There is a classic Yiddish folk saying that goes: “You have chosen us from among all the nations. Why, O Lord? What did you have against us?”


I think about this phrase containing both sadness and humor rolled up into one expression that has haunted the Jewish People throughout the ages. There is no doubt that we, as a people, have endured numerous efforts to eradicate all memory of us from the human psyche.


We have suffered, not only at the hands of others, but also by self-inflicting pain and anguish. The Talmud tells us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of “Seenus Hinum” – self-hatred and inner conflicts. If we study the history of the Second Temple period we understand fully what the rabbis of the Talmud were telling us. It was a tragedy, witnessing neighbor against neighbor, zealots against liberals, and apologists against nationalists. It was the ultimate destruction of a people and a tradition brought on by self-indulgence and passions that transcended reason and logic. When the Temple walls tumbled they brought down with them the hopes and aspirations of a people who witnessed thousands of years of development and contributions that still permeate human society.


I fast forward to today, and by today I mean the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We were there when, after two thousand years, a people’s longing for return was realized. This was accomplished after the most unimaginable sacrifices. History is replete with stories and depictions of a dark time in humanities development. There can never be enough said or written to fully describe the anguish and torment suffered by so many and inflicted by so few.


David Ben-Gurion once wrote: “Building a State means for us a return to the soil. We found hundreds of Arab villages. We didn’t take them away. We established hundreds of new Jewish villages on new soil. We didn’t merely buy the land, we re-created the land. In the swamps of Hedera hundreds of Jews died of malaria, and they refused to leave that place until it was made healthy. With our toil, our sweat, and with our love and devotion, we are remaking the soil to enable us to settle there, not at the expense of anybody else.”


In that short paragraph he summed up the dreams and aspirations of a people ignored and denigrated but who gave the world the understanding of hope and survival. In that short paragraph was embodied the realization that centuries of humiliation and dehumanization did not alter our determination to complete the work given to us by our forefathers and foremothers as they brought the world from darkness into light.


Theodore Herzl went even further in fewer words when he said: “If you will it, it is not a dream.” The fulfillment of centuries of crying each and every year at Passover: “Next year in Jerusalem,” was not only a clarion call for deliverance, but a willingness to continue the task assigned to us at Sinai: The fulfillment of the human effort at completion and connection, not only to God, but to each other.


Today we are witnessing a return to the days of “Seenus Hinum.” Some call these detractors “self hating Jews.” Others have more descriptive terms. We are observing our own people demonizing a State and its people as they consider the path of survival in a hostile environment. These same people disregard the daily threat to life and limb that is reported as though it were some innocuous experience. And even when we admit that mistakes are made, it is not enough. We must die, for that is the fate of this inglorious people. Mordecai M. Kaplan said it best: “Our emancipation will not be complete until we are free of the fear of being Jews.”

The question remains, why? Why is it necessary for us to turn the other cheek when, if we do, we will lose our face? Why is our hand extended in friendship to all who hate us only to have it ignored? Why does the world gather, on more than one occasion, to condemn this tiny land filled with so few people? Why, oh why, are there many of our own people who join in the chorus of defeatism and destruction?


There are too many “whys.” There are not enough answers. It seems that the “whys” have it. It seems that the ageless question uttered by many Holocaust survivors: “At Auschwitz, where was God?” is still echoed today. And the answer that is given: “Where was man?”


Perhaps that answer is too simple. Life is more complicated than that. Perhaps, though, that answer is sufficient for us to believe that what we must do and what must be done requires us to speak loudly when we see and hear our fellow Jews so misguided and so emancipated that they believe they are not Jews at all but rather “self hating Jews” which, in my opinion is the same as being anti-Semitic.
The Yiddish folk saying may be more prophetic than humorous. And perhaps we should add What do our own have against us?


Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D