For If You Remain Silent At This Time

 

Ki Im Hacharesh Tacharishi Ba’Et HaZot

For If You Remain Silent At This Time

The Book of Esther is perhaps the best-loved book of the Tanakh; the reading of its dramatic narrative the centerpiece of the holiday of Purim. The story pivots on a number of theatrical confrontations: the confrontation between Haman and Mordechai at the palace gate, between Esther and Haman at the second party she calls with the king. But the one that carries the most emotional weight is the confrontation between Mordechai and Esther after the Jews of Shushan receive word of Haman’s genocidal plan. Mordechai calls upon Esther to approach the king; Esther demurs, saying that she will be safer if she waits to raise the matter until the king next summons her. And Mordechai–who is, according to the simple text of the Megillah, Esther’s close relative and guardian, and according to the Midrash indeed her husband–excoriates her: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.”

In two brutal sentences, Mordechai establishes two truths: As a practical matter, taking advantage of your status to save yourself from the Jews’ fate will not work. And the attempt to do so will cost you your soul in the process.

The attack seems undeserved, unfair. Esther was perfectly ready to speak with the king on behalf of her people. And her plan made perfectly good sense. But with Mordechai’s harshness, he tears away the veil of rationalizations, explanations, self-justifications. If you really felt the urgency of the moment, says Mordechai, you would not be able to temporize. Rationalization is a luxury of the insufficiently outraged, or the insufficiently frightened. If you felt either, or both, you would be impelled to act.

We are past the Sukkot season, rounding the corner towards Chanuka, but the message of Mordechai’s rebuke of Esther is timely, and urgent. We as a community of American Orthodox Jews are collectively–our institutions, our rabbis, our masses–failing our moral responsibility, and deluding ourselves about our safety. For the sake of our bodies and our souls–our physical security and our national legacy–we need to be shaken by Mordechai’s words.

For a long time, the American Jewish establishment assumed that its best chance at safety and security lay in a strict separation of church and state, in a thoroughly non-denominational public square. In more recent decades, some in the Jewish community have questioned whether our interests might be better served by a more explicitly faith-centered body politic, as envisioned by Christian conservatives with whom it seems we might make common cause. Orthodox Jews, particularly, with their concern about Israel, investment in yeshiva education, conservative social values, and strong family ties, were receptive to this new approach to securing Jewish wellbeing in America.

We need not relitigate this debate now; it is wholly irrelevant to the current moment (no matter how many voucher proponents sit in the Cabinet.) We are in great peril of selling every shred of principle, moral courage, and prophetic mission for a mess of pottage, a tax cut, and a promise to move an embassy–and with all that, of overlooking the gathering danger that we face. As a community, we would do well to remember the lessons of history, in the hope–the prayer–of not being condemned to repeat them. (That Jews, of all people, could find themselves being willfully blind to history seems unfathomable, and yet here we are.)

We make a ritual of quoting Martin Niemoller, the Protestant theologian who opposed Hitler and was eventually imprisoned in Dachau for his resistance:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Translated into 2016, this sounds like

First they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out–

Because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out–

Because I was not a Mexican.

Then they came for–

Wait! We were supposed to be safe this time!

Is there any way that this does not end badly for us? In the history of the human race, has there been a group of people who hated foreigners, the “Other,” the ones not of the majority culture or religion–who did not eventually set themselves against the Jews? The Book of Esther provides the paradigm again, in Haman’s pitch to the king to be allowed to eradicate the Jews:

There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them….

We got next,  because we’ve always got next.

The striking thing about our current political moment is that, whether as a function of the exceptional security that Jews feel in America, or of a hyperpartisan environment in which nothing will dissuade committed party loyalists from their views, or of our sense that we have our own Esther in the person of Ivanka in the royal palace–Orthodox Jews are widely not only not condemning the attacks on other racial, ethnic, and religious groups, they are making excuses for attacks on us, as well. Every Orthodox Jew who explains away the spray-painted swastikas as the acts of a few crazies, the Hitler salutes as misguided exuberance, Steve Bannon as rightly opposed to freeloaders who are sponging off of our tax dollars, the emailed ovens and lampshades and photoshopped Jewish journalists in gas chambers as–what are we explaining those away as, again?–chooses to not see at a time when not seeing is not safe.  Our grandparents would have known what they were looking at.

I am an Orthodox Jewish woman. In my distinctive dress and obvious headcovering, I am a visible minority. My husband and sons, in their tzitzit and kippot, are more distinctive still. To say that we have always felt safe in New York City is a category error–we have never thought for a second that we should consider the possibility of being unsafe in New York City. I cannot say that I consider the possibility of my being unsafe, still. But I think often of the Muslim woman, wearing hijab instead of a kerchief, going through her day. What does she hear, see, feel? How secure can I be if she is not?

