From Sinai to Auschwitz: Heroes to Inspire our war against antisemitism

Without question, this Passover, antisemitism in all its pernicious mutations will dominate family discussions at our Seders.

 Bernie Faller attends a Passover Seder dinner party for 10 people vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. March 27, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIRA KARAOUD)
Bernie Faller attends a Passover Seder dinner party for 10 people vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. March 27, 2021

Where to start?

Perhaps the Ministry of Diaspora Affair’s report on the explosion of 55,000(!) antisemitic online posts from Nazis, white supremacists, far-left Israel demonizers, conspiracy mongers and extreme Palestinian activists? These amazingly diverse bigots managed to contrive intersectionality between their hatred of Jews and the horrors unleashed by Putin’s military against the Ukrainian people. Even war criminal Bashar al-Assad weighed in, denouncing that ‘Jewish Zionist’ Zelensky, who is in cahoots with the Neo-Nazis, must be crushed by Putin.

The French judiciary? Five years ago, on April 4, an antisemitic killer broke into Sarah Halimi’s apartment in Paris. He beat her, screamed Allahu Akbar and Shaitan (Satan), and threw her off the balcony. Charges were dropped because he smoked marijuana.
A “synagogue” in Chicago that voted to celebrate Pesach by officially declaring itself as anti-Zionist?

How about the recent anti-Israel march on the streets of New York City with hundreds of protesters chanting, “globalize the intifada?” With the remarkable exception of US Congressman Ritchie Torres—the unmistakable call to “kill the Jews”—at a time of continuing violent assaults against our people on the streets of the Big Apple got virtually zero media attention.

University students coming home for the Seder will chime in about academic elites joining boycotts of Israeli institutions of higher learning and school-funded student groups who escalate their assaults against the Jewish state and  seek to purge their campuses of Zionists, while university presidents deflect criticism by hiding behind ‘academic freedom.’
Then there are the NGOs – gatekeepers of civil society. Amnesty International (AI) unleashed a slanderous attack against the Jewish State, labeling Israel an apartheid state. Then the head of Amnesty US questioned whether the State of Israel should exist. US Secretary of State Blinken’s reaction? He personally met with and praised AI and officials of Human Rights Watch Ken Roth and Agnes Callamard, outspoken promoters of the apartheid lie. 

These are just a few of the challenges that our people face this Passover. However, before you cry into the Four Cups or drink Elijah’s, please consider adding these two Jewish heroes into the mix who helped shape my understanding of the meaning of Exodus, Jewish leadership, and heroism:

The first was imparted in hushed tones by Rabbi Tzvi Meisels at Auschwitz. (Recorded by the author in his Hebrew work: M’kadshei Hashem (Sanctifiers of G-d’s name).

In 1944, the Hungarian rabbi was a slave laborer in Auschwitz. At the end of each backbreaking day, with hunger and hopelessness enveloping every broken Jew, Rabbi Meisels insisted on imparting some words of Torah, a defiant act that would have led to his immediate execution if caught. 

On this day, he recounted the disastrous results of Moses’ first meeting with Pharoah. In response to the plea of “let my people go,” the Egyptian King double-downed with a decree that only added more physical pain for the hapless Hebrew slaves. The Bible intones--“Lo Tosefune”—do not provide the slaves with the raw material they need. Thanks to Moses, the slaves will just have to get up that much earlier to gather it themselves. Then Meisels pointed to the fact that the word Tosefune—usually written with a Vav, instead had an Alef—from the root word meaning a meeting or gathering. Pharoah made two decrees; the second one banned any gathering by the Hebrews, however small. “Tyrants from Pharoah to Hitler,” Meisels taught, “always understood the power of Jewish unity and feared that when Jews banded together, no power in the world could defeat them.” That day in Auschwitz, Meisels told his fellow Jews – broken in body and spirit – that they could still dare to hope if they would only huddle together, even for a few stolen moments. Some would survive and help carry forward Jewish destiny after the Shoah.

In 2022, whatever our differences are, and they are many, Meisels’ Auschwitz teaching reminds us that only Jewish Unity can guarantee Jewish Survival.
Finally, boxed in by the approaching Egyptian military, the Hebrews were trapped at the Red Sea. Moses prayed, but this time G-d retorted—stop praying and get going! It was then that Nahshon—not Moses or Aaron, jumped into the Red Sea, and only then did the miraculous division begin.
Every Jew on every campus, in every synagogue, in every unit of the IDF is a Nahshon. 

So, at this year’s Seder, each of us should remember that the Exodus and Jewish destiny are secured only when the Nahshon in each of us is prepared to take the deep dive of the faithful. 

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization. Cooper has been a longtime activist for Jewish and human rights causes on five continents and is an acknowledged expert on online hate and terrorism.

This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Gideon Falter.