Thursday, January 1, 2015
Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in Central Florida
First of all, I'm not surprised that anti-Semitism is a concern in central Florida. Central Florida is one of the most redneck, ultra-conservative, hyper-fundamentalist-Christian areas in the country. We have over 200 Baptist churches in Ocala. That's just Baptist churches! Our largest Episcopal church split over whether gays deserve to be treated as humans or not. Our Catholic churches fall off the map on the rightwing side of the world. Mainline churches in Ocala, where they exist, are mostly silent or also tend toward fundamentalist right-wing Christianity.
We have a few Jews. There are two temples, a budding Reconstructionist congregation meeting in a Protestant church, and a Chabad group. There used to be a Messianic temple, but they're neither Jews nor Christians and they seem to have disappeared.
One of our Jewish temples, B'nai Darom, is of long-standing; in fact it is the 2nd oldest Jewish temple in the State of Florida. B'nai Darom also has a beautiful cemetery on the east side of town. Unfortunately, B'nai Darom has been the target of vandalism down through the years, but recently anti-Semitic activities have increased.
My friend, Bob Poris, had some thoughts on the matter, which he wrote down and submitted to our local paper, a rag which time and the Internet have pretty much left behind. I have yet to hear whether the editor of the paper has run Bob's article. But I thought it important, so here it is:
To the Editor:
I read the article about the vandalizing of Temple B'nai Darom. I was surprised to learn it was the second oldest Jewish congregation in Florida and that it had been the target of vandalism for many years. I was also surprised to learn that the temple's cemetery has been subject to trespassers and malicious destruction.
Although I've lived in Florida (Tampa, St. Pete, Boynton Beach and Ocala) for over 20 years and I've been in Ocala nine years, this is the first report I've read about anti-Semitic activities in Florida. I've read newspapers on a daily basis since I was a teenager, even when traveling or when I was in the Navy during WWII. I'd like to congratulate the Star Banner for its prominent coverage of these anti-Semitic activities during the Christmas holiday season. And I wonder why I've read so few such stories during my rather long life and my sojourns in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio, and Michigan.
Anti-Semitism is certainly not a new phenomena in any of those places. It has been commonplace since the advent of Christianity and the birth of Islam. And it's interesting to note that Judaism is the basis for both of those faiths in terms of morals and ethics. Judaism remains today much as it did over 5,000 years ago. The God of the Hebrew Bible gave us the basis for our current ethics, morals and our justice system.
Jesus, Holy Mother Mary, Joseph, and most, if not all, the Apostles and early followers of the Rabbi Jesus, the Son of God, were practicing Jews even as they became the early Christians who created Christianity.
Christianity evolved through four centuries until it became the religion of the Roman Empire under the emperor, Constantine. During that time Jews had usually been left alone to pursue their lives and their beliefs, but after Christianity was made the state religion, all other religions were forbidden and punished.
Jews, falsely blamed for killing Jesus, were targeted with isolation, exile and death throughout the world and throughout the centuries. Many of us lived through WWII and saw with our own eyes the culmination of such hate - the Holocaust - which killed three out of every five Jews in Europe (six million human beings), many of which sent to their deaths by countries who collaborated with the Nazis in the so-called "Final Solution."
Today, there are less than 14 million Jews left in the world, most of whom live in the United States and Israel. Many Middle Eastern countries have arranged things so there are no Jews in their borders whatsoever, while in others a few Jews remain. Consider that our "allies" - Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others - have laws forbidding Jews to enter or live in their countries. The would be state of Palestine plans to disallow Jews, forbidding them to live in the state, own property and or engage in a business. This is according to the proposed Palestinian charter.
As Americans, these realities do not affect us very much. Jews have lived here since the days of Columbus as many of his crew were Jews escaping the Christian Inquisition in Spain. These Jews settled in the New World and in the American colonies. Although they have had problems, they have for the most part integrated into American society at all levels as other minorities have done with varying degrees of success.
The article in the paper states that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has decreased in recent years but there are still too many and in France, for example, many Jews are afraid to leave their homes or attend the synagogue because of the violence directed toward them.
The Prince of Peace might be waiting a few more centuries before returning, perhaps until the world, created in God's image (which has never been defined in terms of race, creed, color, or specific religious practice), is safe for all and peace reigns.
I, for one, wish he would make his move soon.