10%–15% of expectant mothers. In other words, at what stage the fetus is in when it is killed is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not they should be terminated. Those fetuses have an 85% chance of coming to full term, and a 100% chance of coming to full term as human beings. Abortion is not simply getting rid of ‘a clump of cells’, it is eradicating a baby by stripping it from its mother’s womb and dismantling it limb from limb. Former abortionist provider, Dr. Anthony Levatino, attested to this very truth before a house judiciary committee in 2019. The entire transcript of his address to the Kansas Senate Health and Human Services Committee can be found here.
By defending more expansive abortion rights even in the face of these facts, Democrats are exposing an uncomfortable reality that they would rather not acknowledge: They embrace abortion as a woman’s right to end the life of her fetus at any stage—not the right to end her pregnancy.
At 24 weeks, and now even as early as 21 weeks, newborn infants have survived outside the womb with the help of neonatal intensive care. In Cuomo’s New York—and possibly someday soon in Northam’s Virginia—healthy, viable fetuses even after 24 weeks could easily be killed in the womb rather than delivered.
This is why the abortion-rights movement has long relied upon euphemisms to obscure the unpleasant truth about the right they advocate. Phrases like women’s rights, the right to choose, and reproductive freedom dominate their advocacy, along with dismissive jargon like clumps of cells.
But in defending bills that expand the right to abort viable fetuses, Democrats are giving away the game. Most people, even those who favor some abortion access, instinctively recoil from what they see. These late-term abortion bills do more than reveal Democratic radicalism. They draw back the veil of euphemism to expose abortion for what it is: At every stage of pregnancy, it is the taking of a human life. For the anti-abortion movement, it is a pivotal moment to insist upon that truth.
Again, the argument has been made that late term abortions are only needed in cases where the baby threatens the life of the mother. And again, the twofold problem with that argument is:
To save the life of the mother, the baby does not have to be killed.
The crux of the pro-abortion position is “my body, my choice.”
If the trajectory of the pro-choice/pro-abortion evolving policy over the past few decades is any indication, we will be right back at the debate stages discussing whether or not a woman has a right to kill her baby at any stage of her pregnancy for any reason. And those on the side of life will continue to lose those debates.
This is what is evil about the pro-abortion stance. It purports to care about the mother and child, but cares about neither. As soon as there is a foothold to be had, they do the bait-and-switch. First the slogan was that abortions were to be “safe legal and rare,” then it became “my body, my choice,” then “late term abortions are only for the rarest of circumstances,” and now we’re back at the “stop controlling a woman’s body” phase.
If protecting a baby’s life is seen as controlling a woman’s body, the “safe, legal and rare” argument is obsolete. If life in the womb is not really life, or at least not life worth protecting, then who is to say abortions can’t be plentiful? Who cares whether or not it’s rare? Who cares if black American women particularly, even though they are 14% of the childbearing population, account for 37% of the nation’s abortions? It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the pro-abortion argument.
The truth however, is that it does matter. Having sex has potential consequences, and sometimes the consequence is getting pregnant. The child conceived is not at fault. Even in cases of rape or incest, which make up a fraction of 1% of pregnancies, though tragic, and traumatic, the baby is still not at fault. As stated in the beginning of this article, there are countless programs to give mothers the support they need in taking care of their baby. Killing the baby should never even be a topic of discussion. The person at fault in those scenarios are the rapists, who should face life in prison at best.
One other argument often made on the pro-abortion side is “don’t you believe the man should be held accountable for the baby as well?” My, and virtually all of the pro-life community, answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ My personal position is that absent and bad fathers are to blame for many societal ills including abortion, but this article isn’t about fathers; this one is. I am very passionate about fathers standing in their rightful place as priests over their homes and the redemptive effect it will have on the world. But I have to stress again: the pro-abortionists do not actually care about preventing abortions, so they do not really care about men being good fathers. One should not waste their time and energy making such involved arguments to those who will not even agree that a baby, the most innocent of the entire human species, is a life worthy of saving. We must start there, and stay there, until all human life is cherished, valued, and protected.
Star Trek’s Soul on Display at Los Angeles Exhibit
Does Star Trek have a Jewish soul—or at least a humanistic one? Seekers may find confirmation in a new museum show, Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds, at a Jewish institution, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The show will run through February 20, 2022. While you will have to bring your own interpretation to the stories, costumes, sets, weapons, and props on display, you may never look at Star Trek quite the same way again.
Star Trek, which broke ground a half century ago (featuring television’s first interracial kiss) remains relevant today, including its current incarnations. The Star Trek universe got a brief flurry of publicity in 2021 when William Shatner, the Captain Kirk of the original series, flew into space. After the 90-year-old Shatner blasted on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket, he was officially recognized as an astronaut. He was also recognized as the oldest person—and certainly the oldest Jew—ever in space.
But it is a photo of the other Jewish star of Star Trek, the late Leonard Nimoy, in character as Mr. Spock, who greets visitors to Exploring New Worlds.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry invited actors to infuse elements of their personal identities into their characters. So Nimoy developed the splayed finger “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute from the birkat kohanim “blessing of the Kohanim.” As a child in Boston, he watched in awe as rabbis descended from the high priest Aaron put their hands into a shape that resembles the letter shin to bless congregants. Nimoy transferred the gesture conferring peace and blessing to the alien (yet oddly familiar) Vulcan culture invented by Star Trek.
To some, Kirk and Spock, as played by Shatner and Nimoy, represent different Jewish archetypes. Spock is the traditional Torah scholar, the product of a learned civilization, the possessor of rabbinical wisdom. But Kirk, as played by Shatner, is a new kind of Jew, a bold leader, two-fisted, an assimilated American or an Israeli commando (the Six Day War took place after the first season.)
Developed by Gene Roddenberry, a secular humanist and World War II veteran, Star Trek has a history of inspiring people. Star Trek has driven interest in science and space, certainly, but also captured imaginations with its vision of a more tolerant, united society.
Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, was among a new generation of astronauts recruited for NASA by Nichelle Nichols, the show’s iconic Uhura. Jemison says, “I appreciate and love the character Uhura, but I like many characters on Star Trek.” The show “told a lot about a hopeful future where we were able to get past our differences.”
Nichols herself had once been ready to leave the show to follow her Broadway dream. After she gave Roddenberry her resignation letter, she attended an awards show. An organizer interrupted her dinner, asking her to meet a “famous fan.” She looked up to see Martin Luther King telling her how much he enjoyed Star Trek, the only show he allowed his children to stay up to watch.
But when Nichols mentioned her impending departure, King told her, “You cannot. Don’t you see what this man [Roddenberry] is doing, who has written this? This is the future. He has established us as we should be seen. Three hundred years from now, we are here. We are marching. And this is the first step. When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.” Nichols went back to work on the following Monday. She told Roddenberry, as a tear rolled down his cheek, “Gene, if you want me to stay, I will stay. There’s nothing I can do but stay.”
