Rosh Hashanah 5778 – Rock & Roll & Anti-Semitism
When I write too much about politics I get emails or talked to. When I don’t talk enough about politics I get emails or talked to. It isn’t too often, but when it happens it is as if those people no longer want to have a healthy dialogue together. This person or that person asks to be removed from our mailing list or cancel their partnership with Har-Shalom as if I’m not going to write about different things other weeks and meaningful things on different matters of great importance. It happens. Not too often, but enough for it to be hard to talk about current events and how they affect us as a community and how they affect the Jewish people without offending someone these days.
My mother taught me that it is very impolite to talk about Sex, Politics or Religion at parties or social functions. I was like “Mom, I’m a rabbi, that leaves almost nothing to talk or write about! The whole Torah, the whole of Jewish history is about sex, politics and religion. I can’t stand up here and just read Abraham had a little ram, its horns so shiny they would make great shofars.” She told me to just figure it out.
The great Chicago rabbi, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf of blessed memory, believed that if half the congregation wasn’t angry with your stances and the other half wasn’t speaking to you, you weren’t doing your job as a rabbi correctly. My how times have changed.
I’ve decided to take both their words to heart and I believe I found the loophole I was looking for. My mother never said I couldn’t talk about Drugs and Rock and Roll!! I’ve loved music all my life. In Spring of 1981, when I was finishing sixth grade, Pink Floyd’s single, Another Brick in the Wall, was big on the radio. Its lyrics spoke to me as I was preparing to leave grade school, was practicing for my Bar Mitzvah, and contemplating going into seventh grade.
The chorus menacingly chants:
“We don’t need no Education, We don’t need no thought control
No Dark sarcasm in the classroom, Teachers, leave them kids alone.”
The words spoke to me. We’ve all had teachers, way past their prime, or ones who took out all their petty complaints about their lives on us, their students. I thought the song was so brilliant that I ran to the record store, purchased the 45-single, placed it on my record player and played the song over and over while recording it on both sides of a 90-minute cassette tape. Please take a moment to explain all that to anyone 35 or younger, …what a 45 single was or why we had to record things on frail cassette tapes that our sound systems inevitably ate when our cassette players got hungry.
My intent was to bring it to school on the last day of classes and play the song over and over as our personal, sixth grade, end of year anthem. Now I was a very respectful student, so let’s just fast forward knowing I didn’t actually get to play the song once that day, but sometimes it is the thought that counts.
Pink Floyd’s music has been inspiring fans for almost fifty years. For some seeing them in concert or listening to certain albums is almost a religious experience. Their double album, the Wall, was made into a cinematic masterpiece that strikes out at World War II, fascism, post-World War II reconstruction, the cold war, and the lost generation of children raised by overbearing widowed mothers.
Some of these children grew up educated by those who fought the war or missed the war. The film depicts one such boy raised in an emotionally abusive home taught by an emotionally abusive teacher. The boy grows up to become a charismatic rock star whose followers become a very fascist, hateful and violent cult, similar to everything the Allies fought against during World War II and after. It remains one of the most powerful musical films created, and much of its enduring imagery would find parallels in everything we saw in Charlottesville only a few weeks ago.
The star of the film, musician Bob Geldof, went on to produce the 1985 Live Aid concert and became one of the greatest Rock Musician humanitarians of his age.
At this point you’re wondering what rock and roll or any of this has to do with our Judaism, Israel or our lives today. Roger Waters, the Bass player of Pink Floyd, has become one of the most famous voices of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement against Israel, known as BDS. He is one of the biggest supporters of Palestine without any consideration for the violence and hatred Israel has faced since 1948 from their surrounding Muslim neighbors or any of the atrocities committed by the terrorists of Hamas. He describes Israel as an apartheid state, uses the most horrific old forms of anti-Semitic tropes and has rallied many famous musicians, religious leaders like Rev. Desmond Tutu, and artists to his cause using lies and distorted facts to support his claims.
At a concert in Belgium Waters used flying pig props with Jewish Stars of David and dollar signs drawn on them. Charles Asher Small, the founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, spoke to the Jerusalem post discussing Roger Waters anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities:
“A lot of imagery, combined with his call to boycott Israel, gives off a horrific message – and he’s making profit from it... we felt that it was time to take a stand.” Small’s organization launched a website, petition and campaign against Roger Water’s BDS activities.
