Agudath Israel Statement On Recent Global Anti-Semitism

As Israel applies itself to the task of rooting out terrorists in Gaza, and destroying their tunnels and rocket launchers, there have been, as always when Israel acts to defend herself, condemnations of her effort to protect her citizens from an enemy bent on murdering them.

Seizing on the tragic consequences of even as just a war as the one Israel is conducting against Hamas, the condemners vehemently protest Israel’s actions – and, in the time-honored tradition of Jew-hatred, wax violent against Jews, wherever they may be.

And so, we have come to witness over recent weeks hatred and violence directed toward Jewish communities in France and other countries. Such incidents are reminiscent of an earlier, darker time in our history when hatred of Jews was openly and unabashedly expressed both verbally and physically. Witnessing these attacks today is a stark and chilling reminder that the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a malignant reality in the modern world.

Without questioning the sentiments or actions of the French government, or of the other governments involved, the fact that these incidents have primarily taken place in Europe, where just decades ago many “ordinary citizens” were complicit in the persecution and extermination of Jews, is not lost on us. Neither is the fact that these incidents come at a time of sharply rising anti-Semitism among the European populace, as indicated in various polls and studies.

The pretense that these attacks are not anti-Semitic, but merely a reaction to current events in the Middle East, is cynical and decidedly false. When a Paris mob besieges and throws bricks at a synagogue with 200 congregants inside, it is anti-Semitism. When a synagogue north of Paris is firebombed on Friday night and sustains damage, it is anti-Semitism. When a 17-year-old girl — referred to as a “dirty Jewess” — is assaulted on a Paris street by having her face pepper-sprayed, it is anti-Semitism. When a kosher grocery is torched in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, it is anti-Semitism.  When a Moroccan rabbi is pummeled into unconsciousness as he is walking to synagogue, it is anti-Semitism. When anti-Israel demonstrations in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Turkey and other countries are accompanied with calls to “slaughter the Jews,” with chants of “death to the Jews,” with slogans like “Hitler was right,” it is anti-Semitism. Pure and simple.

We have raised these concerns with our State Department and have been assured that these developments, and their grave implications, are being taken by our government with the utmost seriousness.  We have every faith and confidence that the United States will not stand by idly and that these blatant manifestations of animus against Jews will be responded to in a meaningful and effective manner.

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Of Public Record — quotes culled from recent days’ media


“It’s not like I was some social outcast… like I was an anarchist or somebody who just wants to destroy the world… No, I was a regular person.  And mujahedeen are regular people too.”

Canadian-born ISIS terrorist Andre Poulin (who in fact had a “violent threat” arrest record in Canada), in a video promoting jihad.  Mr. Poulin was killed in Syria last year at the age of 24.


“There’s a climate change establishment and I’m not in it.”

John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, on being shunned by his colleagues for contending that predictions of future global warming are greatly overstated.


“[I just like] those funny, funny names”

Joram Kamau, the owner of a matatu, or minibus, in Kenya, on his choice of “Hitler” as the name of his vehicle (painted on the windshield in 7-inch-high letters and stitched into every seat).  Mr. Kamau said he had never heard of the Holocaust.


“I have ‘chai’ tattooed on my body.  I will always hold Jewish traditions near to my heart.”

Cliff Freid, who has opened a restaurant in Manhattan that serves food made from, or with, ants, worms and other insects, on the disconnect between the fare he offers and Jewish law.


“I kind of phased things in. I started with keeping kosher and keeping Shabbos, but the dressing came about 10 years later.  I think I really did see it the way I’d say most people who are outside the Orthodox world look at it: ‘Why should I give up summer clothes?’ And I was very surprised to find out when I made the changeover that it’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it would be.  It’s not about making yourself ugly, it’s about focusing on the inside, not the outside.”

New Jersey lawyer Janette Frisch, who began to undertake Jewish observance in college, on how dressing modestly on hot days ceased to be an issue for her.


“You cannot read the Hebrew Scripture without encountering the idea that there’s a very strong covenant between G-d and the Jewish people,”

Pew Research Center director of religion research Alan Cooperman, in an understatement, on Evangelicals’ particularly high regard for Jews, revealed in a recent poll that showed Jews are the “best liked group” in America.  (Atheists and Muslims were the least liked.)