While representation and tolerance were important themes, Star Trek was meant to be enjoyed as entertainment. At Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds, costumes, props, and relics holy to Trekkers and casual fans alike are on display. They range from a restored navigation console from the original series to communicators, tricorders, phasers, and filming models of the USSEnterprise. There’s a captain’s chair to sit in and a transporter simulator to “beam up.”
Costume fans will enjoy Spock’s tunic as worn by Leonard Nimoy, Lt. Uhura’s dress as worn by Nichelle Nichols, and of course the open-chest tunic worn by Ricardo Montalbán in The Wrath of Khan. Other outfits include Captain Picard’s uniform worn by Patrick Stewart, a Borg costume, and the rubber suit inhabited by the brutal alien Gorn, whose life was nonetheless spared by Captain Kirk.
Ironically, the show’s founder, Gene Roddenberry was a lapsed Baptist turned secular humanist who rejected overt display of religion. So why has Star Trek landed in Los Angeles at a museum “deeply rooted in Jewish heritage and inspired by its values?”
Certainly, Los Angeles is the perfect place for the exhibition. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang in Californication, “Space may be the final frontier, but it’s made in a Hollywood basement.” But why a Jewish cultural institution?
The original show had major contributions from Jewish actors like Leonard Nimoy, (Spock), Walter Koenig (Chekov), and Shatner. Jewish writers were well-represented, like Robert Bloch, Shimon Wincelberg, Don Mankiewicz, Harlan Ellison, Jerry Sohl, and David Gerrold, as were producers and musicians.
But the values of Star Trek, such as inclusion, integration, and discovery are equally important. The show broke barriers with a Japanese American, an African-American, and a number of Jewish stars on the bridge.
Star Trek also aligns with Jewish values including seeking learning, pursuing justice, honoring memory, and showing kindness while rebuilding the world (tikkun olam).
“For 55 years, Star Trek has portrayed a future in which diverse crews of humans and interplanetary species work together toward a common goal, strengthened by their members’ different cultures, abilities, and perspectives,” says Sheri Bernstein, Skirball Museum Director. “There is a close connection between this optimistic, inclusive vision and our Skirball mission, which is guided by Jewish traditions of welcoming the stranger, fostering community, promoting justice, and celebrating hope and discovery.”
In “Dagger of the Mind,” an episode of the original show, a character refers to the famous formulation of Rabbi Hillel, who was once asked to summarize the Torah while standing on one foot. “Don’t do to others what is hateful to you.” The episode was written by S. Bar-David, a pseudonym for well-known TV writer Shimon Wincelberg, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany.
In addition to Jewish references, Star Trek also has Holocaust parallels. In “Patterns of Force,” Nimoy and Shatner disguise themselves as Nazis to infiltrate the planet Ekos. The planet’s rulers have adopted National Socialism and are attempting a Final Solution to eliminate the neighboring Zeons. Kirk and Spock derail the impending genocide, but not before the Jewish Nimoy remarks to the Jewish Shatner, “You should make a very convincing Nazi.”
Although an atheist, Roddenberry believed in tolerance while condemning false prophets.” He said, “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”
Not everyone bought into Roddenberry’s worldview, however. Irritated at how the dialog for his script “The City on the Edge of Forever” was rewritten, the caustic Jewish writer Harlan Ellison said it now featured “precisely the kind of dopey Utopian bullshit that Roddenberry loved.”
“People often ask if Judaism was part of Star Trek,” Nimoy said in a 2008 speech to a Jewish audience in Montreal. “The answer is definitely yes. Education is a Jewish value, and all of the members of the Starship Enterprise were highly educated. So are individual dignity and social justice, which were a big deal in Star Trek. As a Jew I had a strong sense of comfort with the series. I felt at home.”
Nimoy was a supporter of Jewish institutions, including a childhood center at Temple Israel of Hollywood and the Susan and Leonard Nimoy Career Center at Beit T’Shuvah, a Jewish recovery center. He was also a Hollywood mensch; as a producer of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, he helped 70-year-old DeForest Kelley get a million-dollar payday for his final film.
“The best of Star Trek is when the metaphors and allegories are subtle,” says Scott Mantz, an entertainment reporter and co-consultant of programming for Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds.
Mantz says Jewish-themed episodes include shows about Genesis, the Garden of Eden and false idols like those Abraham smashed. “In the episode ‘The Apple,’ the people the Enterprise encounter live in a garden of Eden but live only to take care of a machine.”
“One thing about Judaism is about honoring memory,” Mantz adds. “In the film The Wrath of Khan, McCoy says to Admiral Kirk when Spock dies, ‘He’s really not dead as long as we remember him.’ At the end, the crew on the bridge is sitting shiva for Spock, honoring his memory.”
“When I think of what it means to be Jewish, I think of diversity and hope and acceptance and tolerance,” Mantz says. Star Trek, which aired just twenty years after the Holocaust, “is about tolerance–after the greatest display of intolerance of the last thousand years.”
Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds
Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049
“Change in a trice The lilies and languors of virtue For the raptures and roses of vice.”
Today’s political elite can truly be called the new prohibitionists. To paraphrase writer Anne Hingston, they “Restrict first, discuss never.”
Recent history, from the time of Prohibition in 1920s’ America, has demonstrated that attempts by the state to engage in social engineering are doomed to failure. People will always get what they want. And in so doing strengthen the so-called criminal elements among us. The only proper role for the state is to protect citizens from violence and from threats of, or incitement to, violence.
To those who would argue that the health costs of indulgence in tobacco, alcohol, and drugs are a strain on the health-care system, we would remind them that citizens who indulge in hedonistic pleasures pay enormous consumption taxes on the products they buy—eight times greater on average than “virtuous” citizens—most of which go to support the health-care system and environmental agencies. They also tend to die younger thereby being less of a burden on the chronic-care system. That is their choice. And the freedom to choose—even badly—is a foundational principle of a free society as Justice Louis Brandeis reminded us all.
When Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said in 1968 that government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation—just before removing homosexuality from his nation’s Criminal Code—he meant that it had no role regulating actions of consenting adults. Not everything is going to be perfect in life. Not every problem can be solved by legislation. No politician should pretend it can and be allowed to put into force straight-jacket law that seeks to micro-manage every aspect of our lives.
Those who try should be exposed for what they truly are. Unimaginative and cowardly functionaries staggering from election to election who—fearful of tackling the vested interests on the really important issues necessary to protect the public good—hope that creating some body of fear will provide just enough fodder for some publicity come election time. As Tacitus wrote, “When the state is most impotent, the laws are most multiplied.”
