Leader sees rising tide of global anti-Semitism
Malcolm Hoenlein urges unity in face of ‘depressing’ trend
A top national Jewish leader said current events are confirming his often-ignored warnings about anti-Semitism.
In a talk to Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey supporters, Malcolm Hoenlein cited the Iranian president’s anti-Israel tirades, a damning UN report on Israel’s actions in the Gaza war, and a Swedish newspaper that accused Israelis of harvesting organs from captured Palestinians.
Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, also said animus toward Israel, the “corporate identity” of the Jewish people, was erupting all over South America.
“People are always asking me, ‘This stuff is so depressing. How do you live it?’” said Hoenlein, who was the keynote speaker at the federation’s annual Pacesetter event, held Sept. 30 at the Short Hills home of Warren and Mitzi Eisenberg. “But not knowing the facts is what is depressing.”
The facts, Hoenlein continued, must “mobilize and activate us.”
Hoenlein’s call to action set the tone for the evening, a kickoff for the federation’s 2010 fund-raising campaign in support of local Jewish agencies and projects in Israel and other parts of the world, and for its general financial resource development effort. His pitch was clearly effective: The event brought in $2.3 million in pledges.
Julie Singer, who as FRD chair heads up the federation’s annual campaign, was so moved by what Hoenlein had to say that she jettisoned her prepared speech.
“My heart is pounding, partly from being up here — but also from thinking about what the future could be like,” she said. “I’m 43 and never in my life have I had the fears I experience now.”
She went on to describe how — even faced with the financial hardship of the past year — she and her husband committed themselves to fostering their family’s Jewish identity. She told how they left their longtime home in Union County and moved to Livingston, so their children could be closer to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange.
Though they have faced tough financial setbacks in the past year, Singer said, they will be increasing their donation to the campaign.
“We’re living in interesting times,” said federation president Gerry Cantor. He recalled that last year’s Pacesetter event, held at his home, took place on the day the financial markets plunged 500 points. “We didn’t know when we scheduled it that if we had delayed by three or four weeks, it could have cost our community $400,000 to 500,000.”
Despite the recession, however, the community has pulled together to sustain the campaign, Cantor said.
Hoenlein urged that sort of unity in his talk.
“When Jews stand up and mobilize, there is no force than can stand against them,” he said.
While his depiction of rising anti-Semitism invited parallels to the pre-Holocaust era, Hoenlein acknowledged that there are some major differences. Most Americans reject attacks on the Jewish people, and the major Western countries have also shown their disdain for the most outrageous rhetoric. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is roundly condemned for his denial of the Holocaust, and the anti-Israel Durban II Conference in Switzerland in April was shut down by protests and walkouts by delegates after just half a day.
In the past few weeks, Hoenlein has had meetings with 30 world leaders.
“Why do they meet with us?” he asked. “Because of you — and you don’t even know it. Because they believe that the Jews are important. That is the difference from 70 years ago. Jews have power.” He mentioned too that Jews have a state, with an air force and an army.
But, he continued, “an automatic majority” of UN members continues to focus its vitriol on Israel. The attacks, he said, are an attempt to silence Jews. Given the threat of action against anyone providing financial support to Israel, “you could be found guilty of war crimes just for being here tonight.”
Hoenlein’s dark prognostication drew some cool rejoinders. One man said, “It’s the old tactic, isn’t it? — scare-mongering. We use it because it works.” But most of those present responded with intense agreement.
“I wish that there had been a voice like his 70 years ago,” said Erwin Fisch, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who is major gifts chair for the campaign, and president of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.
Perhaps the most positive note of the evening came from Marilyn Flanzbaum. She and her husband, Jerry, both former federation presidents, were honored for their service to the community. She took heart, she said, from the young leaders present at the event, including Singer; Maxine Schwartz, chair of the Women’s Campaign; and Marcy Lazar, a vice president of the federation and chair of its community planning and allocations committee.