[Editor's note: the following is a sermon written and delivered by Atlanta Rabbi Schlomo Lewis on the First Day of Rosh Hashanah, 2010. It is titled in Yiddish, Ehr Kumt, "He is Coming."]
Many years ago, a Chasid used to travel from shtetl to shtetl selling holy books. On one occasion he came to a wealthy land owner and asked if he would like to purchase a book of Torah teachings. The banker agreed and not only purchased the book, but paid for it with a hundred ruble note. He then began to chat with the Chassid and offered him a cigar, taking one also for himself. The Chassid noticed that the banker proceeded to rip a page from the holy book he had just bought and, holding it to the open flame on the stove, used the page to light his cigar. The Chassid said not a word but simply drew out from his pocket the 100 ruble note he had just received from the banker, held it over the stove as well and used it to light his cigar.
This simple, little tale reflects a profound divergence of values. Our sympathy clearly and instinctively is not with the banker but with the pious Chassid. None of us would come to the defense of the banker. None of us would claim moral supremacy for the banker. None of us would justify his boorish deed. As the sages of the Talmud would say – “Pshita – It is so obvious.” Sadly though our planet is immersed in perversity where morality is not so manifest – where the book burner is a hero and the pious one, a villain.
I thought long and I thought hard on whether to deliver the sermon I am about to share. We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to gobble up our brisket, our honey cakes and our kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred – but not too much. We want to be guilt-schlepped – but not too much. We want to be provoked but not too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.
I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling obligation, a responsibility to articulate what is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be heard. And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say but by what is painful to express. I am guided not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am guided not by delicacy but by urgency.
We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn’t know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn’t refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn’t call the Gestapo, militants. We didn’t see the attacks on our Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did not justify the Nazis rise to power as our fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people. We did not apologize for Dresden, nor for The Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein, nor for D-Day.
Evil – ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity and an exquisite understanding of what was at stake. It was not just the Sudetenland, not just Tubruk, not just Vienna, not just Casablanca. It was the entire planet. Read history and be shocked at how frighteningly close Hitler came to creating a Pax Germana on every continent.
Not all Germans were Nazis – most were decent, most were revolted by the Third Reich, most were good citizens hoisting a beer, earning a living and tucking in their children at night. But, too many looked away, too many cried out in lame defense – “I didn’t know.” Too many were silent. Guilt absolutely falls upon those who committed the atrocities, but responsibility and guilt falls upon those who did nothing as well. Fault was not just with the goose steppers but with those who pulled the curtains shut, said and did nothing.
In WWII we won because we got it. We understood who the enemy was and we knew that the end had to be unconditional and absolute. We did not stumble around worrying about offending the Nazis. We did not measure every word so as not to upset our foe. We built planes and tanks and battleships and went to war to win….. to rid the world of malevolence.
We are at war… yet too many stubbornly and foolishly don’t put the pieces together and refuse to identify the evil doers. We are circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.
Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists.
To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable.
A few years ago I visited Lithuania on a Jewish genealogical tour. It was a stunning journey and a very personal, spiritual pilgrimage. When we visited Kovno we davened Maariv at the only remaining shul in the city. Before the war there were thirty-seven shuls for 38,000 Jews. Now only one, a shrinking, gray congregation. We made minyon for the handful of aged worshippers in the Choral Synagogue, a once majestic, jewel in Kovno.
After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend, Joe Magun, came over to me.
“Shalom,” he said. “Your abba told me you just came back from Lithuania.” “Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in the courtyard?” “Yes, I did. In fact, we helped them make minyon.” His eyes opened wide in joy at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”
He paused for a moment and once again was lost in the past. His smile faded. Pain filled his wrinkled face. “I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the shul” (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin’s mentor – he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist radical, whose politics were to the far right.) Joe continued “When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘Ehr Kumt. Yidn Farlawst ayer shtetl – He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’ ”
We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right — his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.”
We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of Long Island. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.
Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance at their watches let me state emphatically, unmistakably – I have no pathology of hate, nor am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the countryside. I am not a pessimist, nor prone to panic attacks. I am a lover of humanity, all humanity. Whether they worship in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple or don’t worship at all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but what I do have is hatred for those who hate, intolerance for those who are intolerant, and a guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.
Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the overwhelming number of Muslims are good Muslims, fine human beings who want nothing more than a Jeep Cherokee in their driveway, a flat screen TV on their wall and a good education for their children, but these good Muslims have an obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far for the most part they have avoided. The Kulturkampf is not only external but internal as well. The good Muslims must sponsor rallies in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square, in the UN Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeera condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent – thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.
Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.
I recall a conversation with my father shortly before he died that helped me understand how perilous and how broken is our world; that we are living on the narrow seam of civilization and moral oblivion. Knowing he had little time left he shared the following – “Shal. I am ready to leave this earth. Sure I’d like to live a little longer, see a few more sunrises, but truthfully, I’ve had it. I’m done. Finished. I hope the Good Lord takes me soon because I am unable to live in this world knowing what it has become.”
