‘In a place where there are no men … ’

It’s time for a robust defense group to be organized.

Israeli fighter jets fly over the nation's flag on Independence Day celebrations in 1957. Photo by Moshe Pridan/Government Press Office.
Israeli fighter jets fly over the nation's flag on Independence Day celebrations in 1957. Photo by Moshe Pridan/Government Press Office.
Dr. Alex Sternberg
Dr. Alex Sternberg
Dr. Alex Sternberg, a Jewish activist, is the author of Recipes From Auschwitz.

The news has become more horrifying with each passing day. Ignorant students, armed with lies supplied by professional pro-Hamas agitators, “demonstrate” against the State of Israel. The shouts of “Death to Israel” quickly become “Death to Jews” and then “Death to America.”

It is clear that the anger of the “useful idiots” is not only against Israel’s right to defend herself. It is also against their Jewish fellow students. Spat upon and accused of committing genocide, these Jewish students were understandably intimidated.

The verbal assaults soon became physical. Seeing no pushback from the authorities, the pro-Hamas “activists” conquered the campuses. Spineless college presidents conveniently forgot their duty to protect their students. They wrung their hands and equivocated on whether the violence violated their codes of conduct. Their Jewish students were left terrified and defenseless. 

It was a bitter pill for these students, many of whom are proud of their Jewishness, to be told by parents and some rabbis to go home until “this blows over.” Or to refrain from displaying any outward signs of their Jewishness. Off came many kippahs and Star of David necklaces.

We have seen this movie before. Some might have thought we had turned a page in our tragic history, but such optimism was premature. “Never Again,” we assured ourselves. “It won’t happen again, certainly not here in America.”

Today’s academic terrorism has brought us back to reality. We now know that the world’s oldest hatred never disappeared.

Unfortunately, the typical Jewish reaction has not changed either. For centuries, Jews responded to pogroms and expulsions with the idea that “It will all blow over. Soon, we’ll go back to normal.” In fact, attacks on us had become so routine that they had become normal.

Over 120 years ago, the Jews of Kishinev were attacked by bloodthirsty drunken Christians, incited by Russian Orthodox priests. Feeding the mob’s frenzy was the age-old blood libel that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to bake matzah. Almost 100 Jews were murdered. Hundreds more were severely injured. Many women were raped.   

This teaches us that mobs must be contained. Back then, the indecision of the Kishinev authorities emboldened the mobs. Today, the university mobs have been emboldened by the impunity they enjoy despite their illegal actions. 

Many of us were outraged as we watched their criminal actions. But our rage was not only directed against the useful idiots led by Hamas-financed operatives and the impotent school administrations. We were also outraged as we saw the helplessness of the outnumbered and abandoned Jewish students.

After the Kishinev pogrom, Hayim Nahman Bialik, the venerated Jewish writer, wrote a scathing poem describing his indignation. But Bialik directed his anger not only at the drunken Russian murderers but also at the Jews who hid while their wives were raped and their families murdered.

Come, now, and I will bring thee to their lairs

The privies, jakes and pigpens where the heirs

Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,

Concealed and cowering, the sons of the Maccabees!

Bialik’s disgust at the helpless inaction of the Kishinev Jews galvanized the Jewish community of his time. It inspired many, such as Ze’ev Jabotinsky, to form self-defense units both in Russia and then- Palestine. I read Bialik’s poem “In the City of Slaughter” many times in my youth. I also made it mandatory reading when I taught Jewish history at a New York yeshivah high school.

The outrage today is the inaction of America’s decadent and cowardly Jewish leaders. They could form a defense organization tomorrow if they wanted to. They have the money and the organizational skills, but they have not done so. This is on them.

Back in the 1960s, the established Jewish organizations were not sensitive to the plight of Jews stuck in vulnerable communities. Faced with their inaction, self-defense groups were founded. But when those groups battled the antisemites, the same “do nothing” establishment denounced them.

At UCLA, Hamas supporters formed illegal encampments. School administrators refused to call the police. They seemed to have no intention of protecting Jewish students. It appeared our children had traveled back in time to taste what their grandparents experienced in Europe.

Not everyone accepted the situation, however. One evening, the pro-Hamas encampment was visited by a Jewish group. Armed with sticks and helmets, they broke through the encampment to dismantle the barricades. A fight erupted and the terrorist sympathizers soon realized that not everyone was going to be intimidated by their bullying. Before you could say “inaction,” police appeared on campus to break up the melee. As in the past, the Jews’ initiative forced the police to do their jobs.

Alas, Jabotinsky is gone and no one replaced him. In his place are talkers, not doers. Denouncing the college presidents does not help our students. Empty talk is not what they need.   

I marveled at the initiative shown by the Los Angeles youth. Who were they? Where did their resolve come from? They were a ray of light shining through a dark sky. I was certainly proud of them.

They reminded us of the lesson Hillel the Elder taught us long ago: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” Did our establishment leaders ever hear of Hillel?

The past six months have ushered in a new reality for American Jews. We must adapt to this reality. Students must acquire defensive skills and our organizations must provide it.

And don’t forget, Hillel also asked, “If not now, when?”

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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