Lag BaOmer Message: Antisemitism and Defenselessness
Shimon Bar Kochba's military victories gave the People of Israel nearly 3 years of national independence during 132-135CE (Common Era); on Lag Ba'Omer we celebrate that Great Hebrew Revolt. The same rebellion, however, also led to the worst massacres of Jews in ancient times, and the Exile of most of our People from almost all of our ancestral Land of Israel. Bar Kochba's war began in the hills of Judea and carried as far afield as Beit She'an in Lower Galilee. It cost Rome and its Empire the utter destruction of 2 Legions of the 12 eventually sent to crush the Jewish rebels; it was a massive expedition, with the best Roman general of the time, Julius Severus, and the former Governor of Germania, Hadrianus Quintus Lollius Urbicus, leading huge numbers of troops summoned from as far away as Britannia..
The end result had dramatic and fateful consequences for the Jewish People: Emperor Hadrian issued a decree of final expulsion of the Jews from Judea. For the first time in history – including the tremendous destruction of the two Temples of Jerusalem, 586 BCE and 70 CE – the children of Israel were denied the right to live, even as subjects, in their ancient homeland. The Jewish People were constrained to a wait stretching for thousands of years to return to our national life in the Land of Israel.
The Jewish People returned again and again to the Land of Israel during those centuries of expulsion - who could have imagined that it would last almost 18 long and extremely painful centuries? The collapse of the Bar Kochba Revolt against Rome began the period of the Exile of the Jewish People, the establishment of multiple diasporas, and the consequent dependence on the will of those who dominated them, all too often with dire consequences. From a sovereign warrior people who experienced periods of greater or lesser strength and forms of independence, the Children of Israel became a scattering of defenseless, unprotected communities whose right of domicile, even right to life, was precarious, always in question.
When Christian Europe made the accusation of deicide an integral part of its theology, the demonization of the Jewish people became established State policy; anti-Semitism was part of both religious and political policies. If the Jews murdered God Himself, they had the capacity to perform the most extreme evil. This spawned a permanent barrage of new accusations and systematic teaching of hatred against the People from whom Jesus had sprung, to whom he belonged and whose teachings he honored.
The creation of the State of Israel radically changed the Jewish People's condition of defenselessness. Even though it has endured war-in-every-decade since its creation, and many, many military actions between the great confrontations, though it suffers the sorrow of tens of thousands of fallen, and hundreds of thousands of wounded, Medinat Israel restored to the Children of Israel our ability to establish our own destiny, decide for ourselves and resist genocidal threats. That half of the Jewish People living today in the Jewish State are not strangers to suffering, sacrifice and pain, but enjoy our recovered independence and reestablished strength; Israel made "Never Again" a reality of independent and happy life.
At present, Diaspora Jewish communities are not in the same condition. With shame and blame forgotten for crimes during the Shoah, anti-Semitism has grown exponentially in the West in recent years. Some traditional hatreds for Jews mutated into other rationalizations adapted to the fashions of our time, their murderous claws striking with literally redoubled force. Three large streams fill this well of hate; some have even recovered a degree of that bon ton so common before the Holocaust; people can say nasty things about the Jews in public, even in polite society. In his compilation of sources on the situation of anti-Semitism in the last year, part of a study commissioned by the World Zionist Organization, Eli Nachum describes these 3 streams that promote hatred of the Jewish People and criminal acts: the radical left, the radical right, and radical-political Islam – Islamism:
"The Radical Left: The colonialist past that haunts Europe has been projected since 1967 upon Israel's control of Judea and Samaria. The entry of many Jewish people in key positions in Europe's economic and political worlds also strongly aroused the Radical Left bias against Israel, often under academic auspices. University professors repeatedly explain that Israel is the source of violence, child murder, and war crimes throughout modern history. This is not criticism, but lies.
The Far Right: While Antisemitism in Europe in recent years came in Radical Islam and Radical Left forms, the Far Right returned to the center this year. Two attacks aimed at Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and at Jews at a synagogue in Halle, Germany returned attention to the Far Right. In Germany, most of the hundreds of Anti-Semitic incidents recorded this year were perpetrated by far-Right activists.
Radical Islam: In Arab countries, education emanating from the upper echelons of power succeeded in teaching hatred of Jews. Even where it was discontinued, negative perceptions were absorbed. Today, hate emerges from the people; it permeates popular TV series and programs. Depictions and characterizations of the Jews in various Qur'an verses are powerful. They've always been there, but it's a question of dosage. Interpretation of these verses is the most difficult issue to deal with. Islamist movements typically adopt the harshest interpretations. Over and over, verses are presented that portray the Jews in a negative light, primarily portraying them as the most avowed enemies of Islam."
Anti-Semitism re-emerged not only in the least progressive Islamist regimes, but on the streets of large and smaller cities of the West, generating huge quotas of hatred rationalized and wrapped in old and new conspiracy theories of the militant right, fascist left and Islamo-terrorists, again demonizing Jews as "the reason for all the ills of the world". The Diaspora Jews' helplessness-insecurity / Israelis' security-strength contrast is deeper now, and in some of the world's Jewish communities, even critical. The security of the Jews in the countries of the West, which seemed for so long after the Shoah to have been finally guaranteed, is again a reason for real and justified concern: the perceived powerlessness of governments of good leaders, the hypocrisy of governments of bad leaders, and their sincere or false repudiations in the face of brutal increases in murders and attacks on Jewish passers-by, destruction of property, desecration of synagogues and cemeteries, and the tons of hatred on social media.
In these days when we remember Bar Kochba's small victories in Lag BaOmer and the tragedy of his final defeat, we value the extraordinary achievement of national independence regained in our historic land - our inheritance, our heritage. We also redouble our efforts to denounce anti-Semitic hatred, attacking their bases and demanding that the West which fell ill with hatred against the Jews through the cancer of deicide assume its responsibilities: remove the malignant tumor from its body, protect Jewish communities that contributed so much to the healthy development and progress of the European societies in which they live.
May the spirit of Lag B'omer inspire us to continue the optimistic construction of our national future, to urge us to protect Jewish life everywhere... and may the lights of our Lag B'omer bonfires illuminate our present glory and our promising future here in Medinat Israel.
Lag BaOmer Sameach!
RABBI CARLOS A. TAPIERO
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union