This startling admission of moral exhaustion from a man who witnessed and lived through the Depression, the Holocaust, WWII, Communist Triumphalism, McCarthyism, Strontium 90 and polio. – Yet his twilight observation was – “The worst is yet to come.” And he wanted out.
I share my father’s angst and fear that too many do not see the authentic, existential threat we face nor confront the source of our peril. We must wake up and smell the hookah.
“Lighten up, Lewis. Take a chill pill, some of you are quietly thinking. You’re sounding like Glenn Beck. It’s not that bad. It’s not that real.” But I am here to tell you – It is. Ask the member of our shul whose sister was vaporized in the Twin Towers and identified finally by her charred teeth, if this is real or not. Ask the members of our shul who fled a bus in downtown Paris, fearing for their safety from a gang of Muslim thugs, if this is an exaggeration. Ask the member of our shul whose son tracks Arab terrorist infiltrators who target – pizza parlors, nursery schools, Pesach seders, city buses and play grounds, if this is dramatic, paranoid hyperbole.
Ask them, ask all of them – ask the American GI’s we sit next to on planes who are here for a brief respite while we fly off on our Delta vacation package. Ask them if it’s bad. Ask them if it’s real.
Did anyone imagine in the 1920’s what Europe would look like in the 1940’s. Did anyone presume to know in the coffee houses of Berlin or in the opera halls of Vienna that genocide would soon become the celebrated culture? Did anyone think that a goofy-looking painter named Shickelgruber would go from the beer halls of Munich and jail, to the Reichstag as Feuhrer in less than a decade? Did Jews pack their bags and leave Warsaw, Vilna, Athens, Paris, Bialystok, Minsk, knowing that soon their new address would be Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau and Auschwitz?
The sages teach – “Aizehu chacham – haroeh et hanolad – Who is a wise person – he who sees into the future.” We dare not wallow in complacency, in a misguided tolerance and naïve sense of security.
We must be diligent students of history and not sit in ash cloth at the waters of Babylon weeping. We cannot be hypnotized by eloquent-sounding rhetoric that soothes our heart but endangers our soul. We cannot be lulled into inaction for fear of offending the offenders. Radical Islam is the scourge and this must be cried out from every mountain top. From sea to shining sea, we must stand tall, prideful of our stunning decency and moral resilience. Immediately after 9/11 how many mosques were destroyed in America? None. After 9/11, how many Muslims were killed in America? None. After 9/11, how many anti-Muslim rallies were held in America? None. And yet, we apologize. We grovel. We beg forgiveness.
The mystifying litany of our foolishness continues. Should there be a shul in Hebron on the site where Baruch Goldstein gunned down twenty-seven Arabs at noonday prayers? Should there be a museum praising the U.S. Calvary on the site of Wounded Knee? Should there be a German cultural center in Auschwitz? Should a church be built in the Syrian town of Ma’arra where Crusaders slaughtered over 100,000 Muslims? Should there be a thirteen story mosque and Islamic Center only a few steps from Ground Zero?
Despite all the rhetoric, the essence of the matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim community has the absolute, constitutional right to build their building wherever they wish. I don’t buy the argument – “When we can build a church or a synagogue in Mecca they can build a mosque here.” America is greater than Saudi Arabia. And New York is greater than Mecca. Democracy and freedom must prevail.
Can they build? Certainly. May they build? Certainly. But should they build at that site? No — but that decision must come from them, not from us. Sensitivity, compassion cannot be measured in feet or yards or in blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not.
If those behind this project are good, peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they claim, then they should know better, rip up the zoning permits and build elsewhere.
Believe it or not, I am a dues-paying, card carrying member of the ACLU, yet from start to finish, I find this sorry episode disturbing to say the least.
William Burroughs, the novelist and poet, in a wry moment wrote – “After one look at this planet, any visitor from outer space would say – ‘I want to see the manager.’”
Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. Gog U’Magog. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West Bank. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street. It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater – in every place of innocence and purity.
Israel is the laboratory – the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.
In the Six Day War, Israel was the proxy of Western values and strategy while the Arab alliance was the proxy of Eastern, Soviet values and strategy. Today too, it is a confrontation of proxies, but the stakes are greater than East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel in her struggle represents the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda, Iran, Islamic Jihad, represent the world of psychopathic, loathsome evil.
As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel’s galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel’s galling plight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew. We are the trial balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from the “good guys” then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda.
Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has reached epic proportions in the West; from the Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from university campuses to British teachers unions, from the International Red Cross to Amnesty International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello, from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
There is a message sent and consequences when our president visits Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and not Israel.
There is a message sent and consequences when free speech on campus is only for those championing Palestinian rights.
There is a message sent and consequences when the media deliberately doctors and edits film clips to demonize Israel.
There is a message sent and consequences when the UN blasts Israel relentlessly, effectively ignoring Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, North Korea, China and other noxious states.
There is a message sent and consequences when liberal churches are motivated by Liberation Theology, not historical accuracy.
There is a message sent and consequences when murderers and terrorists are defended by the obscenely transparent “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
John Milton warned, “Hypocrisy is the only evil that walks invisible.”
