Every November I participate in two major Jewish conferences, the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries — Shluchim in New York, and the GA, the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. This year the GA was in New Orleans.
At the Shluchim convention in New York, I joined thousands of my fellow Chabad rabbis from one end of the globe to another. The highlight was the banquet, full of energy and passion. It gave me a big lift, reminding me of our mission to reach out to every Jew. Tears came to the eyes of the rabbis when young Moshe Cohen, a 9-year-old, gave the Dvar Torah — the Torah message to more than 4,000 attendees. He spoke of his walking with pride as Jew in England. Just a month earlier his mother had passed away in Manchester, England.
Then it was off to New Orleans where I led the Chabad delegation to the General Assembly, the annual conference of leaders of the Jewish Federations. Instead of black hats and beards, it was Jews from every stripe.
An hour after landing I was sitting in the front with local Federation leaders Shalom Elcott and Blossom Siegel to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The special moment was spoiled by ultra-leftists. They stood up and interrupted with protests and vicious anti-Israel propaganda during the prime minister’s address. The fourth time a young man right behind me stood on chair screaming with a sign claiming Israel was practicing Apartheid. I grabbed the protestor who was pulled out by security. I seized the anti-Israel banner and started to rip it up. Shalom Elcott suggested that I stand on a chair. With his help I stood with the banner high in the air, thousands of people looking at me, and tore up the sign as a protest against the protesters. The room was filled with cheers. Afterwards the chair of the GA thanked me for my decisive action. Little did I know that Israeli TV filmed it, and it ran all day on Israeli news.
Sadly, those protesting were Jews. They were young people who have little Jewish education, who fail to understand the threats and security risks to Israel. They have become the pawns of Israel’s enemies. As I told Israeli radio in an interview, “They never learned about the spiritual intrinsic bond of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel which is central to our heritage.”
In New York I had witnessed a young boy stand up with pride in front 4,000 rabbis and speak words of Torah. In New Orleans I had experienced a wonderful event sullied by Jews who lack an appreciation and understanding for their own heritage — Jews who have sunk into the abyss of self hatred and radical political views hostile to Israel.
As Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, told me later that day, we have made “Tikkun Olam” such a central value that along the way we have lost an appreciation of the unique destiny of the Jewish people. To me it’s clear; when universalism trumps Judaism, then the result is Jews who turn against their own.
Judaism teaches us the obligation to care for others, but that comes because it’s a Divine mandate, not due to the modern concept of equality. Sadly, some have taken the idea of equality to such an extreme that they have lost the understanding of the profound bond of the Jewish people to its land and heritage.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is rabbi @ocjewish.com