But it is not for the physical safety of the Jewish people alone that Mordechai lashed out at Esther. We may not be secure if we do not pay attention, but that is the lesser ill that we will suffer. The greater is that of which Mordechai warned Esther of when he said that not only would she be unable to escape the fate of the Jews in the king’s palace, but also that she and her father’s house would be lost. That lost is a spiritual lost, a soul-lost. Long before your physical safety is at risk, that which identifies you as a member of a covenantal community will be erased.

If we continue to sit by, watch this unfold, and say nothing because we feel safe or because we have more pressing concerns or because (if we are being thoroughly honest with ourselves) we are not all unhappy about some of the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic developments, we will betray our covenantal status as sons and daughters of Avraham Avinu, about whom God said: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice….”

Where is the righteousness in turning away from the ugliness, from the voices of hate and the communities in fear?  Where is the justice in not standing up for the fundamental dignity and equality of every human being created in the image of God? (Please do not invoke what one or another member of these groups may have done to invite opprobrium. The hate is not focused solely on those people, and it spews indiscriminately over entire communities. And God made His declaration about Avraham as He informed Avraham of His plans for the people of Sodom–hardly a wholesome bunch, and nevertheless worthy of Avraham’s intercession and indeed, Divine reconsideration.  Avraham’s subsequent plea resounds as our mission and our mandate: “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from You to do such a thing!”)

Did we mean what we said, any of it? When we said that the world had to learn the lessons of 1933, and 1935, and 1938, as well as of 1942? When we said that, if faced with warning signs, we would see more clearly, choose more bravely, do the right, hard thing sooner?  Now is the time for that seeing, that choosing, that doing. Our covenant enjoins it; our history demands it.

“These are the times, “ wrote Thomas Paine, “that try men’s souls.”

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

Our security may be at stake at some point in the future; our souls are being tried right now. May we not be found wanting.

38 thoughts on “For If You Remain Silent At This Time

  1. You are even more of a minority cause your ideas are very warped you sound like the open orthodox community that is also a minority you are rebel you probably dislike Kahana or the Yehuda Shomron your comfortable in a hutz Laaretz mentality very sad.

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  2. Excellent commentary about the transformative developments in the USA. The only comment I add is that the historical perspective teaches one ultimate lesson. We as a peoplw are supposed to live in the Land of Israel. It is a Torah command and for our benefit both spiritually and physically. Yes I live in Israel and not only is it great spiritually there is plenty of money, dont listen to the charity orgs begging money they poxket the contributions in salaries and fund raising trips. You xan Google the facts, we are on a GDP, per capita wealth and other benchmarks very wealthy. And according to biston consulting, almost 5% of the nation is a USD millionaire exclusive of a primary home that is up there with Qatar, Saudi, Hong Kong and Switzerland. We are in 8th place globally.

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  3. Unfortunately Ms. Schwartz is drinking the Pre-Israel desperate Jewish suck up Kool Aid which will poison her and those that continue this lose lose mentality. WAKE UP Ms. Schwartz, it is the DEMOCRATS who are the true anti Semites not Trump and not the GOP! Keith Ellison, follower of Farrakhan might be the new DNC Chair! What about Anti Semitism don’t you understand? The latest survey has a majority of the Democrats (now Progressive Party) NOT supporting Israel Use your passion to save your Democrat party instead of fighting an election already won by Trump and a silent majority of us Jews who support Trump! It is Jews like Ms. Schwartz who sucked up to Lenin in 2017 Russia who were Lenin’s first victims! It is Jews like Ms. Schwartz who were “GERMAN FIRST & JEWISH SECOND” in Nazi Germany who were Hitler’s first Jewish victims. It is Jews like Ms. Schwartz who were the first victims of Paris a year ago! Wake up, as a Jew you are the OUTSIDER, end of story. The one thing you can do is to have self esteem and stop worrying about other people and other immigrants who by the way, have taken over the Democrat party, the party that used to support Israel and now does not have Israel’s back! Stop this pre Israel suck up mentality. Keith Ellison will NEVER like you. You can observe Ramadan with 12 Christmas trees and eat ham on Yom Kippur, Ellison and his followers will never like you! We know that it is hard to break a 2000 year old habit in just 70 short years of Jewish Reciprocity. But Jews like Ms. Schwartz need to fight this habit of desperate suck up and acceptance which will NEVER happen by those who don’t like you! Jews like Ms. Schwartz are always the first victims of evil. Evil will RESPECT not like those Jews with self esteem, smart enough to understand the truth that if we don’t stand up for Israel and ours nobody will. The DNC anti Semitic emails should be a red flag to every Jew defending the Democrat Party, the anti Israel party of today. Now Keith Ellison could be the new DNC head. Every Jew should be using their passion to fight against this move by the now anti Semitic Democrat party. Instead mis directed Jews like Ms. Schwartz are worried about Trump, really?!!

