Book gives insights into what drives anti-Semitism

The best thing I’ve had from this extended period alone at home is extended time for reading — a variety of books, some of which I’d like to share, starting with this one: “First the Jews,” subtitled “Combating the World’s Longest-Running Hate Campaign.” Written by Rabbi Evan Moffic, it’s a short volume for such a long topic, barely over 200 pages, but it packs a punch for its special purpose: It will hit the bookstores soon for a surprising market: it’s not intended just — or only — as explanations or suggestions for Jews, but mainly for Christians: it comes from Abingdon Books, the publishing arm of the United Methodist Church.
Rather than giving you a digest of its content, I’ll concentrate on why it was written. The author’s “inspiration” was a Christian woman whose son had married a Jewish woman; they had decided to raise their children as Jews, and were members of his Reform congregation. She asked for this appointment, and the first thing she said when she entered his office was “Rabbi, I’m scared for my grandson.”
Rabbi Moffic immediately jumped to what seemed a perfectly logical conclusion: She doesn’t know much about Judaism; she’s worried about his spirituality — whether the boy would read the Bible and feel close to God. But he was wrong: her concern was the simple fact that he was Jewish; her worry was the boy’s safety in a world full of hate toward Jews and Judaism. The rabbi couldn’t promise that, but offered his belief that a world not safe for Jews is not safe for anyone, that “treatment of Jews is a barometer for the health of a society.”
So he titles his book with words of the Apostle Paul: God would save all who believed — “First the Jews and then the Gentiles” — words that now have a different, more frightening meaning. And he lists five rationales for anti-Semitism, from Paul’s day to ours: Jews are different. Jews killed Jesus. Jews are greedy. Jews are an inferior race holding back scientific and human advancement. Jews are Western imperialists. And he traces them from the rise of Christianity through the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.
My copy of this book is pre-publication, so it is missing the response that each of the nine chapters will have from a mix of individuals of all faiths. I can wait for those. But I couldn’t wait to find out more about the person who wrote this fascinating and thoughtful look at what might be the major problem of world Jewry today. And in looking, I found that Evan Moffic is now rabbi of the congregation where I had one of my earliest teaching experiences in the Chicago area.
That was 1959. As a new city resident, I knew I wanted to teach religious school as I’d been doing for years, but didn’t know where. The Chicago Board of Jewish Education told me a good match for my desire to work with pre-confirmands was at Solel, a rather new and then quite small congregation in Highland Park. I had no idea of the area’s geography when I said a resounding “Yes!” Then I found I had to take a long walk — two buses — a train — and another long walk to get to what was not a synagogue, but a public school that Solel rented for weekends until it would have a building of its own.
Solel has always been a social action congregation — the children of parents I was teaching filled a bus that drove southward to personally support Martin Luther King ‘s work. It built its building over objections by its then-rabbi that the monies could be better spent helping others, but time has proved that this congregation could do both. I have contacted Rabbi Moffic, and will meet him in person during my next trip to Chicago. We have much to talk about!

Leave a Reply