Some governments make noises about decriminalizing marijuana, but at the same time propose to give police unlimited powers to stop drivers for random drug checks in their cars. Others, in an effort to placate women’s rights groups, legislate laws permitting workers to sue employers for the novel tort of “psychological harassment.” A politician’s friend dies in an inline-skating accident so everyone is quickly forced to wear a helmet if they take a bicycle or scooter. His colleague wants teens to stay in school so he orders them not to drop out till age 18, no matter how little they want to be in class and no matter what their parents think. A big city mayor authorizes police cameras at street level in his city’s university quarter ostensibly to curtail drug sales, but that in fact violate the privacy of all citizens by indiscriminately capturing images of the activities of all passersby.
What the new prohibitionists share is an anti-liberal sentiment in that they seek to curtail the basic liberties of natural law that is the patrimony of every human being. They get away with it because too many of us have surrendered to the sovereignty of self-abnegation. We have become a people plagued by a self-doubt driven by a jealousy of others’ self-belief. And in the process have created a self-imposed tyranny that mutes individual integrity and conscience and trades them for the false security demanded by state-sponsored bureaucratic consensus.
Modigliani’s painting, Dylan Thomas’ poetry, Hemingway’s novels, and even Tom Paine’s polemics would be lost to the ages if they had to survive on alfalfa sprouts and vitamins and succumb to political correctness and temperance. Our lives would be the worse for it, devoid of passion or purpose.
Government’s role must be one of persuasion and education, not compulsion and coercion, no matter how odious a citizen’s personal habit may be. The dark side of our governors is that they engage in unbridled intervention in matters of private domain to punish the governed into virtuous conduct. But legislators don’t know what’s right for us. They barely know what’s right for themselves. The role of the state is to protect us from each other, not from ourselves.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Those who would trade permanent liberty for temporary security shall, in the end, have neither liberty nor security.”
Image credit: From “The Libertine,” Johnny Depp as John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, a licentious poet in the court of King Charles II of England.
The ultimate goal of totalitarianism, Arendt says, is to dominate people from within. To keep them in a constant state of anxiety, with a moving narrative.
A section of the UK population, and in other liberal democracies, experience other citizens as unreachable when trying to open a discussion about Covid-19 policy. They get blanked, or attacked, for even posing questions. For sharing information on immunity, I have been called an anti-vaxxer, a conspiracy theorist and a Trump supporter!
What has happened to people’s critical thinking? Why is it, since March 2020, in order to belong to society, you now have to hold specific beliefs:
Lockdowns control the behavior of viruses
Cloth masks stop viral transmission
Immunity only comes via a vaccine. Naturally acquired immunity no longer exists.
The rights of the individual are subordinate to the greater good.
Anyone not in step with the above is a bad person, a danger to society, an ‘anti-vaxxer’.
How on earth did so many people accept government Covid policy, when never before in history have healthy people been locked down en masse. Surely, it is legitimate to question this, and examine evidence to support such a radical departure from the normal practice of isolating the sick, whilst protecting the vulnerable.
However, nearly two years down the line, questioning the government narrative is still met with derision, aggression and often name calling from a significant percentage of the population.
Science and democracy traditionally move forward, through civilized debate of opposing views. Not so since March 2020. It is not just members of the public who are pounced on and ostracized for having the audacity to ask questions.
Many eminent scientists have also been ridiculed and censored from the public arena for advocating different measures, such as the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration (1). Evidence has just been released to show that, in their case, the smear campaign came from the top, from Fauci, the Director of NIH, and the man in charge of America’s response to Covid-19 (2).
Articulated concern for civil liberties, closed businesses, children’s education, soaring mental health problems, including suicides, and three quarters of a million missed cancer diagnoses, get met with blank stares, or condescending replies:
‘It’s for our protection’, ‘It’s to protect the NHS’.
Why are people who fight for minority rights, now so energetically othering anyone who challenges the government line? People will champion ‘my body, my choice’ for women’s rights, and in the next breath damn anyone making an informed choice not to take an experimental vaccine. They no longer view bodily autonomy, as the given it previously was, and an essential ingredient of democracy.
People have even been told what to call anyone questioning the government Covid narrative. Illogically, they are all called anti-vaxxers, even if they support vaccines, but not mandates.
In September 2021, the Mercian-Webster dictionary changed their definition of anti-vaxxer, to include people who oppose mandates (3). It is a ploy of tyranny to change language in order to alter the truth.
Are we looking at a phenomenon similar to that described by Hannah Arendt (The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt (1966) Penguin Books.), when she speaks of the totalitarian masses? “…the fanaticised members can be reached by neither experience nor argument; identification with the movement and total conformism seem to have destroyed the very capacity for experience…”
How did it happen that so many have fixed beliefs that are unreachable by reason or data? And, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, anyone outside this belief system is classed a sinner. It is like mass conversion to a cult through brainwashing.
Are we actually looking at something like brainwashing?
Brainwashing was studied by an American sociologist, Albert Biderman, in 1957 (Biderman, A. D. (1957). Communist attempts to elicit false confessions from Air Force prisoners of war. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 33(9), 616-625 ncbi.nlm.nih.govarchive.org). He looked at the conditions that had led American prisoners of war to return home with a new set of beliefs, after the Korean War. Chinese and Korean captors used specific methods to indoctrinate the soldiers in Chinese ideology. These servicemen had to undergo re-education before they were able to return to American society.
These conditions happen to exactly map onto those used by governments, since March 2020. Known as Biderman’s Principles, they are listed in the chart below. Eight chronological methods of treatment, Biderman found, lead to an individual becoming brainwashed.
Examining the conditions listed in the left-hand column, it’s clear that these have operated since March 2020 in the UK, as well as globally. People were isolated in their homes, through lockdown, and subjected to a single narrative by the mainstream media, broadcasting an unchallenged government line. This tactic encourages people to bond with the government. With a fear generating narrative, people follow government measures which relieve their anxiety.
The people, in my experience, who appear to be in a deep Covid cult are those who were able to fully lockdown and work from home, as opposed to frontline workers like postmen, bin men and delivery staff who couldn’t.
Alleged non compliance, such as the two friends drinking coffee on a walk in Derbyshire (7), were humiliated through disproportionate media coverage.
On New Year’s Eve, 2021, in Glasgow, a pub was raided by six van loads of police, and older customers were tackled to the ground. Apparently, because three people were dancing (8).
The pub’s license was threatened and the state, through the police, shows its omnipotence and the futility of noncompliance.