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      1. During Mordechai and Ester’s time the Jews did not have their own country like we do today!
        If you look at history, the Jews of Persia could have returned to Jerusalem after Cyrus made a decree giving the Jewish exiles in his empire the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple in 538 B.C. (Ezra 1:1-4 and Ezra 5:13-17) but the Persian Jews decided that they liked their villas and vineyards too much to go back to the promised land.
        אחשוראש came after Cyrus, Ester was Queen around 470 BCE. Low and behold Haman showed up straight away after that.
        HMMMMMMMM.
        Why are all the Orthodox Jews still in the USA???
        We have been given another chance to rebuild our country.
        Don’t miss this opportunity again!

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    1. What about the fact that Earth has seven billion plus people whose primary identity is being human? Making the World work for one hundred percent of humanity without harming the environment is the essential task of the five generations of people living now. If everyone ‘s grand children are not safe no ones grand children are safe. If we use the design science capabilities we gained from warfare to build life support instead world peace will become inevitable

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  4. Thank you, Dr. Schwartz, for the articulate words that charge our community to take stock of what we are doing. We must remember all the verses of Tanach that tell us not to put our faith in a man, but rather in God.

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  5. Brava. Kol hakavod. You are a woman of principle, faith, integrity. I agree with every word you wrote. It is one thing to learn Jewish history, sacred texts, endeavor to follow mitzvot. Quite another to understand underlying values that supersede the details. Your examples help clarify your message: Mordechai urging Esther to understand implications of denial, procrastination, and Avraham arguing to spare lives instead of issuing collective punishment in a sinful city. I hope your post and call for cheshbon nefesh and action goes far, wide, and deep. Thank you. (PS I read a FB post with a link to your blog post, and that is how I came to read it.)

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    1. Tamar, it seems that you are the one in denial: Where is your outrage and passion about the threat of Keith (Hitler, Lenin, Stalin) Ellison who is the real anti Semitic threat? Where is your memory of the DNC 2012 Convention with a floor vote to decide whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel? Do you have selective amnesia? Remember how Obama made sure that Jerusalem was voted the capital of Israel despite the loud boos of the crowd? Obama was smart enough to know he needed the Jewish votes. Like most Jewish enemies, the Democrats played the Jews for the suck ups they are in 2012 only to screw over Israel and the Jews with the Iran Deal. What about anti Israel don’t you understand? Where is your outrage about the DNC 2016 anti Semitic emails? What about anti Semitism don’t you understand? It is not Bannon and Trump who are against Israel but the new Progressive Democrat party which no longer has Israel’s back. You are a Jew to those people, like it our not. Like the Jews of Spain before the Spanish Inquisition and like the Jews of 1917 Russia you are still in a fantasy world where you believe that the Democrat Party of your parents and grandparents is the same party today in 2016: It is not. It is a progressive/socialist party aka 1930s Germany: Remember, historical fact: NAZI GERMANY CAME FROM THE LEFT, NOT THE RIGHT. Where is your outrage at the Fascist behavior in Chicago when the Democrats made sure that Trump’s appearance was canceled? Shutting down free speech IS fascism! That was EXACTLY how Mussolini behaved. Fast forward to day. You think Avraham sucked up to people who disliked him? Avraham had self esteem. You need to get some self esteem, look in the mirror and be proud of who you are without sucking up to those who will never accept you or your Judaism.

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      1. Meg I feel sorry for you. Wow are you in denial.. ltypucal keft bsshing does not change who this incompetent incapacitated is.

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  6. R.P. Schwartz, you make some very insightful points, but unfortunately I will have disagree with you at this point in time. Even though you don’t mention his name, of course you are writing about President-elect Trump and his incoming Administration. Please do not believe what the leftist media are putting out there as propaganda and certainly do not believe any politician running for office. They all lie to get elected.
    Look who his advisers are and you’ll have an idea as to what his future policies will be. For the most part, his advisors are very pro Israel. Ignore the media, Steve Bannon is very pro Israel. Let’s give the Trump administration a chance to govern and let’s revisit a year from now. In the meantime, how about making Aliyah ? We would love to welcome you home!

