Last week on Yom HaAtzmaut, our good friend and former KGH resident Moshe Markovitz spoke at Congregation Etz Chaim. Moshe gave a personal account of his very young days growing up as a child in the newly declared State of Israel in 1948. Although just a few years old at the time, his recollections remain vivid of the very day David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, on Erev Shabbos as it were. The jubilation, the dancing in the streets, accompanied by the preparation for Shabbos, still swirl in the inner recesses of his mind.
One of the more interesting stories that he shared was the relationship of the Jews with the British occupiers before the fight for independence. The Jews, although longing to be independent, had an inbred respect for their overlords. When Moshe was born, his father felt it only right to invite His Majesty King George VI to attend the pidyon ha’ben of his new arrival. Moshe showed us an original copy of the telegram sent. More interestingly, he shared with us the response from the king via his assistant. In it, the assistant apologized for the king and explained that it is His Majesty’s practice to attend the affairs of the royal family exclusively.
There is a lot that is fascinating about that little exchange. But what sits with me is the fact that the king bothered responding at all. He actually took the time out to send a return message to some unknown subject of his in a distant and tiny country. Compare that with today. It takes a moment to click a mouse and respond to an email. Yet how often do we find that people just can’t be bothered. I am not talking about mass emails or nudniks. I’m talking about responding to emails on urgent matters to people whom we know. We do not have to compose a formal letter, buy postage, and drop a letter in a box. Just have the common courtesy to press a button, even if just to say, “Thank you for your message – I will think about your words.”
Well, below you will see my email to the heads of the three major Orthodox organizations: Agudath Israel, the National Council of Young Israel, and the Orthodox Union. I have good reason to respect all three, and I do. My first job was with Project Cope of the Agudah back in 1980-1984. They did great work then and continue to do so now. My next job was with the OU in 1984 to the present. I have come to admire them deeply for their critical contribution to the Jewish community, especially in the fields of kashrus and outreach. Finally, I am a rabbi in a Young Israel and grew up in a Young Israel just about all my life. Young Israel has been fighting the valiant fight for Orthodoxy since its inception about 100 years ago.
For this reason, I am disappointed that these iconic organizations have done very little to organize Jewry to bring the plight of Jewry today to the public arena. Here in Kew Gardens Hills we organized a successful rally on a shoestring a month or so ago. All the other ethnic groups, with a fraction of the resources that the Jewish community has, have managed to rally when necessary and make noise. And that’s what works.
The only rallies today are organized by dedicated grassroots individuals, such as the one taking place this week against the BDS meeting in a church in Astoria, and one next Monday in Manhattan to protest Ilhan Omar’s position in Congress. It is simply not acceptable for the established organizations to say, “We do things behind the scenes.” That’s another way of saying that we really don’t do anything. Or we don’t want to rock any boats.
I took the liberty of publicizing the email, which was addressed to the three heads of these organizations, since I did not get as much as an acknowledgement of my email to them. I forwarded copies to some of the related officers of the organizations and received the same silence treatment. I talked with the leadership of these organizations over the years and was given a sympathetic ear at best. Sorry that I’m a pain in the neck. I do not mention their names for this article, as these people are otherwise fine individuals with a lot on their plates.
Something must be done. And now!
Dear Orthodox Leaders:
Please do something. Reb Zelig Epstein zt”l was once asked to join a machaah against a certain practice that was seen as afflicting Torah values. His response was: “Klal Yisrael’s pants are falling down and you want to fix their tie?!”
Klal Yisrael’s pants are now on fire and we need to react quickly. As the heads of the major Orthodox organizations, we look to your leadership. Now is the time to come together and put aside all our petty differences, whatever they may be. This is not a time for press releases and hand-wringing. This is a time for action. This is not a time to say, “This is not in line with our organization’s policy.” This a time of Leich k’nos es kol haYehudim.
I recall in Rabbi Sherer’s day that he sat with a Catholic nun – yes, a nun – in a dais to protest the PLO opening an office in Manhattan. The pictures of that event are still available through the Daily News. Of course, we all know that the Agudah did the extraordinary by joining their anathema Satmar in protesting against drafting Israeli yeshivah students, right here in the streets of New York City. If there is a will, there is a way.
We are now faced with unprecedented hatred of Jews coming from the left and the right – right here in the USA. In Israel, Jews are being bombarded again with tragic losses. It has taken too many Jewish lives already.
Let’s face it: Leftist Jews are now more in line with the enemy than they are with us. Today’s Reform, Conservative, and non-affiliated Jews care little about Israel and are unmoved by what is taking place here in the USA. Jewish kids from these movements are rapidly signing up with “If Not Now” and BDS movements. They could probably not fill a shoebox of Jews to protest anything in favor of Jews. It’s a sad fact.
But the Orthodox can. They can coordinate with shuls and yeshivos to mobilize and have a mass rally here and/or in Washington. We must protest Congress for allowing hatemongers to go unchecked. We must show the world that we are with Israel at this time – that we will not cave to media bias, etc, etc. The reason why Muslims have succeeded in portraying themselves as the new darlings to sympathize with is because they make noise and have unity of message. And this is doing us existential harm.
The Coalition for Jewish Values has filled much of the vacuum that the established organizations have left. But it’s not enough. We cannot coordinate a mass gathering. Each one of you can. And you know it.
Please act now. It’s more important than any other project that you may be involved with. If you think I’m just getting on your case, so be it. But we need the big fire brigades to put out the fire. Especially around Shavuos time, we will hear endless drashos and proclamations about the importance of achdus (unity). Let’s show we mean it for a change. If I can be of any help, please let me know.
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.