If there is one thing I try to be sensitive about as a rabbi, it is to stay clear of politics. Despite having majored in Politics at Brandeis University and having volunteered on some campaigns during my college years, I have since totally stepped away from any kind of political discourse. Several times over the years I have written drafts of blog posts that could be misconstrued as having political undertones, only to promptly delete them before I could have revealed them to my vast, adoring readership. As a rabbi my job is not to convince people of which political party is correct, nor to convince them who to vote for. My goal is to share the beauty of our precious, eternal Torah and to demonstrate its relevance to our every-day lives. That is it.
As such, when I am not busily inspiring folks through my classic, mind-blowing, super-interesting and thought-provoking blog posts, I am crafting Tiktoks. If for whatever reason you are not yet following me, stop reading for a moment, and follow me right now at @therealtiktokrabbi. The Tik Toks often include me breaking out some dance moves. Sometimes it involves me making, or consuming delicious food items. Sometimes I share an idea, or as of recently, even a poem. NEVER, EVER do I invoke any kind if political issue.
So I was a bit thrown off, when after producing what was at the time my most popular Tiktok video of me and my Better Half consuming the festive donuts made in honor of Chanukah when I got the following comment from a fellow supposedly named Leroy, supposedly from Liverpool: “boycott all Israeli goods”. My immediate reaction was, “You fool, this donut has nothing to do with Israel. In fact, it was fried to perfection about seven THOUSAND miles away from Israel. I responded thusly: “Dude- this is just an American donut.”
As soon as I responded that way I felt bad– I implied that Leroy had no right to criticize my donut choice only because it was made in America, not Israel– almost suggesting that if it were made in Israel, it would be problematic. The following evening I posted a response to Leroy in which I told him I wished the donut was from Israel, and in his honor I was going to go out of my way to use Israeli products the following day.
In the mean time I had posted a Chanukah poem, which, while having to do with Chanukah, had nothing to do with Israel. To this, Leroy responded, “boycott all Israeli products.”
At this point, I had enough, and I went to our local store that carries a plethora of Israeli products, and spent $25 on an Israeli themed breakfast. I then made this video dedicated to Leroy, and carried on with my day.
When I turned on my phone after Shabbos, I was stunned to see that the video had made its rounds. It garnered a lot of supportive comments and likes, but also contained a number of anti-Israel and downright anti-Semitic responses as well.
Right now I don’t really have any interest in getting into the nitty gritty details of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Suffice it to say that in my four years at a fine Liberal Arts College, I didn’t learn how to make a budget, or about the economy. Pretty much all I learned about was the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and it is, to me, a pretty simple issue. In the 1990s the Oslo Accords promised a “Land for Peace” deal. My young simplistic brain thought this made sense. We give them land, they give us peace and serenity. Sadly, in return for land, we were given suicide bombers blowing up busses and cafes.
Then in my college years in the 2000s, there was the idea of Unilateral Disengagement– we leave the contested lands in Gaza, forcing Jews out of their homes. My simplistic brain thought, “that seems like a good idea. We leave, and give them back what they want (Gaza.) If they then start attacking us from Gaza, we can militarily defend ourselves, and the World will have to understand. Like, if Mexico launched rockets into civilian centers in Houston, America would justifiably respond with resounding force, and the world would understand.”
Inevitably, after leaving Gaza, it was used as a launching pad for rockets, striking communities in the South of Israel like Sderot, damaging infrastructure, killing people, and traumatizing a generation of children. When Israel responded with force in two subsequent wars, they were accused of genocidal massacres, and were condemned. During one such war, #HitlerWasRight was trending on Twitter.
I realized at this point, that there is no rationality when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and no idea I, or any politician has can solve it. I realized it was an act of futility to overly think it, and directed my attention elsewhere. I would simply pray to the Almighty that He protect the Jewish State, and that Israel can live in peace and harmony with her neighbors. I hoped that the Palestinians can have leadership who truly values the wellbeing if its people, and can take international aid, and turn Gaza into the Barcelona of the Middle East that it can, and should be.
What this experience on TikTok showed me, however, in the year 2020, is the extent that anti-Zionism is used as a cover for anti-Semitism. If I had started by posting a political, pro-Israel post, it would be understandable to get some of the comments that I received. But my post was simply about eating a delectable donut crafted in the middle of America, eaten in honor of a JEWISH holiday. Nothing was implied about Palestine, or the conflict. In fact, one of my new “fans” even pointed out, “I almost forgot now you are claiming (having invented) donuts now as well. lol.” But anti-Semitism is alive and well, and social media platforms such as TikTok are great for espousing those anti-Semitic beliefs. And in my opinion, there is not too much we can do to change the minds of those who hate us.
So what can we do about this? I could run away from my traditions, hoping to stand out even less, and to be more absorbed into the culture. Or, I can make more TikToks trolling the haters and exposing them for the bigoted fools they are. And as fun as that is, I think there is even a better path. To choose to embrace my timeless heritage even more. To hold on to it even tighter. To share its beauty with anyone who will listen.
And to be the light unto the Nations that the Almighty demanded us to be.