“Iran, Harvard and the Fogel Family: Are We Asleep at the Wheel?” A Special Sermon by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Senior Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue.
A few days ago, I posted my brief, somewhat disjointed thoughts on the 1-year anniversary of the brutal slaughter of the Fogel family.
Yesterday, for Shabbat Zachor, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Senior Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue, did it far more eloquently, in the following special sermon: “Iran, Harvard and the Fogel Family: Are We Asleep at the Wheel?”
I was in Home Depot this week picking up air conditioning filters when a tall, strapping, jovial man named Michael came up to me and asked a familiar question, “Are you a Rabbi by any chance?” Debating if I had time to enter a discussion, I decided to go with the truth and answered in the affirmative. Michael then said, “Are you familiar with Ezekiel 37?” Now that he quoted Tanach, I could be pretty confident he wasn’t Jewish. Anyway, I gave him a half yes, “Of course, who doesn’t know Ezekiel 37, I answered.” He continued, “You do know that the prophecy is coming, Ezekiel 37 is about to happen?” Again, I gave a half yes, but he wouldn’t let up. “Gog u’Magog, man, the Muslim nations gather against Israel before the end of days, it is coming.” At this point, I must admit, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and worried that perhaps he was a missionary, but instead, he simply said. “I want you to know Rabbi, I am with Israel and with you. We must all stand together at this time. God bless Israel,” and with that we parted.
My friends, I don’t know that we are living Gog and Magog, or the end of days. But there is one thing that I do know and that is we are living in remarkable times. The approximately 60 year reprieve from anti-Semitism that the nations of the world have given our people out of pity and sympathy in the aftermath of the Holocaust, seems to be coming to an end. Our default status in the world – scapegoat, blame, hatred, anti-Semitism, de-legitimization, is being restored as Israel is no longer the underdog and victim in the world’s eyes, but rather somehow we have become the aggressor and the perpetrator.
Mi’shenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha, we sing with great enthusiasm. When the month of Adar begins, we increase, expand and intensify our sense of joy. My question for you this morning is simple: How can one be happy right now when we reflect on the Jewish condition in the world? What does Adar contain that would allow us to overlook and disregard the threats that Israel confronts, the isolation it experiences and the challenges our people face?
One year ago today, the beautiful Fogel family was brutally murdered in what was the most heinous and vicious attack in Israel’s young history. Udi and Rut Fogel, together with their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and three-month-old Hadas had their throats slit while they slept in their beds. Their three surviving children, Tamar, Roi and 3 yr old Yishai live today with their grandparents who have at an advanced age heroically taken on the role of parents to these young children.
This atrocity happened in Adar a year ago today, and as we mark the first yahrzeit we can’t help but ask, where is the simcha of Adar? How can one feel a sense of joy when incidents like this still happen to our people?
But it isn’t only brutal animals like the sub human murderer of the Fogel family that threaten our people. Today, we are not safe even among the intellectual elite, even at the highest academic institution in America. Ruth Wisse, a professor at Harvard wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week, courageously challenging her own employer. You see, in a few days, students of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government will host a conference entitled: “Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution,” and you can be sure, that one State is not Israel. One featured speaker is Ali Abunimah, creator of the website Electronic Intifada, who opposes the existence of a “Jewish State.” Also presenting is Harvard’s own Stephen M. Walt, co- author of the anti-Israel book called “The Israel Lobby.”
Sure, some Harvard graduates have written to the University’s President to protest their hosting this conference. But, perhaps as appalling as the actual conference, is the relative silence of Jewish groups on campus. Where is the outrage? Where are the rallies, letter writing campaigns, protests, sit-ins?
Where is simcha of Adar, when a virulently anti-Israel group can freely present their hate filled rhetoric and advance their one state free of Jews solution, on the most prestigious campus in America, davka in Adar?
But it isn’t only savage animals who physically murder our innocent children while sleeping in their beds. And it also doesn’t stop with the boycott and divestment from Israel movement growing on college campuses around this country. No, today, in the year 2012, even a candidate for public office is not afraid to reveal his blatant anti-Semitism.
Just this week, Arthur Jones, a republican candidate for Congress in Chicago said the following – “As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews.” Jones, who organizes neo-Nazi events in commemoration of Hitler’s birthday, continued by saying, “the Holocaust is the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.” Thank God, Republicans have not put him on the ballot because of his views. But here is the scary thing. He has collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition to allow him to run. That means that there are more than 1,000 other people in Chicago that share his insane, anti-Semitic views. His candidacy comes now, in the month of Adar, supposedly the most joyous of all months. Where is the simcha?
“Va’yomer Haman la’melech Achashveirosh yeshno am echad mefuzar u’mefurad bein ha’amim…there is a nation scattered abroad and dispersed among the nations.” On Wednesday night, Rav Dovid Miller, currently the Mashgiach of Yeshiva University gave a talk over skype to a few of us here in Boca, and he pointed out the following gemara in megillah 13b.
When Haman targeted the Jews for annihilation, he said to Achashveirosh – “let’s destroy the Jews.” Achashveirosh replied, “Not so fast. I am afraid of their God lest He do to me what He did to my predecessors.” Haman relieved the King of that fear when he said “yeshno am echad,” which translates literally as there is a certain nation. The gemora quotes Rava who explains that Haman was telling the King something much more strategic and insightfull. Not yeshno am echad, there is a certain nation, but rather yoshnu am echad, there is a sleeping nation. “They have been negligent of mitzvos, they are divided, fighting with one another and divisive. They are asleep as to what is important and what threatens them,” said Haman.
