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“Ehr Kumt” Sermon

By February 13, 2013November 7th, 2013Blog, The Way I See It

Dear Readers,

Here is something that we should all read from someone far more eloquent than myself. But it's still, “The Way I See It.”

Best Regards,

Ernest R. Emerson


First Day of Rosh Hashanah 20

Sermon delivered by Rabbi Schlomo Lewis of Atlanta

I thought long and I thought hard on whether to
deliver the sermon I am about to share.

We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the
High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to
gobble up our brisket, our> honey cakes and our
kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred  but
not too much. We want to be guilt-schlepped  but
not too much. We want to be provoked but not
too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.

I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling
obligation, a responsibility to articulate what
is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be

And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say
but by what is painful to express. I am guided
not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am
guided not by delicacy but by urgency.

We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as
savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis
but one wouldn't know it from our behavior.

During WWII we didn't refer to storm troopers as
freedom fighters. We didn't call the Gestapo,
militants. We didn't see the attacks on our
Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did
not justify the Nazis rise to power as our
fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis,
thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing
and mistreating and humiliating the German people.

We did not apologize for Dresden, nor for The
Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein, nor for D-Day.

Evil  ultimate, irreconcilable, evil threatened
us and Roosevelt and Churchill had moral clarity
and an exquisite understanding of what was at
stake. It was not just the Sudetenland, not just
Tubruk, not just Vienna, not just Casablanca. It
was the entire planet. Read history and be
shocked at how frighteningly close Hitler came to
creating a Pax Germana on every continent.

Not all Germans were Nazis  most were decent,
most were revolted by the Third Reich, most were
good citizens hoisting a beer, earning a living
and tucking in their children at night. But, too
many looked away, too many cried out in lame
defense  “I didn't know.” Too many were silent.

Guilt absolutely falls upon those who committed
the atrocities, but responsibility and guilt
falls upon those who did nothing as well. Fault
was not just with the goose steppers but with
those who pulled the curtains shut, said and did nothing.
In WWII we won because we got it. We understood
who the enemy was and we knew that the end had to
be unconditional and absolute. We did not
stumble around worrying about offending the
Nazis. We did not measure every word so as not
to upset our foe. We built planes and tanks and
battleships and went to war to win… to rid the world of malevolence.

We are at war. yet too many stubbornly and
foolishly don't put the pieces together and
refuse to identify the evil doers. We are
circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.

Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort
Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from
Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the
murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists.

To camouflage their identity is sedition. To
excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask
their intentions is unconscionable.

A few years ago I visited Lithuania on a Jewish
genealogical tour. It was a stunning journey
and a very personal, spiritual pilgrimage. When
we visited Kovno we davened Maariv at the only
remaining shul in the city. Before the war there
were thirty-seven shuls for 38,000 Jews. Now
only one, a shrinking, gray congregation. We
made minyon for the handful of aged worshippers
in the Choral Synagogue, a once majestic, jewel in Kovno.

After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for
Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend,
Joe Magun, came over to me. “Shalom,” he
said. “Your abba told me you just came back from
Lithuania.” “Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a
powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral
Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in
the courtyard?” “Yes, I did. In fact, we helped
them make minyon.” His eyes opened wide in joy
at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into
the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I
grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The
Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”
He paused for a moment and once again was lost in the past.

His smile faded. Pain filled his wrinkled
face. ‘I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when
Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the
shul' (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin's mentor
he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist
radical, whose politics were to the far
right.) Joe continued ‘When Jabotinsky came, he
delivered the drasha on Shabbos morning and I can
still hear his words burning in my ears. He
climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the
bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and
He's coming. Jews abandon your city.” We thought
we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from
Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a
thousand years but Jabotinsky was right — his
warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.
We are not in Lithuania. It is not the
1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No
U-boats off the coast of long Island. No Panzer
divisionson our borders. But make no mistake; we
are under attack  our values, our tolerance, our
freedom, our virtue, our land.

Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance
at their watches let me state emphatically,
unmistakably  I have no pathology of hate, nor
am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the
countryside. I am not a pessimist, nor prone to
panic attacks. I am a lover of humanity, all
humanity. Whether they worship in a synagogue, a
church, a mosque, a temple or don't worship at
all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but
what I do have is hatred for those who hate,
intolerance for those who are intolerant,and a
guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.

Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be
said sadly and reluctantly that there are
unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the
hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the
overwhelming number of Muslims are good Muslims,
fine human beings who want nothing more than a
Jeep Cherokee in their driveway, a flat screen TV
on their wall and a good education for their
children, but these good Muslims have an
obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far
for the most part they have avoided.

