I was watching the American talk show “Ricki Lake” the other day. The hostess, a plump Jewish girl with a good heart, was trying to reform young haters by letting them spend the day with the object of their venom. And so a homophobic teenager was partnered with a young lesbian, etc. In the good old American way, the two found mutual understanding. But then Ricki brought on a sixteen year-old skinhead in army boots, who coolly told the audience the Holocaust never happened – there weren’t even six million Jews in Europe to begin with. That the Jewish religion teaches hatred toward gentiles. “They call us goyim,” he told a rapt studio audience. “ The Jews are poison,” he ranted, “ they’ve brought down every great civilization: Babylonia, Rome…”
He went on and on. A little Himmler. What interested and appalled me was the reaction of the audience. There was no booing, just an interested silence. Ricki kept shaking her head to let them know that this was all appalling, but they didn’t seem to get it. If he had been saying the same things about blacks, for example, I think they wouldn’t have needed that prompting. Anyhow, Ricki brought out a mother and daughter – blonde blue-eyed, as American as apple pie – who said they were Jewish and who invited Mr. NeoNazi to spend the day in their home. “How can you hate me, you don’t even know me? “ the sweet young girl reasoned with him. He looked at her squarely in the face and told her he most certainly did; she was from an evil race that was polluting mankind.
Needless to say, the invitation to dinner was quickly rescinded. So Ricki tried sending this fellow to the Holocaust Museum in Washington with a psychologist. The result was that the psychologist came back in tears, while Mr. Adolph Junior came back with even less hair declaring it was all lies. And even if some of the parasites got exterminated, what was wrong with that?
Why am I telling you this? Because it frightened me. Because I had no idea what kind of inroads have been made in the United States with reviving the old poison of irrational Jew-hatred. And because we Jews have to stop fighting with each other and turn our attention to our real enemies.
How are we going to do this? Some think it’s with expensive brochures that urge us to “all ride in the carpool lane to Redemption” together. I can actually see how that could work in sunny areas where the worst problem of the Jewish community, when it finishes dealing with assimilation, abusive marriages, drugs and alcohol, is what size to build the new pool at the JCC.
We Jews who live here in Israel, however, have a bit harder time with unity. Because in addition to lots of sunshine, we have Hamas blowing up buses, a draft that swallows our eighteen year olds and spits them out as front line soldiers. A real shortage of cash for the unemployed and the handicapped. And so when certain members of our family here refuse to work, or go to the army; refuse even to show polite respect for those killed in action by standing still and shutting up during a national moment of silence on memorial day; when these same people arrange exemptions from municipal taxes, and housing subsidies, and monthly stipends for themselves because they’ve chosen a lifestyle that doesn’t include employment, we find it difficult to sing along with our arms around their shoulders, swaying to and fro around the campfire.
And its not just the religious right that’s divisive. We here get upset when the municipality puts obscene sculptures on our streets with tax money for some half-baked cultural festival. When secular culture offers up bars and drug parties as places of entertainment for our young; and when public committees send flakes waving Syrian flags to represent Israel in song contests.
Jewish unity is a wonderful goal. But to reach it we first have to have truth, because you can’t fix anything if you don’t admit it’s broken. What’s best in the Jewish people can triumph, but first we have to have awareness of what’s worst. We have to make it clear that certain behavior is over the line, and those who continue to walk backwards stepping on toes to the tune of their own drummer, can do so unsupported by the rest of the family.
Because the truth is, there is already great unity among us. It exists between the majority of secular and religious elements of the Jewish people who respect religious and national traditions, serve in the army, ascribe to the work ethic, and cherish the peace initiative. But the more we fear to confront and reject the disruptive extremist elements, the more they will divide and destroy us, leaving us too weak to fight Mr. Skinhead and his dangerous friends.