Sermon for Erev Shabbat – February 24, 2017

The Times They Are a Changing

February 24, 2017

  • There have been 48 bomb threats against JCCs in this country in the last month. The two Baltimore JCCs have been evacuated twice.
  • Hundreds of tombstones were overturned and desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis
  • Anti-Semitic hate incidents are at unprecedented levels around the country
  • Neo-Nazis have publicized the names and addresses of Jewish families in White Fish, Montana and other small towns in the West
  • The administration’s statement released on Holocaust Memorial Day in January did NOT mention Jews, the primary victims of the Shoah
  • The so called “Alt-Right” has resurfaced and is resurgent in this country and throughout Europe
  • Candidate Trump refused to reject the endorsement of Klansman David Duke

These are just some of the reasons why American Jews are more anxious than at any time since the 1930s.  My 94 year old mother in law, a Navy veteran and no shrinking violet, said that  recent events remind her of the sixth grade, when her locker mate changed into a Nazi Bund uniform to attend meetings after school.  Now let me say at the outset that I do not think for one moment that President Trump is an anti-Semite.  He has said he is the “least anti-Semitic and racist person” and, in this case, I believe him.  It is practically impossible for him to have a Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and hate Jews.  He surrounds himself with Jewish advisors, lawyers, and doctors.  Several of his cabinet picks have been Jews.  No, I do not think he is an anti-Semite.  What I do think is that he has fallen under the sway of his senior counselor, Stephen Bannon, who now has a seat on the National Security Council and is the generator of the Executive Order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries.  Stephen Bannon is a right wing Conservative Catholic, a Navy veteran, and a Harvard Business School graduate who made a fortune at Goldman Sachs and then as an executive producer in Hollywood.  He became editor of Breitbart News upon the death of its founder in 2012 and has been a fervent advocate of its worldview ever since.  Breitbart “is the first significant American outlet to articulate and represent, in a large-scale way, a new philosophy of nationalism and populism that has found strong purchase in American society, and in many other parts of the globe.  The Breitbart philosophy revolves around the core belief that a wildly corrupt ruling class, of both parties, has abandoned American workers in favor of policies that line its own pockets and the pockets of corporate interests.  And its white-hot anger stems from how the leading institutions of American life have engineered all sorts of arrangements hostile to American workers: trade deals that favor the interest of large multinational companies over American workers, open-border policies that serve the needs of agro-businesses at the expense of low-wage Americans, and, more generally, a set of globalist policies that support transnational business interests without regard for the deteriorating status and position of middle America.”[i]  Bannon wants to upend and destroy the elites that he thinks have ruined this country.

He is the God father of the alt-right movement.  Bannon, when editor of Breitbart News, gave comfort and support to White Supremacists and other racists who share his views.  This may be why we are seeing a resurgence of hate crimes in the United States.  Bannon, who has the ear of the President, is turning a blind eye to them.  He is also a zealous believer that we are in a civilizational war with Islam.  He has stated on numerous occasions that Christian Europe, including Russia, and North America must unite to fight the greatest threat to our existence- radical Islam.  Hence, the ban on Muslim refugees coming to this country.  Bannon does not like liberals of any variety, particularly liberal Jews.  He seems to be enamored with right wing Jews, such as Stephen Miller and especially right wing Israeli Zionists who advocate a “blood and soil” kind of nationalism akin to Bannon’s.  Allow me to take the next few minutes and explain how we are in the crosshairs of an ideological battle that has been going on for over two hundred years.

Beginning in 1789 with the French Revolution, the ideas of the Enlightenment spread throughout Europe.  Liberty, Equality, Fraternity was the rallying cry of French armies who opened the ghetto doors and emancipated the Jews of Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Poland.  Grateful for their new freedoms, our ancestors supported the French and drank from the cup of the Enlightenment.  The Reform movement began in this era as our people strove to reconcile the Jewish Tradition with the new demands of Reason.  We came to embody the internationalism and cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment.  It was not a coincidence that Jews later flocked to the Socialist and Communist movements which negated the importance of national borders and expressed the solidarity of international class struggle.  These movements were, by definition, pan national and cosmopolitan.  Modern nationalism began as a reaction to the French invasion.  Germans began to acclaim their Teutonic past and the purity of Germanic blood.  Jews who had lived in Germany for hundreds of years were outsiders in this Germany.  According to the purveyors of this filth, we were neither racially pure nor rooted in the sacred soil of Germany.  Simultaneously, Jews benefitted from the rise of Capitalism as we applied our skills and utilized our contacts across nations and continents to become financially successful.  Many of us became ardent advocates of Capitalism and its tenets, which include open borders and free trade.  What’s most important to capitalists is making money.  The borders of nation states are sometimes an impediment to that goal.

Stephen Bannon is most comfortable with right wing Zionists of the Settler movement because they share his “blood and soil” ideology and hate Arabs, as does he.  The settlers do not want to give up an inch of Judea or Samaria because they believe that God gave it to the Jewish people.  As liberal Jews, we believe in the Zionist ideal, just a different one from the settlers.  We support Israel as a homeland for our people and a center for Jewish culture and values.  As Echad Ha-am wrote a century ago, the new Jewish state should be a light unto the nations.  We should live within secure recognized borders at peace with the Palestinians who, too, deserve a state of their own.  We do not embrace the extreme nationalism of Stephen Bannon.  We believe in human dignity and equality.  We believe that all people, Jews and Christians, Sikhs and Muslims, are all created in God’s image.  We have no patience for racism or xenophobic nationalism.  We will espouse these values with all our heart, soul and might.  May the God of us all bless our efforts to ensure that the United States is a land of liberty and justice for all.

Amen and Shabbat shalom

[i] Ken Stern, Vanity Fair, August 17, 2017

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