A few days after the Gaza blockade incident in the spring, a congregant happened past my office, glanced in and asked in a friendly tone –
“Rabbi. How’re y’ doing?”
I looked up, sort of smiled and replied – “I’ve had better days.”
“What’s the matter? Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” he inquired.
“Thank you for the offer but I’m just bummed out today,” and I showed him a newspaper article I was reading.
“Madrid gay pride parade bans Israeli group over Gaza Ship Raid.” I explained to my visitor – “The Israeli gay pride contingent from Tel Aviv was not allowed to participate in the Spanish gay pride parade because the mayor of Tel Aviv did not apologize for the raid by the Israeli military.”
The only country in the entire Middle East where gay rights exist, is Israel. The only country in the entire Middle East where there is a gay pride parade, is Israel. The only country in the Middle East that has gay neighborhoods and gay bars, is Israel.
Gays in the Gaza would be strung up, executed by Hamas if they came out and yet Israel is vilified and ostracized. Disinvited to the parade.
Looking for logic?
Looking for reason?
Looking for sanity?
Kafka on his darkest, gloomiest day could not keep up with this bizarre spectacle and we “useful idiots” pander and fawn over cutthroats, sinking deeper and deeper into moral decay, as the enemy laughs all the way to the West Bank and beyond.
It is exhausting and dispiriting. We live in an age that is redefining righteousness where those with moral clarity are an endangered, beleaguered specie.
Isaiah warned us thousands of years ago – “Oye Lehem Sheh-Korim Layome, Laila v’Laila, yome – Woe to them who call the day, night and the night, day.” We live on a planet that is both Chelm and Sodom. It is a frightening and maddening place to be.
How do we convince the world and many of our own, that this is not just anti-Semitism, that this is not just anti-Zionism but a full throttled attack by unholy, radical Islamists on everything that is morally precious to us?
How do we convince the world and many of our own that conciliation is not an option, that compromise is not a choice?
Everything we are. Everything we believe. Everything we treasure, is at risk.
The threat is so unbelievably clear and the enemy so unbelievably ruthless how anyone in their right mind doesn’t get it is baffling. Let’s try an analogy. If someone contracted a life-threatening infection and we not only scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted that the bacteria had a right to infect their body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria would be satisfied and stop spreading.
Anyone buy that medical advice? Well, folks, that’s our approach to the radical Islamist bacteria. It is amoral, has no conscience and will spread unless it is eradicated. – There is no negotiating. Appeasement is death.
I was no great fan of George Bush – didn’t vote for him. (By the way, I’m still a registered Democrat.) I disagreed with many of his policies but one thing he had right. His moral clarity was flawless when it came to the War on Terror, the War on Radical Islamist Terror. There was no middle ground – either you were friend or foe. There was no place in Bush’s world for a Switzerland. He knew that this competition was not Toyota against G.M., not the Iphone against the Droid, not the Braves against the Phillies, but a deadly serious war, winner take all. Blink and you lose. Underestimate, and you get crushed.
I know that there are those sitting here today who have turned me off. But I also know that many turned off their rabbis seventy five years ago in Warsaw, Riga, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cracow, Vilna. I get no satisfaction from that knowledge, only a bitter sense that there is nothing new under the sun.
Enough rhetoric – how about a little “show and tell?” A few weeks ago on the cover of Time magazine was a horrific picture with a horrific story. The photo was of an eighteen year old Afghani woman, Bibi Aisha, who fled her abusive husband and his abusive family. Days later the Taliban found her and dragged her to a mountain clearing where she was found guilty of violating Sharia law. Her punishment was immediate. She was pinned to the ground by four men while her husband sliced off her ears, and then he cut off her nose.
That is the enemy.
If nothing else stirs us. If nothing else convinces us, let Bibi Aisha’s mutilated face be the face of Islamic radicalism. Let her face shake up even the most complacent and naïve among us. In the holy crusade against this ultimate evil, pictures of Bibi Aisha’s disfigurement should be displayed on billboards, along every highway from Route 66 to the Autobahn, to the Transarabian Highway. Her picture should be posted on every lobby wall from Tokyo to Stockholm to Rio. On every network, at every commercial break, Bibi Aisha’s face should appear with the caption – “Radical Islamic savages did this.” And underneath – “This ad was approved by Hamas, by Hezbollah, by Taliban, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, by Islamic Jihad, by Fatah al Islam, by Magar Nodal Hassan, by Richard Reid, by Ahmadinejad, by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, by Osama bin Laden, by Edward Said, by The Muslim Brotherhood, by Al Qaeda, by CAIR.”
“The moral sentiment is the drop that balances the sea” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, my friends, the sea is woefully out of balance and we could easily drown in our moral myopia and worship of political correctness.
We peer up into the heavens sending probes to distant galaxies. We peer down into quarks discovering particles that would astonish Einstein. We create computers that rival the mind, technologies that surpass science fiction. What we imagine, with astounding rapidity, becomes real. If we dream it, it does, indeed, come. And yet, we are at a critical point in the history of this planet that could send us back into the cave, to a culture that would make the Neanderthal blush with shame.