“I did not leave Morocco for France to be confronted by Morocco again in France,”

An unnamed Casablanca-born Jewish doctor, to French journalist Michel Gurfinkiel



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, offering his judgment of Israel’s bombing of missile sites in Gaza, a judgment Armenians would, and accurately, apply elsewhere.


“We don’t need statements of regret from Israel.”

Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, after Israel apologized for civilian casualties in Gaza.  He didn’t indicate whether or not Israel needs rocket attacks on its citizens.


Fresh Air Amid the Reek

Even more remarkable than the article itself was where it appeared.

Written by Elissa Strauss, an essayist and a “co-artistic director” of a “non-religious Jewish house of study for culture-makers at the 14th Street Y” in New York, the piece – “What Did the Orthodox Do Now?!” – graced the pages of the Forward, where Ms. Strauss is a contributing editor.

The essay’s focus was the non-Orthodox Jewish media’s “fixation with Haredi Jews”; those organs’ “hunger for sensationalism” in their reportage on the Orthodox community; the “crude laziness” evidenced by such tunnel vision; and the reduction of “a whole community of Jews” to “a kind of caricature in stories that often traffic in stereotypes.”

Points well taken, and the Forward, of course, is a good example of such invidious ink-spilling.  It has some excellent reporters but also maintains a stable of writers and bloggers with chronically jaundiced views of the charedi world.  And so it deserves credit for publishing Ms. Strauss’ piece, which was essentially a rebuke of its own journalistic bent with regard to our community.

Ms. Strauss attributes the obsessive negativity displayed by some non-Orthodox writers for charedim to a desire to feel a “moral superiority” over their subjects, to “pat ourselves on the back for being so much better.”  But she also raises the specter of other “much more complicated emotions” involved, “possibly including envy…”

A second remarkable article appeared recently in a Jewish publication that doesn’t display any noticeable anti-charedi bent: the venerable politically conservative monthly, Commentary.  On the heels of Ms. Strauss’ piece, it published a lengthy scholarly historical and sociological overview of the charedi community, written by Jack Wertheimer, a respected professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.  Titled “What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox” (although the latter term is eschewed in the text of the article, in favor of “Haredim”), it presents an impressively clear and unbiased picture of the American charedi world and its ideals, and demonstrates what the piece’s subtitle promises: “The least understood and most insular American Jews have much to teach us.”

Professor Wertheimer acknowledges various grievances and complaints some Jews voice about charedim; in each instance, though, he also explains the charedi viewpoint, and does so eloquently and well.

As in every community, there are, unfortunately, distasteful things and unsavory players in our own.  We do ourselves no favor pretending otherwise.  “The Haredim,” however, explains Professor Wertheimer, “are expected” by other Jews “to be free of vice because they are supposed to ‘tremble in fear of G-d’.”

How wonderful a testimony to the Torah’s truth such perfection would be.  Alas, free will is what it is, and living a superficial charedi  lifestyle cannot preclude bad behavior.  But generalizing from outliers to the community as a whole is wrong and indefensible.

As is the refusal Professor Wertheimer asserts “to acknowledge the good and not only the problematic or off-putting [to some outsiders] aspects of Haredi life.

Ms. Strauss puts it pithily: “We aren’t really interested in the Orthodox.  We aren’t willing to see a full picture, the good and the bad, the complexity of these many individuals living so differently than us.”

That’s a sort of unwillingness many of us charedim, too, are occasionally guilty of, whether the subjects of our opinionating are other groups of Jews, non-Jews or President Obama.  But it is particularly glaring, all said and done, in Jewish media reportage on charedim.

Not long ago we read in shul of how Bilam broke the news to his sponsor King Balak that Hashem has thwarted their plans to curse Klal Yisrael, the king responded: “Come with me to another place from where you will see them; however, you will see only a part of them, not all of them, and curse them for me from there” (Bamidbar 23:13).

At first thought that puzzles.  Why would Balak think that having Bilam look at the Jews from a different place and in a limited way might facilitate a successful curse?

