Symbol Over Substance

Jim Shipley - Heritage Florida Jewish News - March 26, 1993

Jews have an agonizing reputation for always questioning injustice. Anytime we are not in front on an issue of justice and right, justice suffers, right suffers, mankind suffers. And if mankind suffers, it follows as the night follows the day - Jews will suffer.

When we grow timid, when we waffle in the face of evil, we are the ones who suffer. Sometimes all it takes is a statement. Sometimes we have to take action. All the symbols of our tradition - our religion, are meaningless unless we are willing to stand for something. To turn the rhetoric of Torah into reality. We were, as an overall American Jewish community, timid in the face of our own documented disaster in the thirties. We did not maximize our political clout; we did not demonstrate our social demands for justice. Jews died by the millions. Could the American Jewish community have prevented it? Probably not. But we could have had an impact on American policy. We could have done something. We probably could have forced open the gates of this nation at a time when it was a lot less crowded than it is now.

The State of Israel was the next moral imperative on the American Jewish agenda. Yet, even after war, even after Holocaust, it still was not a unanimous Jewish community. Some of us were timid in the face of the redemption of the Jewish people.

In the great civil rights battles of the fifties and sixties, the Jews were in the forefront. We fought a good fight. This generation of Afro-Americans has forgotten that there we were. Standing for the rights of others, often more strongly than we have for our own. We dealt in substance along with the symbols.

Our symbols in the past decade though, have outstripped our substance. Oh, we will do safe things like giving money to get Ethiopians to Israel or Russian Jews to wherever they want to go. But when is the last time the so-called organized Jewish community took a real moral stand?

You want to see Jewish leadership quake? Mention the name Jonathan Pollard. Pollard is no saint. He is tainted; the Israelis who were around him are tainted. But he is a symbol of what Jewish survival is all about.

He saw danger to the Jewish State. He saw that the anti-Semites who abound in the U.S. government intelligence establishment, were in possession of intelligence that could help the Jewish State. No. Intelligence that if withheld from the Jewish State could be its death knell.

Did he act in the best manner? Probably not. Was what he did wrong? Of course. But for the Jewish community to wrap itself in the American flag and turn their back on him is disgusting.

That's just what they have been doing for the better part of five years. As recently as this past month, the National Jewish Community Relations Committee decided that they did not consider it prudent to become involved.

To become involved in what? His guilt or innocence? His justification? None of the above? What the Jewish community was asked to come forward on was justice. That this man, misguided as he may have been did what thought he should do for the safety of his people. And because he was Jewish, giving secrets to the Jewish state, an ally of America, he was given a harsher sentence than people who had been selling secrets to our enemies for pure profit, not ideological reasons.

Let us not argue that these "secrets" were intelligence that Israel was entitled to by treaty with the U.S. Let us simply state that Jews have a chance to do what is right once again. We should start in our community. Has there been any action on behalf of a Jew convicted for helping Jews? Then, we should act as Americans, as Jews who recognize injustice when we see it. Petition the president - through letters - through phone calls - through our congressmen.

Feel queasy about it? Feel timid? Why? Because of what the gentile community might think? That's all it took in the thirties. Isn't it time we became a moral force once again? When will we learn?