Waters wrote in June, how it was “the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. 50 years living under military occupation, 50 years for a people with no civil rights, 50 years of no recourse to the law, 50 years of apartheid. The BDS picket line exists to shine a light on the predicament of the occupied people of Palestine, both in Palestine and those displaced abroad, and to promote equal civil rights for all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea no matter what their nationality, race or religion. All human life is sacred, every child is our child, exceptionalism is always our enemy. There is no Us or Them, only Us.”
Forget that this is a biased, one sided view of the last 50 years. What about all the violence and atrocities committed against Israel from multiple forces who feel the country has no right to exist and refuse to peacefully come to the negotiating table to talk about creating a sustainable peace in Israel and the Middle East?
It certainly feels like there is only room for them in their world vision, and never room for us, for the truth, for historical facts, for acceptance of unbiased reality.
In April, there was a huge push by artists who wrote an open letter to Radiohead to protest them agreeing to hold a concert in Tel Aviv this past July. Musician Robert Wyatt commented on why he supports BDS and signed the letter.
“These international cultural events are of course great propaganda for this ruling regime’s desperately sophisticated image, flagrant camouflage for their relentlessly accelerating ethnic cleansing campaign in, for example, Jerusalem. Are you really comfortable with that?”
Radiohead’s, Thom Yorke, pushed back against the BDS movement's attempt to get them to cancel their concert and the band played their longest concert to date. Yorke commented about the concert
“Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government,” adding, “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”
When the Israeli government is accused of ethnic cleansing, a line has been crossed. Unfortunately, it isn’t the first or last time this line has been crossed. The overall goal of a movements like BDS is to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to hold up a mirror to reflect the atrocities that have been committed against our people in the last century and for much of the last 1600 years, since Christianity and Islam have become dominant waring religions.
Israel has not preached the destruction of any people in the last fifty years and has never sworn to push any other peoples into the sea. Throughout the last 1600 years Christians and Muslims have done everything possible to try and eradicate the Jewish people.
Now, understand, that I don’t think Israel is perfect, but for all of us that
comprehend Jewish and Israeli history, we know that Israel remains the only peaceful country in the Middle East that has repeatedly approached the table for peace talks with the intent of creating peace.
In the Palestinian territories, governmental corruption, an education system that teaches racism and hatred, and state funded violence remain the true barrier to peace. Israel is the only truly democratic society in the Middle East. It is the only Middle Eastern country where Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and Christians may vote in free democratic elections. Throughout the world, Israel is emphasized as the only cause to Middle East instability and the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric is constantly used to deflect attention from all the other racist, violent and theocratic nations who surround Israel.
Since the very beginning the Arab world has refused to accept the existence of Israel.
"On the 23rd of September, 1947, the UN General Assembly established an ad hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question to consider the UN Special Committee on Palestine report. The Arab Higher Committee rejected both the majority and minority recommendations within the report. They "concluded from a survey of Palestine history that Zionist claims to that country had no legal or moral basis". The Arab Higher Committee argued that only an Arab State in the whole of Palestine would be consistent with the UN Charter.The Jewish Agency expressed support for most of the UN Special Committee on Palestine recommendations, but emphasized the "intense urge" of the overwhelming majority of Jewish displaced persons to proceed to Palestine. The Jewish Agency criticized the proposed boundaries, especially in the Western Galilee and Western Jerusalem (outside of the old city), arguing that these should be included in the Jewish state. However, they agreed to accept the plan if "it would make possible the immediate re-establishment of the Jewish State with sovereign control of its own immigration."
We all know what happened in Israel in 1948 during the war of Independence. Many of us know our history and what Jews have faced over the last 2000 years as well as in the last 70 years. Israel isn’t the problem. There are problematic elements within the country, but Israel isn’t the underlying problem except to those people in this world who believe it has no right to exist.
After watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of the Cold War and the historic signing of the Oslo Peace Accords only four years later, I thought that the world had turned a corner, learned from the lessons of the Holocaust and that Palestinians and Jews would finally work together to build a peaceful future with a two-state solution.
Twenty-four years later we seem further away from peace in the Middle East than we have ever been. The war of lies and propaganda seems to be winning when former Rock legends begin to believe their own importance and reveal their true inner beliefs, espousing lies and shameful rhetoric without holding both sides accountable for wrongs committed against each other.