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    1. YOU are insane. Stop blaming the media as leftist when the “fair & balaced” network is anything but.
      The media should have nailed your beloved Trump early on but wanted ratings (as some have admitted).
      He is not capabke of telling the truth and that doesn’t rattle you? Shameful.

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    2. Right on Bro! Ms. Barbara and Ms. Schwartz are misguided although their intentions are noble. My sister tried to post here but her comments were deleted, because she disagrees with Ms. Schwartz. The Democrats do not support Israel. My neighbor works with Ms. Schwartz but has to be phony and pretend to support Hillary and Democrats. She hates it there. The Democrats campaign to get the votes of the new immigrants on purpose. 20 years ago Democrat party supported Israel today they don’t. What is wrong with this picture? The people that Ms. Schwartz want to help will not help her back when she and our Jewish people need their help. That is where Ms. Schwartz is living a fantasy. It is a tragedy when misguided Jews can’t face the truth.

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  7. Thank you for speaking out. It hurts my heart when I hear comments about Bannon being pro Israel. I also don’t believe the daughters family being Jewish will help us out in the long run. This feels like Germany in 1933. I pray I am wrong, but the Orthodox community had drunk the Kool-aid. Scary times now and even more scary ahead.

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  8. Throughout history, no matter what Jews do, or don’t do, no matter what they say or don’t say, wherever they are located, at some point life becomes dangerous for them. As far as I am aware there are zero exceptions to this rule (obviously with the exception of current times where it isn’t dangerous at the moment, but that also applies throughout history until it changed).

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  9. Thank you for calling out the shameful silence from the orthodox community. שתיקה כהודעה דמי. Our values and priorities must transcend simplistic notions of what is good for Israel.

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  10. Thank you so much for this brave and cogent piece of writing. I have had American Jewish friends with Israeli family and Hebrew-speaking Israeli
    family in the US ask if this is available in Hebrew. Is a translation available?

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  11. If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?
    Thanks so much for your wisdom, Ms. Schwartz.

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    1. Miss Barbara, you are misguided as is Ms. Schwartz. Don’t know if you will read this as my sister tried to post a few days ago and is not here. If you disagree your free speech is deleted. Eliezer thank you for posting the truth. Our neighbor works with Ms. Schwartz and has to smile, remain silent and pretend to support Hillary & the Democrats. Today’s Democrat party is different than the Democrat party of President Clinton: These immigrants that you want to support are new Democrat party voters. Today’s Democrat party does not support Israel. What has changed? Ms. Schwartz, it is admirable you want to help people who won’t help you back. They don’t support Israel. Yours is a fool’s errand. Wise up, Ms. Schwartz.

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  12. Ms. Schwartz means well but hers is a vision of appeasement which never works. I feel sorry for Krynne who is in big denial too. I agree with unfiltered 42, Meg Conlon and Eliezer. Barbara Freed above tries this famous quote but Barbara is wrong. Jewish people always try to help others with the secret hope that they will one day help us. As a People and a Community the Outside World never had our backs. Individuals have helped us survive, especially during the Holocaust but as a people we have always been seen has The Other or The Outsiders. By Divine Miracle the one exception was the State of Israel in 1948. Anti Semitism is reality around the world. It is disguised as Anti Zionism. The world is chipping away and fighting Israel every step with every issue. Peace through strength does work. Kahana had it work but he was politically incorrect and way ahead of his time.

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  13. We all wonder what we would have done had we lived in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. Yet I find it difficult to buy into Ms Schwartz thesis wholeheartedly, even while I welcome the challenge. As Meg wrote the socialists used the Jews as their scapegoats immediately after WWII. We had participated in their revolution hoping to find that we were part of creating a better world but that was not the result. I would love to be sure that marching in protest of Trump made any kind of sense but I don’t. I am hoping that his speech and his actions will diverge. I know that the critical part of a democracy is accepting a disliked government without violence and hoping that the checks and balances our government has will create a good outcome. It is not as if until Trump our government hasn’t committed many many cruel actions towards many different minorities. We should pay attention. We must also acknowledge that the antisemitism found in Black Lives Matter and other important movements is also a case for concern.

    (Perhaps all Mordechai was saying when he said you and your fathers house shall perish is some kind of oblique reference to the competition between Saul’s royal family and David’s)

    History never repeats exactly

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  14. It pains me to see a PhD in history compare the recent election to the rise of fascism in Europe. If anything your concern may be misplaced. Donald Trump may be a very bad man, but no fascist of any definition wants government to be smaller and weaker. Yes, there were all of two hundred neo-Nazis in a single rally supporting Trump. But on the other side were tens of thousands of violent protesters across the country blocking highways, starting fires and beating Trump supporters.

