Amalek today

Israel can do nothing right, and Hamas can do nothing wrong. Is there any hope of fighting this sickening prejudice?

Palestinians wave a Hamas banner on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Palestinians wave a Hamas banner on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

Our dear friends Rabbi Doron and Shelley Perez, and their family, are now sitting shiva for their beloved son and brother Daniel, a captain in the Israel Defense Forces. Daniel went missing in action on Oct. 7, and it has only now been confirmed that he perished in the battle with Hamas invaders. We were praying for his safe return. Now we are praying for the respectful return of his body so he may be laid to rest with dignity together with other heroes of our people.

The Perez family were prominent in Johannesburg for many years. Rabbi Doron was an inspirational spiritual leader here, as he has been in Israel, especially since Oct. 7, when his faith and strength in his own hour of need gave invaluable support to so many in similarly desperate circumstances. May God Almighty now give him and his family the same strength that Rabbi Doron has shared with others.

This Shabbat is Parshat Zachor, “Shabbat of Remembrance.” Annually, on the Shabbat before Purim, we take a second Sefer Torah for a special maftir and read from Deuteronomy 25 about the commandment to remember how Amalek, a fierce warrior nation, attacked the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. It was a completely unprovoked attack. Amalek was not being threatened in any way by the Jews. Miraculously, the pacifist nation of former slaves, untrained in military warfare, were able to defeat the powerful Amalekites. 

I found it strange but fascinating that the commandment to “erase the memory of Amalek” was quoted by a South African legal team in its vicious assault on Israel at the International Court of Justice last year. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had used the term Amalek in reference to Hamas and the South African lawyers quoted him in an attempt to prove that he was implying an act of “genocide.” They actually quoted the Torah’s commandment to erase any memory of Amalek.

Historically, the term “Amalek”—or “Amalekites”—has been used by Jews to describe the archenemy of the day, whoever they might be. In our own generation, Hitler and the Nazis were referred to as Amalekites. Today, no one knows exactly who is a biological descendant of the original Amalekites. But those who behave in a similar manner, attacking Jews for no reason and attempting Final Solutions are well-deserving of this most dishonorable title. Hamas surely qualifies.

In a world that is increasingly seeking to marginalize and even completely delegitimize Israel, can we even hope for an end to antisemitism? Society seems to be divided roughly between those who don’t know and those who don’t want to know. Hordes of American college students march against Israel chanting “from the river to the sea” and have no idea which river or which sea they’re talking about. It may as well be the Mississippi. They seem to be totally ignorant of the history of the Middle East and the facts on the ground. But that doesn’t deter them from marching, protesting and spewing hate.

“Gaza is a concentration camp” or an “open-air prison” are sound bites regurgitated ad nauseum. No one seems to remember that Israel willingly and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005 and essentially gave the Palestinians there a state of their own. 

On Oct. 7, millions of antisemites came out of the closet. They sensed a sudden, seismic shift in the world’s attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people. Sadly and scarily, antisemitism has become the norm. Israel can do nothing right, and Hamas can do nothing wrong. Is there any hope of fighting this sickening prejudice?

Herzl’s dream was that a Jewish state would remove antisemitism from the world. We would be able to live and let live. How delighted he would be that his dream was fulfilled and Israel became a reality. How devastated he would be that his dream of eliminating antisemitism utterly failed.

I have written elsewhere that antisemitism is not rational, and there is no rational argument on earth that will convince its practitioners to change their thinking.

What, then, should the Jewish response be?

Well, I am not proposing to shut down the Anti-Defamation League or the Simon Wiesenthal Center, or any other organization dedicated to combating antisemitism. We must fight it and do our best to stop it. But we must also be realistic and not be disillusioned if we fail.

And what should the response of your average Jew on the street be, besides the obvious one of supporting Israel and the IDF materially and on social media?

Jewish thinkers have argued that behind Jew-hatred lurks an underlying hatred of Judaism. Hitler denounced the Jewish preoccupation with circumcision and conscience, both of which he saw as threatening to render his ideal macho society impotent. His Final Solution was directed not only at Jews but at Judaism itself.

Not surprisingly, Elie Wiesel once said, “When we are persecuted, our response must be: We will remain Jewish and do everything to become more Jewish.”

The enthusiasm and resurgence of Jewish practice among our brave IDF fighters is beautiful to behold. It should rub off on all of us.

I remember hearing a story from a Chabad rabbi in London who, some years ago, was on duty with a Mitzvah Tank at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. When he approached a Jewish-looking passerby and invited him to stop and put on tefillin, the fellow shrugged him off. The same gentleman then moved on to Speakers Corner where anyone and everyone can pontificate from their own milk box.

He heard a Muslim shouting about the evils of Israel and tried to answer him. Try as he might, though, the fellow on the milk box was an old pro. He’d been doing his thing every Sunday for years and was all too adept at handling the crowds and even the hecklers. The Jewish visitor kept trying to defend Israel against the lies and hate, but his every attempt was met with a sharp response. He was getting more frustrated by the minute.

After realizing that he wasn’t going to make any headway in this debate, he rushed back to the Mitzvah Tank, rolled up his sleeve and shouted: “Now, give me those tefillin!”

At the end of the day, that is the only viable response to antisemitism. In a false world in which truth matters very little, we won’t necessarily win the debates. But we can win the war by standing tall and wearing our Jewishness proudly.

Purim, the holiday celebrating the defeat of the Amalekite Haman, will be celebrated this Sunday. It’s not just a masquerade party. We must remember our enemies, then and now. Observing the traditional Purim mitzvot is another great way of frustrating our enemies’ designs.  Whether it’s Amalek, Haman, Hitler or Hamas, let us do our own thing and defeat them.

May God grant the Perez family—and all our bereaved families—strength, solace and only simchas in the future.

With the help of the Almighty, may it truly be a Purim Sameach!

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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