Joanne Palmer’s beautiful and uplifting cover story on Cory Booker, in this newspaper last week, cap-
tures Cory’s warmth, openness, and humanity. It also captures something else that I was startled to read: Cory’s retelling of the price I paid at Oxford University for the inclusion of thousands of non-Jews as members of the L’Chaim Society and for Cory’s presidency.
Joanne quotes Cory as saying, “‘After the [Lubavitcher] rebbe’s death there was a power vacuum, and then Chabad in England turned on Shmuleyâ€¦. He had non-Jewish members. They told him to get rid of the non-Jews or you must leave Chabad England.’ Rabbi Boteach did not comply with the demands, ‘so they turned on him.'”
This Simchat Torah marks the 22nd anniversary of my friendship with Cory. But the pain of those events has never left me, and it affects my life till today.
I am Chabad to my core. I chose it when I was a boy of 9 and I will never leave it. I love the Rebbe’s universal vision. But I was crushed for creating an organization that realized that vision in seeing the essential brotherhood of all humanity, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or creed. That remains an open wound.
This is not a column about Chabad. The Jewish world owes an incalculable debt to Chabad and the incomparable work it does globally. Simply put, without Chabad so many spaces of the world would be utterly bereft of Judaism.
But this is a column about the Jewish need to impact on the wider world and transcend Jewish isolation.
The Torah says that man is a tree in the field. We must have roots in our own soil, our own tradition. But we can’t be a turnip or a potato, growing only in the ground. Our branches have to reach out beyond our topsoil and oxygenate the earth.
The general feeling today is that with the notable exception of glorious America, non-Jews don’t really like Jews, and there is anti-Semitism in every place. I readily submit that this seems true in Europe and the Arab Middle East.
But I just addressed a crowd of 100,000 people on a conference on world peace in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. Koreans don’t really know Jews. But if you watch the video you’ll see how much Jewish ideas resonated with the crowd. There were seven other speakers, religious leaders from around the world.
They spoke of the need for conflict to end and peace to reign. But I emphasized that there could never be peace with a regime like North Korea, which constantly threatens their brothers to the south with nuclear annihilation. There could not be peace with a brutal dictator like Kim Jong Un, who feeds his army while starving children. The regime first must collapse from within. There cannot be peace with organizations like ISIS, which revel in beheading defenseless men whose hands are tied behind their backs. They first must be destroyed from the air.
The crowd roared with approval.
What they were cheering was not me but the expression of Jewish ideas. They were left cold by the kumbaya message, that everyone should sit and roast marshmallows together – democracies, autocracies, terrorists – and instead were galvanized by the Jewish message that to achieve peace we must hate and fight evil.
The peace that Europe finally enjoys after centuries of incessant conflict did not come until the United States and Britain completely destroyed Nazism. Peace did not come to Japan until the United States utterly destroyed the empire’s capacity to make war.
Speaking of Asia, a Pulitzer-prize winning author recently told me that a young Chinese scholar had walked over to him after a university lecture to tell him she wanted to learn from the Jews. “In China we are awed by the Jews. How successful they are. How smart. How much they believe in education. We’re amazed at how Israel fights its enemies to survive and prospers. It impresses us to no end.”
He concluded, “The Chinese are not like the Europeans. They are not jealous of Jewish success but are inspired by it. Why isn’t Israel reaching out to the Chinese?”
Yes, France may be a write-off. And Britain especially, with its silly vote this week to support the immediate creation of a Palestinian state without even the precondition that it be a state that grants equal rights to women, does not shoot gays in the head, and has real elections as opposed to retaining the dictator Abbas has become after having failed to go to the polls in a decade.
Britain supports the creation of a Palestinian state without even stipulating that the Hamas terror organization that aids and abets honor killings of women and uses small children as human shields be barred from governing. None of this should surprise us when we remember that for all the remarkable good Britain did in defeating Hitler under Churchill, it immediately threw him out of office after the war and instituted a policy of interring Holocaust survivors in the infernal heat of Cyprus DP camps rather than allow them into Palestine.
But why write off Asia? Why write off Australia? Why write off Canada? These are countries that support Israel and contradict the destructive belief that the world is hopelessly anti-Semitic.
A few years ago, the Jewish community feared that anti-Semitism was spreading in parts of the African-American community. We were startled that anyone who experienced the same kind of oppression we had – and with whom we marched behind Martin Luther King, arguably the greatest American of the twentieth century – could speak negatively of us.
Now, New Jersey’s leading Jewish newspaper does a cover story about a great African-American senator, who is one of the Jewish people’s greatest friends in politics, loves Judaism, regularly studies Torah with a rabbi, and stands steadfastly behind Israel.
Let’s reject the ridiculous and self-hating assumption that non-Jews are not our brothers and friends.