October 21, 2004
Our Future Lies Rooted in Ourselves
The last time my name appeared in The Jewish Journal, I had just been dubbed the "Milken Idol" for winning a public-speaking contest with what
The Journal termed a "stirring pro-Israel speech" that called for "Zionist solidarity."
In that speech, I said that "there are no more excuses for apathy, complacency or passivity" and spoke of how we must empower Israel to stop a "sick, repulsive enemy." Looking back more than half a year later, I do not know if I truly understood how significant and imperative my message was.
Since making that speech, I have traveled to Poland with March of the Living and visited Israel three times. I now understand.
This past weekend Duke allowed the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) to hold its annual conference on campus. When it became clear to me that the president of the university thought hosting a group that would not condemn terrorism affirmed the value of free speech and "dialogue," I struggled with how I would react.
I found an apologetic attitude toward terrorism on campus. The editorial in our school paper supported the PSM's decision to not condemn terrorism by ludicrously explaining that "if the PSM were to take a stance on the legitimacy of suicide bombings and other militant acts as a means for a solution, it might alienate a segment of its members."
I stayed in contact with members of the American Jewish Congress and StandWithUs, joined Duke Friends of Israel, became active with the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, helped the Joint Israel Initiative with ads for the school paper and joined the Duke Conservative Union, the only non-Jewish student group that condemned and protested the school's decision to host the conference.
I engaged anyone and everyone in debate and tried to contend with the widespread mentality that believes supporting the underdog is an "educated" point of view. I was invigorated in my outrage when I walked by signs telling me that by virtue of being a Zionist I supported ethnic cleansing.
In the week before the conference, faced with a campus rife with ignorance and no strong collective Jewish voice, I still did not know exactly how I wanted to respond.
I decided to attend a PSM workshop, spend some time at the Freeman Center and then join the protest against the hatefest on its final day.
At the conference, I found the group's messages abhorrent and reprehensible. It was also painful it was to see some PSM organizers wearing Magen Davids and sporting anti-Israel T-shirts and passing out materials with anti-Semitic slogans. When a Jewish PSM organizer with a chai around her neck walked into the room and stood next to me, I was so repulsed that I had to leave the conference.
I'm a product of Los Angeles Jewish schooling, yet by some divine error I ended up at a campus that was not only devoid of any Jewish identity, but also hosting a divestment campaign.
Yet I keep thinking back to the girl with the chai as a lucid reason of why I ended up here. The image makes clear to me that my role as a Jew in a world that is growing more and more anti-Semitic is not to try and eradicate hatred of Jews from the earth.
My role is to help my Jewish peers be proud and knowledgeable members of this community, so that I never again have to attend an anti-Semitic campaign organized by Jews.
Our survival boils down to one thing: our peoplehood. It is the intangible quality of Judaism that made two Australian girls invite me to Shabbat dinner on the first day of school, even though nothing I was wearing would have identified me as Jewish.
That quality is the thing that allows for Sinai Temple to have a successful program helping our fellow Jews in Argentina and for Milken to have an exchange program with Jewish Mexicans. It is the thing that empties out dozens of El Al jets so that under the cover of night, persecuted Ethiopian Jews can become Israelis. It is the raid on Entebbe. And it is the indescribably beautiful thing that makes Israel an open country to any and every Jew.
The PSM has reinforced the sense of urgency I expressed seven months ago. Anti-Semitism is not the stuff of the 1930s we read about in our history textbooks. It is the story of my past weekend, it is in this morning's newspaper, it is the truth of many world leaders, and it is not going away.
The PSM showed me once again why the future of the Jewish people does not rest with converting uneducated hypocrites into reasonable human beings.
Our future rests with ourselves -- a future rooted in the Jewish people, a future where we continue to be the people God chose and blessed from all others, a future where every Jew recognizes Israel as the physical manifestation of their religion, and a future in which we continue to disappoint every person who dreams of our end by continuing to be the most educated, charitable, successful and cohesive group of people in the world.