A Rabbi’s Cry Of Pain Following Oct. 7 Attacks



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(OPINION) The graffiti on Cornell University sidewalks was stunning, with messages proclaiming, “Israel is fascist,” “Zionism = genocide” and “F—- Israel.”

Then antisemitic screeds appeared on the Cornell forum at Greekrank, a multi-campus website about fraternities and sororities. This included threats to the Ivy League school’s prominent Jewish community, with detailed references to the Center for Jewish Living.

Among the milder posts was this from a “kill jews” account: “allahu akbar! from the river to the sea, palestine will be free! liberation by any means necessary!” A “jew evil” post added: “if you see a jewish ‘person’ on campus follow them home and slit their throats. rats need to be eliminated from cornell.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul met with students, promising that “New York State would do everything possible to find the perpetrator who threatened a mass shooting and antisemitic violence on campus.” Then a Cornell student, a former campus safety officer, was arrested and charged in connection with the threats.

This followed waves of international protests and rioting, with the Anti-Defamation League noting that antisemitic activity in America rose 400% after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, compared with the same weeks last year.

The news only seems to get worse whenever Jews venture online, even when digging into their social-media feeds, said Rabbi Sharon Brous, in a viral sermon at her progressive IKAR (“essence”) congregation in Los Angeles. If the Holocaust is the “dominant psychic reality of the Jew,” it’s impossible not to view news reports through “Shoah-colored glasses.”

It’s hard to tell reality from brutal satire, especially when signs of “genocidal antisemitism” emerge from some of America’s most elite institutions, she said.

”This week we entered the upside-down world, when a retrograde, regressive, totalitarian, misogynistic, messianic, terrorist regime became — for the time being — the hero of the left,” said Brous, in a sermon that opened with a warning that parents might want to take their children out of the sanctuary.

”How could it be? To justify barbarity in the service of decolonization and the liberation of Palestine requires more than an ideological commitment to Palestinian freedom. It demands mental and emotional contortion that render a person fundamentally unable to see the humanity in a Jew. … So much so that even after a horrific terror attack, even teen-agers and elders … being carted naked through Gaza does not evoke a tear of sympathy.”

The result, she said, has been “existential loneliness,” especially when Jews face evidence that many “people in the world — especially from our world, those who claim to care about justice and even dignity” suggest that Israeli victims “somehow deserved this terrible fate.”

The rabbi stressed that, for decades, she has opposed manyIsraeli policies on the occupied West Bank. She noted that her recent Yom Kippur sermon warned against “racism and religious extremism” in the “increasingly hardline, ultranationalist and now messianic government” that she believes “threatens the whole project of the state of Israel.”

Despite everything, Brous said she still believes that “the only liberation is a shared liberation, that our destinies as Jews and Palestinians are tied up in one another.” But those who refuse to condemn the horrors of Oct. 7 are embracing the “potent ancient lies that any Jew is responsible for the behavior of every Jew, the certainty that Jews — all Jews, any Jews, including us — are stinking spawn responsible for killing God, responsible for the Black Death, responsible for economic collapse, responsible for migrant caravans, hurricanes and space lasers, responsible for Covid, responsible for all human suffering.”

Nevertheless, Jews must not yield to the temptation to heedonly to the loudest voices in this madness, to “let the algorithm dictate our worldview,” she said.

“The fact that other people have lost their damn mind must awaken us and ensure that we don’t lose our damn mind in the days ahead,” urged Brous. “We yearn, desperately, to cast our lot with humanity. We believe that we are all caught up in an inescapable network of humanity. As much as we strive to build self-reliance, we — like all people — hunger to be understood by people outside our community, we hunger to be seen in our suffering.

“Our humble ask is that people give a damn when we die. It visits an additional anguish on our broken hearts when they do not.”

Terry Mattingly (tmatt.net) leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.


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