Rabbis from four Forest Hills synagogues discussed recent and past anti-Semitism at the Kristallnacht Remembrance held at Congregation Machane Chodosh on November 9. About 100 people attended.

Kristallnacht (German for “Night of [Broken] Glass”) is considered the beginning of the Nazi’s physical persecution culminating in the murder of six million Jews.

At least 267 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses were shattered, 30,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps, and 91 Jews were killed in Austria, Germany, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia on November 9-10, 1938.

The German-sponsored pogrom was predicated on Herschel Greenspan shooting a German embassy delegate in Paris on November 7, 1938. Greenspan wanted to bring attention to his family and the other Jews kicked out of Germany into Poland. The German diplomat died on November 9.

Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Machane Chodosh moderated and participated in the discussion. His focus was on “how Kristallnacht feels so tangible right now.”

Rabbi David Algaze of Congregation Havurat Yisrael, Rabbi Elisha Friedman of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, and Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center were the other panelists.

Rabbi Algaze said, “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it, are bound to suffer from it.” We have to remember how in every generation, some rise to wipe out the Jews.

Rabbi Friedman could not believe the initial reports of the number of Israelis killed and taken hostage during Shabbos Shemini Atzeres. “In previous times in Jewish history, they would have understood what 200 hostages means.”

People have told Rabbi Mendelson to “Go to Poland, go back to Europe.” Ironically, Germans told Jews before World War II to “Go to Palestine, where you belong.”

Rabbi Algaze quoted Chazal saying, “It’s a law that Eisav is going to hate the Jewish people.” “Perhaps it is not that history is repeating itself, it’s this is a constant aspect of history.”

“This is a latent hatred of the Jews that existed in all of these levels: the professors, the communists, the Marxists.” We shouldn’t ignore it, but we should see “what we can do about it.” Some of the ways to counter hatred and personal depression “is by being proud Jews,” said Rabbi Algaze.

Rabbi Kerbel said that anti-Semitism has existed since the days of Avraham Avinu. “That’s the way things are in this world.”

We need a balance of recognizing what’s around us, “recognizing that rhetoric is not just rhetoric… We also have to look at sort of the positive,” that 400 members of Congress voted to support Israel.

Rabbi Kerbel quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about Israel being “a nation that dwells alone.” It’s a blessing in some ways, because we are different, but can also be a curse because we’re alone. “Rabbi Sacks said we shouldn’t make that our destiny.”

“We have the opportunity to make friends,” said Rabbi Kerbel. “There are people who are going to hate us but, hopefully, their power is very limited… We do have an opportunity to be politically connected and to try to influence people, who could be influenced. Hopefully, that will help.”

Rabbi Mendelson said, “While we’re being isolated, we should recognize, we can turn that into a feeling of specialness.”

Rabbi Algaze said that he deals “with many people who want to convert to Judaism, particularly from Latin America… Not all non-Jews hate the Jews. Many admire us. Many want to help us.”

“I think there are a lot of good people who can actually rise.” We need to recognize “where there is hatred, but also recognize where there is love.” We shouldn’t ignore the anti-Semitism, like in the universities. “That is the worry we can learn from this.”

Rabbi Kerbel said that we are the Chosen People, “but that doesn’t mean we are better than others; it means that we are chosen for something special.”

Avraham Avinu said in Parshas Chayei Sarah, “I am a resident, and I am an alien.” “It’s an oxymoron,” said Rabbi Kerbel. “On one hand, we are comfortable, we have the same education, we feel like we fit in culturally, and embrace American patriotism. On the other hand, we do feel like we’re kind of a bit apart.”

The Rabbis discussed how German Jews were comfortable, very patriotic, fought in World War I, and did not believe anything terrible would happen.  “The frog gets boiled slowly,” said Rabbi Mendelson.

“We see what’s happening in college campuses,” said Rabbi Kerbel. Students are supposed to be better people and more educated. “How is it possible they’re allowing this kind of hatred, and just depravity, to happen?”

“Same thing with the Germans also: They could be killing Jews in the morning and listening to Wagner and proper classical music at night.”

“There’s a little bit of tension.” We feel like we fit in, but we’re also a little bit separate… The way we uphold that is very defining for what it is to be Jewish.”

Rabbi Friedman said there are a lot of differences between now and 85 years ago. “The State of Israel is a huge difference… A lot of people after the Holocaust correctly saw that the State of Israel in many ways was the ultimate answer.”

Israel looks out for Jews everywhere and is “a place for us to go… Anyone in 1940 would have given anything to have a country like that… The State of Israel already has a very good track record saving Jews all over the world.

“There’s a strong possibility that we’re going to come out of this with Israeli Jews and Jews all over the world much more connected.”

Rabbi Kerbel said that Israel is more likely to save us than us relying on the chesed of others.

Rabbi Mendelson said, “We don’t control the outcomes. We only control how we live.” We must not only “defend our bodies, but also be affirmatively and proactively Jewish.”

New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. spoke before the program began about standing “vigilant in our fight against terrorism” and “always being vigilant in our support for Israel.”

“We do need to send a message. I think the message is there, but we need to be louder and more clear in our support for Israel.”

Senator Addabbo’s district no longer includes Forest Hills but “the issues of hatred, the issues of intolerance, the issues of racism know no boundaries.”

Rabbi Daniel Pollack, Community Liaison for Congresswoman Grace Meng, said the Holocaust was about getting rid of the Jews in Europe.

No one thought it could happen again, but now protestors call for hatred and genocide of the Jews. “It’s a wake-up call for all of us. And many of us will say that it can happen again,” in Israel and in the United States.

The Democratic Socialists of America are so upset with Congresswoman Meng’s support of Israel that they want to run a candidate against her, said Rabbi Pollack.

Pre-World War I German siddurim and machzorim from former Machane Chodosh congregants were given to the younger generation by Rabbi Mendelson. Six Memorial candles were lit by the same younger ones.

The saying of T’hilim 83, 130, and 142 in unison began the program. Rabbi Mendelson led the singing of “Ani Maamin / We want Mashiach now” to end the program.

 By David Schneier