Tuesday, January 27, 2009


On a wall in a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews had hidden from the Nazis, there was found an inscription. The anonymous author who perished with his fellow victims left behind these words: "I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when He is silent."

Normally on Rosh Hashana I address the state of our congregation and our community, kind of an “state of NTHC” report. I will try to touch on this in my remarks on Yom Kippur, but today I want to address something more pressing, namely the need for us as Jews to speak out in the current national crisis.

The world is a bit less than it was a week ago.

· A little less safe
· A little less certain
· A little less civilized
· A little less human.

People have compared the attack on September 11th to Pearl Harbor, but the similarities are superficial at best. Pearl Harbor was an attack by an established, military force against military targets; yes there were civilian casualties – too many of them – but they were collateral to the military nature of the operation. Sneak attack, yes, but sneak attacks as a military tactic go back to the Trojan Horse and before. The attack on America last week was a cowardly assault on targets that can only be seen as civilian in nature. Even the Pentagon has many more civilians than military personnel.
I was in the San Francisco Bay Area when the attack occurred, and was astonished at the degree to which this attack, 2500 miles away seemed to have personally touched each person I met. Our son Eric’s office is across the street from the World Trade Center. He was there just after the second plane hit and (thank G-d) got home safely to Brooklyn before the buildings collapsed. Others I spoke with had friends, family, and relatives in New York, at the World Trade Center, in Washington. One man who lives barely 5 minutes from the Pentagon did not know, as late as 5 pm our time, that anything had happened.

Within hours, US residents of Arab descent or extraction and US Arab groups were attacked, a mosque in Seattle was burned, shots were fired, and yesterday a Sikh in Arizona was shot – a Sikh is about as related to anything that has happened as is a Tibetan Buddhist. Within days right-wing talk radio was filled with callers using the occasion to beat the drums for their favorite racist cause – close the borders to Mexicans, stop supporting Israel, you name it.

Within hours, the fringe on the left was also heard, lamenting that we (the U.S., Israel, the West, whoever “we” are) had driven the poor oppressed terrorists to this extreme. I heard many times that “we have to get to the origin of this – what makes people into terrorists.” One person even said that Osama bin Laden (may his name be erased) was once an 8 or 10 or 12 year old boy and somehow this meant he should not have come to such a place as he is in now. No mention was made of the people on the planes or in the buildings or the rescuers who were, presumably also once 8 or 10 or 12 years old, and who did not deserve to die on September 11th.

What nonsense. What unadulterated, self-serving, myopic drivel on both sides. The facts are plain here, a week later. Fanatics, using religion as the content of their fanaticism, perpetrated the most heinous act of mass murder in history, and in so doing created a de facto state of war, not only with the United States but with all of humanity that is deserving of the name. No decent human being, regardless of race, religion, culture or ethnicity can fail to condemn this atrocity against innocent civilians, without regard to the race, religion, culture, or ethnicity of those victims. No decent human being can fail to condemn an attack on innocent victims, using other innocent victims as weapons. No decent human being can fail to condemn the use of suicide bombing as a tactic. In World War II we were appalled at the Japanese military personnel who committed suicide raids as kamikaze bombers, but those were military men, making a personal decision, and taking only their own life in the attempt. These arrogant cowards took innocent airline passengers with them to add to the horror of the event.

And no decent human being can stand any longer for the teaching of hate and the glorification of terrorism in elementary and secondary schools. Anyone asking “how are terrorists created?” need look no farther than the schools of Gaza, and the West Bank, and the massaras of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Talmud teaches that each individual human life is sacred, that he who saves one life saves all of humanity. Clearly the version of Islam that the terrorists subscribe to does not hold to this truth. They have forfeited the right to be considered decent human beings, to be considered anything but criminals comparable to those who stood in the dock at Nuremberg.

Last week one individual lost no time writing a letter to the Bonanza and the Reno Gazette-Journal blaming this terrorist act on US support of Israel. My response to this anti-semitic diatribe will be published in tomorrow’s Bonanza and in the Gazette Journal, signed in my capacity as president of your congregation. That same day other ignoramuses sought to use the occasion to vent their spleen against other groups. No one, to my knowledge, has attacked Jews directly, but “Israel” and “Zionism” have long been code words for “Jews” for anti-semites.

We must not be silent. It will be too easy for right- and left-wing fringe reaction to this to turn on us as Jews, particularly if, as is likely, President Bush’s declared war on terrorism results in American losses and/or further terrorist acts and attempts against the US. We must learn from the mistakes of American and European Jewish communities before World War II, who remained silent too long. We must speak out in support of President Bush, regardless of our domestic politics or parties. The war against terrorism is a war against the enemies of Israel and of Judaism. I ask that you look for opportunities to speak out as individuals and for your Board and officers to speak out for the congregation. Write letters, call talk shows, do what you can.

Edmund Burke, the 18th century English statesman said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Let us not contribute to the triumph, or even the temporary victories of evil through our silence.

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