    Did Steve Bannon allow anti-Semites to comment on Breitbart.com? Yes, but the Democrats may elect Keith Ellison its national chairman. Did Trump accept the support of racists? No, but Clinton embraced a movement celebrating cop-killers. Did Trump want to gut the First Amendment and overturn the results of a national election? No, that was the Democratic Party platform and a large segment of the political Left.

    But isn’t Trump inspiring hatred? I invite you to dress your daughter in a hijab and your son in a Trump baseball cap. Let’s see which one gets beaten up on the safe streets of New York.

    Ah, but Trump at one time advocated sharp limits on Muslim immigration! Suppose that when apartheid ended, millions of South African whites decided to move to America. We would have had every right to discriminate very carefully on the basis of race, national origin and political belief—protections which only start inside our borders.

    If we don’t do the same with Muslim immigration, we will end up like Europe with millions of people wanting us to be their absolute subjects. “What does a Muslim wearing a hijab hear, see, feel?” Here’s a clue: 95% of British Muslims think Al Qaeda had nothing to do with 9/11. “First they came for the Muslims” is hardly the concern. We don’t want the Muslims coming for us.

    Conservatives have had many very rational reasons to fear and despise Donald Trump. We were appalled by the utter imbecility of some of his statements. We questioned the sincerity of his conversion from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican. We thought he had no chance of winning the election, and we feared the loss of the majority in the Senate.

    The election and its aftermath have put these fears to rest. We have learned to ignore what he says and focus on his actions. His Cabinet choices have been everything a Burkean conservative could desire.

    The Left has one rational fear: that Trump will succeed as President. That possibility must be too terrible to even contemplate. This election is shaping up as the most consequential since 1932. If you don’t want that to happen, lay off the apocalyptic fantasies and do something to rebuild the Democratic Party.

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  15. Obama just abstained in the UN vote to now clear the way for the UN to condemn Israeli settlements!! Shame on every Jew who stupidly voted for Hillary, Obama and the Democrats. If you are among these suck ups. you owe the World Jewish Community a major apology! You will be the first victims of any anti Semitic pogrom that will happen here eventually. Shame on you especially you Ms. Schwartz. It was Trump who defended Israel here. You owe him your apology.

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  16. I am reluctant to feed the trolls, but will assume good faith not entirely in evidence, and try one round of responses. (“You will be the first victims of any anti Semitic pogrom that will happen here eventually” is hardly the opening gambit of a fruitful discussion. And if you think Trump is keeping a list of Obama voters and coming for them first, you’re rather proving my point, no?) Even as you hold your views very strongly, can you understand that there are Jews, in the U.S. and in Israel, who don’t share your understanding of what it means to defend Israel? (While it’s clear that a majority of Jewish Israelis would agree with your framing, they wouldn’t all, as an engagement with the range of voices in Israeli politics and media would make clear.) Your understanding of “defending Israel” excludes many, if not most, American Jews, and includes many well-known Jew-dislikers. That doesn’t have to give you pause, but it should complicate things.

    Note: I will not approve comments that lob charges of “Jewish anti-Semites” and the like. I will not approve Islamophobic or racist charges against President Obama. No, First Amendment issues aren’t implicated. I am not the government.

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    1. Thank you for your reasoned comment. I stand by my earlier note of admiration for and agreement with your initial post. I am a Jewish Israeli who was raised in a religiously observant home and educated in Orthodox Jewish settings offering extensive learning in world history, Jewish thought, modern Israel, and Hebrew culture (among other subjects). I have been learning in a daily daf yomi group (Hebrew speaking) more than seven years. I hate no faith community, including my own. On the myriad aggressive replies to your post I consider the commenters are expressing fervent ardor for the Jewish people, Zionism, the sovereign State of Israel. And that they missed out so far similar careful study and understanding of other faith communities, including sacred texts and contributions to world civilizations (arts, sciences, humanities). I do not accept all sacred text or clerical instruction of any faith as truth about all adherents, believers, and “faithful” and observe that demonizing any community and its individuals are misunderstandings and misinterpretations promoted and promulgated by extremist polemicists. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” A Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1964) spoke these words for his message was assassinated by extreme polemicists. Blessings to you R.P. Schwartz. I am eager to follow your future posts and published thoughts and reports. There is only one race, the human race.

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      1. Why are Barack Obama’s views on Israel (and, just to be clear, those are neither his stated views nor the current policy of the State Department) relevant to our conversation about the range of positions on Israel held by Jews in Israel and around the world?

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