Things, though, can look very different from different vantage points.  And a focus can be chosen.  One can aim one’s sights at the negative in a people – or a community or an individual; or one can pull back to see a larger, more comprehensive, and thus more accurate, picture.

Perspective, in the end, is everything, and a skewed one can be a very misleading and dangerous thing.  Balak clearly hoped that a view from a different “angle” might reveal something negative about Klal Yisroel, some vulnerability into which a curse might successfully settle.  Boruch Hashem, he had no success.

Unfortunately, some Jewish media have succeeded for years in portraying charedim from a malevolent perspective, sullying our community and beliefs with selective vision, animus and unjustified generalizations.

Ms. Strauss and Professor Wertheimer deserve kudos for pointing that out, and for suggesting that those media aim to be accurate and fair.  May those writers’ words be taken to heart by those who so need to hear them.

© 2014 Hamodia


Agudath Israel Responds to Israeli Ground Mission in Gaza

With the news that a ground invasion of the hornets’ nest known as Gaza is underway, Agudath Israel of America calls on all Jews to pray for the safety of the soldiers and the citizenry of Israel, and to undertake meaningful acts of kindness, charity, Torah-study and special observances to help merit Divine protection of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, on the front lines and everywhere else

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142, followed by the tefila of Acheinu, is recommended.  But our every prayer should include entreaties on behalf of our fellow Jews.

May our tefillos be received in mercy by Hakodosh Boroch Hu, and help usher in days of peace and security.

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Letter in the New York Times

To the Editor:

A Damaging Distance” (news analysis, Sunday Review, July 13) may well be right that the reduced interaction between Arabs and Israelis is lamentable. But to attribute Israel’s erection of a barrier wall between Palestinian land and Israeli land to “the common wisdom that the two nations needed not greater intimacy but complete separation” ignores something rather important.

The wall was built for one reason: to prevent terrorism. In the three-year period after its erection, only a handful of murderous attacks were carried out in Israel. In the three-year period before it was built, 73 such attacks took place, and 293 Israelis were murdered as a result.

Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, July 13, 2014


Gratitude and Fortitude — Agudath Israel of America Statement, July 10

As enemy missiles continue to rain on Jewish communities in Eretz Yisroel, and many are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, it is incumbent on all Jews to feel hakaras hatov, “recognition of the good,” toward the United States of America, which has funded the system over the years of its development.  We are reminded, at a time like this, how America has made a major contribution to the defense of Israel, for which we must be deeply grateful.

At the same time, we must remember that Im Hashem lo yishmor ir, shov shokad shomer – “If Hashem will not guard the city, for naught does the guard stand vigilant” (Tehillim, 127) – and that it is therefore to Hashem that we must focus our entreaties with special intensity at this critical time.

Our prayers should include entreaties for the wellbeing of our fellow Jews under attack, as well as for those who are risking their lives to defend them and defeat those who wish us harm.

As has been the practice in many shuls over past years, in response to the call of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) 83, 130 and 142 after Shacharis, followed by the tefila of Acheinu, is recommended.

Torah-study on behalf of our beleaguered brethren is also deeply appropriate, and should be intensified.

May our teshuvah, tefilla and tzeddaka prove worthy merits for future days of peace and security.


Mr. Obama, Phone (My) Home

I just can’t seem to remember whether President Obama telephoned me last night.  It was a busy evening.  I had a chasuna, a seder and davened Maariv.

No, I’m quite sure I didn’t get a call from the White House.  But the father of murdered Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir did receive one the other day from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which the Israeli leader expressed his deep condolences for what authorities have described as a nationalism-inspired killing, and pledged that the “perpetrators of this horrific crime” would face the full severity of the law. “There is no place for such murderers” in Israeli society, Mr. Netanyahu said.

Asked later by the Jerusalem Post about the call, the father said that he had received dozens of phone calls and couldn’t recall if Mr. Netanyahu had been among the callers.  Ishaq Abu Khdeir, a representative of the Arab victim’s family, denied outright that the Prime Minister had telephoned the family. “This is a false claim,” he said.

The family also refused, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, to allow Israeli president Shimon Peres to pay a condolence call in person. When security personnel arrived to prepare for the president’s visit, they were turned away.

