No holds barred: Non-Jews who love Jews

The Torah says that man is a tree in the field. We must have roots in our own soil, our own tradition. But we can’t be a turnip or a potato, growing only in the ground.

October 16, 2014 22:53
Pray ahead of Yom Kippur

People pray ahead of Yom Kippur on the roof of a seminary overlooking the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2012.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Joanne Palmer’s beautiful and uplifting cover story in New Jersey’s Jewish Standard on Sen. Cory Booker captures his warmth, openness and humanity. It also captures something else that I was startled to read: Cory’s retelling of the price I paid at Oxford University for the inclusion of thousands of non-Jews as members of the L’Chaim Society and Cory’s presidency.

Joanne quotes Cory as saying, “After the [Lubavitcher] Rebbe’s death there was a power vacuum and then Chabad in England turned on Shmuley… He had non-Jewish members. They told him to get rid of the non-Jews or you must leave Chabad England. Rabbi Boteach did not comply with the demands so they turned on him.”

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This week, Simhat Torah, marked the 22nd anniversary of my friendship with Cory. But the pain of those events has never left me and affects my life until today.

I am Chabad to my core. I chose it when I was a boy of nine and will never leave it.

But I love the Rebbe’s universal vision and being crushed for having created an organization that realized that vision in seeing the essential brotherhood of all humanity regardless of religion, ethnicity or creed remains an open wound.

This is not a column about Chabad. The Jewish world owes an incalculable debt to Chabad and the incomparable work it does globally. Simply put, without Chabad so many spaces of the world would be utterly bereft of Judaism.

It is a column about the Jewish need to impact on the wider world and transcend Jewish isolation.

The Torah says that man is a tree in the field. We must have roots in our own soil, our own tradition. But we can’t be a turnip or a potato, growing only in the ground.

Our branches have to reach out beyond our topsoil and oxygenate the earth.

The general feeling today is that, with the notable exception of glorious America, non-Jews don’t really like Jews and there is anti-Semitism in every place. I readily submit that this seems true in Europe and the Arab Middle East.

But I just addressed a crowd of 100,000 people on a conference on world peace in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium.

Koreans don’t really know Jews. But if you watch the video you’ll see how many Jewish ideas resonated with the crowd. There were seven other speakers, religious leaders from around the world.

They spoke of the need for conflict to end and peace to reign. But I emphasized that there could never be peace with a regime like North Korea, which constantly threatens their brothers to the south with nuclear annihilation. There could not be peace with a brutal dictator like Kim Jong-un who feeds his army while starving children. The regime must first collapse from within. There cannot be peace with organizations like Islamic State that revel in beheading defenseless men with their hands tied behind their backs. They would first need to be destroyed from the air.

The crowd roared with approval.

What they were cheering was not me but the expression of Jewish ideas. They were left cold by the kumbaya message of everyone sitting and roasting marshmallows together – democracies, autocracies, terrorists – and were instead galvanized by the Jewish message that to achieve peace we must hate and fight evil.

The peace that Europe finally enjoys after centuries of incessant conflict did not come until the US and Britain completely destroyed Nazism. Peace did not come to Japan – and I visited Hiroshima right after Korea – until the US utterly destroyed the empire’s capacity to make war.

Speaking of Asia, a Pulitzer-prize winning author recently told me that a young Chinese scholar had walked over to him after a university lecture to tell him she wanted to learn from the Jews. “In China we are awed by the Jews. How successful they are. How smart. How much they believe in education. We’re amazed at how Israel fights its enemies to survive and prospers. It impresses us to no end.”

He concluded, “The Chinese are not like the Europeans. They are not jealous of Jewish success but are inspired by it. Why isn’t Israel reaching out to the Chinese?” Yes, France may be a write-off. And Britain, especially, with its silly vote this week to support the immediate creation of a Palestinian state without even the precondition that it be a state that grants equal rights to women, does not shoot gays in the head and has real elections as opposed to the dictator Abbas has become, having failed to go to the polls in a decade.

Britain supports the creation of a Palestinian state without even stipulating that the Hamas terror organization, which aids and abets honor killings of women and uses small children as human shields, be barred from governing. None of this should surprise us when we remember that – for all the remarkable good Britain did in defeating Hitler under Churchill – it immediately threw him out of office after the war and instituted a policy of interring Holocaust survivors in the infernal heat of Cyprus DP camps rather than allow them into Palestine.

But why write off Asia? Why write off Australia? Why write off Canada? These are countries that support Israel and contradict the destructive belief that the world is hopelessly anti-Semitic.

A few years ago the Jewish community feared that anti-Semitism was spreading in parts of the African-American community.

We were startled that anyone who experienced the same kind of oppression we had – and with whom we marched behind Martin Luther King, arguably the greatest American of the 20th century – could speak negatively of us.

Now, New Jersey’s leading Jewish newspaper does a cover story about a great African- American senator who is one of the Jewish people’s greatest friends in politics, loves Judaism, regularly studies Torah with a rabbi and stands steadfastly behind Israel.

Let’s reject the ridiculous and self-hating assumption that non-Jews are not our brothers and friends.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he has just published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer.

Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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