Some time back in the 1980s, before my days in the OU, I was a staff member of a major Orthodox Jewish organization. As such, I went to their annual dinners held in a Manhattan hotel. One year, the guest speaker was the late Senator Ted Kennedy. As word made its way that the senator had arrived and was working his way to the dinner, a number of female staff waited eagerly to catch a glimpse of him. Upon seeing this, one of the senior staff members called out to them and said, “Hey, young ladies, if he offers you a lift home, ask him to take the tunnel!”
This, of course, was a reference to the Chappaquiddick affair in 1969. Mr. Kennedy, at that time, was driving his car across a bridge that crossed the Chappaquiddick Bay, accompanied by a young lady, Mary Jo Kopechne, and another woman. Likely due to his inebriated state, Kennedy crashed the car into the bay below, swam out, and then ran for his life, leaving Mary Jo to die in the submerged car. So goes the tragic story. The jury is still out on many of the details.
This should have ended in a criminal conviction of at least vehicular manslaughter, bringing to an abrupt end the political career of yet another Kennedy. Not quite. Kennedy’s career surged on, reelected by his adoring Massachusetts voters. In fact, he went on to challenge a sitting president, Jimmy Carter, in a primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. A fierce fighter for immigration reform, he became known as the “Lion of The Senate” until his death of a brain tumor in August of 2009.
I think we can all agree that had he not been from a storied political family, and a Democrat, the public and the press would not have given him the pass he received.
We see this in so many other ways, as well. Recently, right-leaning TV host Megyn Kelly made one error with something that can be interpreted as a racial slur and her career was over in an instant. No second thoughts. No apologies accepted. Gone. The same thing happened with Roseanne Barr, whom quite frankly I did not hear of until her dismissal. She made a comment, interpreted as racist, about a former Obama staffer, and she and her very popular TV show were gone in a flash. Too bad, she was a supporter of Trump and Israel.
Yet Jew-haters coming from the left continue to flourish. Most outstanding, of course, is Louis Farrakhan, who has no trouble referring to Jews as “termites” – and that’s on one of his better days. Most recently, the sainted basketball star and Trump-hating LeBron James posted on social media, “We been getting that Jewish money. Everything is kosher.” Certainly as bad, or worse, than anything either Kelly or Barr said. But he apologized – “if anyone was offended” – and said he thought it was a compliment to the Jews. The Lakers accepted his apology and took no action. All is cool.
By the way, Mr. James has no problem liking money himself. He made many millions with the Cleveland Cavaliers but needed a few more million to get by, so he ditched his beloved hometown fans and moved to LA.
Now we are facing serious trouble. There are two freshman congresswomen who are Muslim. That’s good – diversity at its best. The problem is that both Representatives, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, accepted their elections with the Palestinian flag, invoked the name of Allah, and were virulent in their condemnation of the Jewish state. Of course, they ran with the endorsement of J-Street. Thank you, anti-Trumpers, for making this all possible. To make matters worse, Ms. Tlaib used an unprintable expletive to refer to the President of the United States. What dignity she brings to this blessed country where she found refuge from her co-religionist oppressors! But that was kosher, because she did that in order to call for Trump’s impeachment. Anybody recall the Democratic cry for civil discourse? What a joke!
Surely, we will hear from our good Senator Schumer or Congressman Jerrold Nadler on all these issues. No doubt, as good Jews, they will rise to the occasion as the other minorities do for their own. Without question, they consider the plight of their brethren at least as important as their preoccupation with impeachment. Let me know when they do, and the kiddush is on me.
At our weekly Halachic Household shiur this past Sunday, one of the women brought up this topic before the shiur started. She was visibly and correctly upset and demanded to know what we are doing about this, and what the established organizations are doing about it. I had a very simple answer for her: NOTHING! All the major secular and Orthodox Jewish organizations have been mum. The ADL, on rare occasion, will send out a press release and walk on. If the hate comes from the right, they will make more of an issue and blame Trump in the process. That’s it. There is a problem with BDS signs posted all over Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Aside from one gentleman who has taken this to heart, no organization or public official is willing to do too much about it.
The one exception that comes to mind is the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), under the leadership of Mort Klein. They do make noise and they do follow up. The one politician we could count on to speak up was Dov Hikind. Unfortunately, he has retired from political life and leaves a yawning gap.
What we need to do, as I’ve been saying for years, is make our own noise. Write letters to The Times, even if they don’t get printed (trust me they don’t). Call and write to all your elected officials, local and national. Call the organizations and demand to know why they are silent. Especially the Orthodox ones. They are very sensitive to public opinion.
This is the reason for the development of the Coalition for Jewish Values, of which I am proud to serve as Vice President. We write. We email. We publish articles. We place pressure where it should be placed. We speak up – from matters concerning Israel to matters of common morality. And we have thankfully made an impact. But we have a lot more to do.
I am well aware of my critics who have pleaded with me not to take up political issues. But this is not just politics as usual. This is the survival of the Jewish People. To quote Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Certainly not our good friends in the public eye. “If not now, when?” Don’t let them get away with murder.
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.