Happy 73rd Birthday, Israel!




Over the past year many words have crept into our day-to-day language…. “Pandemic”, “lockdown”, “masking” “social distancing” and “PPE” are some of the words that we used infrequently or did not know. When asked about whether the Corona virus will ever go away, scientists often respond that it will be “endemic”. I’m pretty sure unless you are an “epidemiologist” — another frequently heard word these days — you  might  not have  known what “endemic” means. According to Wikipedia, “an infection is said to be endemic in a population when that infection is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs”. Merriam Webster defines “endemic” as “characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment”.

By these definitions I think it is safe to say that “antisemitism” is endemic to Western Civilization. It is always there, under the surface, and it flares up now and then. Last February two disturbing incidents appeared on network television.  In the first, Saturday Night Live aired a news parody where comedian Michael Che, playing a newscaster, reported that Israel had vaccinated half of its population and then quickly added [quote], “I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half,”. In the second incident, NBC aired a scene of the program “Nurses” in which a young Orthodox man, named “Israel”, complete with payus, lies in a hospital bed. His father, dressed in the black worn by the Ultra-Orthodox, is standing by his bed as a young African American doctor explains that the young man needs a bone graft for his leg. The doctor explains that the bone graft would come from a deceased donor. To which his Israel’s father responds with consternation, “A dead goyim leg … from an Arab, a woman,” — to which a female nurse responds, under her breath: “Or, God forbid, an Arab woman.” 

I needn’t tell you how these two scenes portray Jews as racist, hateful, and only concerned with themselves, three well-worn  anti-Semitic tropes.  These did not appear in some dark place on the internet. They appeared on national television only weeks ago! 


Yes, antisemitism is indeed endemic, but as you can see from the above two examples, its target has shifted over the past 50 years. The target is now Israel. Note how the young man in the hospital bed is named “Israel”. Not so subtle. And of course, the Saturday Night Live episode is a direct reference to Israel. 


The endemic nature of anti-Semitism can be the only possible reason that Israel, of all nations in the world, is singled out for the harshest of criticisms, the harshest of judgements. The creation of the State of Israel is the culmination of the two thousand year old dream of the Jewish people — to return to our ancestral homeland. The Jewish people are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, returning home after 2000 years of exile. Yet we are often maliciously described as “colonizers” displacing the “rightful owners” of the land. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and one of the great democracies of the world. Yet Israel is frequently attacked as being the worst violators of human rights. Israel was officially recognized by the UN as an independent nation in 1948. Yet it is the only nation in the world whose “right to exist” is constantly questioned. The state was founded after the Holocaust, in which 6.000.000 Jews were murdered and the entire Jewish civilization in Europe was obliterated. Yet Israel is regularly accused of being worse than the Nazis. Israel has suffered thousands of casualties because of terrorism. Yet Israel is condemned whenever she defends herself.


Scientists tell us that the Coronavirus is here to stay. It can be controlled, but it will not go away. The Pandemic nature of the disease will subside, but it will always be endemic. Anti-Semitism is the same. When Theodore Herzl conceived of the idea of a Jewish State, he hoped that it would solve the “Jewish problem” — that antisemitism would be eradicated if Jews could become a normal people in a normal nation state.  He was wrong, because anti-Semitism isn’t a “Jewish problem”. It is a “human problem”, a problem of Western Civilization. Jews cannot solve the problem because Jews do not cause the problem. It cannot be fixed by a change in our behavior, or even the establishment of a Jewish state. The root of antisemitism lies elsewhere. It lies with those who hate, not with those who are hated.


Nevertheless, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is the most important event in Jewish history in the last 2000 years. No longer would Jews have to endure the powerlessness we experienced living in the Diaspora. No longer would we live or die at the whim of a king, a queen, an emperor. No longer would Jews suffer the torrents of humiliation, hatred and violence in silence. No longer would we be merely a tolerated minority in the lands of our dispersion. The establishment of the state of Israel meant a return to Jewish dignity and power. Jews could now determine their own fate. If Jews were attacked, Jews could hit back. For the first time in 2000 years, Jews could protect themselves, defend themselves.  


Last Thursday was Yom Hashoah U gevorah, Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. We will commemorate the day with our Holocaust Memorial program this Sunday at 10 am. CBS member Paul Bloom will be our featured speaker. This coming Wednesday, April 14, Israel celebrates Yom Hazikaron. This day commemorates all those in the Israeli military who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all military personnel who fell while on active duty in Israel’s armed forces. The following day is Yom Ha-atma-ut, Israel Independence Day. These three holidays — Yom Ha-shoah, Yom Ha-zikaron and Yom Ha-atz-mah-ut — are the first new holidays on the Jewish calendar in 2000 years. They mark the dawn of a new era in Jewish history. The message is clear. Out of the destruction of the Holocaust, through the sacrifice of its people, a Jewish nation has risen again to begin a new, hopeful, and exciting chapter of the Jewish saga.

Shabbat Shalom

Photo Credit Lavi Perchik on Unsplash