Our parents and grandparents saw the swastika and recoiled, understood the threat and destroyed the Nazis. We see the banner of Radical Islam and can do no less.
A rabbi was once asked by his students….
“Rebbi. Why are your sermons so stern?” Replied the rabbi, “If a house is on fire and we chose not to wake up our children, for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be love? Kinderlach, ‘di hoyz brent.’ Children our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber.”
During WWII and the Holocaust was it business as usual for priests, ministers, rabbis? Did they deliver benign homilies and lovely sermons as Europe fell, as the Pacific fell, as North Africa fell, as the Mideast and South America tottered, as England bled? Did they ignore the demonic juggernaut and the foul breath of evil? They did not. There was clarity, courage, vision, determination, sacrifice, and we were victorious. Today it must be our finest hour as well. We dare not retreat into the banality of our routines, glance at headlines and presume that the good guys will prevail.
Democracies don’t always win. Tyrannies don’t always lose.
My friends – the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber.
…and, from here:
‘Ehr Daw’ —- They’re Here
October 7, 2014 by Rabbi Shalom Lewis
Editor’s note: Below is the transcript to Rabbi Shalom Lewis’s sermon marking Rosh Hashanah at the Etz Chaim synagogue in Marietta, Georgia.
I thought that maybe I’d start with a rendition of Paul McCartney’s plaintive masterpiece “Yesterday”… “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday” – but then I thought, too romantic. And then I thought, how about the favorite classic we all learned as children – “Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, Dormez-vous, Dormez-vous, Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines, Ding Daing Dong, ding daing dong. Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Brother John, Brother John” but then I said to myself…too French. Perhaps the story of Chicken Little – “The sky is falling. The sky is falling” and I thought, getting closer but too childish. What about Santayana’s “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Maybe, but too philosophical. And then I remembered Joseph Conrad’s sadly, cynical observation – – “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness,” and sadly it felt right.
And so, here were are in a place of unimagined chaos and cowardice, paralysis and brutality. The beast roams the earth; we are stymied, stunned and continue to fiddle. My friends, “Ehr Kumpt Part 2, the Sequel.” This is not a time for delicacy. For tiptoeing. It is not a time to parse words nor worry about offending someone with unfiltered vocabulary. Time is no longer a luxury we possess. Distance no longer provides protection. We are being threatened like no time before, by an enemy obsessed with an apocalyptic endgame that will bring only disaster. An enemy that worships savagery. An enemy that celebrates depravity. An enemy that glorifies the death of the young. There has been a seismic shift in our world. We feel it. We see it. We know it. We dare not deny it. Pick up any newspaper on any day, the first page, the second page, the third page, the fourth page and beyond – – most of the articles are about radical Muslims, not just ISIS, immersed in a vicious culture of blood and slaughter. Skip to the sports page or the crossword puzzle if you wish, but that doesn’t make the uncomfortable news go away. In fact, it brings joy to the jihadists who hope for our indifference. If we deny evil then we need not fight it. It doesn’t exist – just a few lunatics, thousands of miles away, pounding sand, blowing each other up and occasionally beheading an unlucky journalist. Not so bad.
For years, we have been mercifully spared the ugliness and intimacy of war. The Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima were a black and white MovieTone newsreel after Tom & Jerry and before the Pride of the Yankees. We planted victory gardens, rolled up tin foil, bought Liberty Bonds, said goodbye to fathers, sons and brothers. But the trenches were on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific. So too, every other subsequent conflict. The Yanks were coming but the shooting was “over there.” We suffered little. But today, war has been redefined and relocated. Geneva is finished. We are all combatants in the cross hairs. We are all on the front lines, like it or not. The battlefield has no boundaries and the war, no rules. The enemy targets deliberately, fiendishly, any place of innocence. All are vulnerable and so we must recalculate our strategy, re-examine our tolerance, re-energize our resolve and unequivocally identify the evil doers. Let us not be silenced by fear, by feckless goodwill, by reckless hope, by meaningless rhetoric.
There are one billion Muslims in the world and authorities agree that 5% are committed Islamists who embrace terror and wish to see, by any means possible, the Muslim flag fly over every capital, on every continent. I was relieved when I heard only 5%. Thank God it’s only 5%. Now I could sleep soundly. But wait, let me figure this out, 5% of a billion is… 50 million Koran-waving, Allah Akbar-howling Muslim murderers out there planning to slit our throats, blow us up or forcibly convert us. It only took 19 of Osama bin Laden’s disciples to bring down the Twin Towers, plow into the Pentagon and crash a plane into Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 dead. Over $10 billion in damages on that sad day. 19 Al Qaeda. 50 million Islamists. Do the math.
