I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. Williamsburg in the 1950s and 60s, as I have written about in this column many times, was comprised of mostly survivors—men and women with numbers on their arms but a fire in their souls. These were Jews who drew upon their vast reservoirs of faith to build families and businesses, to look forward, not backward, to rebuild and to persevere. But despite my intimate connection with the Holocaust—most of our neighbors and acquaintances were Holocaust survivors—I personally did not experience anti-Semitism.
But while anti-Semitism was outside of my experience, fear was not. I was in grade school during the Cold War, and every now and then, the school would run air raid drills where we would have to get down on the floor and crouch under our desks, our hands over our heads. I was probably six or seven years old when the drills started. Incapable of fully grasping what was going on, my fear grew in intensity. I would first taste the fear in my mouth, and by the time it descended into the pit of my stomach, it was no longer fear; it was full-blown terror. Then the sirens would stop and class would resume as if nothing had happened.
Now as I read the alarming reports about growing anti-Semitism in Europe, and I hear the virulently anti-Semitic chants “Death to Jews” and “Hitler was right!” from anti-Israel protesters on the news, I taste that same fear again. Fueled by the war in Gaza, anti-Semitism is on the rise in one European country after another. In the suburb of Sarcelles, in France, a kosher grocery and a Jewish-owned pharmacy were torched. In Paris, a veritable scene from the Nazi era took place a week earlier: on July 13, a shul in the center of the city came under attack by pro-Palestinian protesters while Jewish members huddled inside. Not surprisingly, it is estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 Jews are expected to leave France this year because of anti-Semitism. In Germany, which boasts the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, some Jews have begun taking down their mezuzahs and not wearing yarmulkes in public.
Anti-Semitism is not a new “ism.” Our literature is full of references to “nations who try to destroy us,” to the various incarnations of Amalek. Anti-Semitism is not rational, nor is it meant to be. The religious Jew always understood there was a theological purpose to anti-Semitism. Writing in a 2002 issue of Commentary (“The Return of Anti-Semitism”), Hillel Halkin summed it up beautifully: “[The Jews] understood not only that [anti-Semitism] existed but that it must exist; that hatred of them was hatred of the God Who chose them.”
This understanding should help us cope with the ever-present phenomenon of anti-Semitism, but it by no means offers a license to the anti-Semites. It is our responsibility to speak out against the rising anti-Semitism in Europe. We must protest it loudly and clearly. I am proud to say that top OU leaders recently visited with congressional leaders at the White House where they expressed their dismay over the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. Their concerns were heard. We must ensure that our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world do not feel forsaken. We must ensure that we never make the mistake of remaining silent again.
Now onto the content of this superb issue: one of the highlights is the little-known story of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, a man who, seventy years ago, refused to remain silent in the face of deafening silence. At a time when no Jewish lobby existed in Washington, Rabbi Bar-Ilan, one of the founding fathers of the Religious Zionist movement, launched a one-man crusade on Capitol Hill to protest the extermination of Europe’s Jews. The son of the Netziv, Rabbi Bar-Ilan was a remarkable figure whose story has much to teach us.
We are also privileged to present the personal reminiscences of Rabbanit Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of Rav Ovadia Yosef. In this unique article on one of the greatest gedolei hador of modern times, Rabbanit Bar Shalom recalls what it was like to grow up as the daughter of a leading Torah sage. Journalist Toby Klein Greenwald did a magnificent job transcribing, translating and editing the article. I am also indebted to Shira Schmidt, another longtime contributor to Jewish Action, for all the time and effort she put into preparing this article for publication.
In this jam-packed issue, we also focus on the rising number of Orthodox entrepreneurs—men and women—who are motivated to pursue their passions and be their own bosses. With her usual in-depth reporting, Bayla Sheva Brenner informs us that nowadays it’s easier than ever to enter the world of entrepreneurship. With interest-free loans, free mentoring and support services of all kinds available to aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s no surprise that more and more Orthodox Jews are taking the plunge into business ownership.
Finally, we offer a section on healthy living, with an essay by food writer Naomi Ross on healthy trends in the kosher food industry and a critical article by father and son cardiologists Drs. Charles and Elie Traube, who remind us that one of the most important resolutions we can make this year is a resolution to be good to ourselves. As the article explains, abusing our bodies by eating a high-fat, cholesterol-rich diet and living a sedentary lifestyle is not just bad for our bodies, it’s bad for our souls.
Wishing all of our readers a kesivah vachasimah tovah.