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Friday, February 21, 2020

Jewish people around the world recently finished lighting the candles on their Hanukkah menorahs. Unfortunately, this year, the light has not stopped the darkness of more violent anti-Semitic attacks from occurring in the New York area. Like the previous attacks, these have been met with swift condemnation from both government officials and Jewish organizations. And, like anti-Semitic attacks that affected our ancestors, these attacks have brought fear and anxiety to the Jews in the United States.

Unfortunately, unlike anti-Semitic attacks in the not-so-distant past, these attacks have not been seen as attacks on Jews in general. The Monsey attack and the one in Jersey City have been parceled out in a “not in my neighborhood” kind of way. They are seen, by the majority of Jewish people, as attacks on one group of Jews, in these cases, the ultra-Orthodox. Similarly, the murders in Pittsburgh and San Diego were considered attacks on Chabad congregants and Conservative Jews, respectively.

That is, as Jews, though we number only about 15 million worldwide (with nearly half of us in Israel), we do not see ourselves as one people any more. Though the world views us collectively as the “other,” our people have wrongfully convinced ourselves that we are defined solely by the level of religiousness and not by our shared cultural and historical backgrounds. This has resulted in the fractioning of the Jewish people and has helped to create an environment where anti-Semitism not only festers, but can and will flourish. This fissure, more than anything else, is the tragedy of the Jewish people in the late 20th and now, into the 21st Century.

A good portion of the Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews have become so comfortable with their place in American society that they feel no kinship to more religious Jews who look and behave differently than they do. These Jews believe that the fact they are welcome to eat and travel anywhere they like makes them better and more “woke” than those Jews who they see as yoked to an “old-fashioned” and restrictive lifestyle. These Jews have plenty of money for travel, country clubs, donations to colleges and the arts, but very little if any for the support of the Jewish community. Though they are often the first to become “offended” when their Jewishness or commitment to Israel is questioned, many of them have little interest in engaging in much, if any, Jewish life other than camps and possibly their local synagogue, and even then only until their youngest child’s bar/bat mitzvah.

Likewise, those Jews who consider themselves more religious such as the Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox have created silos for themselves where their worlds mostly consist of contact with each other. They go to the same schools, socialize with the same people and support only the same organizations and charities that affect them directly. For most of them, other than the more self-aware ones, there is no understanding of the greater Jewish people. If they had it, this would manifest itself in political and financial support for mainstream Jewish organizations, which exist outside of their yeshivas/day schools and synagogues. These organizations, which consist of the Federations, the ADL, the Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Agency for Israel and the JDC among others are concerned with the social, political and safety-related issues of the entire local and worldwide Jewish community, not just those who look and act like themselves.

What neither of these diametrically opposed types of Jewish people realizes, to the detriment of the entire Jewish population, is that the rest of the world does not care about these differences. To the rest of the world, a “Jew is a Jew.” The recent violence may have come at the expense of the most religious Jews in Monsey and Jersey City. But, it is not because they are hated any more or any less. It is just because they are easier to identify and often live in denser and more defined areas. However, as the Torah says, we are all our “brothers’ [and sisters’] keepers.” In our current world this includes hes, shes and theys. It is everyone who is a part or considers themselves to be a part of the Jewish people.

As Jewish people, it is incumbent upon all of us to consider ourselves One People regardless of our religious observance or lifestyle. To do otherwise is to endanger the viability of the entire Jewish people. In practice, what this means is that an attack on any Jewish person is an attack on all Jewish people.

The different religious communities must support each other both politically and financially for the greater good of all Jews. This means financially and emotionally supporting the safety of the yeshivas, day schools and synagogues as well as the JCCs and Federations etc. To do otherwise will result in more frequent and more severe anti-Semitic attacks. Abraham Lincoln’s quote about a house divided could not be more applicable to the Jewish people today than it was to the United States facing a civil war.


Daniel Shlufman is a lawyer in New York and New Jersey as well as the chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.