Uncertainty about making plans has caused exhaustion and anxiety:
“Will we have Christmas?” “Will I be able to visit my dying relative?” “Will the children be in school?” “Yes, you can go on holiday,” offers relief and reward, but then the rules change continuously, and people are made to obey rules that either make no sense, or seem trivial demands. In a Dorset church, where the Vicar is mask exempt, some members are trying to get him sacked, because he spontaneously sang without a mask, forgetting for a split second that this was against regulations (9).
We have, in fact, been subjected to a political hokey kokey. The government puts one policy in, then takes it out, in, out, in, out, then they shake it all about, with details that have no logical sense. Measures are hinted at, and then threatened: “We’re not going to introduce…. We may have to introduce this…… we may unless you do this…. for example, “take boosters to save Christmas.”
The conditions we have lived under since March 2020, are not supported by scientific data (10). Is it coincidental that they follow Biderman’s principles? These methods have been known to tyrants at least since the Korean War.
We know that there was deliberate foul play by the CCP at the beginning of 2020. Information came from China that was designed to over scare the world about the virus. Our media broadcast people dropping dead in the streets of Wuhan and details of a hospital built by China in three days. These have been shown to be lies, as is clearly evidenced by Michael Senger’s seminal article in the Tablet magazine (10).
Again, it was through China’s influence that the WHO recommended lockdowns (10). This was on the say so of the CCP, and not data.
Yet the government and media, rather than address the influence of the CCP, continue to obsess with a narrow focus on the virus, counting and reporting the number of Sarscov2 infections. The Covid narrative is kept center stage, and moving. The numbers of people with colds from the mild omicron variant were continually reported through the Christmas holidays of December 2021, without much emphasis on the good news data from South Africa (11).
If we have been influenced into measures. still unsubstantiated by data, that have destroyed infrastructure, where is the national debate? And where is the national debate on the origin of the virus, which is now seen as most likely coming from the Wuhan lab of virology. How can trickery from a super power not be of utmost national interest? And we ignore at our peril the greatest transfer of wealth from nation states to global corporations, and from the citizens to the richest 1% (12) which governmental Covid policies has brought about.
Mass brainwashing is what Dr Matthias Desmet, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ghent University, Belgium (13) calls “crowd or mass formation”. He points out that when you have mass formation, which he says is the same as mass hypnosis, people get a new sense of connectedness that is unifying. The rituals of masks and lockdowns give people a sense of solidarity.
Once people accept the starting point of a logic, all that follows on from this is accepted. To ‘save the NHS’, they will believe anything is necessary; for example, accepting that old people should die alone, women should give birth in masks and children should sit with their faces covered for eight hours a day. Previously accepted ethics are thrown out the window.
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
Desmet believes that for mass formation to occur, people needed to feel disconnected and have no meaning in their lives prior to the crisis. Many I observe in deep Covid cult are socially well connected, and part of strong meaningful communities. It’s my belief that the measures imposed since March 2020, coupled with a ratcheting up of fear, have themselves been sufficient to create the brainwashing.
Desmet says about 30% of the population are in deep mass hypnosis. These are the people who believe in removing the civil liberties of the outliers. He suggests 50% are not in deep hypnosis, but will not speak out against the status quo. The remaining 20% are not hypnotized and represent those prepared to speak against the accepted public narrative.
What can be done about mass brainwashing ?
Many find they hit a brick wall, or an attacking wolf, when they try to open a conversation about the COVID-19 narrative. In Psychology of the Crowds (1895), however,Gustave Le Bon says that it is imperative to keep speakingout, because it stops the mass hypnosis from getting deeper. Mass formation can lead to atrocities, because people believe they are doing their duty to maintain public safety. Dissonant voices need to remain in public spaces to prevent a possible progression to unspeakable acts against the outliers.
Desmet, as do I, recommends speaking out with a voice of reason and compassion. I suggest concentrating on the 50%. On occasion it is difficult not to feel angry with people who fail to see the threat of increasing authoritarianism. However, it’s important to remember that it is those in, or with social power, who have created this global situation, not them.
It is alarming to have a society running on neither reason nor science (15), like a return to pre-enlightenment thinking, or an era of post truth, as Mark Pickles says so well (16). My experience of those in the cult grip tells me it is a robust phenomenon. I do believe, however, that human behavior is multi-layered. The hypnotized can be brought back by the click of a hypnotist’s fingers. What will be the factors that trigger people out of mass hypnosis, even if, it’s on a one-by-one basis?
We had an example of this from Carole Malone, a regular guest on the Dan Wooton Show on GBNews. After having a cold from omicron, her mindset switched completely, from that of an authoritarian Covid cultist to a wise medicine woman. You could witness that her previous anxiety about ’the killer virus’ had drained from her face.
Take heart in the belief that speaking out is the right thing to do. Let us hope enough see the destruction that these social measures are causing in the UK, and elsewhere, and that the world’s liberal democracies can reclaim the way of life that their name implies.
For decades, the clouds of socialism have been hovering over the United States of America, gathering together to unleash their destructive force upon millions of freedom-loving Americans.
In nature, when clouds gather, it takes a perfect combination of conditions for a devastating storm to occur. First, a low-pressure warm air system has to come from one direction. Then, a high-pressure, cool and dry air system must come from another direction. When these two systems collide, a storm of immense proportions develops and unleashes its power upon the earth. With thunder, lighting, and wind, it wipes out everything that stands in its way; dams break, rivers overflow, flooding occurs, and many lives are lost.
Socialism is no different. It takes its time to build followers. When the number of supporters become significant enough to strike, it releases its power upon the rest of the population and takes control of the minds and lives of all citizens.
Socialism is an economic and social theory that advocates for social ownership, government control of the means of production, and elimination of private ownership of property. The state is strongly involved in the redistribution of goods and wealth. Everything is controlled and owned by the state. The totalitarian regime is in charge of natural resources and manufacturing is directed strictly for necessities alone. Private enterprise is forbidden. Socialism’s emphasis is on equality of outcomes instead of personal achievement.
In theory, socialism sounds like a grand idea, but it does not work in real life. The concept of equal redistribution of wealth is not actualized in a socialist society. The only equal redistribution that most people of the Soviet Union experienced was the equal redistribution of misery.
Socialism is a corrupt system. The USSR, the country in which I grew up, was the first victim of socialism. Under the pretense of being concerned about its citizens’ well-being, the members of the Communist Party manipulated them and filled its own pockets with incredible wealth.
In my twenty-four years of living in the USSR, it was perpetually a country of not enough, with endless shortages of food and other necessities of life. No economic system can survive without private enterprise. Without healthy competition, the quality and quantity of production under socialism suffered. The long queues served as a testament to that.
Even though, in theory, socialism promotes equal rights for all, those rights did not exist in the Soviet Union. The minorities hurt. The socialist government tried to eliminate minorities. It discouraged the use of indigenous language and suppressed their culture. In 1944, during World War Two, Stalin deported entire nationalities in cattle trains, including 250,000 Tatars, Chechens, and Ingushi, to work camps in inhospitable regions.