But what disturbs me is, where are the other 950 million Muslims who are not terrorists? Who are not bomb-blasting, acid-throwing zealots? Where are the other 950 million Muslims who tuck their children in at night with a lullaby, who are okay with Christians and Jews, crave a peaceful world and wish nothing more than a tasty bowl of hummus and a friendly game of Shesh Besh with a neighbor? I want to believe they are out there, for their sake and for ours. I want to believe they weep in pain over the desecration of their faith. I want to believe that we have partners who dream the dreams we do and wish upon the same star. I want to believe – – but where are they? A silent partnership is no partnership. Sin is not just in the act of commission – it is also in the act of omission. Most Germans were not Nazis – but it did not matter. Most Russians were not Stalinists – but it did not matter. Most Muslims are not terrorists – but it does not matter. Stand up righteously or get out of the way. Perhaps in every mosque, in every midrassah, in every Muslim neighborhood, Edmund Burke’s powerful warning should be chiseled on a wall in Arabic, in Farsi, in Pashto, in Urdu, for all to read and heed. “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.”
A couple of months ago, 3 young Israelis were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists and killed. And so began Operation Protective Edge. But the Gaza war was much more than shooting down rockets and blowing up tunnels – it was the preview, the soft opening, for a much more serious war – a genuine world war. It was a test of resolve, of fortitude. It was a test watched carefully by the indecent forces of a rising Islamist world. Israel is only the beginning. The first prize sought in what promises to be a protracted, multi-generational Kulterkampf. Israel made the headlines, but the front lines are all over the map – we just don’t know it yet. The whole world was watching and our performance was pathetic. We, the good guys, stumbled at the gate; tripped clumsily in an embarrassing display of moral confusion and ineptitude. It was amateur hour and the bad guys were licking their chops. I say the following unapologetically and with a heavy heart. When the war began, the President of the United States, the leader of the Free World, should have immediately, instinctively invited to the Oval Office, the leading Democrats and Republicans of the Senate and the House, his cabinet and all significant Washington political players. Every domestic and international news organization should have been notified and the following talk broadcast across the planet.
Fellow Americans – a crisis has erupted once again in the Middle East and I have been told that the war between Israel and Hamas is complex and nuanced. I have been told that our great nation must be evenhanded- but I am here to say with no equivocation, with no hesitation, this war is not complex. This war is not nuanced and we will not be evenhanded in this confrontation of good and evil, of right and wrong, of civilization and savagery. We Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives from sea to shining sea, stand together in unshakable support of Israel against foul, corrupt, murderers who sacrifice the lives of children in their pursuit of power. To Israel we say – do whatever you must. To Israel we say, take whatever time you need to crush this vile enemy and whatever you require, you can count on us. To the world we say, Israel is fighting for all of us – for our values, for our principles, for our civilization. Support her efforts, as we do, in every way possible. I will not tolerate any words of disparagement against our greatest ally and friend in the Middle East. God bless Israel and God bless the United States of America.
But these words did not ring forth from the White House, the capital of the free world. What we did hear was “No victor, no vanquished.” This statement was our President’s strategic plan. No call for triumph over terrorism, but a weak kneed, stalemate with butchers – a tie between good and evil. Right and wrong. Civilization and savagery. This did not go unnoticed. Media coverage during the war was biased and shameful with a few notable exceptions. To permit Hamas spokesmen and Hamas sympathizers to speak and to defend their monstrous deeds to millions of viewers is morally shocking. To promote equivalency between Israel and Hamas is morally appalling. With my remote, I would channel surf, go from station to station and I could not believe what I was hearing on CNN, CBS, BBC, ABC, MSNBC, and all the rest. The grotesque propaganda, the repulsive distortions – the tolerance of the wicked. And this did not go unnoticed. As I sat through these numbing broadsides, I wondered if our mainstream media during WWII would have invited the Germans and the Japanese to share their perspectives on the hostilities in Europe and in the Pacific. As they moaned about Dresden and the Doolittle Raid, would the anchors have nodded in sympathy? When the Germans and Japanese explained the need for the V1 and V2 bombardment of London and the necessity for the Bataan Death March, would the anchors have expressed understanding? The obscenities and outright lies given airtime and legitimacy should be sickening to any person of conscience.
Words distinguish us from the beast. In a powerful Holocaust tale, Eli Wiesel painfully writes that when words lose their meaning, disaster follows. In today’s Middle East lexicon; restraint means suicide. Terrorists have become militants. Self-defense is a war crime. Democracy is apartheid. Israelis and Jews have become Nazis. Warning civilians to get out of harm’s way has become genocide. 38 Muslim countries – 22 Arab countries and Israel, the only Jewish nation, must constantly defend her right to exist. Russia invades. Nigeria enslaves. China oppresses. Pakistan rapes. Iraq slaughters. North Korea starves. Iran nuclearizes. Syria massacres. Venezuela plunders. Afghanistan tortures. Sudan annihilates. ISIS beheads and Israel is the pariah state, put under the microscope by the morally noxious. And this did not go unnoticed. Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher, wrote the following in 1968 – 46 years ago. His words have not grown stale with the passage of time. To the contrary, they are every bit as relevant and meaningful today, nearly 1/2 a century later. I quote: “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out 1,000’s, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it. Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey drove out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese and no one says a word about refugees. But, in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations, when victorious on the battlefield, dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious on the battlefield, it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in the world…Other nations when they are defeated, survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated, it would be destroyed…” Hoffers’ final words are chilling and prophetic. “I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us.”
