I have been on the phone with my daughter in Houston this week. The situation there is bizarre beyond words. Houston this time of year is usually either somewhat chilly, at about 40 degrees, or in the 70s. Right now, it is about 16 degrees, with streets frozen and power cut off. Largely, the power outage is due to the eco-friendly, electricity-producing windmills freezing. No power, no heat. This is expected to remain for a few days. Scary.
In Chicago, where another daughter lives, which is accustomed to cold winters, the temperature hovers below zero, with huge snow storms to boot. Unexpected tornadoes and ice storms are plaguing the midsection of the country.
It seems Hashem is toying with the planet. Between the awful COVID pandemic, the insane political situation in our country and elsewhere, and the abnormal weather, Hashem is giving the world a message: Life cannot go on routinely as it did before.
For this abnormal world, I have some abnormal questions:
Why do so many people in the Orthodox community not care about chilul Hashem? Jonathan Rosenblatt wrote about this in Mishpacha Magazine two weeks ago. Putting all else aside, doesn’t the issue of kiddush Hashem/chilul Hashem play a role when deciding about keeping to COVID protocols?
Why can’t political discussion be civil? I have been in several situations, either as a group or individual, with people who, it turns out, are very anti-Trump. As soon as they find out that I, or our group, are pro-Trump, the insults start flying. That happened recently when I participated in a Zoom meeting with a former New York Times reporter who is a very fine person and happens to be an Orthodox Jew. The moment he went off-topic to discuss presidential politics and realized many of the participants were sympathetic to Trump, we were subjected to a tirade about the poisoning of the mind by Fox News. Many of us were insulted, as this was not supposed to be a political discussion at all.
I have been receiving calls over the years from the daughter of a family that knew my father in the 1950s and ’60s. She would be in touch mainly to see how my father was doing. We always had a friendly discussion. During the last call, about a week ago, I had to tell her the sad news that my father zt”l had passed. She is a rather earthy person and let out an expletive when she heard that. Out of the blue, she told me that she thinks that Biden is wonderful and will unite the country. I told her I don’t see him uniting the country by all of his executive orders and by the impeachment trial. Then she went on to tell me that Trump is an anti-Semite. How so? I asked. After all, he has a grandson who wears tzitzis.
“You mean you are pro-Trump?! she asked incredulously. “Yes, I am, mainly because he has done so much for Israel and Jews,” was my honest reply.
“Just shut up, Yoel!” was her wonderful response. Somehow, we patched things up and continued the conversation.
No doubt you have seen the mean and sometimes vicious language by columnists in this very paper in the political discourse. I just don’t get the need for nastiness.
Finally, I would like to ask my old question: Where are the Jewish organizations when you need them? Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped of her committee appointments due to her wacky and anti-Semitic statements. Congresswoman Mary Miller, a wholesome freshman congresswoman and a great supporter of Jews and Israel, made an unfortunate reference to Hitler for a perfectly benign reason. The political winds from the left and many Jewish spokespeople trashed her and barely accepted her apology.
Yet the very dangerous anti-Semite Ilhan Omar is promoted to a major role in the House Foreign Relations Committee and no one says a word. The only ones who issued very forceful statements were the Zionist Organization of America and the Coalition for Jewish Values. Nothing from anyone else. Not a word from our politicians, local or national. Jewish or non-Jewish. Why the silence? Is anti-Semitism only good as a political weapon when it comes from the right?
The world is truly upside down in the political, social, and weather arenas.
It brings to mind Hashem’s directive to Jews to transmit to their children “that which I made a mockery of Egypt (Sh’mos 10:2).” I get the feeling that we are witnessing a similar mockery taking place today.
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.