Concerns over the rise of political and nationalistic hostility toward Jews are valid, but they are not new. The latest surge should not propel us in a panic toward false and even dangerous solutions and alliances.
The Forward’s November 30 article “Are Jews for Jesus a Secret Weapon in Anti-Semitism Fight With the ‘Alt-Right’?” makes a claim that Jews for Jesus and other messianic Jews can counter the “alt-right” by advocating for Jews and Israel in churches across the country. But messianic Jews who claim to love all Jews, and who are defending Israel in the face of growing anti-Israel sentiment, should not fool us into thinking they are our allies and protectors.
Although Jews for Jesus preaches love of Jews, it is with the ulterior motive of converting Jews to fundamentalist Christianity. Jews for Jesus is the same group whose founder once proclaimed that “Judaism is a false religion.” Along with other messianic groups, they believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will suffer eternal damnation. They misquote biblical and rabbinic sources, and masquerade their Christian beliefs with the trappings of traditional Jewish observance, while simultaneously deprecating these rituals as manmade.
Jews for Jesus are hardly the ones to represent the Jewish community they disrespect. First, they need to correct their own hypocritical and offensive attitude toward Jews and Judaism.
So how do we combat the resurgent threat of anti-Semitism?
We don’t need false protectors. We do need innovative approaches to counter this growing menace of anger and hostility.
Let me share a true story.
In July 1993, the FBI arrested eight members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads. The group’s members had been plotting to attack several targets in Los Angeles, including a synagogue and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
As part of the sentencing, the U.S. district attorney designed a program to challenge the group’s racist views. Participants in the program were required to meet with their intended targets: pastors from the First AME Church, Holocaust survivors and two rabbis.
The meeting took place at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and I was asked to participate as one of the rabbis.
The skinheads were angry and were convinced that they were victims, because they were a persecuted white minority when they were in high school.
The pastors and Holocaust survivors were not making headway. Then something unexpected happened.
The skinheads asked the rabbis, “Why do Jews get preferential treatment and have a special symbol on food products and whites don’t get their own symbol?”
My friend, Rabbi Daniel Landes, explained kosher food, rabbinic supervision and the symbols that indicate to consumers that the food meets specific kosher dietary requirements.
The skinheads seemed unmoved by this explanation, so I decided to take a different approach, based on my years of experience working with people who had been brainwashed by cults.
“Millions of Americans consume Heinz ketchup daily and never notice the O.U. symbol on the packaging. How did you skinheads notice what so many others overlooked?” I asked.
Their answer was simple: “We received literature from a white supremacist group that pointed it out to us, and stated it was a Jewish plot to control the economy.”
Then I posed a question forcing them to think critically. “Now that you know what these symbols really stand for, how do you feel, knowing that you accepted what the white supremacist groups told you without questioning or checking out the facts? Do you feel taken advantage of?”
The silence was palpable as they realized they had been manipulated. During the lunch break, they wanted to know more about critical thinking, and thanked me for helping them see things from a different perspective.
The way to rid the world of ignorance, hatred and falsehood is not through looking for allies and protectors in the wrong places. The “alt-right” will not be won over by Jews for Jesus, because they are smart enough to see through the hypocrisy and deception.
But a push toward critical thinking, backed by honesty, knowledge and love, might change them. As King Solomon taught, “The one that brings his case first seems right, but then his neighbor comes and examines him.”
We also know that actions speak louder than words. If we campaign daily to do a good deed for someone and ask the person to pay it forward, we can turn the tide of a society that has become selfish and angry to one of loving kindness. This is what tikkun olam, repair of the world, is about.