To those who are morally obtuse, I say shame on you– from university professors to the useful idiots of the media, from liberal churches to Hollywood, from the United Nations to the clueless left – let me remind all the ‘misguided do-gooders” – your deeds do not go unnoticed. The world does not like a righteous Goliath especially if Goliath speaks Hebrew.
Let’s leave the Middle East and head to Europe. For those who have not been recently, it has changed. It has changed dramatically. The sights. The sounds. The crowds. The streets are much different than when we backpacked with our Eurorail passes – strolling down the Champs-Elysees, chasing pigeons at Trafalgar Square, wandering the backstreets of Amsterdam after dark. The continent that gave birth to Western civilization, the continent that defined high culture is crumbling before our very eyes. Because of well-intentioned tolerance and an undisciplined pluralism, Europe is returning to the dark ages. By most estimates, Europe will be unrecognizable by the middle of this century – crushed by a demographic tsunami. The birthrate of the Brits, the French, the Dutch and the rest of the EU is well below ZPG. The Muslim community’s birthrate is prolific.
The danger, however, is that Europe has not been a melting pot, assimilating new Muslims. And these new Muslims, for the most part, are not interested in respecting the great democracies of Europe. They want Sharia law and Islamic culture to be ascendant, and with their birthrate, the ballot box and their disdain for the West, in time they will get it. The element that is surging and redefining Europe are not the democracy-respecting Muslims, but those who are rampaging in nearly every capital. They are preaching hate for Jews, for Christians, for Israel, for America, for the entire Western world. It is not our grandfather’s Europe and it will not be a Europe our grandchildren will recognize. For the record, Europe is being flooded not by freedom loving, tolerant, assimilating Muslims who wish to share in Western freedom, in Western tolerance, in Western culture but rather by violent Islamists, extremists who reject every value we treasure.
We love ethnic communities – they are vibrant, exciting, magical faraway places only a walk away. Chinatown, Little Odessa, Greek town, Little Havana, Lower Eastside, Little Italy, but what is spreading across Europe are not charming, quaint neighborhoods enjoyed by locals and camera toting tourists in search of a charming restaurant. These are beachheads for invasion. Want to stare down a guard at Buckingham Palace? Do it soon. Want to see the Follies-Bergere dance the Can Can? Do it soon. Want to sip wine at the vineyards of Tuscany? Do it soon. Want to sunbathe on the beaches of San Tropez? Do it soon. The sun never set on the British Empire, but now there is a cold darkness settling on Europe. A nihilism. A corruption. A perversion in the name of Allah. A Kristallnacht of European and Western culture is coming that will destroy a millennia of creative genius. Don’t listen to me. Listen to what the Islamists preach.
Don’t listen to me. Look at what the Islamists do. It is not a leap into fantasy to perceive a dystopian future that is irretrievably ugly and inconceivably vile.
• The Sistine Chapel demolished for portraying God’s image.
• The Pieta, Venus de Milo, David smashed. Idolatry.
• Botticelli’s and Goya’s and Renoirs and Rubens torched – paintings of women not wearing a hijab and chador.
• The Guttenberg Bible. The Magna Carta. Tossed into a bonfire. Profane literature.
• Museums all across Europe vandalized by marauding Islamist fanatics.
Even the Nazis saved the masterpieces.
• Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart silenced.
• The end of opera. Rossini, Verdi, Puccini gone.
• For Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere. The Final curtain, a dark stage.
Even the Nazis enjoyed the classics.
I must assume there are skeptics out there – folks who disbelieve my warnings and might label me an alarmist – a Paul Revere wannabe – galloping across the Pyrenees through the European heartland in the shadow of the Alps crying out “The Muslims are coming. The Muslims are coming.” I weighed each and every word carefully. Repeatedly. Was I treading into bigotry? … Into melodrama? Speak with the ‘canaries in the mine’, the Jews of Europe, fleeing in record numbers. Synagogues fire bombed. Jewish businesses vandalized. Children threatened on their way to school. Kippot buried in their pockets. Mezuzot. Hamsas. Magen Davids dangling on chains tucked under shirts and under blouses to hide Jewish identity. Israeli products pulled off store shelves. This is not the 1930’s nor the 1940’s and yet it is. 68 years since the Nazis defeat but their descendants are making Hitler proud picking up where he left off. “I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us.” Slip in the word “Jew” for Israel and we see the future of Europe. This ever-growing tragedy doesn’t end neatly in Europe, in the Middle East, in Mumbai or the Philippines.
