| Outlook |

The Cycle Continues

“Whatever the cause, the pattern is clear: Pro-Palestinian protests are overwhelmingly an elite college phenomenon”

WE are currently living through another cycle of a historical process described by Meshech Chochmah in a famous passage in parshas Bechukosai. In that cycle, Jews arrive in a new country after having been exiled from yet another host country. They devote themselves in their new home to building communities and establishing physical and spiritual institutions. Those tasks fully absorb them and satisfy the need of every generation to create something new.

Once those institutions are firmly in place and new communities built, the second generation begins to feel that they are rightful citizens of their host country. Their need to be “mechadesh” is no longer satisfied either by the institution building of their parents’ generation or by the chiddush of the batei medrash. Rather, as soon as they feel securely at home in their new surroundings, they are drawn to the most advanced and progressive ideas of their host society.

Yet that illusion of acceptance, along with the Jews’ remarkable success according to the standards of their new host country, inevitably triggers winds of hostility directed at the Jews, culminating in their expulsion and the need to start anew in another country.

In the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic, Jews constituted a wildly disproportionate percentage of the members of the learned professions, Nobel Prize winners, and university professors. Yet is was precisely from the universities of Europe’s most civilized nation that Hitler yemach shemo drew some of his most ardent support. Martin Heidegger, Germany’s preeminent philosopher, was appointed rector of the University of Freiburg shortly after Hitler’s ascent to power and shortly thereafter joined the Nazi Party.

Something similar is taking place today. The May 24 Washington Monthly asks the question: “Are Gaza Protests Happening Mostly at Elite Colleges?” And answers: “Whatever the cause, the pattern is clear: Pro-Palestinian protests are overwhelmingly an elite college phenomenon.” The protests and encampments are primarily a phenomenon of those colleges with the highest tuitions and lowest acceptance rates — i.e., the most elite.

On private campuses where more than a quarter of the students receive Pell grants for financial aid, by contrast, only five have had encampments, out of 123 such campuses. Interestingly, at 78 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), where nearly two-thirds of students receive Pell grants, only nine have had pro-Hamas or pro-Palestinian protests.

Here’s the irony. The campuses where most of the encampments have taken place are the very campuses that American Jews have viewed as their playgrounds for three-quarters of a century. I know you’ve already heard this one. But I can’t help but think of my Yale Law professor (non-Jewish) who pronounced the mission of Yale Law School as “the perpetual search for an intelligent goy.” But that was more than fifty years ago, and Jewish enrollments in the Ivy League have been declining for at least a quarter of a century. Jewish parents are still willing to spend over $50,000 a year for tony private high schools to better ensure their offspring a good chance of getting into these colleges. And the “advanced” ideas that took root most deeply at these colleges, including diversity, equity, and inclusion, were ones to which Jews were often the first to subscribe and the most ardent proponents.

Speaking of pricey private high schools, the Fieldston School for Ethical Culture provides a perfect example of Meshech Chochmah’s description of how the Jews’ rush after progressive ideas often comes back to bite them. The Fieldston School was founded in 1878 by Felix Adler, the son of the Reform rabbi of Manhattan’s Temple Emanuel, which later became infamous for its inability to identify a single Jewish descendant of the original founders a century later. Even German High Reform, which did not hesitate to serve pork and shellfish at institutional banquets, was too much for Adler. In his first sermon in his father’s temple, he scandalized the congregation by arguing that “Judaism was not given to the Jews alone.” Among the principles of Ethical Humanism were “the exclusion of prayer and every form of ritual.”

A June 2 headline in the New York Post described the $63,000 per year school as “devolving into a hotbed of Jewish hate.” The mother of one graduating senior took to social media to describe how her son was called an “ethnic cleanser” and “colonizer,” students attempted to cancel a Holocaust survivor whom he had invited to speak, and they made obscene gestures at two rabbis at a school assembly. The Holocaust studies teacher was alleged to have described Soviet anti-Zionism as a legitimate political movement.

Fortunately, Meshech Chochmah offers consolation for this pattern of Jew-hatred emerging from those bastions of progressive ideas after which Jews rushed headlong. That hatred is Hashem’s way of protecting His everlasting covenant with the Jewish People and preventing them from forgetting entirely who they are.

The Jew forgets his roots and sees himself as a natural citizen [of the host population]. He forsakes the study of his own religion in order to study foreign languages… he thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem, learning [moreover] from the corrupt among his neighbors, not even from the upright among them…

Then, a stormy and tempestuous wind will blow, uprooting him and placing him among a distant nation whose language he has not learned. There, he will know that he is a stranger, that his [true] language is our holy tongue, while other languages are of passing value for him. He will know that his roots are those of the People of Israel, his consolation lies in the comforting words of the prophets of Hashem, who prophesied concerning the scion of Yishai [the Mashiach] in the End of Days…

There [in his new land] he will find some respite, he will be aroused by a holy spirit and his children will add further vigor, disseminating in these new borders the Torah which had been forgotten… This is the way of the Jewish People from the day they began their wanderings.

