As the Jewish word recoils over the murder of three Jewish teenagers in Israel, Jews the world over are shocked by news of a Palestinian youth’s murder in Jerusalem. But with the shock comes deep disappointment at the response of world leaders, who condemned Jews for this murder even before the investigation was concluded.
Of particular disappointment was the response of the EU, who took five days to condemn the abduction of the Jewish teenagers, and when the condemnation finally arrived it was with the corollary that Israel was equally guilty of killing civilians in Gaza, yet, were quick to offer sweeping condemnation of Jews for the murder of the Palestinian youth never mentioning the possibility that Jews were innocent. The response of the White House, who was also quick to condemn Jews for this murder, was particularly galling considering the friendship between the two nations. Calls were issued for Israelis to act reasonably, but no corollary was issued when Palestinians responded with riots all across Israel.
Personally, I am surprised that Jews are still surprised by such things. After four thousand years of Jewish history, anti-Semitism still surprises us? The Jew isn’t held to an unfair standard, the Jew is simply reviled; ss, was and always will be. The particulars of the case are irrelevant. Whether it is our control of the banks and media or our “occupation” of Palestinian lands, they condemn us because they hate us.
A hundred years ago we would never have expressed surprise at anti-Semitism. We would have taken it for granted and moved on. This generation expends too much energy fighting it – hoping each time for a different result, yet encountering frustration again and again. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Are we insane?
No. We are mistaken. Our error began with the nineteenth century movement for Jewish Enlightenment. The goal was to normalize relations with the community of nations. It was believed that if we shed the archaic trappings of religion, if we looked and talked like “normal people,” we would be accepted. This grand experiment ended in failure, when it was set ablaze in the Holocaust inferno.
Undeterred, the Jewish community plowed on with Zionism, its second iteration. This time it was hoped that once a Jewish State was established, Jews would be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community. Once again, these hopes were dashed. Over the last six decades, the Jewish nation has been vilified by the media and nations for trivialities over which others are never slighted.
The official response of the Jewish community has been to complain bitterly and vociferously about the double standard. Pages have been filled, articles published and interviews broadcast about this terrible injustice. We continue to hope that if we demonstrate the injustice perpetrated against us, the discrimination will end. I don’t know how long we will cling to this fallacy, but suffice to say that it was never meant to end. The Jew was designed by G-d to stand alone.
In the Torah we read about the ancient nation Midian, who made peace with Moab, its sworn enemy, to unite against the Jew. The Jews were merely passing through and had no quarrel with either nation, but when the Jews arrived, Midian sought to attack. In the words of our sages, “That Esau hates Jacob is incontrovertible fact.” This is the way it always was and how it will always be. The only question is why.
In answer, we present a fascinating discussion between the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory, whose twentieth Yhartzeit was marked just last week and Mr. Yitzchak Rabin of blessed memory, former prime minister of the state of Israel.
In the Spring of 1972, Rabin served as ambassador to the United States and he visited the Rebbe to pay his respects on the occasion of the Rebbe’s seventieth birthday.
The Rebbe asked Rabin if he ever felt lonely as Israel’s sole ambassador among a hundred-and-twenty nations represented in Washington. The Rebbe quoted Balaam, the one gentile prophet in the whole of the Bible, who described Jews as “a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be counted among the nations.” The Rebbe asked, “What caused the people of Israel [to remain] always a little bit alone, was it choice or outside pressure i.e. rejection?"
The Rebbe said that it was a combination of both. First, it is our choice to be what we are, to abide by the Torah, the faith and tradition of our people for two-thousand years. Without a state, despite inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms and the holocaust, we remained faithful to our religion and tradition. We survived; unlike any other people, anywhere in the world. We proved successful. We never lost the dream, the hope, to return to Zion, Jerusalem and the land of Israel.
But pressures from the outside also helped us avoid assimilation. The combination of the positive and the negative ensured that we would always walk alone in the world. As a part of history, but in pursuit of our own narrative. The Rebbe said one does not need to be a mystic to acknowledge that this is the historic reality of the Jewish people throughout the whole of its chronicles. We have always dwelled alone and always will. The State of Israel will not change this Divine reality.
Mr. Yehudah Avner, who was present at that discussion, recalled that Rabin was fascinated, even beguiled. For the very first time, Rabin was exposed to a conceptualization of Israel’s place within the family of Nations. Rabin was raised on the Socialist / Zionist principle of normalization - the hope that the establishment of a Jewish state would cause anti-Semitism to wither. Yet, here the Rebbe was saying that the natural state of the Jewish people in history is to be abnormal.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote that Israel is to be, “a light unto the nations.” To succeed at this task, the Jew must be in the world, but not of the world. We must live among the nations and foster warm relations with all peoples, but we must also stand alone. We are the people of the Holy Book, the men and women who received an exclusive mandate at Sinai.
We often neglect this duty. The social experiment of Enlightenment and Zionism endeavored to jettison this responsibility and reject our status as an exceptional nation, as G-d’s chosen nation. It was hoped that we would be embraced as one of them. Yet, the nations refused to comply. Their continued rejection and criticism, be it anti-Semitism or anti Zionism, cements our courage and standing as G-d’s lonely ambassadors to the historical family of nations.
The next time you encounter discrimination or the famous double standard, don’t act surprised. Anti-Semitism is incontrovertible and it isn’t going away. We reel under its burden, but it also plays a crucial role. Throughout history it has preserved our uniqueness. It has distinguished us and has lifted us up.
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.