There Is Nothing New Under The Sun ( Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
8 min readOct 23, 2023

The Progressive Left Has Abandoned Its Jews Again

The Kishinev pogrom
The Shmini Atzeret Pogrom

Like many of you I have experienced every negative emotion known to man. Sadness, horror, anger, fear, self-doubt, worry for my people and for my family that lives in Beersheva. My grandson Aryeh is scheduled to be inducted into the IDF next month. I feel like I have been gut punched and somehow feel ashamed that I did not fight back though of course that is an emotion not a reality.

People have been calling what happened on October 7 the Hamas massacre. It should be called the Shmini Atzeret Pogrom.

A pogrom is all too well known in Jewish history. It is a genocidal attack against a Jewish population with the intent to murder or expel the Jews living in that country. We have a millennial long history of pogroms, but I want to tell you about one that took place in Kishinev.

Matt Lebovic in the Times Of Israel wrote, “Located in Tsarist Russia’s fertile Bessarabia region, turn-of-the-century Kishinev was home to about 55,000 Jews among a population of 280,000. In addition to the murder of 49 Jews, at least 600 Jewish women were raped, and hundreds more injured. Word spread quickly of the massacre and many Jews left the town going to Palestine or North America”.

The great early Zionist poet, Haim Nachman Bialik wrote a very famous poem called Ir Haharega, The City of the Killings, in which he chastised the Jews of Kishinev for not fighting back. Many thousands migrated and the pogrom had a profound impact on the Zionist argument that for Jews to be safe they needed their own country with its own army to protect Jews.

You need to understand this fundamental principle of Zionism, especially after the holocaust, that Jews would never be safe in someone else’s country and needed a home of their own.

When Israel was created, its armed forces were called, IDF, Israel Defense Forces because their first job was to protect Jews. In America at UJA and Israel bond events we would tout Israel as being the one safe haven we could run to if things went south for the Jews.

The Shmini Atzeret pogrom was designed to kill many Jews using grotesque violence, humiliation, and rape. Murdering little children and babies and beheading them was intended to undermine this very raison d’etre of a Jewish state, i.e. a safe haven for Jews. If a pogrom could happen in Israel, what have we gained from 75 years of building Israel into a major world power?

Only once can I remember that I feared that Israel would be our second holocaust, and that was May of 1967 when the news showed films of massive demonstrations in Egypt that threatened to throw all the Jews into the sea.

In 1970 on my first visit to Israel I met my large Israeli family for the first time, and I heard from my female cousins who as teenagers sat in shelters in Jerusalem in June of 1967 and nervously taunted each other about who was more likely to get raped.

Now we are all grandparents and great grandparents and the security we all took for granted has been shattered.

No country can live and prosper with existential fear in their daily diet. That is why Israel must go into Gaza and destroy Hamas. Israel must regain deterrence so that its enemies know that if they kill a Jew, 100 of them will cease to exist. That is the Israeli side of the war but what about the American Jewish side?

We too have a war going on. It is about ideas, antisemitism and where do we stand in this country as Jews and Zionists. It is unnerving to say the least, but it is not new. It has happened before.

After the Six Day War the political left in the world and in the United States turned on Israel and Zionism and the Jews who had fought side by side with them for so many causes.

Israel had been a darling of the left from 1948 to June 1967. Jews were seen as socialists who returned to their original country to work the land and to reinvigorate the Jewish people. Israel was a small and poor country. It was the small David in the world of Goliaths. Small helpless poor Jews are appreciated by the left so Israel had support. Israel was constantly attacked by terrorists coming in from the neighboring Arab countries. They were clearly the underdogs and supporting underdogs is the mother’s milk of the left and what later became the new left.

Fast forward to 1967 and as I said above, we felt the fear that the second holocaust was upon us. Israel struck a preemptive blow to the air force of Egypt, and in 6 days won the war that now expanded Israel by adding the West Bank and the Sinai to Israel. As Dara Horn has shown us in her new book,” People Love Dead Jews”, living victorious Jews could now no longer be tolerated by the left.

I was in college in the late 1960’s and I remember the turmoil and fights all over North America. Jews had been very involved in the civil rights movement, in the anti-Viet Nam war movement and other social justice causes. In 1968 the crisis at Columbia University as it was called was led by SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, headed by a Jew, Mark Rudd, and it was the largest student strike of the time.