Marisa Martin of World Net Daily recently wrote a commentary on Roger Water’s latest speaking tour across the country and the showing of his latest film project at UCLA.
“A new Waters project makes his loathing even clearer [in the film]: “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.” The rocker is the narrator, and by now he could be called the Official Voice of Anti-Semitism. Produced by Sut Jhally, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, this video features some of the world’s harshest critics of Israel (in addition to Waters). Recently the rocker appeared in the flesh to peddle this “documentary” at UCLA. He must have felt right at home. Waters was uninterrupted, with signs at the scene informing students that “disruptions would not be tolerated.” This is an unusual tack for UCLA, which seems to have no problem with disruption, threats, violence and cancellation of pro-Israeli and conservative events. Anti-Semitism is their official policy now. Hillel, Stand With Us, and other pro-Israel groups blasted the “anti-Semitic film” as perpetuating ancient and genocidal “Zionist conspiracy” theories. “The Occupation of the American Mind” updated them a bit, throwing in “apartheid,” anti-terrorism walls, and accusations that the U.S. is controlled by Jewish lobbies (or “well-oiled propaganda machines”). Although fans find it almost impossible to pan a rock icon, even the notoriously left-serving Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “sadly” came to the obvious conclusion that “Roger Waters is an anti-Semite.” He worked very hard for that designation.”
Today, even rock and roll isn’t sacred anymore. It is painful to watch A handful of famous, aging rockers show their true inner beliefs, revealing their anti-Semitism. We can’t blame drugs and psychedelics for this one when we all know that baseless hatred has the power to make people believe any lie they want to believe.
I thought Rock and Roll was always meant to unite people. When we crossed the Red Sea on dry land Miriam took up her tumbrel, took all the woman to dance and celebrate the great miracle they had all witnessed. We sing her rock lyrics in every service. King David remains known as one of the earliest and greatest Jewish rock heroes. He wrote poems and songs we still read and sing to this very day. “Sing us a song all the world unto God, Sing us a song unto God.” His son, King Solomon wrote a love song so incredible that Brides and Grooms everywhere still quote it on their ketubahs and have pieces of it read during their ceremonies. “Dodi Li v’ani lo ha-row-eh bashoshanim. My beloved is mine and I am his. He feedeth among the lilies.” Music and words have been powerful tools since first put to song, to parchment, sent as time travelers into the future for us to learn from and find peace in them.
Rabbi Bob Marley wrote in his song 400 years
"400 years And it's the same, the same philosophy, I've said it's four hundred years;
Look, how long And the people they still can't see.
Why do they fight against the poor youth of today?
And without these youths, they would be gone - All gone astray
Come on, let's make a move: I can see time
And if fools don't see I can't save the youth:
The youth is gonna be strong. So, won't you come with me;
I'll take you to a land of liberty Where we can live – live a good life And be free."
Rabbi Bob Dylan wrote:
"How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
and how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have died?"
So many great poets and prophets have put their words to music, touched the lives and souls of countless fans and never felt the need to speak hatred and lies against any one people or nation. Some voices have risen up against the BDS movement and spoken against Roger Waters, but not enough organizations or concert venues have cancelled his events to indicate that they won’t tolerate blatant racism or anti-Semitism in a world where we are working to get closer to peaceful resolutions and cease the spread of lies and anti-Semitic propaganda.
There are enough composers and rock stars who promote love, peace, tolerance and acceptance. There are more of us who believe the world is an amazing place, that Jews have their place in this world just like anyone else and that Jews are part of the solution, not part of the problem. We all want a strong Israel safe from all terrorist attacks, but truth be told we want a world where no one need fear any terrorist attack of any kind. We dream of a world where all religions can coexist peacefully side by side just as we dream of a world where all countries can coexist peacefully side by side. No one wants to live in fear. We all pray for a world where no one holds onto baseless hatreds. We have so many heroes of music to turn to that remind us of the good in the world and the promise of peace. Our prophets and sages taught so many generations how to dream, love, compose, sing and believe. In this new year, 5778, I pray we all join our hearts in words of peace. I pray we find musical heroes worthy of our time, who work only to make the world a better place. I pray we find moments to lift our voices in song together, causing our souls to shine and send notes of love as high as our aspirations may carry them.
Our Modern Prophet John Lennon said it best in words he thought might be the only way for all of us to create world peace:
"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one"
Kayn yehi ratzon - May this be God's Will