How often have you heard the question asked: “Why don’t the Jews have their Al Sharpton? We need someone who will speak up for us with force!”
The fact is, Jews don’t like or tolerate the Al Sharpton type in their midst. The closest we had to an Al Sharpton was Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d. While he attracted some attention with the founding of the Jewish Defense League back in the 1970s – along with his slogan of “Every Jew a .22!” – most Jews were not comfortable with him. Just a fact – like it or not.
The old story goes that two Jews were brought before a firing squad to be executed by the czar’s army. As they were being blindfolded, one of them shouts, “Down with the czar!” The other Jew, horrified to hear that, cries out to his friend, “Shah shtill, don’t make trouble!” Jews just don’t like to make noise. Better to suffer in silence than to make a public issue of things.
Even someone like Dov Hikind, who heroically speaks out against anti-Semitism, has a limited following. Or Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, one of the very few organizations to go public in denouncing anti-Semitism coming from the left, is roundly criticized by fellow Jews for being “racist” in doing so.
On a larger scale, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only condemned by world leaders and most Democrats, but also by just about every secular Jewish organization for expressing his plan to annex Judea and Samaria, rightfully the Jewish Biblical Land of Israel. We just don’t like to stir things – to a fault.
How about the public cutting of the locks to gain entry to the city parks for our kids? Didn’t most of us feel a sense of unease with the sight of Jews being so flagrant against this government, as ridiculous as it is? And what did they do – not loot, not maim, not steal, not scream, but cut a fence to get into a playground for our children. What a shanda!
How about iconic figures of known anti-Semites? Does any Jew call for the renaming of Stuyvesant Park or School? Any Jew want to destroy his statue? Or Walt Disney? Rename Disneyland? Or replace Ford with ferd?
The fact is, violent, or even vehement, reaction is not in our blood. But we have something else: It’s called success. One of my children told me, “I would rather be quiet and successful than loud and unsuccessful.” Thank G-d we have been successful. We have picked ourselves up from the heap of ashes in Europe and built beautiful families, businesses, yeshivos, synagogues, and other institutions.
Do we need to make ourselves heard? Absolutely! I would love to see us as part of a huge rally against the lawlessness taking place in our country and city. One was already held in front of Gracie Mansion to protest the lawlessness of nightly fireworks being ignored by Hizzoner. The huge, rowdy crowd attracted a cross-section of ethnicity. It was great. It was loud but peaceful and made its point. We need more like them, including right here in Queens in front of the offices of those politicians who have encouraged this lawlessness. But we don’t need hate-filled and divisive speeches. We don’t need violence. We don’t need attention grabbers, nor do we want them.
What we can learn from the African American community is achdus, unity. From across the strata, the wealthiest to the poorest, the greatest entertainers to insignificant politicians, the richest athletes to the person on welfare, the blacks have been together in the battle for their cause. As Rashi states regarding the generation of the Tower of Babel, what allowed them to attempt their mission to conquer the heavens was their unity in sense of purpose. Unity is something we in the Jewish community could sure use.
I think this answers the question.
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.