Most of us have never tasted the bitterness of war. Witnessed its horror. Clawed our way out from beneath tons of rubble. But we dare not be complacent and cry out confidently – “we have 2 oceans and the TSA to protect us.” We live in a shrunken world. In a porous country. In an open society. We have become perilously naïve. Recklessly evenhanded. Unacceptably tolerant. Dangerously comfortable. The greatest generation has spawned the clueless generation. I say it again loudly, slowly and clearly – we are at war, here in America as well, with radical Islamists. We have been attacked repeatedly and yet we continue to turn away. We euphemize the enemy. Disguising his identity and his intent. There will not be armadas chanting “Allah Akbar” landing on the beaches of Malibu and Boca. No vast battalions chanting “Allah Akbar” while crossing the Rio Grande or the 45th Parallel – but make no mistake – we are at war, right now, this very minute. The tactics have changed. The battlefield is different. The rules of engagement have been redefined but we dare not make the mistake that all is well and that Islamic terrorists are simply violent criminals. That Islamic terrorists are just a bunch of unemployed losers, not part of a vast network hell bent on destroying our country. Their disunity in numbers but their unity in purpose is their power. The Lone Wolf is deadly and we are the prey.
Ask the man or woman on the street when did this all start and most would reply: “On 9/11.” That was a catastrophic day, but not the start. For us here in America, the war began in Teheran in 1979 when our embassy was taken over. It has continued ruthlessly and without pause ever since. Lockerbie and Scotland, TWA Flight 840, the USS Cole, embassies and American interests bombed and Americans killed in Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Spain, Kenya, Germany, Egypt, Kuwait, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Connect the dots. Here on American soil, before 9/11, the Twin Towers were attacked in 1993. The Times Square bomber. The Tsarnev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing. The Fort Hood massacre was not work place violence but the calculated, cold blooded murder of 13 American soldiers by a Muslim Jihadist yelling “Allah Akbar.” The shooting up in Little Rock, Arkansas of an army recruiting station. The murder of 2 CIA agents outside Langley by a Pakistani whose final words before meeting his maker were “There is no God but Allah.” The indignant, impious, arrogant claim by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic relations, that anyone who commits an act of violence is by definition, not a Muslim. Therefore, a Muslim terrorist, a Muslim killer, a Muslim suicide bomber, is a misleading term of bigotry and Islamophobia. The slick, masterful ISIS recruitment in Minneapolis. New York. Colorado. On Facebook. On Twitter and across the country. Connect the dots.
Let’s get Jewish-personal. A Zim Line cargo ship was prevented from offloading it’s cargo for 3 days because of pro-Palestinian mobs in Oakland, California. A young man from our shul on his 1st day of university was taught by his PhD, tenured professor that Israel committed ethnic cleansing in 1948… In Dade County a synagogue was defaced with swastikas and the words Hamas scrawled on its walls. A JCC in Seattle was attacked. A pro-Palestinian rally in Miami called for “the massacre of the Jews.” University campuses across the country, hot beds of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hostility. A local merchant in Roswell told one of our members (not realizing she was Jewish and vocal) that she was fed up with Israel’s brutal treatment of the children of Gaza. We are not Europe, but connect the dots. I am concerned, as we all should be, of the alarming surge in Islamist rhetoric, violence and influence. I am equally concerned, as we all should be, of the alarming silence and inaction of mainstream Muslims. I fear political correctness run amuck. I fear the worship of multiculturalism. I fear progressive voices of repression. I fear a distorted media tolerant of intolerance. I fear politicians who prefer the easy, still of the night to the noble, necessary struggle of the day. I fear we are not so far away from where we thought we would never be.
Three thoughts to ponder. This past year, many of us saw the Book of Mormon at the Fox. An irreverent, vulgar, hysterically entertaining musical about the Mormons. We parked our car at the Georgian Terrace and crossed Peachtree Street. In front of the theater were a half dozen, well dressed, mannerly Mormons handing out literature. “Sir, if you would like to know more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” a young woman said to me as I took her brochure, “Please go to our website.” I thanked her. She smiled, wished me a pleasant evening and turned to speak with another ticket holder. I thought, “God bless these folks. This is how we disagree in America.” At the same moment I had another thought. What if Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out with a tasteless, bawdy musical that was hysterically entertaining entitled “The Quran, Allah’s Holy Book.” What would happen? It doesn’t take much imagination to answer that question. Jeff Foxworthy correctly wrote, “Have you ever wondered why it’s okay to make jokes about Catholics, the Pope, Jews, Christians, the Irish, the Italians, the Polish, the Chinese, the French (including French Canadians)…but it’s insensitive to make jokes about Muslims?” A few years back, a Danish newspaper “Jyllanns-Posten” printed 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to illustrate an article. If the photos published were of Moses or Buddha or of the Apostle Paul, the event would have been met with a yawn. But not so with our Islamist friends. The reaction? Not a letter to the editor. Not a request to submit an op-ed. Not a friendly visit to the publisher – – but worldwide rage. Riots. Boycotts. Embassies burned. Ambassadors recalled. Attacks on Christians and on churches. 200 killed. Soon after, a professor from Brandeis wrote a book on this outrageous event entitled, “12 Cartoons That Shook the World.” It was published by Yale University Press, located at 302 Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, United States of America. But what was missing in the book? What Yale University refused to print were the 12 cartoons and images of Muhammad. This self-censorship was shameful, cowardly, un-American and a sniveling submission to Islamic narcissism and intimidation. Where is a great university’s courage? Where is Freedom of the Press? This happened in America. In the land of the free and in the home of, I hope, still the brave.
