Sunday, November 13, 2022

An Accusation of Antisemitism that Was Instead a Chilul Hashem

Image for illustration purposes only (Mishpacha)
The Bracha of ‘SheLo Asani Goy’ is something Orthodox Jews say every morning. We thank God for not making us a Goy – a gentile. The idea being that we appreciate being born part of God’s chosen people with all the obligations, rights, and rewards being a devout Jew entails. Why it was composed in the negative is something I never fully understood. But that is beyond the scope of this post. The point here is that this blessing was not intended as a pejorative against non Jews.

But that pejorative attitude has unfortunately become a part of our culture. The more to the right one goes, the more one will find non Jews being characterized that way.  

In fact the words ‘SheLo Asani Goy’ have been turned into a song I hear every year in Israel among other Jewish songs sung during Hakafos at the Yom Tov Sheni, (Simchas Torah) Minyan for Americans. That phrase and only that phrase is repeated with enthusiasm in the form of a song - implying that being born a Goy is the worst fate into which man can be placed. Frankly it disgusts me when I hear it sung by the dancing participants during Hakafos.

This attitude is unfortunately being instilled into a wide swath of the Orthodox Jewish community by some of its rabbinic leaders and Mechanchim (educators). 

I will never forget the two instances where I heard such talk myself. 

One was in a recording distributed by a minor Chasidic Rebbe in New York who stated in no uncertain terms that we must HATE Goyim! The other was a recording I heard where a Mechanech of a mainstream Charedi Yeshiva high school said virtually the same thing  to his class as part of a Hashkafa lecture.

This attitude is fertile ground for a perpetual Chilul HaShem. I witnessed it myself way back in the 60s when I was in high school. A non Jewish English teacher was constantly and relentlessly ridiculed  to his face by some of my fellow students without suffering any consequences from the schools administrators. 

And once again about 40 years later. It was related to me by a personal friend who is a devout Orthodox Jew. At the time he was principal of a prominent Yeshiva high school and was appalled by what he witnessed: Behavior that was similar to what I witnessed 40 years earlier. 

I mention all this because it just happened again. An elementary day school had an incident with a school bus filled with middle school aged students. At first it was reported as an antisemitic attack. But upon further investigation - and to the school’s credit - they came clean about what really happened. Which was almost the opposite of that. A notice was distributed to the parents of the school that included the following: 

After speaking with the bus company, reviewing the video footage and speaking with people who were present at the time of incident, we can confidently share with you, that although what transpired was not professional on the bus company's part , there was never any danger, waving of guns, Nazi salutes anti semitic slurs (or anything else you may have heard).

Regretfully, what transpired was that a few boys disrespectfully screamed out the window at a bystander (two days in a row) who ultimately stepped in front of the bus and asked the driver to pull over, as he wanted to speak to the boys. 

They went on to explain that ‘(their students) must recognize the ripple effect of their words and actions.

What they apparently did not do is explain that it isn’t just about recognizing the effect of their words. It is about why such an attitude is wrong in the first place. It’s almost as if they agree with that attitude but simply believe they should keep it to themselves. 

I have no patience for this kind of Chinuch. Goyim are not inherently evil. It is true that there has been an increase in antisemitism recently that might indicate that. But as I noted many times - the antisemites of this country are a tiny minority that have become increasingly vocal and violent. The fact is that the vast majority of non Jewish Americans are not inherently evil. Nonetheless the religious right believes that - and perpetuates that myth. And that does not serve us well.

Unfortunately, centuries of European antisemitism culminating in the Holocaust has contributed to that myth.  Reinforced by increased insularity by the right from the general culture.

I get why that is being done. There is a lot of garbage out there that should be avoided. But too much insularity is counter-productive. Besides, it isn’t all bad. There is a lot of good out there that often goes unnoticed by virtue of that insularity.

Yotza Scharo B’Hefsedah. The damage done by increasing insularity outweighs the potential harm caused by being unaware of the truth. There are other – better ways to protect our children from the evils that exist in the world. Like teaching Torah values along with parents and teachers being role models of those values. And pointing out what is and isn’t acceptable from the general culture.  Painting it all as evil is both wrong and untrue. If we continue to instill into our children  inaccurate pictures of the outside world and  thereby insisting on avoiding all contact with it - the consequences can be tragic. 

Unfortunately I do not see the current negative attitude about non Jews changing any time soon. In fact it seems like the opposite is happening. Insularity is increasing among the largest and fastest growing segments of  Orthodox Jewry. Which to me indicates that the kind of Chilul HaShem that happened on that school bus will continue to raise its ugly head from time to time. Sad.