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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ehr Kumt (He is coming)

Over the past few weeks, I have received this Rosh HaShannah sermon by Rabbi Shalom Lewis, or links to it, several times. With the amount of time I already spend on this blog, and the number of posts I try to put up every day, I am generally disinclined to read anything this long. Seeing this post from Barry Rubin finally convinced me to read the full sermon here. (For those who would like to read it in larger print as a pdf, it also appears on the shul website here).

I don't agree with everything he says. I think waiting for Muslims to decide on their own not to build a mosque at Ground Zero is like waiting for the Loch Ness monster - it's very unlikely to happen. But I do agree with most of the rest of what he says.

The picture at the top of this post is the Choral Synagogue in Kovno (no, I have never been there). Why I chose it will be obvious when you read this brief excerpt from the rabbi's sermon.
We are at war… yet too many stubbornly and foolishly don’t put the pieces together and refuse to identify the evil doers. We are circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.

Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists. To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable.

A few years ago I visited Lithuania on a Jewish genealogical tour. It was a stunning journey and a very personal, spiritual pilgrimage. When we visited Kovno we davened Maariv at the only remaining shul in the city. Before the war there were thirty-seven shuls for 38,000 Jews. Now only one, a shrinking, gray congregation. We made minyon for the handful of aged worshippers in the Choral Synagogue, a once majestic, jewel in Kovno.

After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend, Joe Magun, came over to me.

“Shalom,” he said. “Your abba told me you just came back from Lithuania.” “Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in the courtyard?” “Yes, I did. In fact, we helped them make minyon.” His eyes opened wide in joy at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”

He paused for a moment and once again was lost in the past. His smile faded. Pain filled his wrinkled face. “I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the shul” (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin’s mentor – he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist radical, whose politics were to the far right.) Joe continued “When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘EHR KUMT. YIDN FARLAWST AYER SHTETL – He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’ ”

We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right -- his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.”

We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No U-boats off the coast of long Island. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.

Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance at their watches let me state emphatically, unmistakably – I have no pathology of hate, nor am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the countryside. I am not a pessimist, nor prone to panic attacks. I am a lover of humanity, all humanity. Whether they worship in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple or don’t worship at all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but what I do have is hatred for those who hate, intolerance for those who are intolerant, and a guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.
Please, read it all.


At 3:42 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Vladimir Jabotinsky was prophetic then and I suspect he'd be equally prophetic today. Some Jews listened to him and saved their lives while there was still time. The rest dismissed him and perished in the Holocaust. Its time for the Jews to wake up. Today, the real danger to Jews is not Christian persecution; it is Islamists who want to kill every Jew in the world. Beginning with the head snake, Iran.

How many would listen to the Jabotinsky of our era? No matter what calamity the Jewish people have faced in the past, its hard to change the reality of human nature. People have a tendency to grow complacent and ignore danger that draws nearer and nearer. But now our generation and the one after that faces that same choice. The question is whether it will avert catastrophe in time.

Ehr Kumt: let that be the watchword and let the Jewish people be vigilant. Evil has not yet disappeared from this world today any more than it did after the First World War.

At 4:00 AM, Blogger Elisson said...

As a member of Rabbi Lewis's congregation in Marietta, Georgia, I had the privilege of hearing this sermon delivered on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

It is a sobering - but important - message, one that we Westerners would do well to heed. You cannot win a war unless you know your enemy... and if you don't acknowledge that you are fighting a war, you have already lost. Unfortunately, our Western sensibilities are not shared by our adversaries, and they are in no hurry to sit with us, holding hands and singing "Kumbaya."


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