I recall, as we all do, the good old days when air travel was a pleasure. When I flew here to Etz Chaim in my commuting, student days, I’d catch a cab outside my apartment on the upper West Side and be at LaGuardia in about 20 minutes. I’d check my bags in 2 minutes and be at the gate in 4 minutes, just in time to board my flight. I even got a meal. In those days, flying was an adventure, even in coach. Today it is irritating and exhausting. What happened? What changed? Who’s to blame? Who has created the need for a multibillion dollar security industry? Who has created a tedious need for us to remove our shoes and belts, empty our pockets, pack only 3-1/2 ounces of Listerine, go through metal detectors and x-ray machines, submit to frisks and wand searches? Arrive hours before departure? Who is responsible? Let’s see – – not the Italian Mob, not skin heads, not neo Nazis, not Columbian drug cartels, not the Russian mafia, not the Crips nor the Bloods nor the Aryan Brotherhood, not the Ku Klux Klan. So who is it that has irretrievably ruined worldwide air travel? So, think of a Muslim play on Broadway. Think of a scholarly text on Muhammad. Think of flying Delta or United or AirTran. Think about it and connect the dots. For us, WWII lasted 4 years. It has been 13 years since 9/11. 35 years since the invasion of our Iranian embassy and like it or not, we are still at war with radical Islam. Declaring we are not at war with radical Islam does not make it so. Roosevelt and Churchill got it and understood that the stakes were not just the Sudetenland and a few islands in the South Pacific. From the White House and 10 Downing Street, they understood it was planet earth. Today, the radical Islamists seek the same prize – not just Bagdad or Benghazi – but planet earth.
This is not dramatic fiction, but the real thing. A handful of us here today, experienced the real thing about 11 weeks ago in Israel. We didn’t see the real thing on the nightly news nor read about it in the evening paper or hear about it in a long distance phone call from uncle Moshe in Tel Aviv. We were there as Kassam rockets rained down on Israel, on us, targeting, not military bases, not Merkava tanks, not IDF divisions, but children at play, families enjoying dinner, friends laughing over a beer, lovers strolling through a park, teenagers playing volleyball on the beach. The world watched and preached and judged and only now has begun to stir from their slumber of hypocrisy and inaction. Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas. They are all the same. Hezbollah. Islamic Jihad. Al Shabab. Muslim Brotherhood. Boko Haram. Al Qaeda. Taliban. Iran. The only difference is the length of the knife they use in their butchery. Israeli blood bleeds the same red as the blood of James Foley, of Steven Satloff, of David Hawthorne Haines, of Christians, and Yazidis. Let’s reason, some suggest. One last Hail Mary negotiation. Maybe we can figure out what’s bothering these troubled Muslims and perhaps they’ll tell us what we can do to resolve the friction. I am all for dialogue, but we are dealing with a moral species that eats its own, kills it’s young and celebrates innocent death as homage to God. Osama bin Laden eluded capture for 10 years. Ever wonder why? There was a $25 million bounty on his head. That’s a lot of money. $25 million can by a lot of plastic surgery. A new identity. Rosetta Stone tapes. Elocution lesson. A suburban home. A Brooks Brothers wardrobe. New partners. New friends. Surf and turf every night and a round of golf every day. In 10 years, there was not one betrayal of Osama bin Laden – – not one. And I asked myself, “why not?” – $25 million is a great amount of money and can easily facilitate a luxurious disappearance. The answer is simple. These Islamist criminals are unlike us in the most basic of ways and we have yet to accept and understand their total immersion in moral debauchery.
The enemy has eyes and ears. Fingers and toes. Speaks with lips. Runs with legs. Eats. Drinks. Has the face of a human being – but, has a much different heart and a much different soul. Three years ago on this bima, on this very same day, standing at this podium, I cried out, “Ehr Kumpt – they are coming.” 3 years later on this bima, on this very same day, standing at this podium, I cry out not “Ehr Kumpt – they are coming,” I cry out, “Ehr daw – they are here.” The fury of ultimate evil is upon us and we must act – not to contain it. Not to degrade it. Not to manage it. Not to tolerate it, but to exterminate it utterly and absolutely. If we fail in this holy crusade, we will live in a world bereft of color. Empty of music, of art, of romance, of laughter, of freedom, of invention. A world barren of all beauty. Depleted of all virtue. We are divided today not by faith nor holy book. We are divided today by decency and indecency. By right and wrong. By moral and corrupt. By courage and cowardice. By righteousness and evil. The good citizens of earth must rise up. Gather on the mountain top and proclaim in thundering unison the words of Isaiah: “Hoy ha’omrim lera tov v’la’tov rah – woe to them that call evil, good and good, evil. Who present darkness as light and light as darkness. Who call bitter, sweet and sweet, bitter. We must turn back the evil. We must turn back the darkness. We must turn back the bitter.
My friends – Ehr daw – they are here.