Happily, there is a lot of returning to the roots taking place today.


Yes, the Whole World Can Be Wrong

IN the current edition of Sapir (available online), Einat Wilf, in “The Palestine Propaganda Complex,” quotes an 1892 essay by Ahad Ha’am on the salutary benefits of the “blood libel.” Since every Jew knows that the claim that we use the blood of gentiles for the production of matzos is false, he argues, the continued existence of the “blood libel” teaches Jews, who might otherwise be susceptible to internalizing the widespread beliefs of their enemies, that, yes, it is possible for the entire world to be wrong and the Jews right.

We are witnessing something of that sort today, in the wake of Israel’s dramatic rescue of four hostages held by Hamas. In Israel, news of the operation set off unanimous jubilation. Secular Jews, knowing that their religious neighbors would not have heard the news on Shabbos, shouted it out from their windows as the latter walked back and forth to shul.

For nearly eight months, the hostages have been constantly in our prayers, and photos of them have been ubiquitous. I would guess that most Israeli Jews spend some moments every day imagining the circumstances in which they are being held and the torment that they are enduring, and that dread has only mounted as the number of hostages confirmed dead has climbed.

Israel is no longer the tiny country I first visited in 1962, in which drivers going in opposite directions on the Tel Aviv–Haifa highway would wave at friends coming the other way. But neither are we separated by anything close to six degrees.

My own personal connection with the hostage families began four months ago at a shabbaton with hostage families under the auspices of Kesher Yehudi. Both the women with whom my wife and I sat at Seudah Shlishis have since learned that their loved ones believed being held captive — in one case a son and the other a husband — had already been murdered on October 7.

Rozita Ziv, the mother of Shlomi Ziv, one of the four rescued captives, was not at the first Kesher Yehudi shabbaton, but she was present at the second shabbaton and the follow-up Purim seudah. In a series of social media posts, she has fervently thanked Kesher Yehudi for all its support, coupled with a poignant plea for achdut and similar efforts to strengthen one another, beginning with meeting those from other sectors of the Jewish community: “United, no one can defeat us, for we are truly a chosen nation, and must act as one nation.”

THAT ISRAEL WOULD SEIZE any opportunity to rescue the captives if the opportunity presented itself was obvious to every Israeli Jew, and should be obvious to all citizens of any country in the world in which a trace of patriotism remains.

But that understanding of citizenship can no longer be taken for granted. Various UN officials, including the secretary-general Antonio Guterres, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, and the EU’s senior diplomat Josep Borrell, were quick to condemn the rescue on the basis of the casualty figures claimed by Hamas’s Health Ministry, long before they had any basis to confirm those figures or to ascertain the facts of the rescue.

A BBC anchor asked former IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus whether Israel had warned nearby civilians of the impending rescue operation. Incredulous, Conricus took a moment before explaining the obvious: Doing so would have ended the operation before it began, with Hamas killing the hostages. And indeed, Hamas has subsequently declared that its response to any future rescue operations will be to immediately kill the hostages.

The four civilian captives who were abducted from sovereign Israeli territory — itself a war crime — were held in apartment buildings in a densely populated neighborhood in furtherance of Yahya Sinwar’s declared strategy, as exposed in last week’s Wall Street Journal on the basis of dozens of his emails, of maximizing civilian casualties, a.k.a. “necessary sacrifices,” to turn Israel into a pariah.

Those holding the captives in their homes cannot in any sense be classified as civilians, even if they had side gigs as “journalists” for Palestinian media outlets. Ditto those guarding them in perpetually darkened rooms. The rescuers came under heavy machine gun and RPG fire as they attempted to evacuate the hostages, and when a rescue vehicle became stuck, a large Hamas force began converging on them, necessitating calling in additional IDF forces waiting in reserve.

At that point, the Israeli forces had to immediately suppress the fire directed at them and prevent Hamas forces from converging on the rescue vehicles. Even a fraction of a second could have been the difference between success and disaster. Fortunately, the rescuers were saved by heavy air support before successfully bringing the captives to waiting helicopters.

Again, those firing machine guns and RPGs and rushing toward the rescue vehicles were clearly not civilians. And they likely constituted the bulk of those killed. But no doubt the Israeli air support also claimed nearby civilians. Those deaths, however regrettable, are squarely on Hamas’s account for holding the captives in a densely populated area and subsequently engaging Israeli rescuers in that same area.

At least, that is how virtually every Israeli Jew sees it. And we are right.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1016. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com)

Oops! We could not locate your form.