With rising antisemitism even liberal Jews are arming themselves
As hate crimes escalate, attitudes are shifting
Antisemitism in the United States is on the rise. When neo-Nazis designated Feb. 25 as a “Day of Hate” targeting Jewish institutions, Jews were warned to be vigilant. The Anti-Defamation League responded by calling on Jews and their allies to “join together by creating a Shabbat of Peace.” Forgive my cynical eye-rolling at this virtuous but futile reflex. When sewer rats clamber boldly upwards into the streets, it’s time to look beyond pious platitudes.
Traditionally, liberal Jews have recoiled from any suggestion that they would personally engage in hands-on resistance to even the gravest of provocations. They want protection, but prefer to let police or private agencies fill that role. But as hate crimes escalate, attitudes are shifting.
A significant number of Jews have gone through what, in a December 2021 Tablet article, pundit Liel Leibovitz called “the Turn” — a feeling of being increasingly disenfranchised by the political left.
One “turned” Jew wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, responding to an article about the growing fears of violence perpetrated against Jews who are identifiable by their appearance or cultural habits.
He wrote: “My Orthodox synagogue has a security team manned by shul members who have been trained by a former Army Ranger, a current police department SWAT officer and a former Israeli Shin Bet agent. I regularly undergo firearms practice. At the range, prior to squeezing the trigger, I think of my grandparents who were gassed in Treblinka, and I vow ‘never again.’ ”
In an excellent primer on the “New Jew,” who may not be politically conservative but is disenchanted with progressivism, columnist Karol Markowicz concluded that, “Leftism rewards victimhood and the New Jews have decided to be victims no more.” She had me laughing with her comment: “A rabbi friend once told me that Jews are the only people that when someone says ‘I hate you’ (they) say ‘let’s hear him out.’ ” Bingo!
Markowicz’s piece led with the Chosen Comedy Festival in Miami, which took place last December, but the main point of her article was that “Jews are moving rightward” and increasingly supporting Republicans. Notably, Donald Trump got 30 per cent of the Jewish vote in 2020.
Florida Jews occupy a special political niche, having gone 41 per cent for Trump in 2020, and 45 per cent for Gov. Ron DeSantis in his recent re-election bid. Florida Jews are disproportionately old, and therefore lean conservative, but boomers are also feistier than the bubbes and zaydes of yesteryear.
One of the festival comedians erred, Markowicz noted, in assuming her audience was made up of old-style Jews. Normally a sure laugh, she joked about Jews’ disdain for guns. Silence. “Really?” the comedian asked. She got booed. Some of her audience members (one wheelchair-bound) have guns; some even formed their own group called “Glocks & Lox.”
There are other Jews who justifiably believe they need firearms for protection, and are taking steps to ensure they are prepared.
Iran is reportedly “mapping” Jewish leaders worldwide with plans to kill them if Israel attacks Iran. That doesn’t surprise Mike Miller, founder of the Central Texas Rifle & Pistol Club, who told the Jewish News Syndicate that, “Jewish people need to rethink this pacifistic attitude that we have inherited from Europe. It is not helpful. We should let our enemies know we are not afraid to respond.”
Founded in 2014, during violence between Israel and Hamas, Legion is a New York-based global self-defence training network that “helps Jews and their friends train in self-defence, counter-terrorism technique and first aid.”
Journalist Suzy Weiss described its mission as “to untremble Jews’ knees” by teaching them how to fight back in everyday situations of humiliation and harassment. Weiss reports that Legion has been “slammed with inquiries from all over, including from Canada.” (There are two franchises in Ontario: Toronto and Thornhill, specializing in Krav Maga, a martial art developed for the Israeli military.)
In New York, “Rabbi sensei” Gary Moskowitz, a former police officer and president of the American Jewish Security Council, who holds a black belt in both jujitsu and karate, has been teaching counter-terrorism strategies and martial arts for decades.
Hasidic Jews began signing up after the 2019 New Jersey attack on a kosher supermarket that killed four people, including a police officer. “The situation in Jersey City changed everything. In a few lessons and with practice, this is the quickest way for Jewish people to have a chance to mitigate terror and murder,” Moskowitz told the New York Post, adding that, “At least they’ll have a fighting chance.”
Novelist and journalist Hesh Kestin is a bullish New Jew. He writes of a seminal childhood experience in his rough Brooklyn neighbourhood: “They had numbers on their side, chains and knives in their pockets and had grown up in a culture of violence. I had a well-used library card and the fear I would mess up my bar mitzvah Torah reading.”
Kestin later spent 18 years in the Israel Defence Forces reserves, serving in war as a battle medic. Returning to America in 1990, he was put off by the “lack of agency” he perceived in Diaspora Jews.
In 2021, Kestin published his book, “The Wrong Jew.” The “right Jews,” he explains, were the ones the Nazis targeted for destruction. The wrong Jews were the ones the Arabs targeted for destruction. Kestin exhorts Jews to reject “Jewish Nice,” which is characterized by a dependence on others for protection and holding signs at rallies that say, “We Stand Together.”
Obviously, neither Kestin nor any other advocate for Jews taking up martial arts or gun training harbours any motivation but self-defence. Certainly not, God forbid, revenge.
Antisemitism is rising in Canada, too. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced anything so horrific as, for example, the 2018 Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue massacre. Would it be so terrible to be a little less “right” and a little more “wrong” just in case?