The Kulturkampf is not only external but internal
as well. The good Muslims must sponsor rallies
in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square, in the UN
Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning
terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter
of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The
good Muslims must place ads in the NY
Times. They must buy time on network TV, on
cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le
Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeera condemning
terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter
of the innocent  thus far, they have not.

Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam
and define it. Brutal acts of commission and
yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.

I recall a conversation with my father shortly
before he died that helped me understand how
perilous and how broken is our world; that we are
living on the narrow seam of civilization and
moral oblivion. Knowing he had little time left
he shared the following  “Shal. I am ready to
leave this earth. Sure I'd like to live a little
longer, see a few more sunrises, but truthfully,
I've had it. I'm done. Finished. I hope the
Good Lord takes me soon because I am unable to
live in this world knowing what it has become.”

This startling admission of moral exhaustion from
a man who witnessed and lived through the
Depression, the Holocaust, WWII, Communist
Triumphalism, McCarthyism, Strontium 90 and
polio.  Yet his twilight observation was “The
worst is yet to come.” And he wanted out. I
share my father's angst and fear that too many do
not see the authentic, existential threat we face
nor confront the source of our peril. We must wake up and smell the hookah.
“Lighten up, Lewis. Take a chill pill”, some of
you are quietly thinking. You're sounding like
Glen Beck. It's not that bad. It's not that real.”

But I am here to tell you  “It is.” Ask
the member of our shul whose sister was
vaporized in the Twin Towers and identified
finally by her charred teeth, if this is real or
not. Ask the members of our shul who fled a bus
in downtown Paris, fearing for their safety from
a gang of Muslim thugs, if this is an
exaggeration. Ask the member of our shul whose
son tracks Arab terrorist infiltrators who target
pizza parlors, nursery schools, Pesach seders,
city buses and play grounds, if this is
dramatic, paranoid hyperbole. Ask them, ask all
of them  ask the American GI's we sit next to
on planes who are here for a brief respite while
we fly off on our Delta vacation package. Ask
them if it's bad. Ask them if it's real.

Did anyone imagine in the 1920's what Europe
would look like in the 1940's. Did anyone presume
to know in the coffee houses of Berlin or in the
opera halls of Vienna that genocide would soon
become the celebrated culture? Did anyone think
that a goofy-looking painter named Shickelgruber
would go from the beer halls of Munich and jail,
to the Reichstag as Fuehrer in less than a
decade? Did Jews pack their bags and leave
Warsaw, Vilna, Athens, Paris, Bialystok, Minsk,
knowing that soon their new address would be
Treblinka, Sobibor, Dachau and Auschwitz?

The sages teach  “Aizehu chacham  haroeh et et
hanolad  Who is a wise person  he who sees
into the he future.” We dare not wallow in
complacency, in a misguided tolerance and naive sense of security.

We must be diligent students of history and not
sit in ash cloth at the waters of Babylon
weeping. We cannot be hypnotized by
eloquent-sounding> rhetoric that soothes our
heart but endangers our soul. We cannot be
lulled into inaction for fear of offending the offenders.

Radical Islam is the scourge and this must be
cried out from every mountain top. From sea to
shining sea, we must stand tall, prideful of our
stunning decency and moral
resilience. Immediately after 9/11 how many
mosques were destroyed in America? None. After
9/11, how many Muslims were killed in America? None.

After 9/11, how many anti-Muslim rallies were
held in America? None. And yet, we
apologize. We grovel. We beg forgiveness.

The mystifying litany of our foolishness
continues. Should there be a shul in Hebron on
the site where Baruch Goldstein gunned down
twenty-seven Arabs at noonday prayers? Should
there be a museum praising the U.S. Calvary on
the site of Wounded Knee? Should there be a
German cultural center in Auschwitz? Should a
church be built in the Syrian town of Ma'arra
where Crusaders slaughtered over 100,000
Muslims? Should there be a thirteen story mosque
and Islamic Center only a few steps from Ground Zero?

Despite all the rhetoric, the essence of the
matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim
community has the absolute, constitutional right
to build their building wherever they wish. I
don't buy the argument  “When we can build a
church or a synagogue in Mecca they can build a mosque here.”

America is greater than Saudi Arabia. And New
York is greater than Mecca. Democracy and
freedom must prevail. Can they
build? Certainly. May they
build? Certainly. But should they build at
that site? No — but that decision must come
from them, not from us. Sensitivity, compassion
cannot be measured in feet or yards or in
blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not.

If those behind this project are good,
peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they
claim, then they should know better, rip up the
zoning permits and build elsewhere.

Believe it or not, I am a dues-paying, card
carrying member of the ACLU, yet from start of
finish, I find this sorry episode disturbing to
say the least. William Burroughs, the novelist
and poet, in a wry moment wrote  “After one look
at this planet, any visitor from outer space
would say  “I want to see the manager.”

Let us understand that the radical Islamist
assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes,
fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the
anti-Christ. Gog U'Magog. The Sons of Light and
the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision
between civilization and depravity is on the
border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the
Gaza Coast and in the Judean Hills of the West
Bank. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and
on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda
Street. It is in the underground schools of
Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city
buses. It is in every school yard, hospital,
nursery, classroom, park, theater  in every
place of innocence and purity. Israel is the
laboratory  the test market. Every death,
every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a
random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated,
strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.

In the Six Day War, Israel was the proxy of
Western values and strategy while the Arab
alliance was the proxy of Eastern, Soviet values and strategy.

Today too, it is a confrontation of proxies, but
the stakes are greater than East Jerusalem and
the West Bank. Israel in her struggle represents
the civilized world, while Hamas, Hezbollah, Al
Queda, Iran, Islamic Jihad, represent the world
of psychopathic, loathsome evil. As Israel,
imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many
in the Western World have lost their way
displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not
understanding, for Israel's galling plight, but
downright hostility and contempt.

Without moral clarity, we are doomed because
Israel's galling plight ultimately will be
ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of
Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first
target of tyranny as the Jew. We are the trial
balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the
Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a
protest from “good guys” then tyranny snickers
and pushes forward with its agenda.

Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has
reached epic proportions in the West; from the
Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to
MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from
university campuses to British teachers unions,
from the International Red Cross to Amnesty
International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello,
from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of
Canterbury. There is a message sent and
consequences when our president visits Turkey and
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and not Israel. There is
a message sent and consequences when free speech
on campus is only for those championing
Palestinian rights. There is a message sent and
consequences when the media deliberately> doctors
and edits film clips to demonize Israel.

There is a message sent and consequences when the
UN blasts Israel relentlessly, effectively
ignoring Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, North Korea,
China and other noxious states. There is a
message sent and consequences when liberal
churches are motivated by Liberation Theology,
not historical accuracy. There is a message sent
and consequences when murderers and terrorists
are defended by the obscenely transparent “one
man' terrorist is another man' freedom fighter.”
John Milton warned, “Hypocrisy is the only evil that walks invisible.”

A few days after the Gaza blockade incident in
the spring, a congregant happened past my office,
glanced in and asked in a friendly tone
“Rabbi. How're ya doing?” I looked up, sort of
smiled and replied  “I've had better
days.”What's the matter? Is there anything I can
do to cheer you up?” he inquired. “Thank you for
the offer but I'm just bummed out today and I
showed him a newspaper article I was reading.”
“Madrid gay pride parade bans Israeli group over
Gaza Ship Raid.” I explained to my visitor
“The Israeli gay pride contingent from Tel Aviv
was not allowed to participate in the Spanish
gay pride parade because the mayor of Tel Aviv
did not apologize for the raid by the Israeli
military.” The only country in the entire Middle
East where gay rights exist, is Israel. The only
country in the entire Middle East where there is
a gay pride parade, is Israel. The only country
in the Middle East that has gay neighborhoods and
gay bars, is Israel. Gays in the Gaza would be
strung up, executed by Hamas if they came out and
yet Israel is vilified and
ostracized. Disinvited to the parade. Looking
for logic? Looking for reason? Looking for
sanity? Kafka on his darkest, gloomiest day could
not keep up with this bizarre spectacle and we
“useful idiots” pander and fawn over cutthroats,
sinking deeper and deeper into moral decay, as
the enemy laughs all the way to the West Bank and beyond.

It is exhausting and dispiriting. We live in an
age that is redefining righteousness where those
with moral clarity are an endangered, beleaguered specie.

Isaiah warned us thousands of years ago  “Oye
Lehem Sheh-Korim Layome, Laila Laila, yome  Woe
to them who call the day, night and the
night,day.” We live on a planet that is both
Chelm and Sodom. It is a frightening and
maddening place to be. How do we convince the
world and many of our own, that this is not just
anti-Semitism, that this is not just anti-Zionism
but a full throttled attack by unholy, radical
Islamists on everything that is morally precious> to us?

How do we convince the world and many of our own
that conciliation is not an option, that
compromise is not a choice? Everything we
are. Everything we believe. Everything we treasure, is at risk.

The threat is so unbelievably clear and the enemy
so unbelievably ruthless how anyone in their
right mind doesn't get it is baffling. Let's try
an analogy. If someone contracted a
life-threatening infection and we did not only
scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted
that the bacteria had a right to infect their
body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading
infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria
would be satisfied and stop spreading. Anyone buy
that medical advice? Well, folks, that's our
approach to the radical Islamist bacteria. It is
amoral, has no conscience and will spread unless
it is eradicated.  There is no negotiating. Appeasement is death.

I was no great fan of George Bush  didn't vote
for him. (By the way, I'm still a registered
Democrat.) I disagreed with many of his policies
but one thing he had right. His moral clarity
was flawless when it came to the War on Terror,
the War on Radical Islamist Terror. There was no
middle ground  either you were friend or
foe. There was no place in Bush's world for a
Switzerland. He knew that this competition was
not Toyota against G.M., not the Iphone against
the Droid, not the Braves against the Phillies,
but a deadly serious war, winner take all. Blink
and you lose. Underestimate, and you get crushed.

know that there are those sitting here today who
have turned me off. But I also know that many
turned off their rabbis seventy five years ago in
Warsaw, Riga, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cracow,
Vilna. I get no satisfaction from that
knowledge, only a bitter sense that there is
nothing new under the sun. Enough rhetoric  how
about a little “show and tell?”

A few weeks ago on the cover of Time magazine was
a horrific picture with a horrific story. The
photo was of an eighteen year old Afghani woman,
Bibi Aisha, who fled her abusive husband and his
abusive family. Days later the Taliban found her
and dragged her to a mountain clearing where she
was found guilty of violating Sharia Law. Her
punishment was immediate. She was pinned to the
ground by four men while her husband sliced off
her ears, and then he cut off her nose. That is
the enemy . If nothing else stirs us. If nothing
else convinces us, let Bibi Aisha's mutilated
face be the face of Islamic radicalism. Let her
face shake up even the most complacent and naive
among us. In the holy crusade against this
ultimate evil, pictures of Bibi Aisha's
disfigurement should be displayed on billboards,
along every highway from Route 66 to theAutobahn, to the Transarabian

Her picture should be posted on every lobby wall
from Tokyo to Stockholm to Rio. On every
network, at everycommercial break, Bibi Aisha's
face should appear with the caption  “Radical
Islamic savages did this.” And underneath
“This ad was approved by Hamas, by Hezbollah, by
Taliban, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, by
Islamic Jihad, by Fatah al Islam, by Magar Nodal
Hassan, by Richard Reid, by Ahmanijad, by Sheik
Omar Abdel Rahman, by Osama bin Laden, by Edward
Said, by The Muslim Brotherhood, by Al Queda, by CAIR.”

“The moral sentiment is the drop that balances
the sea” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Today, my friends, the sea is woefully out of
balance and we could easily drown in our moral
myopia and worship of political correctness. We
peer up into the heavens sending probes to
distant galaxies. We peer down into quarks
discovering particles that would astonish
Einstein. We create computers that rival the
mind, technologies that surpass science fiction.
What we imagine, with astounding rapidity,
becomes real. If we dream it, it does, indeed,
come. And yet, we are at a critical point in the
history of this planet that could send us back
into the cave, to a culture that would make the Neanderthal blush with

Our parents and grandparents saw the swastika and
recoiled, understood the threat and destroyed the
Nazis. We see the banner of Radical Islam and
can do no less. A rabbi was once asked by his
students: “Rebbi. Why are your sermons so
stern?” Replied the rabbi, “If a house is on
fire and we chose not to wake up our children,
for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be
love? Kinderlach, “di hoyz brent.” Children
our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber.”

During WWII and the Holocaust was it business as
usual for priests, ministers, rabbis? Did they
deliver benign homilies and lovely sermons as
Europe fell, as the Pacific fell, as North Africa
fell, as the Mideast and South America tottered,
as England bled? Did they ignore the demonic
juggernaut and the foul breath of evil? They did
not. There was clarity, courage, vision,
determination, sacrifice, and we were
victorious. Today it must be our finest hour as
well. We dare not retreat into the banality of
our routines, glance at headlines and presume
that the good guys will prevail. Democracies
don't always win. Tyrannies don't always lose.

My friends  the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber.


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