Skip to main content

Has it really come to this – Jewish people being confronted by hostility on the streets of Caulfield. It has shocked the Australian Jewish community to the core, just as the vicious slogans and demonstrations at the Sydney Opera house recently. Many Jews do not feel safe in their own beloved shtetl/village on the Yarra.

Make no mistake, what happened last week in Caulfield is nothing less than blatant antisemitism, Jew-hatred as primitive as the mediaeval blood libels and hostile mobs in Crusader Europe and Russian pogroms. Make no mistake, this is not just about anti-Zionism or anti-Israel sentiment, or Palestinian grievances about Israel. The Palestinian protesters in Caulfield and outside Parliament, in London and New York, shout out obscenities about Jews; the placards with Stars of David being tossed into garbage bins often accompanied by Arabic slogans with “Keep the World Clean“ are not only anti-Zionist. They are about cleansing the world of us; the same language of course that the Nazis used.

And let’s not equate it with other egregious forms of racism or Islamophobia in Australia. The rise in antisemitism is far greater and has been exponential. It is again a case of first they come for the Jews; the ugly, irrational, enduring virus of antisemitism mutates and is malignant. And like all viruses, it is contagious and will spread to all good people who believe in the values of the West. Toxic fundamentalist Islam from Tehran to Nairobi is aimed at freedom, the rights of individuals, women and the LGBTIQ community, the sanctity of life. The young, woke students (including some Jewish ones) and their Professors crying out for a ceasefire will be among the first to be targeted if Hamas and its counterparts are allowed to continue unchecked. Their foolish, untrue and irrational assertions that Israel is colonialist (exactly how is this possible?) or an apartheid country (exactly how?) reflect their ignorance and bigotry. George Orwell put it best: Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them. Yet these are the ideas that also drive the mindless masses wanting to free Palestine from the river to the sea which translates to driving all Jews out of Israel, a hair’s breath away from a call to exterminate the Jews.

Jews and many good people across the world are fearful and this is exactly what is intended. It is a blunt tactic of terror, the purpose is to cause panic and create insecurity.

We need to be sure not to surrender to them. Let us remember the wise words of King Solomon: do not be afraid of sudden terror, or of the return of the wicked, when it comes (Proverbs 3). And let’s remember the wise words of FDR Roosevelt: the only thing to fear is fear itself.

Fear erodes, fear defeats.

Fear is as irrational as the hatred that causes it. Our sages describe hatred as the element that undermines the fabric and structure of civil society mekalkelet et hashurah. We can overcome it by standing together, soothing and supporting each other, seeking help if needed, and by the power of calm and clear thinking. We are as strong as our ideas. Israel is a remarkably tough and resilient country with many good friends, and we the Jewish people are not hapless victims. We will never again be led to the slaughter. We are the people of an eternal vision and of long enduring dreams and hopes.

With the remarkable synchronicity that the weekly Torah portion always brings, this week’s Parasha called Toldot (Genesis 26) focuses on one of the earliest examples of the antisemitism levelled at Isaac.

It is an antisemitism born out of envy expressed by the Philistine neighbours blocking up the wells that Isaac digs in the land. Isaac is not intimidated, or defeated by their hostility, but persists with diplomacy and generosity to dig new wells. This has always been the Jewish way – to try to meet hostility with diplomacy, to face animosity with equanimity, to persist in the pursuit of compassion. And to fight back in order to protect your life and your property. The Philistines, like all of those who are twisted by hatred, are prepared to block up the wells which also feed their own people. Hamas and their ilk would rather cause their own people to suffer than accept the help or peace gestures of their opponents. They would rather sacrifice their own people and block Israeli offers to provide fuel and incubators to the hospitals in Gaza. They will cut off the water that gives life because their pride and ideology is more important than life itself.

This new  month on the Jewish calendar, the month of Kislev, is one of light and of Maccabean courage and victory. It is a month in which the Jews of the second century BCE (167-170 BCE) fought back against an empire that wanted to eradicate their Jewish culture and independence. To echo Martin Luther King: hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, hatred paralyses life, hatred darkens life, love illuminates it. We join together with Hindus celebrating Diwali, a festival of light, and affirm the Biblical – Let there be light! Let the light in…

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

Leave a Reply