Columbia University is a few blocks south of the Jewish Theological Seminary and so there were many Jewish students who attended both JTS and Columbia. I learned from them what it was like. Israel was now demonized by the left and Jews who had been allies with others in the peace movement and in civil rights were given a choice. Drop support of Israel or get out of the movement.

Some did but many of the leadership types who were very involved with their Judaism left and took their values and their organizational skills into the greater Jewish world. The Jewish counterculture movement began, creating havurot, retreats, social activism and integrating the new left values into Judaism.

Over the years Israel has been criticized (sometimes correctly for what country is always perfect) but often demonized as in the 1975 UN resolution declaring “Zionism as racism”, and then ostracized, using that definition as a shield for old fashioned antisemitism.

Well, it is happening again. Same script, new participants only now more Jews having been given the choice of staying in the movement at the cost of support of Israel or leaving their friends and their activism to support their fellow Jews have stayed with the progressives. They choose to stay in this political world where their fellow activists cannot even condemn the pogrom where 1300 Jews were killed and massacred and mutilated and taken hostage because they were Jews?

After 1967 I remember a speech by Canada’s leading Rabbi talking about all the years he spent in interfaith groups working side by side especially with the dominant Protestant denomination in Canada. During the Six Day War he reached out to his colleagues with whom he had worked together on so many humanitarian issues. He wanted support and comfort and shockingly there was none. They were supporting the “poor Arabs” who were losing so badly.

There is nothing new under the sun.

It is 1967 redux.

Young Jewish activists on campus have been abandoned by fellow students and organizations that they worked so hard for. Professors are cheering for what Hamas was doing. Demonstrations with fellow students wearing t- shirts that say, “I am Hamas”. Translated into normal speak that means. “I am a Nazi, I am Isis”.

On this subject the NY Times on October 21 wrote,” In Los Angeles, Rabbi Sharon Brous, a well-known progressive activist who regularly criticizes the Israeli government, described from the pulpit her horror and feelings of “existential loneliness,” her voice breaking. “The clear message from many in the world, especially from our world — those who claim to care the most about justice and human dignity — is that these Israeli victims somehow deserved this terrible fate.”

There is nothing new under the sun.

“And as the Hamas attacks in Israel were still underway, leaders of the New Israel Fund, which supports progressive Israeli and Palestinian groups, fielded calls from a former American ally on the left demanding that the organization label Israel an “apartheid state” — even as they waited to learn if colleagues in another organization, hiding in Israeli bomb shelters, had been killed.”

There is nothing new under the sun.

Many progressive Jews were shocked to discover that their former colleagues now saw them as oppressors deserving of blame.

“I am in such a state of despair — in my generation, we have been warned how quickly people would turn on us and we just thought no way,” said Nick Melvoin, 38, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School Board …“Now we see, this is how that happens: When you dehumanize the group. This indoctrination that many of us have been warned about hit us like a ton of bricks.”

There is nothing new under the sun.

Many Jews supported Black Lives Matter. As a concept so did I. As a political organization of the left, it can sometimes be anti-Semitic.

“When a people have been subject to decades of apartheid and unimaginable violence, their resistance must not be condemned, but understood as a desperate act of self-defense,” Black Lives Matter Los Angeles posted on Facebook, in its first response to the attack.

There is nothing new under the sun.

A reproductive-rights group sharply criticized the “Zionist occupation,” saying that the Israeli government denied “Palestinians control over their bodies” and that “there can be no justice, peace or reproductive freedom underneath colonial occupation.”

If you want an abortion or if you are gay or trans would you rather live in Tel Aviv or any Moslem ruled country?

There is nothing new under the sun.

Finally, Eric Spiegelman, a lawyer and podcast producer was enraged by the protest in New York City promoted by the Democratic Socialists of America wrote,

“It’s like, I belong to this political organization that believes in three things: affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, and the wholesale murder of Jews,” said Mr. Spiegelman, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he condemned local leaders who are affiliated with the group. “Two out of three ain’t bad!”

There is nothing new under the sun.

What are you going to do about it?

Please forward this to friends and family who agree or who disagree. It needs to go viral. Silence is deadly in a very real way.

To receive my blog please send an email to ravpp1@gmail.com with your full name and email address.

I will be in Toronto November 4th and 5th. On Shabbat as Scholar in Residence at Beth TIkvah and on Sunday at a breakfast at Adath Israel to talk about my book. All are invited but please call ahead so they know how many to prepare for.

--

--

Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .