The Need To Confront A Shocking Reality

Yesterday, it was announced that an 18-year-old Jewish, Israeli-American was in custody in Israel, accused of placing the majority of bomb threats recently directed at Jewish institutions.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL issued this formal statement yesterday:

We are relieved there’s been an arrest in the majority of the bomb threats against JCCs, schools, synagogues and several of our offices across the country. We are deeply grateful to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the state and local law enforcement officials who made this investigation the highest priority.

While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.

Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern. No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers.  JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant.

We appreciate the support of so many community and organizational leaders, both within and outside the Jewish community, who spoke out and condemned these threats. They understood not only how disruptive they were, but also how they traumatized the people affected, especially young children and senior citizens who were evacuated as a result of these threats.

Also yesterday, The Jewish Federation of North America sent out this press release:

Ten days ago, and again this morning, Jewish leaders were briefed by top officials from the FBI. From those briefings, we learned about the unprecedented level of time and resources that were committed to this investigation along with high levels of cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and a long list of partners, including Israeli law enforcement. It was heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect.”

Our ability to adapt quickly and liaise with law enforcement officials was in large part due to the work of the Secure Community Network. As a community and a society we must remain vigilant in our effort to counter anti-Semitism and other hate crimes as they appear. We are fortunate to know we have partners in law enforcement who will do whatever it takes to bring these perpetrators to justice.

While I whole-heartedly agree with everything shared in the above statements, they do not adequately address the gut-wrenching reality that one of our own is allegedly responsible for terrorizing us. As a community, I believe that we have an obligation to ourselves, our Jewish community and the larger communities of which we are a part, to confront this shocking reality.

In a Tweet yesterday, the American Jewish Committee began to do just this: “If proven, this Israeli teen’s culpability in JCC bomb threats is a lesson in not leaping to assumptions.” Many of us assumed that the anti-Semite or anti-Semitic group that was behind the bomb threats would have links to alt-right organizations, white supremacists and/or radical Islamic terrorists. Learning that a Jewish kid allegedly placed these calls from his home in Israel teaches us a very powerful lesson about making assumptions. If the allegations against this teen are true, this nightmare reminds us that we can be our own worst enemies.

We do not yet know the motives of the accused teen. It has been reported that he suffers from a non-malignant brain tumor that prevents him from making rational decisions. Yesterday, while being taken into custody, it was reported that he grabbed an officer’s gun. In addition, authorities assert that the teen threatened Delta Airlines back in 2015, forcing a plane to make an emergency landing. We also know that he was in possession of complex hacking technology that he used to terrorize the Jewish community. He appears to be a disturbed young man with many issues. He has caused terror in the Jewish community. The financial ramifications of his actions to the Jewish community and the local, national and international resources that were used to find him have been tremendous. In Judaism, there is the drastic tradition of excommunicating (herem) someone who seriously threatens the Jewish community. There is also the concept of teshuvah or repentance. While the courts will determine this young man’s fate after weighing the evidence and evaluating his mental health, many of us within the Jewish community – still reeling from weeks of threats – are struggling with our own feelings about what should happen to him.

On top of this, we must recognize that this young man’s actions have the potential to jeopardize the Jewish community’s global fight against anti-Semitism. As a community, we have been outraged by these threats and demanded that our political leaders and law enforcement agencies take action and protect us from those who hate us. And all the while, the perpetrator was hiding among us. We understand that in no way does the fact that this teen is a Jew diminish the anti-Semitic nature of his actions that terrorized us all. However, outside of the Jewish community, this might not be so easily understood. In fact, his actions have the potential to belittle our demands for more protection and security. We run the risk of becoming the community that “cried wolf” even though there are still many individuals and organizations out there that seek to do us harm – even though anti-Semitism is still very, very real.

Therefore, as a Jewish community we must do more than express our heartache that the alleged perpetrator of these threats was a Jew. We must express our horror that one of our own would endanger the wellbeing of the Jewish community and add fuel to the long burning fire of hate that continues to threaten Jews across the planet. We must remind our political leaders and law enforcement agencies that the plague of anti-Semitism is not over just because this individual has been caught.

On another note, you might have read about possible budget cuts in Florida that could affect local Holocaust survivors. I have been in touch with Commissioner Steve Geller about these cuts and he suggests that we call the following people, not because we have been told to do so, but because these cuts are a concern to us as Florida voters. The budget cuts are not final and phone calls are being monitored closely:

  • Senator Anitere Flores (she is the Chair of the committee overseeing cuts): 850-487-5039
  • My friend, Senator Kevin Rader – who does not want these cuts to go through: 850-487-5029
  • Senator Jack Latvela (Chair of the Budget Committee): 850-487-5016

My Thoughts On The Iran Deal

I hope everyone is having a good summer. I apologize for such a long, detailed and serious post – but I felt that it was important to share my concerns with you today.
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A headline on Ynetnews.com, an online site of one of Israel’s many newspapers, caught my attention yesterday. “US Team Beats Iran In Robot Soccer Final”. How I wish this headline wasn’t about a bunch of humanoid robots engaged in an intelligent sporting event. If only it was about the United States and other countries taking a bold stand and doing everything in their power to stop Iran from continuing down the dangerous path toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. If only it was about a fight that was fought and won in Vienna – a fight, much like the one involving humanoid robots, that did not harm or kill actual human beings. But, as has been widely reported, and as many might suggest is a natural part of the negotiation process, the United States and other world powers that comprise the P5+1 did not win in Vienna. Instead, they have, to quote Isaac Herzog, the opposition and Labor Party leader in Israel, let Iran “out of the cage” empowering her to “become a regional tiger.”