During and after the death of Stalin, all national minorities underwent intense “Russification.” They were forced or “encouraged” to give up their language in favor of Russian. Use of minority languages was made illegal and writers were forbidden from publishing in any language other than Russian. The Livonians, a Finno-Ugric people, were one of many indigenous groups who saw their language, their culture, and their way of life eliminated by these edicts.
Soviet Jews were forbidden from practicing Judaism, because any religion was anathema to communism. I call them “Jews-by-default” because they were stripped of any practices or beliefs that maintained their religious qualities. In order to make them a target of persecution, the authoritarian government came up with a clever plan. They transformed the religion of their ancestors into their nationalities. The fifth question on any official document was always the same; it asked the petitioner to list nationality. For the Jews, their place of birth did not matter. I was born in Kazakhstan, but my nationality was listed as Jewish on my birth certificate. This is how all Soviet Jews were identified as the scapegoats of society and cause for discrimination.
The infiltration of socialism into America began shortly after the Cold War started, which was initially about the arms race, but later turned into a political conflict between the two ideologies of socialism and capitalism. The USSR and the United States, both participated in the Vietnam and Korean Wars to spread their influence. The Soviets sought to install socialism in these countries. The Cuban Missile Crisis was centered on Cuba’s determination to remain socialist. Many other countries have fallen under the spell of socialism, namely Venezuela most recently.
In America, those who drive this ideology do it under a different name. They call themselves neo-socialists, progressives, or democratic socialists. The last one just kills me. There was no democracy in the socialist country where I lived. The totalitarian regime of the Communist Party controlled the country, forcing people to live in fear. The “big brother” watched, and the government encouraged neighbors to spy on each other. Neighbors disappeared, and no one saw them again. Envy and jealousy motivated the spying.
During the most challenging times, when food in the USSR became scarce, people went through neighbors’ garbage to see what was there, and if they found onion skins or other discarded scraps of food, they went to the police to report them.
Still, many Americans are enamored by socialism. The sad reality is that most of those people are highly educated, innovative, and intelligent individuals. I see the clever tactics the media, social media, and institutions of higher learning use to brainwash Americans and convince them to favor socialism, even the highly educated ones.
The clouds of socialism gather, and the perfect storm is nearby.
Day by day, I observe the warning signs. I am appalled by the stagnated minds of those who refuse to think for themselves and accept everything shoved down their throats by the opinion-makers as pure truth. Every civilized society has destroyed itself from within, and the United States is next in line.
Those who admire socialism call themselves progressives. What a joke! The idea of a democratic socialistic society that they promote is outdated and, moreover, claims to its success has been disproven. It did not work in the USSR, a country of stoic, patriotic people who fought the Germans on the battlefield and bravely laid down their lives in the name of Mother Russia. It did not work in Hungary or Poland and it does not work in Cuba or Venezuela.
I often wonder when people will learn from history. Why do we continue to repeat the same mistakes made by generations before us? We are supposed to grow beyond greed, envy, lust for power, and manipulation of minds. What makes the admirers of socialism think such a form of government would work in the United States? It boggles my mind even to entertain this idea.
I cannot envision America without capitalism, which makes the economy grow and brings advantages and opportunities to everyone. I cannot imagine the American people subjugated by an autocratic, totalitarian regime. It will be the end of the United States and the freedoms this wonderful country protects and preserves for everyone.
But the longer I live here, the more I see the clouds of socialism gather, and that the perfect storm is nearby.
Jews around the world can all count their Hebrew blessings that an attack on a Texas synagogue on Shabbat, in an 11-hour standoff with a maniacal Muslim gunman on January 15, did not result in the kind of gruesome catastrophe Jewish people have grown accustomed to for well 2,000 years. Maybe the Lone Star State is lucky for those who wear the Star of David.
This hostage crisis targeting Jews, miraculously, did not escalate into a bloodbath. Indeed, the four worshippers, which included the rabbi, resourcefully fled the sanctuary shortly before the FBI stormed the shul and shot the terrorist.
It goes without saying that other planned attacks—in an astounding number of different nations—have not gone so well. The law of averages when it comes to Jews confronted with those who wish them harm, generally, results in more harrowing crime scenes. Hostages rarely escape.
That’s how it usually ends up, and that’s only a partial list of Jewish targets and death tolls. In each case, except for the attacks in the synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, the assailants were Islamists and Palestinian terrorists.
That raises some interesting questions about the way in which this most recent incident of terrorism—against Jews worshipping in Colleyville, Texas, in their Beth Israel Synagogue—has been regarded and reported. And it should lead to a reckoning among Americans that no matter how many Black Lives Matter marches one joins, there will always be far more hate crimes committed against Jews than any other ethnic or racial group—by a wide margin.
But expect no such reckoning.
And it should lead to a reckoning among Jews that they are not so safe in America, after all, and that Orthodox Jews are especially vulnerable to outside animus, among the Jew haters, and inside indifference, among non-practicing and Reform Jews.
Expect to see no such reckoning, either.
Among other reasons, the memory of the hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, is already fading. This story with its feel-good ending has already lost momentum in keeping pace with the ever-evolving news cycle. And worse, its Jewish bona fides as a hate crime specifically targeting Jews, and as an act of terrorism against the very people who are most often terrorism’s main target, somehow got lost in translation.
The FBI’s initial investigation reported that there was no reason to conclude that this was a bias crime at all, nothing “specifically related to the Jewish community.” President Joe Biden was predictably fuzzy when he speculated that while this was an act of terror, it’s not clear why the gunman spouting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments would select a synagogue as his pulpit. The president was equally mystified by why an avowed Islamist would threaten to kill Jews unless his demands were met to release an imprisoned female al-Qaeda operative who blamed her conviction on the Jewish hold on America.
You can see how the connecting of these dots required genius levels of deductive reasoning.
It’s perhaps unfair to blame President Biden for failing to make the necessary linkage between an Islamist assailant and his Jewish victims. When he was Vice-President in the Obama administration, he probably remembered how President Barack Obama described the 2015 kosher market murders in Paris as a “bunch of folks” who were “randomly” shot by a “zealot.”
When it comes to Jews, apparently, it’s nearly impossible to draw the right conclusions about why so many of them end up dead.
Rather than solve these imponderables, the Colleyville synagogue story quickly became a nonstory, or one that was solely of human interest rather than a crime scene. It surely did not present anti-Semitic urgencies or suggest a crisis in America in its failure to protect Jews.
