Yom Kippur, 5769
New York City
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Congregation Agudath Sholom
Rabbi Barry Freundel
Kesher Israel Congregation
Dear Rabbis Cohen and Freundel,
Please forgive the presumption -- not only don't we know one another, I'm the kind of "cultural Jew" who makes even Reform Rabbis weep.
But as far as I can tell, now that Joe Lieberman and his family have moved from New Haven to Stamford, you, Rabbi Cohen, are his primary Rabbi in Connecticut. And you, Rabbi Freundel, lead the congregation where Sen. Lieberman worships in Washington.
Sen. McCain loves Joe Lieberman -- he wanted him as his running mate, if press reports are accurate.
Sen. McCain listens to Joe Lieberman.
Sen. Lieberman is, if you will, John McCain's rabbi.
So I thought I would write to you and ask you, as Sen. Lieberman's rabbis, to talk to Sen. Lieberman about the hatred that the McCain-Palin campaign is encouraging --- and the special understanding we Jews have of how that hatred plays out.
Why this public forum? Because I feel this is an urgent moment for American Jews. And because, in this moment, the men who can perhaps do the most to help us all -- Jews, Gentiles and Muslims alike -- should be identified and challenged to step up and do the right thing.
And make no mistake: Your voices do matter. If Joe Lieberman is the devout Jew he professes to be, you two are the most influential voices he can hear. He'd never listen to me. But to you -- how can he turn away?
I often think about Kristallnacht, that terrible night in Germany when it became unmistakably clear what the Nazis intended for the Jews. Almost a hundred Jews murdered, tens of thousands deported, windows smashed, businesses seized -- and hundreds of synagogues burned. Quite the "November surprise," if you will. But even after this horrific orgy of violence in 1938, there were many German Jews who didn't get it, who thought they were safe, who thought this was where it ended.
Now we know better. We say "Never again." But look around you, gentlemen. History does repeat, and in this case, with spooky echoes of Germany's darkest decade. A bad economy. A search for someone who can be dehumanized and blamed. The cries for "justice". And then....?
How would we recognize Kristallnacht if it happened today?
My fear: It's on the horizon, and coming closer every day.
Today "The Other" is Barack Obama. At a McCain-Palin rally the other day, there was a cry from a yahoo in the crowd: "Off with his head!" John McCain and Sarah Palin have not condemned that man. Indeed, they promise to ratchet up their "questions" about Obama in the final weeks of the campaign. At this point, it seems, they'd find nothing upsetting if the audiences at their rallies showed up with torches and pitchforks.
Jews, above all others, should fear this kind of hate speech. It may start with the demonization of one black man. Then it will move on to greedy Wall Streeters and "Jewish bankers" and a "liberal media" owned and controlled by Jews. [It's already happening: The Anti-Defamation League reports "a dramatic upsurge in anti-Semitic statements" on financial message boards on the Web. ] And then -- it sounds crazy, but it sounded crazy to many Jews in Germany -- the mob will come for us. Because that's where this goes. It's where it always goes. No matter where it starts, it ends with the Jews -- we're the ultimate "Other."
On your synagogue's web site, Rabbi Cohen, I note that you have a large family. Six daughters? Mazel tov. We have only one, but she is as precious to us as your girls are to you and your wife, and the thought of having her wrenched from my hand at some 21st century equivalent of a railroad freight yard -- it wakes me in the night.
I know I am asking a hard thing of you -- to confront Joe Lieberman and ask him to talk to John McCain, and, if McCain won't stop this madness, to call upon Sen. Lieberman to condemn his friend.
But maybe if I make this request both public and personal -- maybe if I invoke the images of Germany, just seven decades ago -- and ask that you do what you can to keep our children from harm, you will see how crucial this moment is to each and every Jew. And how much power you have to help us, all of us, who dare to hope for better from this country but find ourselves, in the middle of the night, awake and terrified.
A healthy and productive New Year to you and yours.
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