Most people, asked if there was any specific Jewish connection to the recent horrific murder of 20 first-graders and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, would probably respond “Noah Pozner,” one of the six-year-old casualties.
There’s another Jewish connection, though, or at least an imagined one, to the massacre. Even while the slaughtered innocents were still being prepared for burial, neo-Nazi websites began to assert, on the sole basis of their operators’ fevered imaginations and an ugly sort of wishful thinking, that Adam Lanza, the mass murderer, was a Jew.
Or at least, the bloggers claimed, a half-Jew (although from which half the evil emerged was left unclear).
One site proffered evidence, too: The name “Adam,” it explained, is exclusively used by Jews. (How clueless we’ve all been about, among others, Adam Smith and Adam Clayton Powell.)
An Iranian website, Qodsna.com, quickly joined the contemptible chorus, adding the accusation that the notoriously self-censoring Western media, which had provided nary a word about Mr. Lanza’s alleged Jewish parentage, had actively conspired to hide it. The article was revealingly titled “The Common Roots of the Palestine and Sandy Hook Crimes.” (A second article on the site focused on post-massacre calls for gun control, explaining how “Jewish rabbis” in America fear a possible wave of attacks against their fellow Jews because of Israeli actions. It carried the headline “The Zionist Lobby’s Gun Control Plan For America.”)
Such hatred-fueled fantasies presented as fact (and accepted as such by millions of ignorant or malevolent people in certain parts of the world, including some of the mental backwoods of our own country) alarm many Jews – and, for that matter, many non-Jews uninfected by the virus of anti-Semitism.
To me, though, they are also a source of pride, and even bring a smile of sorts to my heart, if not quite to my face. Because they illustrate the uniqueness of Jews. The Jewish People’s “chosen-ness” is not, of course, justification for haughtiness or, G-d forbid, derogating others. The Torah teaches that all mankind is created in the image of G-d and possesses wondrous potential. Being chosen here means being charged with setting an example to others of life in service of the Divine. (Sometimes we succeed; sometimes, lamentably, we don’t.)
And yet, there are intriguing indications of Jews being somehow… different. The wild and inexplicable hatred of others for us is one. Jews introduced monotheism and morality to the world; the disproportionate abundance of Jewish contributions to society has been wondered at by observers as diverse as Mark Twain, Bob Dylan and Ann Landers. And yet, confoundingly, we are hated at any given historical period or happening, for whatever “reason” can be conjured from thin air by malignant minds.
What other ethnicity or religion has merited a special note from “The Google Team” that searches for information about it (in this case, the word “Jew”) “may have” yielded “results that were very disturbing,” and the conglomerate’s assurance that “the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google”?
Being hated isn’t pleasant, but it can still be reassuringly telling (especially considering who the haters tend to be).
Recent days also saw the loss of a special man, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. I recall his quiet but powerful recollection to an Agudath Israel group in Washington of how he first heard about Jews, in 1945. He was undergoing rehabilitation at a New Jersey military hospital after losing an arm fighting in Europe in World War II. Another injured soldier in the facility mentioned having helped liberate a concentration camp, and described what he had seen. Mr. Inouye asked what the inmates had done to merit being starved, gassed, stacked like firewood and cremated in ovens.
The soldier’s answer, Mr. Inouye recalled, “changed my life.” The man explained that the inmates had been Jews, and “Well you know, Dan, people don’t like Jews.”
Mr. Inouye was flabbergasted at the idea that a people can be so hated, not for anything they had done but simply because of their peoplehood. And, after doing historical research and meeting countless Jews, he became a lifelong admirer and friend of the Jewish people, and an indefatigable defender of Israel in the Senate to the day of his death.
It’s been a sad few weeks.
© 2012 Rabbi Avi Shafran
“It’s All in the Angle” (Torah Temimah Publications), a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran, is now available from Judaica Press.
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