In these raging times, I really did not want to write this week, as anything can create a strong reaction in either direction. So I will reduce and temper my remarks.
Last week in my article, “And It Was After the Plague…,” I maintained that the world, I’m afraid, will learn nothing from its experience with being locked down due to COVID-19. I doubted that civility will return to the political, social, and religious arenas.
I did not think I would be proven right in a matter of days. A bad cop in Minneapolis keeps his knee on the throat of George Floyd, who’s begging to breathe, but alas, Mr. Floyd is dead upon arrival at the hospital. Within days, the city of Minneapolis, a Democrat stronghold in the liberal Democrat state of Minnesota, is aflame. From there, like the coronavirus, the violence spreads quickly throughout the country, leaving governors and mayors helpless to do anything as they watch stores get looted and property destroyed. Thousands of people trying to claw their way out of the economic havoc brought upon by the virus now see their entire livelihoods up in smoke…literally. Unfortunately, President Trump talked tough but did little to bring the situation under control.
So we went from a global pandemic right to anarchy. Nothing learned by haters on either side of the issue. Nothing done to give real honor to the memory of George Floyd. Haters and counter-haters match each other with their pronouncements and actions.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an “Open Letter” to the Orthodox organizations, imploring them to get out of the Presidents’ Conference [the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations], as we gain nothing from being in their company.
Sure enough, all the secular organizations, mostly aligned with the Presidents’ Conference, issued heartfelt condemnations of the racist action of the cop in Minneapolis, and expressed sympathy with the protestors. But scant little was said about sympathizing with the countless victims of the violence throughout the country. Just a little lip service, to be “yotzei.”
One of the major organizations that I referred to also joined in the same chorus, which may be understandable. But nothing was said about the desecration of a synagogue in Los Angeles. Nothing! Is hatred of Jews acceptable? Is it not also racism?
I wrote to the lay and professional leadership of that Orthodox organization the night before writing these words. So far, no response.
We have our political concerns here, as one of our beloved representatives reportedly has endorsed AOC, an enemy of Israel and an enemy of the society we cherish. I warned about this in an article in January of this year. That caused quite a few letters to the editor, even from a rabbinic colleague in Queens, to protest my implied criticism of a good friend. I know that the Queens Jewish Link offered Mrs. Meng to post an op-ed on the matter, supposedly to deny the endorsement. Perhaps it will appear in this issue. Perhaps not.
The Torah in D’varim (28:34) warns us that, during catastrophic times, “V’hayisa m’shuga mi’mar’ei einecha… – You will go mad from the sight of your eyes.” The Netziv, in his commentary Haameik Davar, explains that the curse is that as a powerful nation, the people will be dumbfounded by the extensive damage by the shodedim – the petty bandits – that we cannot control. That can be quite maddening.
We live in the most powerful country on Earth. We can destroy half the universe in moments. We can kill an arch-terrorist in his car on an exit ramp thousands of miles away. Yet we have been brought to our knees by a disease and now by shodedim, a mob of anarchists.
May Hashem have mercy on His People and on our country. My prediction is that eventually we will dig out from under, and all will be well again, with Hashem’s help.
I hope I’m right on that, as well!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.