(October 11, 2022 / JNS) Rosh Hashanah is so much more than the Jewish New Year: It is the wish of every Jewish parent, child, spouse, sibling and friend that the following year be joyous. This is the metaphor of the apples and honey—we wish each other a good and sweet year, shana tova u’metuka.
Symbolically, we are told in the Talmud, “Three books are opened in heaven on Rosh Hashanah, one for the thoroughly wicked, one for the thoroughly righteous and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed in the Book of Life, the thoroughly wicked in the Book of Death, while the fate of the intermediate is suspended until the Day of Atonement.” In our tradition, this annual judgment is not considered finally sealed until Hoshanah Rabba, the seventh day of Sukkot.
At this perilous time, when our fates are symbolically being weighed in the balance, Jewish people—in particular, Jewish students on American campuses—are being targeted by vicious enemies who wish us ill.
At the University of California Berkeley School of Law, several affinity organizations, including the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the Law Students of African Descent, the Women of Berkeley Law and the Queer Caucus were convinced to adopt a bylaw requiring that “participating organizations will not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views … in support of Zionism [or] the apartheid State of Israel.”
Yet Zionism, the desire to restore Jewish sovereignty in our ancient homeland of Israel, has been integrally connected to Jewish belief and identity throughout our millennia-old history. Only a small percentage of alienated Jews oppose Zionism, their own people’s right to self-determination. In effect, the nine Berkeley Law student organizations have become spaces where most Jews are not welcome without abjuring their essential beliefs.
At the University of Michigan, an anti-Semitic group called the “Goyim Defense League” scattered anti-Semitic flyers in an area of Ann Arbor heavily populated by students. Goyim is a Hebrew word that means “nations,” sometimes in the connotation of non-Jews, as in “Israel among the nations,” an aphorism that dates to the 12th century masterpiece of physician-philosopher Rabbi Judah HaLevi, The Kuzari. HaLevi asserted, “The People of Israel among the nations is like the heart among the organs.”
Now, the Hebrew word is being appropriated by Jew-haters attempting to portray Jews as wicked manipulators who despise outsiders. The hate group’s flyers conspiratorially portray COVID-19 lockdowns as the work of Jews, who they bizarrely claim would benefit from lockdowns because they supposedly make it easier for religious Jews to observe the Sabbath. In fact, the Jewish community has suffered immense disruptions to normal religious observance due to the pandemic.
At American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., a swastika was found on the ceiling tile of a dormitory bathroom. AU’s president, Sylvia Burwell, rightly said, “The discovery of this hate symbol during Rosh Hashanah, a holy time for our Jewish community members, adds to the harm and hurt.” Days earlier, the administration had completed an inconclusive investigation into a prior incident of anti-Semitic symbols carved into a bathroom wall, including a swastika, a pair of SS lightning bolts and a Star of David crossed out with an “X.” The symbols, meant to terrify, recall the deliberate murder of over six million Jewish men, women and children in the Holocaust.
At Rutgers University in New Jersey, the headquarters of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi was vandalized and eggs were thrown at the fraternity house. The house had previously been targeted and egged during a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in 2021. The fraternity reports that it has been targeted for two years by harassers who shout anti-Semitic slurs at members. As a result, many of these students have reported that they “have avoided wearing any Jewish jewelry, such as the Star of David.”
The sacred period in the Jewish calendar between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur known as the Ten Days of Awe and the period leading up to Hoshanah Rabba are being deliberately profaned by vicious anti-Semites. Many Jews will be reminded of the haunting Rosh Hashanah prayer Unetanneh Tokef, which predicts, “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed—how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire; who by sword and who by beast.”
The text is ascribed to the great Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, who was tortured to death on Rosh Hashanah for his Jewish faith and identity. For centuries, that has been unthinkable in America. The Jewish community must stand strong against anti-Semitism on campus so that we are safe to celebrate our identity and mark our observances, as we have done for thousands of years. Anything less and the torch of religious liberty, the prized heritage and safeguard of American Jewry, will have truly begun to dim.
Hen Mazzig has been named among the top 50 LGBTQ+ influencers and as one of Algemeiner’s top 100 people positively influencing Jewish life. His award-winning articles have been published by The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Haaretz, The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, The International Business Times and more. He serves as a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute and is the host of the podcast Fresh Look.
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