It was a doozy of a Jewish year, 5777. And based upon the first week of 5778, we will need to buckle up tight for our ride through the new year.
In the run-up to the High Holy Days over recent decades, epochal events have provided much for us to ponder as we gathered for family meals. The September 1982 massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon comes to mind; and, of course, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a sort of War of the Worlds scenario, enhanced the vibes of the “Unetane Tokef” prayer that year: “… who shall live and who shall die, who in good time, and who by an untimely death, who by water and who by fire…”
In the months of Tevet and Shevat (January and February, on the Gregorian calendar), we saw a rash of bomb threats delivered to Jewish institutions across the United States — including the JCCs in St. Paul and St. Louis Park. The main culprit turned out to be an extremely misguided young Israeli, who apparently was operating a cyber-threat for hire business.
Also, in the midst of the bomb threats via email and by phone, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in the U.S. — the young Israeli hacker likely did not have a hand in these crimes.
As American Jews reeled from the unprecedented number of bomb threats, some looked for leadership, or moral support, from the new president. However, Trump — who issued a declaration on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn’t mention Jews — was strangely silent about the threats against JCCs and other Jewish institutions.
As I noted in a previous editorial, during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli reporter asked Trump the following question: “Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States and in Israel and maybe around the world, who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?”
Trump replied: “Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had. Three hundred and six Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221 but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”
Trump finally addressed the attacks on Jewish communities, reading from a prepared statement; but his extended silence during that fraught emotion time cannot be forgotten.
In 5778, the Jewish community and the dominant society will have to deal with this discombobulated commander-in-chief. To have an extreme narcissist, a pathological liar and a total ignoramus in the area of public policy in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal is a frightening prospect.
In August, Trump, in a warning directed at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, said that threats against the U.S. and its allies “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” It’s not a great leap to infer that he was suggesting that the U.S. would deploy nuclear weapons against the Hermit Kingdom. The president doubled down on the threat in his Sept. 19 speech at the United Nations, when he referred to Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” and its population of 25 million.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he was trying to negotiate with North Korea, Trump tweeted that his chief diplomat was “wasting his time” trying to talk with “Little Rocket Man.” And he added ominously: “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
By the time neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members created chaos in Charlottesville, Va., in August, most Americans had already forgotten Trump’s threat to start a nuclear war. As when the Jews were unsettled by terroristic threats, Trump went this way and that way about the neo-Nazis — one of whose number rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others. The president talked about assigning blame “on many sides” and commentied that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the far-right Unite the Right gathering, creating an equivalency between the right-wing hatemongers and those who turned out to oppose them.
The white supremacists and neo-Nazis paraded through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and Soil!” — the latter was a popular refrain during the glory days of the Third Reich. Congregation Beth Israel, Charlottesville’s lone synagogue, received word that the Jew haters that came from far and wide would try to burn down the shul.
The Washington Post reported: “The synagogue had felt… that continuing to hold weekly services was important, but leaders took certain precautions, said synagogue President Alan Zimmerman. Services started an hour early, and leaders of the congregation moved Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll they knew was irreplaceable, to a congregant’s home for safekeeping.”
In our day, in our country, a synagogue made the decision to move Torah scrolls out of its sanctuary, in fear that anti-Semitic goons would destroy them. It has come to this in America, where a fraction of the population still stands by the unhinged loon in the White House.
Clearly something is wrong with Trump — many mental health professionals conclude that he is clinically meshuga. The diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (not a mental illness) explains his erratic pattern of behavior, his lashing out at critics, his utter lack of empathy and his turning every situation into a referendum on his personal popularity and greatness.
On this last point, Trump zipped out a series of tweets denigrating the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who dared complain about an insufficient federal response to the devastation to the island wreaked by Hurricane Maria. The president alleged in a tweet that Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz “has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
In fairness, when Trump could have been coordinating a military response to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico, he was busy attacking black NFL players who dared to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.
In an editorial two years ago (10-9-15 AJW), I wrote about the Trump phenomenon resembling the plot of the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy, which portrays the U.S. 500 years in the future. The people have become abysmally stupid and the environment is in ruins, after a sports drink company takes over the federal government.
“The American idiocracy seems to have arrived about 490 years ahead of schedule,” I wrote. “However, we can laugh at, or ignore, Donald Trump at our peril. His xenophobic bloviating emboldens an ugly faction in our politics.”
In 5778, our challenge will be to survive the existential threat posed by Trump.
— Mordecai Specktor
editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World, 10.06.17)