Once again, we are delighted to welcome the members of Troop 97 to the Gordon Chapel. Troop 97 has been sponsored by Temple Oheb Shalom for longer than most of us have been alive. It is an important and valued component of Oheb Shalom and we are proud to be its sponsor. Besides training boys to become fine young men, Troop 97 provides valuable services to our community and especially our congregation. Without Troop 97’s participation in last Sunday’s Purim Carnival, for example, it would have not been the great success it was. This is just one of the many activities with which the Boy Scouts help. We are continually grateful to the scouts, their parents and scout masters for their ongoing support of and participation in the daily life of Temple Oheb Shalom.
My words tonight are specifically directed to our scouts but have universal import. I begin by referring to a very serious incident that occurred last month at UCLA, the Southern California flagship of the University of California system. An outstanding Jewish student, Rachel Beyda, was going through the confirmation process for the student council’s Judicial Board, which is the campus equivalent of the Supreme Court. Rachel is a sophomore economics major, belongs to the Jewish sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, and is active in Hillel. She hopes to go to law school after graduation. Everything was going well at the proceeding until it came time for questions. The first question changed everything. A member of the student council asked, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”[i] “For the next forty minutes, after Rachel was dispatched from the room, the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board. The discussion, recorded in written minutes and captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes- particularly about divided loyalties- that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries.”[ii] The council voted to reject Rachel’s application only to later unanimously put her on the board, just after a faculty advisor pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest.
What happened at UCLA is appalling. This was not a protest against Israeli policy vis a vis the Palestinians but was blatant anti-Semitism. Rachel’s roommate, the current president of her sorority, went to the meeting expecting her friend to be immediately approved. She was stunned at what she witnessed. She said, “I swear the word Israel was not said once. It was all about Jewish affiliations. It didn’t leave any doubt that what this is, anti-Semitism. There has to be recognition that there is anti-Semitism on the campus and it manifested itself first with the anti-Israel boycott.”[iii]
This incident is just another example, although the most egregious, of what is happening on college campuses all across the country. Throughout the United States, criticism towards Israel has morphed into blatant anti-Semitism. This would never be tolerated if it was directed, for example, against African-Americans. Once again, this ugly canard of dual loyalty surfaces in the United States. We thought we had put this issue to rest two hundred years ago but, dear scouts, you will have to face it head on once again.
The claim has been made since our Emancipation in France following the French Revolution in 1789, that Jews could not be loyal citizens to the country in which they were citizens as well as being faithful Jews. In 1807, Napoleon constituted the Great Sanhedrin, bringing together rabbis and leading laymen from all of France to answer twelve questions, almost of all which were directed towards this question. Allow me to read questions four through six, which get to the heart of the matter:
- In the eyes of Jews, are Frenchmen who are not Jewish considered to be their brethren or strangers?
- What type of conduct does Jewish law prescribe toward non-Jewish Frenchmen?
- Do the Jews who are born in France and have been granted citizenship by the laws of France, truly acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to defend it, to follow its laws, to follow the directions of the civil and court authorities of France?
The members of the Council gave Napoleon the answers he sought. Jews and Frenchmen were brothers. Jews followed civil law, even if it conflicted with Jewish law, and Jewish citizens of France owed their loyalty to France alone. While Napoleon’s goal was to force the assimilation and eventual disappearance of French Jews, we have followed the precedents set by the Great Sanhedrin ever since.
On March 19, 1841, Rev. Gustav Poznansky of Charleston, South Carolina, uttered these immortal words when he dedicated the new building of the venerable congregation, Beth Elohim, “This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our father defended with their lives that temple, that city and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city, and this land.”[iv] Since that time, Jews in the Federal armies fought Jews in the Confederate armies, French Jews fought German Jews, German Jews fought Russian Jews, and Italian Jews fought Austrian Jews. We have demonstrated our loyalty to the United States and the countries of our citizenship with our blood, our funds, and our devotion. While we love the State of Israel and its Jews are our brothers and sisters, we neither vote or pay taxes in Israel nor serve in the IDF. This is our country- and our loyalty to the United States should not, may not, and cannot be questioned.
Sadly, my young friends, you are part of another generation that will have to defend our unquestioned loyalty to the United States. As you leave the scouts and enter college, you will have to strongly protect yourselves, and us, against the Jew hatred which is once again part of American life. We believed it had departed with the Dust Bowl and the Depression, but here it is again, this time not propagated by right wing fanatics but by the intelligentsia of the left. It is, nevertheless, just as virulent and hateful.
I regret to lay this burden upon your young shoulders, but you, like your forebears before you will, I am sure, wear your dual identity as Americans and Jews with pride and distinction. We pray tonight, as always, that with our help, you will be the next generation in this Shalshelet HaKabbalah, this long line of Tradition, to take on this daunting task and triumph.
Amen and Shabbat shalom
[i] NY Times, March 5, 2015.
[iv] Meyer, Michael, Response to Modernity, page 234.