You see, we were vulnerable and literally on the brink of elimination and extinction as a people because we were asleep. Our eyes were closed to what was happening around us. We didn’t take the threats seriously, and we didn’t stand up for our right to simply exist. Haman, like so many of our shrewd enemies throughout Jewish history, understood that going about business as usual, living with our eyes closed and sleep walking through life exposes us and makes us particularly vulnerable and susceptible to attack.
Haman recognized that, yoshno am echad, there is a nation that is sleeping. All he had to do was continue to lull the Jewish people into a false sense of security, to breed complacency and apathy and at that moment he could accomplish his goal of ridding the world of our people.
So how did we survive? What spoiled his plan? Why did we ultimately triumph over Haman such that we are here and he is a distant memory? The answer is simple: Mordechai and Esther, two heroes who stood up and like an alarm rang and rang until they woke up our people from their practically comatose sleep.
Mordechai understood that the antidote to yoshno am echad, there is a nation that is sleeping, is lech knos kol ha’yehudim, go and wake them up. He understood that the response to heim am mefuzar u’mefurad bein ha’amim, they are weak because they are scattered, is to bring them together in fasting and praying. That wakeup call saved our people and ignited a response that provided not only the spark that led to military victory but attracted people of Shushan to want to join the Jewish people.
My friends, yoshno am echad, I look around and I can’t help but think our people have been lulled asleep and into a false sense of security once again, and we are therefore vulnerable at this time. Our enemies are no less evil than Haman, their plans no less nefarious, and their goal no less threatening to our very existence. And yet, for so many, it is business as usual, eyes shut to what is happening and threatening us. Now is the time to wake up, now is the time for lech k’nos kol ha’yehudim, to come together in prayer, and in fasting, in letter writing, phone calls, advocacy, lobbying and any way that we can raise our voice on behalf of our people.
Raise your hand if you think Israel is going to attack Iran? Raise your hand if you think no attack will take place and Iran will be allowed to go nuclear? My friends, do you realize that either option is an absolute disaster, potentially devastating and earth shattering? Do you truly understand the scenario and the casualties if Israel attacks Iran? Can you even imagine the rockets raining down throughout the country, terrorist attacks, condemnations from around the world seeking to isolate Israel, a possible embargo? And if no attack happens, do you understand the threat and reality of a nuclear weapon held at Israel’s head?
And if we do understand, how can we possibly remain asleep, go about business as usual, spend no time in seeking to make a difference and to impact our people’s very future? Purim is unfolding again right before our very eyes. Iran is modern day Persia and Ahmanadinijad is modern day Haman sharing the same explicitly stated goal. If he is successful, he can accomplish in minutes what it took the gas chambers years, to kill 6 million Jews and with it the Jewish homeland. We MUST NOT allow that to happen.
We read zachor this morning, the obligation to remember Amalek and what they sought to do to us. The Torah is very clear, it isn’t enough al tishkach, to not forget. You can be asleep and yet not forget somewhere buried in your memory that there were once enemies. No, we must be zachor, we must remember at all times what our enemies are capable of and never feel a false sense of security.
The time has come to wake up, to remember the Fogel family and to hold accountable people who celebrate such a murder. The time has come to wake up and to raise our voices in protest of anti-Israel conferences at Harvard and at other universities in this country. The time has come to wake up and to vocally reject the candidacy of a man who can deny the Holocaust. And the time has come to wake up and do everything that we can to make sure Iran does not go nuclear.
Perhaps the joy of Adar is the happiness of waking up, of rising from our sleep of recognizing what we confront and stepping up to make a difference. Rav Miller suggested that simcha is being alive, responsive and alert, ready to face whatever challenges may come and to be confident that we will be triumphant as we ultimately have been throughout our illustrious history. Mi’shenichnas adar, marbim b’simcha. When Adar begins, we remember enemies past like Amalek and Haman and we focus acutely on our present enemies and stopping them. When we wake up and confront them, marbim b’simcha, that in itself is a source of joy.
This week 140 members of BRS will attend AIPAC and join 13,000 delegates lobbying on behalf of Israel. But you don’t have to attend AIPAC to make a difference. Every single one of us, anywhere and at any time can lobby the ONE who can make the biggest difference, Hashem. You cannot claim to truly understand how grave a threat Iran is and not include defeating them in your tefillah regularly. I beg you, say an extra perek of tehillim every day. Make an effort to attend Minyan more often. Grow in mitzvos, chesed or learning in the merit of our people. Just do something. We cannot afford to remain asleep at the wheel.
On Sunday, June 7, 1981, on the eve of Shavuos and under the order of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel unilaterally attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak and carried out a perfect mission that afterwards even US military could not believe was possible. Ambassador Yehuda Avner, recalls in his incredible book “The Prime Ministers,” that moments after they received the phone call saying the mission was a complete success and the boys are on their way home, Begin dictated a communique to President Reagan that he concluded with the following:
“Let the world know that under no circumstances will Israel ever allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people. If ever such a threat reoccurs, we shall take whatever preemptive measures are necessary to defend the citizens of Israel with all the means at our disposal.”
On this Monday, again a Prime Minister of Israel and a President of the United States will meet to discuss red lines, military options, points of no return and timing. Let us pray that they come together and share the fortitude, tenacity and resolve to do what is necessary to protect not only Israel, but the free world.
As I said, I don’t if it is Gog U’Magog, but I do know that it is time to wake up and please God if we do, may we truly enjoy this month of Adar and with it welcome simcha, joy and happiness.
FYI, while there were many bold-worthy parts of this sermon, the reason I bolded the part above is not only because it is extremely relevant to the times, but also because I just finished reading The Prime Ministers last night, and found it to be a truly inspiring read; a must-read for any aspiring evil Zionist.
(h/t Micha via Avy)