I recently spent quite a bit of time in the hospital. Baruch Hashem, to date, I have responded well to all my treatments. During my stays, I had white gentile, Korean, Chinese, and, of course, Jewish roommates. Some were more interesting and conversant than others.
One of my roommates, named Mark, was a non-stop talking machine, which did not make me too thrilled. But we left on a very close note, exchanging email addresses and then emails.
Mark was a single fellow (had a girlfriend years ago) with unruly grey hair, looking to be in his 50s. His last name was one that was not obviously Jewish, but I had no doubt he was. We made small talk and he asked me where I lived, and I asked him the same, to which he responded Chelsea (lower Midtown Manhattan).
Out of nowhere, he asked me if I was a Trump supporter. Not wanting to get into a political brouhaha, I responded, “Well, if you are from Chelsea, I assume you do not like Trump.” He readily agreed.
“Why don’t you like him?” I asked. “He’s a stupid moron!” was his quick response. “Do you think Biden is smart?” I asked. “Very,” he answered. I realized then we were on two different frequencies.
He then asked if I watch Fox News. Again, I responded with a question: “Do you watch MSNBC?” “Yes,” he said. He explained that Fox News is completely biased but at least MSNBC is objective. (I had to hold back my laugh.)
The clincher came when he lectured me that people in the world need to be more tolerant and accepting of others. He said, “For example, the Orthodox in Israel need to be more tolerant of the Palestinians!”
I looked at him and said, “Listen to yourself. You just made a broad sweeping condemnation of an entire group of Jews. And you don’t even know the facts. How tolerant is that?”
It was a deer-in-the-headlights moment for him, and that conversation came to a quick end. But as I say, we developed a real friendship, which may continue. He was very enamored that I was a rabbi. He had attended Sunday School for a year and that was his Jewish education and involvement.
Mark made me realize a couple of things. First, that as much as we may be convinced of the righteousness of our beliefs – political or religious – those who disagree are equally convinced of the validity of their position. It is not as though they believe in spite.
Second, Mark is not untypical of a lot of Jewish liberals. It is part of their credo to condemn intolerance and bigotry, yet it is okay to generalize and condemn those who disagree with them. Orthodox Jews are always fair game to criticize as a group. All their talk of tolerance is phony feel-good gibberish.
On an entirely different matter, our shul, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, in cooperation with the Young Israel of Queens Valley and Congregation Etz Chaim, sponsored a very meaningful Yom HaShoah event last week. The guest speaker was Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute of Holocaust Studies. The event was made possible by the support and coordination of Mr. and Mrs. Ephraim Berger.
Professor Medoff spoke about the 400 Agudas Harabonim rabbis who gathered in Washington, hopeful to have an audience with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They came to plead for increased Jewish immigration from Nazi-torn Europe. The president claimed that he was too busy to meet them. Dr. Medoff showed that this was a lie, as the White House schedule for the day showed he had about three hours of free time. There are also notes from the White House recordings that were laced with pure anti-Semitism.
Outside of these long-bearded European-born rabbis, little – if anything – was done by organized Jewry to pressure the White House.
Dr. Medoff pointed out that Roosevelt received about 80% of the Jewish vote all four times he ran. The Jews idolized their own enemy.
I contend that if FDR were to rise from his grave today and run against Trump or any Republican, he would carry the Jewish vote by a wide margin, even knowing what we do about him. Wouldn’t Jews trip over themselves to vote for Obama again, despite his being an existential threat to Israel? (Yes, I know that Orthodox Jews are thankfully more thoughtful in their political calculations.)
Also remaining the same is the fact that Jews today do not want to raise their voices against the mainstream. Think about the total silence during the last Hamas war. It was “shah shtill” in reaction to Ben & Jerry’s. Here the Orthodox are equally guilty.
Have we learned lessons from World War II? Perhaps Jews were motivated to respond to the needs of the suffering in Ukraine, but that did not involve going to the mat with the political leadership. Everyone was into the cause.
I really don’t get our people sometimes. We are the smartest, the greatest achievers, and yet politically infantile.
We need to be so grateful to Hashem that He still loves us and saves us from ourselves.
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.