Indeed, once the hostages were free, the story itself was taken hostage by a media trained to downplay anti-Semitism altogether. And the Beth Israel nightmare was hijacked further by social justice warriors who are notably meek when it comes to hostility against Jews, unless that story can be spin-doctored to have even a nominal Zionist dimension. In such circumstances, especially if it flagrantly involves Israel, intersectional auxiliary forces are brought in as reinforcements, and a crime against Jews is instantly recharacterized as “they had it comin’.”
Call it: The Sympathetic Tale of Woke Terrorism.
A hostage crisis in a synagogue was ripe for distortion and dilution—primarily because the assailant was not a white supremacist, Trump supporter, or budding insurrectionist. Had the Texas gunman been a Proud Boy, a new congressional investigation would have been launched, and the Jewish minority in America would once more be regarded as a legally protected class.
How do I know this to be true? Well, the shooters in Pittsburgh and Poway were anti-immigrant white supremacists—and that’s why those cities are now synonymous with synagogue shootings. Indeed, both Alt-right assailants blamed cosmopolitan Jews for globalizing America and opening the borders to disenfranchise and replace them. We have been warned about Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” and Joe Biden’s “Big Liars.” They are America’s true enemies, a fifth column of trailer trash. It is only when they attack Jews that anti-Semitism is placed on par, provisionally, with racism and Islamophobia.
But when anti-Semitism is perpetrated by people of color, then calls for solidarity are dismissed as the exaggerated cry of the privileged elite, Jews waving a false flag, demanding special treatment, pretending to be victims rather than white oppressors.
Apparently, the only story worth reporting on Colleyville was about the rabbi himself, Charlie Cytron-Walker. After all, he had developed a rapport with the terrorist, who he allowed into the synagogue earlier and even made him a glass of tea before realizing he was brandishing a gun. And it was the rabbi who 11 hours later seized an opportunity to toss a chair at their captor, enabling them all to make a break for the exit.
Throughout the day of the ordeal the rabbi was described as an interfaith leader within the greater Colleyville community. This was demonstrated by reports that his wife, and the wife of a local imam, embraced in a church where many of the local religious leaders had gathered. This was a Kodak moment that might have even warmed the heart of Congresswoman and Squad member, Ilhan Omar.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker was hailed as a devout practitioner of tikkun olam (to “repair the world”), which is Reform Judaism parlance for making social justice the centerpiece of one’s Jewish identity and showing far greater concern for the rest of the world than one’s own people. Jews, after all, so over-pampered, are never in need of repair.
These are all wonderful images of a rabbi who could very well become the poster boy for the woke left and the spiritual cousin of Bernie Sanders. Ben & Jerry’s is airlifting ice cream to Colleyville as we speak.
Progressives and their intersectional underlings have invested an enormous amount of political capital assigning roles within and creating hierarchies of oppression. And on that list, near the very top, are Jews. Stripped of their historic minority status, Jews, in the political imagination of the hard left, stand among the forever guilty white oppressor class.
It is for this reason that anti-Semitism is both an inconvenient truth and a shamefully tolerated prejudice. Jews cannot be made to look like victims, especially if those who victimize them are grandfathered in as the eternally oppressed, easily recognizable by the color of their skin. Everything about Jews, including the Holocaust, is being whitewashed by the woke’s obsession with skin color.
One of the victims in the 2019 Monsey, New York, Hanukkah killing was an Orthodox Rabbi, Josef Neumann, stabbed to death five times by an African-American assailant. Don’t be surprised that this is the first time you heard the rabbi’s name, or why attacks against Orthodox Jews, whether in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or the Fairfax District in Los Angeles, never make the front page.
One of Beth Israel’s congregants not sad to see the rabbi go posted on Facebook that Cytron-Walker referred to Israel as an “apartheid state.” Among Reform rabbis, such a comment is, tragically, not unique.
Words fail and analysis becomes trite. Indeed, we must guard against the paralysis of analysis. Colleyville brought back images of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, of Charlie Hebdo, Hypermarché Cacher, Jewish school shootings, and so many other slaughters of the Jew in our era. Thankfully, the worst didn’t happen in Colleyville. But it is necessary to state the truths that are still so sadly true. And they are hard and inconvenient truths because they will give little comfort to those who cry out for understanding, brotherhood, and ask “why?”
Malik Akram, the aspiring Jihadi who invaded Beth Israel Synagogue on the Sabbath, had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. She is such a bloodthirsty Islamist that her nickname—which she takes pride in—is “Lady Al-Qaeda.” She is imprisoned near Fort Worth, not far from Colleyville. During the hostage-taking, Akram was heard on livestream yelling, “America only cares about Jewish lives.”
Anti-Semitic acts are becoming more frequent and more horrific. With all the politically correct talk against Islamophobia, the reality is that anti-Semitic acts in the United States and Canada outnumber anti-Islamic acts by a two to one margin according to the Anti-Defamation League and the League for Human Rights. Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by nearly 50 percent last year and nearly 30 percent in Canada. Unprecedented spikes in modern times. We will constantly be fighting this scourge. And not just from Jihadi Islamists.
Whenever people look to blame others for their own failed lives, they demonize the Jew. It will always be so. We live in the post-Holocaust era, and we must learn its hard and bitter lessons. The idea of the destruction of the Jewish people reached its zenith in a nation considered the most cultured of its time, with the most integrated and assimilated Jewish population in history. Germany. Mankind will not cross the Jordan. If it happened there, it can truly happen anywhere. And it is.
Let us not politicize Malik’s attempted slaughters. Race hatred will always spark into race murder when the simmering nightcrawlers lurking in the underbelly of society draw validation from a public discourse that is filled with what Martin Luther King, Jr. called words of “nullification and interposition,” meant to sow division and discord between groups and communities for political advantage. That was Malik’s background in Britain. These were the kinds of Islamist invective he was nurtured in and that is flooding the world like locusts.
The Jihadis have allies in their goal of finishing what Hitler started. From the Nazis of Charlottesville to the Louis Farrakhans calling Jews “termites.” The Jihadis have allies. And the next time you hear Palestinians chanting “Palestine shall be free from the river to the sea,” remember that this is a call for genocide first mouthed by Nasser in 1967 in those words as a promise to “drive the Jews into the sea.” These very people who deny the first Holocaust are salivating—and planning—for a second.
We all have a responsibility to fight this. It Is not up to the other guy. And it will not help to turn our streets and institutions into armed camps with armed guards. It is up to us to fight these people ourselves every day and in a thousand little ways whenever we see them rear their ugly heads. We are all soldiers. It is not easy. There is no guarantee of success. But it must be done. Most important, we must not shield our young people—particularly if we are Jewish—from this ugliness but rather inform them that this is the reality of the world, and they too must marshal a resolve to fight. They must have no expectation of “normalcy.” Without this effort, our standing as free people has little meaning.And as you read this, please refrain from the usual hand-wringing that so many—especially far too many Jews—engage in about Akram and others of his ilk having “psychological problems.” Their overwhelming psychological problem is a bloodlust to kill Jews. We don’t have to bend over backward to understand why. We just have to stop them before they do. And by the quickest and most direct means possible. The latter is perhaps the most inconvenient truth of all. But it is the reality of our dystopian times.