In addition to the real concern over the agreement reached in Vienna which, as many of us believe, is that the agreement legitimizes Iran as a nuclear weapon threshold state, the agreement is wreaking havoc here in the United States, particularly within the Jewish community. Politically, it has affected our own Jewish members of Congress. Back in May, 150 House Democrats signed a letter supporting President Obama’s determination to reach a deal with Iran. This is an important number because, if Congress is able to pass legislation over the next several weeks that rejects the agreement, 150 Democrats will have the power to uphold President Obama’s veto of this legislation. What must be pointed out is that missing from these 150 Democrats are our local leaders, Representatives Lois Frankel (Ramat Shalom’s Representative who has expressed her concerns over the agreement to me and other rabbis – read her most recent remarks here), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy. Many of these Congressmen/women are Jewish themselves and/or they represent many Jews. As such, they are aware of the genuine concerns that many of us have about this deal and they are evaluating the agreement very closely. Unfortunately, the stage is set for a political firestorm. It is so important that we share our concerns with each of our Congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans – supporting them, thanking them, encouraging them to do the right thing. You can do this by clicking here.

For the most part, Jewish organizations here in the United States, including the Conference of Presidents, the American Jewish Committee and the usually very progressive Anti-Defamation League, have openly expressed and shared their strong disapproval of the Iran nuclear agreement. I share their concerns.

As many of you know, I am an active member of AIPAC, the strongest pro-Israel lobbying group in the US. AIPAC has been unusually outspoken against the agreement reached in Vienna and is aggressively lobbying Congress to put an end to the agreement. You can click here to learn why AIPAC considers the agreement to be unacceptable.

In Israel, the general consensus among the nation’s leaders, leaders who are usually at opposite ends of the spectrum on many issues, is that the deal with Iran is extremely irresponsible and dangerous – not just for Israel, but for the entire world. You can read more about this here.

Given all of this, I was shocked to read just yesterday that a poll released by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal shows that the majority of US Jews, 49%, support the agreement, compared to 28% of the general American population! 31% of American Jews oppose the deal compared to 24% of general American population. (Read more here.). These numbers, which admittedly come from just one poll, support the stance of J Street, the small, progressive advocacy group that works to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict and often clashes with AIPAC. J Street has been actively supporting and promoting the deal with Iran in a way that has actually offended leftwing, progressive Israelis. Noah Efron, an Israeli, leftwing political activist, senior fellow at the Shaharit “Think-And-Do” Tank, professor at Bar Ilan University, presenter on the Promised Podcast and (usually) a supporter of J Street, posted a letter expressing his concern to J Street supporters on Facebook stating:

There is something close to a consensus among leftist politicians here in Israel that the deal brings with it some grave dangers…I can understand how one might conclude that, on balance, this deal is better than no deal at all. I may agree, I don’t know. But it’s harder for me to understand your apparent lack of ambivalence and lack of concern, say, about some of the weaknesses (especially of oversight) in this deal…Your cheery support for the deal comes across to some of us here in Israel as a callous lack of concern about the real dangers that are part of this deal (from a regional nuclear arms race to Iran one day trying to destroy Israel, as it has threatened to do). The perception that the leading representatives of leftist Zionism in America is unconcerned about this danger, makes it harder for those of us trying to build support for leftist politics here, from within (and at a time when this is hard enough already)…I realize that you believe that this deal is, ultimately, in the best interest of Israel, the region and the world. But shouldn’t your position be that you will do everything in your power in the coming years to see that the weaknesses in the deal do not allow Iran to threaten Israel or anyone else? Shouldn’t your brows be furrowed and your countenances serious? Because as a (leftist) parent who is genuinely fearful for the future of his kids and theirs, I can’t help but find your popping-the-champagne-bottles cheer a little chilling.

I am very impressed with Professor Efron’s statement. I am opposed to the deal and hope that Congress is able to stop it. I am doing what I can to work with AIPAC and reach out to national leaders and I invite you to join me. I understand that not all of you share my position, but I do hope that, whether you agree with me or not, you allow Professor Efron’s words – words that come directly from Israel – to sink in. This should not be a left-right issue, a Democrat-Republican issue. This should be about the safety of Israel, the United States and the world.

Tomorrow night, we mark one of the darkest moments in Jewish history: Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av. On this day, we remember the destruction of the two ancient Temples that stood in Jerusalem and many other nightmares that reportedly took place throughout history on the 9th of Av. The rabbis teach us that the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE because of sinat chinam – hatred between Jewish people. They warn us never again to engage in such hatred. I hope we can remember that we Jews need each other. We must brace ourselves for a lot of political fighting over the agreement with Iran. President Lincoln taught us that a “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We as Jews, Americans and supporters of Israel must do everything in our power to ensure that we are not a house divided. We must ensure that we stand strong and protect all that is near and dear to us.