I Am the Canary, Hear My Cry

Op-ed: It’s times like these when the inner makeup of a person is revealed. When the mask comes off, who will those around you be?

By Rabbi Boruch Wolf for Anash.org

Last night on an evening stroll, a passenger of a passing car barked at me, like a child who finds pleasure in stomping near a cat just to startle the animal. 

It’s not the first time that I’ve experienced dehumanizing anti-semitism, nor will it be the last. But there is no question that recent weeks have seen anti-semitism in New York’s streets skyrocket. 

The Torah observant, visible Jew is the canary in the coal mine. Before meters were invented, coal miners would use a canary for their toxicity reading of the mine. They’d send the bird down and if it failed to return, they knew that the coal mine was consumed by toxic gases. 

Being sensitive creatures, the canary is the first to experience the adverse effects of toxicity; hence the expression. 

In pre-war Europe, the German people were amongst the most civilized in the West. With their intense societal challenges – the hyperinflation and escalating economic disaster – the Jew quickly became the scapegoat.

Genocide wasn’t a spontaneous combustion. First the Jew was dehumanized and with that the rest of the dominoes fell in rapid succession. 

In 1964, novelist Harry Swados interviewed the Rebbe. He later recounted that he asked the Rebbe if a holocaust can occur in America. The Rebbe responded, “Morgen in der freeh (tomorrow morning).” 

In recent weeks, I’ve seen many in the chassidic community make parallels between the treatment of our community and Nazi Germany‘s persecution. I viscerally rejected it because no US official is actuating a Hitlerian template. 

However, my experience last night was jarring, and I thought about it long and hard. The New York governor and New York City mayor have painted a target on the Torah observant Jews. They carved out the areas most populated by us and issued harsh decrees and punitive measures for those communal and private entities that ostensibly lack total compliance. 

Whether their intentions were pure or otherwise is a political discussion that I will refrain from engaging in. However, the result of their actions was an implicit target placed upon our backs. To myself and to a staggering number of my fellow people sounding the alarm, it is without question that anti-semitism against the religious Jew is skyrocketing. 

And precisely due to the above, it is with pain that I observe that our Jewish brethren who aren’t Torah observant largely lack empathy to us at this critical and alarming time. 

The secular Jew has a perspective that emerges from his own life experiences. He doesn’t walk in the street with Jew painted on his forehead. The Torah observant Jew does. For the most part, secular Jews have never walked in our shoes. I only urge them to trust us when we sound the alarm that we are feeling unprecedented – in the post holocaust era – persecution. 

To them I say: we are the canary. You aren’t immune from these poisonous toxins merely by us being the first to fall as its victim. History has taught us that the assimilated Jew falls victim in close succession, rachmana letzlan

To my fellow Lubavitchers living outside of New York, listen to what those of us living here are telling you! The claim that it is the frum Yidden in Brooklyn who are bringing this travesty upon us is unjustified, and simply not true. We need to understand the true source of this threat.

Unfortunately, what we’re seeing today is nothing new. During the lead up to the Holocaust, many Polish neighbors of the local Jews were very friendly. Came the German invasion, and that same friendly Pole turned around and brutally murdered his Jewish neighbors. 

Suddenly, they could act their inner essence; the negative consequences they would suffer were no longer a factor. It’s not very attractive to kill your neighbor if the result would be incarceration for life. As soon as the government provided prosecutorial immunity, however, people were free to act their true selves. 

These hooligans who are sanctimoniously abusing their Jewish neighbors for ‘bringing disease’ to their communities are simply feeling empowered to persecute Yidden now. They are no longer bigots going after Jews, they are ‘just concerned citizens’. And in too many instances, just concerned government officials. We’ve seen this movie before. 

I call upon you Governor and Mayor; cease and desist from targeting our community. And I call upon every person seeking to walk in the path of justice and righteousness, stand with us in our hour of need. We cannot be witness to this toxic buildup and remain silent.

It’s times like these when the inner makeup of a person is revealed. When the veil came off in 1939, some reared their Adolph Eichman head, and some their Raoul Wallenberg head. 

When the mask comes off, can you say with certainty that you know who those around you will be?

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  1. The Rebbe’s words were, unfortunately, misquoted.

    Nowhere in Swados’ account of the yechidus did I see reference to the Holocaust happening in America. In fact, from the Rebbe’s explanation it seems that such atrocities are unique to the German society of that time (or any society with similar characteristics).

    Here it is:

    “…Was it his opinion, then, that the tragedy was not a unique visitation upon the Jewish people, and that it could happen again?

    “Morgen in der fruh,” he replied unhesitatingly. “Tomorrow morning.”

    Why was he so certain? The Rebbe launched into an analysis of the German atrocities in a rhetoric that shifted eloquently and unhesitatingly, often in the same sentence, from English (for my benefit) to Yiddish (for nuance and precision). He did not speak mystically, nor did he harp on the German national character and its supposed affinity for Jew-hatred. Rather, he insisted upon the Germans’ obedience to authority and their unquestioning carrying out of orders — even the most bestial — as a cultural-historical phenomenon that was the product of many generations of deliberate inculcation.”

    In my opinion, the American nation can in no way be compared to the Germans of the time based on the Rebbe’s holy words, and they should therefore not be portrayed in such a context. (Especially since the Rebbe said – in many famous sichos and in yechidusen to mikurovim – that the holocaust will never happen again.)

  2. Thank you for discussing pertinent issues, and exhorting fellow Jews to not blame each other, Chas V’Shalom, for what is going on, but to have Ahavas Yisroel, and stand united.

    As far as the thought of another holocaust, Chas V’Shalom:
    During the leadup to the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein Yemach Shemo was threatening terrible things etc., there were those who said it would be terrible for the Yidden, like another holocaust, Rachamono Litzlan and Chas V’Shalom. The Rebbe said, in very strong words, that it would not be so; it would be only good and revealed good! See Derher Adar 1 5774 bottom of page 15 https://derher.org/wp-content/uploads/16-adar-1-5774-04.pdf which quotes among other things a Mugadike Sicha from Vaeira 5751 (completely bolded paragraph at end of Se’if 12, in Yiddish here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1z_2SisVHMMGUhsx8vzsle_DoKMwTByAh/view and in Lashon HaKodesh here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Va-AtRsAiDdWw3rDQCPzRqdv8F1Wr11g/view )

    Especially now, in which the year is Pey Alef, P’laos Arenu, which the Rebbe strongly hinted is like the year 5751 (the year the first Gulf War occured) and will have revealed wonders (Vayigash 5751, Sefer Hasichos 5751 chelek 1 page 214 footnote 94), it will surely be revealed good for all the Yidden, Be’ezras Hashem!

    I do think it is necessary to work to combat anitsemitism in Derech Hateva (it has hit “home” for me: I currently live in Pittsburgh, where there was Rachamono Litzlan a massacre of 11 Yidden who were murdered Al Kiddush Hashem just because they are Yidden; the 2nd Yahrtzeit is coming up in less than 2 weeks). On the other hand, we must not worry and be scared about what negative things would Chas V’shalom be in the future; we must do (and be ready to do) whatever we can and must do using natural means, to combat antisemitism and do what we can to protect Yidden. And simultaneously, we must daven (pray), and keeps our hopes up, and trust in Hashem that everything will be revealed good from here on in!

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