Every year at our Seder table when I was growing up, Margo Wolf, an elderly, half-blind Holocaust survivor, was assigned a portion of the Haggadah to read aloud. “Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name. Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them. You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord.” She read it slowly, in Hebrew, with the kind of cellular-level passion only a woman who had survived the Nazis and joined the French partisans could deliver. She meant every word. Many American Haggadot today have memory-holed this section, favoring a kinder, gentler ending to the holiday dinner.
I thought of Margo Wolf when I was reading the statements about the Colleyville synagogue attack that began flooding the media this past Saturday. There was little “fury” or “fierceness” in them. Most were milquetoast, formulaic responses expressing sadness, ending with promises that this “will not be tolerated,” even though it always is. They reminded me of something else from my childhood: the Mad Libs booklets my brother and I occupied ourselves with on long car rides. The booklets presented you with a thematic narrative absent key words you were then prompted to fill in with instructions to use a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. I imagine the template for our very American, anti-anti-Semitism statement has the same format and looks something like this:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the (PROPER NOUN/SOCIAL CATEGORY ex. Jewish community/Rabbi/Worshippers) who were attacked today in (CITY NAME). We stand (APPROPRIATE CLICHÉ: ex. shoulder to shoulder or in solidarity with) our (EXPRESSIONOF FRATERNITY ex. brothers and sisters or fellow citizens of the Jewish faith) in condemning (ADJECTIVE: ex. in the strongest possible terms) (PROPER NOUN: insert all “isms” referring to categories of hate). Together we will (AGGRESSIVE VERB ex. fight, stand against, decry) hate in all its forms. This rising tide of extremism (MEME that conveys determination but suggests no specific action: ex: will not be tolerated).”
Mad Libs always produced absurd stories when read back because the person filling in the blanks didn’t see the narrative to which he or she was contributing until after it was completed. The inserted words made the sentences silly and everyone laughed at the nonsense of the final product. The public anti-anti-Semitism statement today is no less silly when read back. But these blanks are filled in with full disclosure, which make them a lot less funny.
I tend to be forgiving of public officials who plug these out. They don’t know how to fight anti-Semitism or how to be helpful. But I am acutely aware of the gift that it is to live in a country where government officials feel the need to publicly acknowledge the interests of its Jews, just 2 percent of its population. It isn’t so everywhere on the planet. So, they get a pass.
I can even forgive the FBI, which clearly was in possession of last year’s edition of Mad Libs, edited by Ilhan Omar and a DEI commission out of D.C. Once that error was corrected, they were back on script.
But Jewish institutions who spew the same word salad in moments like these should be ashamed. It is not enough to say we will “continue to call out anti-Semitism,” whatever that means. It isn’t even enough to call for increased Congressional funding for hard security assets at Jewish organizations, though I think it is worth having. Infrastructure improvements aren’t a survival plan. In order to craft one, we must unleash our inner Margo. We have to be bold in both word and deed.
But do we even remember how to be bold? American Jews have felt so safe in this country for so long, we may have lost the instinct. Not so our Sephardi and Russian-Jewish friends who have first-generation memories of what it is like to pack up in the middle of the night and flee Aleppo or the KGB. But neither their stories nor those of our Israeli family living under perpetual threat seem to have heightened our awareness that the last several decades in the United States have been the Jewish exception and not the rule. I wonder if we even have it in our communal DNA anymore to get angry and to get busy acting on our own behalf.
The Union for Reform Judaism issued a statement after the Colleyville crisis ended. It was filled with relief and gratitude, but no rage. It served up stale tropes like the claim: “Our diversity makes us strong and can keep us safe.” It can? How exactly? From my reading of the news, what kept the Colleyville hostages safe was a combination of training, guns, and law enforcement. The URJ ended its statement with what nowadays passes for a call to action: “to protect our communities and simultaneously heed God’s call to build a world of safety, equity, and love.”
The ADL predictably claimed, “This crisis can serve as an opportunity for dialogue and engagement.” Those words should be printed in bold, all-cap letters on the walls of every Jewish institution in America. When the next Malik with a machete gets by a uniformed security guard at the door and enters one of our buildings (and unfortunately, he will), the congressionally funded security camera on the ceiling will hopefully capture the image of the terrorist with the ADL’s cheery outlook behind him, and remind us that some people don’t want to be “engaged.”
If Margo Wolf were alive today and were employed as the Communications Director of a major American Jewish organization, I think we would be hearing quite a different message. I think she would call on every rabbi in America to make self-defense courses as mandatory as mastery of the Torah portion for any child seeking a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in their synagogues. She would ask those same rabbis to make eight-week firearms training courses as compulsory as pre-marital counseling for any Jewish couple seeking to be married under a chuppah. Memberships in synagogues would come not only with dues, but with obligatory participation in volunteer security and crisis training for everyone over the age of 16. There would be a literal and figurative “call to arms,” and every Jew in America would be responsible for contributing what he or she could to the message we want every would-be anti-Semite to hear: we aren’t a desirable target because we plan to fight back.
If this all sounds too militant to you, you need to hear it the most. If you hate the thought of holding a gun in your hand or teaching your 13-year-old how to physically defend herself, do what I tell my kids to do when they have colds and have to take liquid Robitussin: hold your nose and do it anyway. If you remain unprepared, you are vulnerable. And you are even more vulnerable if you think another bubble-gum flavored “hate speech” curriculum at your son’s high school is the answer. It may be more to your taste, but it isn’t very effective. The guy coming to shoot up the next Jewish house of worship may have just entered the country from some place where they don’t teach 10th graders the part about the Jews not killing Jesus, or Israel not being an “apartheid state.”
Margo would insist on an American Jewish campaign to build an iron wall of support for law enforcement in this country. It would become as Jewish as the matzah ball to reject the Defund the Police movement, BLM and Deadly Exchange, and to help unseat any senator, congressman, governor, or district attorney who doesn’t do the same. Jews cowering in kosher supermarkets know what people of color in the inner-city dodging bullets on the way home from church know: these movements are a direct threat to our safety, determined to leave us even more exposed to violence than we already are. No American Jewish leader should be tolerated who is confused about where the line between nuance and nonsense is on this subject.