The mother of the slain boy, for her part, was quoted by The New York Times as expressing her hope “that the Jewish mothers [whose sons were murdered] feel what I am feeling… May [G-d] burn them like I am burned.”

And there we have it: the amity barometer-reading for the Palestinian world.

The malice is even more manifest in Palestinian media.  The official Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida reported the words of former PA prime minister and current PA executive committee member Ahmed Qurei, during a visit to the Abu Khdeir home.  “The holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis,” he declared, “is the same holocaust that the occupation is perpetrating against our people… they kidnap children, fight civilians in their homes and houses of prayer, torch fields, and violate human rights in the most despicable manner.”

The same periodical also compared Abu Khdeir’s murder to the Holocaust, writing in its editorial: “The Holocaust lies heavily on the conscience of humanity to this very day… However, Israel is trying to emulate [the Holocaust]; with its arrogance and unconstrained brutality, its language of tanks and its racist ideology that includes despicable ‘selections,’ it constantly incites to kill Palestinians and to hunt them like beasts in order to destroy them everywhere and by every means, both at the hands of [Israel's] military forces and at the hands of the settlers, who have been unleashed [to act] with brutality unrivaled even by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS].”

Of course, leaving the fever-dream world of Mr. Qurei and the Palestinian press, the same impressive unity that Jews in Israel and the world over demonstrated in hope, and then, sadly, mourning, several weeks ago was just as evident in the pan-Jewish condemnation of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.  The thought that Jews could kill an innocent Arab boy left all feeling Jews stupefied and despondent.

In an op-ed published this week in Haaretz, President Obama reiterated his position that “Israel cannot be complete and it cannot be secure without peace.”  That is a truism, of course.

I have a deep respect for Mr. Obama, having carefully analyzed his actions and words over the past six years.  I believe he is sincere when he says, as he did in that same op-ed, that “the United States [is] Israel’s first friend, Israel’s oldest friend, and Israel’s strongest friend.” And that “neither I nor the United States will ever waver in our commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people.”

And I believe he means it when he writes: “I’ve seen what security means to those who live near the Blue Line, to children in Sderot who just want to grow up without fear, to families who’ve lost their homes and everything they have to Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s rockets.

“And as a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain endured by the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, who were tragically kidnapped and murdered in June.”

The President was entirely responsible to add that he is “also heartbroken by the senseless abduction and murder of Mohammed Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose life was stolen from him and his family.”  And by writing further that “At this dangerous moment, all parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.”

Does he recognize, though, that the reason peace in the region is so famously elusive is because of the mindset of people like Mr. and Mrs. Abu Khdeir, Mr. Qurei and Arab media like Al-Hayat Al-Jadida – which is, tragically, the mindset of so much of the Arab world?

I suspect he does, and that whenever he addresses both sides of the conflict as if both are equally blameworthy for the lack of peace, he is simply, as he has done in the past, offering “evenhanded” words to mollify a rabid world that he know places inordinate value on platitudes.

But should he call me tonight, I’ll make sure.

© 2014 Hamodia



Musing: The Two-Word Solution for Gaza

The Palestinian population has provided Hamas with what legitimacy it has as an elected entity.   A population giveth, but it can also taketh away.  There are certainly Gazans, perhaps even a majority of them, who are disillusioned with Hamas.  Social services have faltered greatly and any sane Gazan recognizes that the bombs falling daily are the result of their government’s goading of Israel.

So the solution to the hostilities can be summed up in two words: Gazan Spring.


Musing: Iron Dome Hakaras Hatov

The New York Times today notes that:

“The United States has been instrumental in helping to fund the development of Iron Dome and has proprietary access to the technology. Israel has said that the system has a success rate of nearly 90 percent in intercepting the missiles it is meant to thwart.”

Indeed, in 2013, US President Barack Obama pledged continued funding of the Iron Dome system, stressing that America’s commitment to the State of Israel is a “solid obligation” and “non-negotiable.”

In 2014, the US provided $235 million for Iron Dome research, development and production.  At the time, President Obama called it “a program that has been critical in terms of providing security and safety for Israeli families,” one, he continued, that “has been tested and has prevented missile strikes inside of Israel.”

Actions and words worth remembering, and worth expressing hakaras hatov for, in these trying times.