Margo would ask American Jews to arm themselves not just physically, but with a new mindset. She would tell congregants who heard more about Islamophobia than Islamism from the pulpit this Shabbat to vote with their feet, leaving their misguided rabbis to preach their feckless rhetoric to empty pews. She would insist that Jewish organizations stop using scarce Jewish philanthropic dollars to “fight hate” and to fund more empty anti-Semitism programs that are indistinguishable from “anti-bullying” campaigns. And she would lambast activist rabbis who sign public letters in support of Linda Sarsour’s freedom of speech even as many of the same also sign public letters suggesting Charles Jacobs is an “Islamophobe.” The only kind of Jewish partisan Margo Wolf had any use for was the kind with a home-made rifle in her hands on the French border in 1941.
Our collective Jewish communal head is not on straight. We still think, after all we have been through, that our best options are security guards, awareness campaigns, interfaith dialogue, and sending out our “thoughts and prayers.” A change in mindset is needed to meet our change in circumstance. Only that will trigger serious action by the only people who can save us—ourselves. The “Pour Out Your Wrath” paragraph needs to be reinserted into every Haggadah in the country, and every Jew should be responsible for reading it aloud every year. In it, we call on God to wipe out our enemies but there is no reason He has to go at it alone. We have to find our fury too, and activate it productively in defense of our own. We don’t live in the world we want. We live in the one we have. There are people in it who don’t believe in tolerance and mutual respect. When they walk into our shuls to harm us they shouldn’t count on having twelve minutes or twelve hours to do as they please before the authorities burst through the doors. Let their anti-Semite friends send around fill-in-the-blank statements of solidarity and issue empty words of inspiration after one of theirs has fallen because he walked through the wrong Jewish door and found angry, empowered, prepared Jews who were ready for him. As for us, we need to tear up our Mad Libs templates and create new ones.
I felt confused by the cantor on the Zoom memorial singing at us with her eyes closed, the words on people’s social media, the blogs, the posts, the filler of the awkward silence in the wake of Jews being taken hostage:
“The Rabbi is amazing.”
“Security protocols work!”
“They all came out alive.”
“No they didn’t!” I heard a voice cry from my heart. One man lay dead from the incident—a deranged, pained, expressive, confused soul of a terrorist who traveled all the way from England to a tiny synagogue in suburban Dallas to kill Jews and amplify his cause. Does this not deeply trouble anyone else?
Reading that day backward—from the luminary local “Rab-lebrity” (that’s a Rabbi who acts like a celebrity) in Dallas arriving at the staging area to snap selfies with his interfaith cohort and swat team while awaiting his colleague to “give a hug” (“What are you doing here?” was the freed hostage/Rabbi’s question, revealing the “Eish Tam” or “Simple/Pure Man” he is); to the Facebook live feed from morning services and early rantings of Malik Faisal Akram’s demands—my mind exploded with questions and disbelief. How is it that this is becoming a discussion of the success of synagogue security protocols? Why did so many colleagues summarize the experience as “Rabbi Charlie is amazing”? He was heroic, patient, and watchful. Shouldn’t the word amazing be reserved for theater, performances, entertainment? But for a hostage situation? What chilled my spine most of all was the general exhale I observed my colleagues sighing—all at once waxing prophetically about the need to double down on interfaith work, security protocols, and hope as a new spin emerged: a sound bite opportunity to glorify American Reform Jewish values.
What emerged in the wake of this tragedy resembled a Mysterious PR Machine: the naivete, well-wishes for brother- and sisterhood, and “we’ll take the high road of inclusivity,” only fans the flames of Islamic hatred toward Americans and Jews. Underneath the soundbites and guitar circles is an idealism that can lead their people to slaughter. This sort of deflection is dangerous and reminds me of German-Jewish nationals in 1938 who were completely in denial of the trouble ahead and already in their midst. Instead of “Olam Chessid Yibaneh” (the URJ’s banner song “We will build this world from love,” which was the main programming and set the tone for Monday Night’s Vigil), the German nationals said, “I am an essential part of Germany, they would never do this to me.” Today’s tome is “We will rise above the hatred and profess Love and Brotherhood of all peoples (unless they support Donald Trump).” There are parallels—both carry an elitism; both are in denial.
While Charlie has his own healing process, the very seductive narrative that emerged around him and the event is what I call “illiberal jingoism”—a trope dedicated to elitist and unrealistic concepts of love, brotherhood, and unity. Meanwhile, somewhere the plot continues to form and will continue to terrorize Jews throughout the world. If this were France, England, Tunisia, Israel, or anywhere else, we wouldn’t see this bravado; indeed, we would see a very different narrative emerging as they don’t have the luxury of geographic isolation to immerse themselves in a fabricated reality that deflects the true issue at hand.
How swiftly Saturday night’s hostage siege was recast: a terrorist situation became a community social media event. The social media rabbinic commentary of the day read like meaning making and history making in real time. We were told with almost immediacy, “this was an isolated incident,” and within 24 hours assured that “Akram had acted alone.” It was almost as if the Mysterious PR Machine doubled down on the opportunity to tell us, “Synagogues are safe. Security Protocols are to be invested in. Crazy people do crazy things. Now go home to your family and come back for your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.”
But like a false ending to a B-movie horror flick, I feel that the entire story is not yet done. Too many pieces of the story don’t make sense. And maybe that is what bothers me most. If, indeed, Akram represents the 1 percent of Muslim society who are sociopaths, then there are 19,999,999 others out there just like him. And no dollar amount can hire the army of security to keep them at bay—just look at Israel.
It’s not a time to sit all cozy and reflect on how much work there is to be done amongst the interfaith ideologues. It’s too early to have a prayer vigil with an acoustic guitar strapped across my torso like a summer camp song session. It’s not a time for Kumbaya Judaism. This siege on a suburban synagogue’s enduring misunderstanding seems to be that our hearts should be filled with compassion and curiosity for the Other; indeed, build bridges and embrace difference and diversity, outside of our echo chambers. Get a good security protocol in place and turn your sanctuary into an Escape Room… people pay to go to those, and they bring their friends. Nay! It’s time to acknowledge that the Halloween horror movie music is starting slowly and softly, and that an inevitable sequel is yet to be produced.
Scene: Beth Israel Synagogue, Colleyville, Texas.Mid-morning on a cold winter’s Saturday in suburban Texas. Birds chirp.
Establishing Shot: Synagogue entrance. The front door is open. We see the back of a MYSTERIOUS MAN wearing a well-worn heavy winter coat.
Close up: A man’s snow-stained boot on a stair. The MYSTERIOUS MAN exchanges a few words with a RABBI, who holds the door open to let him in.
FADE TO: Hours later in the Situation Room where Hostage Negotiators and Swat Team stage an insurgence. CHIEF NEGOTIATOR on cellphone hears:
Faisal: I said, ‘Is this a night shelter?’ and they let me in. And they gave me a cup of tea. So I do feel bad.”