taking the words of Jesus seriously

There is a very popular song that Jews sing at the Passover seder. It recounts the wonderful things that have happened in our history, all of them acts of God. After each miraculous event we sing “Dayeinu”: It would have been enough.

It was Shabbat, the traditional eighth and final day of Passover. The sweet notes of Dayeinu had barely vanished into memory when the gunman opened fire at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., killing a 60-year-old woman, wounding the rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, and leaving a 34-year-old man and a young girl with shrapnel wounds.

It was almost exactly a week after the deadly terror attacks on churches in Sri Lanka and exactly six months after the deadly attack on Jews at worship in Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Let us not be surprised that it happened on the eighth day of Passover, a festival day. The gunman is in good, grim historical company. The Nazis loved to schedule their aktionen against the Jews for Jewish holidays.

The better to sully and profane them. That was the Nazis’ stock in trade.

Of course, we howl: Dayeinu. Enough, already!

But it seems that no one is listening.

How do we eradicate this kind of hatred from the human consciousness? How many generations have asked that question and found themselves stuttering for answers?

There is little that we can do to stop the hatred. Why? Because anti-Semitism is mythical, superstitious and irrational — and those are three things that are pretty much immune to any kind of healing.

But, we can scream.

Loudly. Publicly.

We did it once before.

It is 1943. A sizable percentage of Europe’s Jews have already perished.

In response to the world’s (and America’s) silence in the face of unremitting evil, as well as their contempt for Hollywood’s “fear of offending its European markets,” the Broadway impresario and lyricist Billy Rose and film director Ernst Lubitsch produced a dramatic pageant at Madison Square Garden. Its purpose: to raise public awareness about the plight of European Jewry.

The pageant was written by Ben Hecht, with music by Kurt Weill, and was staged by Moss Hart. Its stars included Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, John Garfield, Ralph Bellamy, Frank Sinatra and Burgess Meredith.

Two hundred rabbis and two hundred cantors raised their voices in prayer on stage. The pageant was called “We Will Never Die,” and when it was performed on March 9, 1943, 40,000 people filled the seats — thanks in part to newspaper advertisements provided gratis by the Hearst Corporation.

“We Will Never Die” went on the road, with performances in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles performance at the Hollywood Bowl was broadcast across the nation on NBC radio. In Washington, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended, along with senators, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.

Notice a few elements of this story from the annals of American popular culture:

First, the venues, which were huge.

Second, the artistic prestige of the pageant’s creators and participants. These were first-tier cultural personalities.

Third, while there were certainly Jews involved in the presentation, consider the gentile performers who were also involved — Bellamy, Sinatra and Meredith.

Cut, now, to 2019.

It is now time to gather together our current A-list, and in the words of the old sentimental film cliché — “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show.” It is now time for American cultural heroes to publicly lend their voices to one of the most profound political and moral crises of our time — the threat of growing anti-Semitism.

Whatever its source.

And, no — no, let’s not slide into the easy and tempting “hatred for all people” mode. Let’s not repeat the recent error of the Democratic Party that couldn’t even give a specific name to the evil of anti-Semitism.

Because just as assuredly as black lives matter, Jewish lives matter.

We need your voices.

I’m naming names (to use an older and infinitely darker phrase from Hollywood history): Steven Spielberg. Barbra Streisand. Paul Simon. Bob Dylan. Larry David. Jerry Seinfeld. Howard Stern. Howie Mandel. Amy Schumer. Judd Apatow. Barbara Streisand. Sarah Silverman. Natalie Portman. Scarlett Johansson. Peter Himmelman. Mattisyahu. Randy Newman.

Mila Kunis. James Franco. Daniel Day Lewis. Dustin Hoffman. Adam Sandler. Ben Stiller. Jesse Eisenberg. Seth Rogen. Isla Fisher. Sasha Barron Cohen. Emily Rossum. Janis Ian. Phish. Donald Fagen. Carole King. Neil Diamond. Adam Levine.

Michael Douglas. Lisa Kudrow. Alicia Silverstone. Goldie Hawn. Billy Crystal. William Shatner. Marlee Matlin. Drake. Lenny Kravitz. Bar Rafaeli. Gal Gadot. Jason Alexander. Fran Drescher. Mandy Patinkin. Billy Joel. Mayim Bialik. Howard Stern. Jonah Hill.

So, yes — a huge pageant. Simulcast internationally. With one message.

We must stop the scourge of anti-Semitism.

Then, we go one step further.

You know why smoking in America is now something, well, treif?

Because, in no small part, of public service commercials.

Imagine A-list stars doing commercials against hatred.

Jerry Seinfeld: “If you hate Jews, you hate me. And that’s no yada yada.”

Sarah Silverman: “If you want to hate Jews, you gotta know that this makes you a f__ a____.”

We condemned smoking to the ash tray of history.

Can we, at the very least, say that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, un-American, inhuman?

And, no — we don’t stop at Jewish celebrities. Remember how many gentile personages were involved in “We Will Never Die.”

Finally, let’s remember something.

A little more than 75 years ago, a moral conspiracy of Hollywood heavy-hitters pulled off a series of major events — all to raise consciousness about what was happening to the Jews of Europe.

And this happened when the American Jewish community was a fraction of the size it is today and when the American Jewish community had but a fraction of the clout and affluence it has today.

And they did it.

Think of what we could do today — and with the internet, our ability to simulcast it all over the world.

A little more than 75 years ago, at the end of the day, Ben Hecht was depressed about what he believed was his pageant’s relative lack of effectiveness.

He told Kurt Weill: “The pageant has accomplished nothing. Actually, all we have done is make a lot of Jews cry, which is not a unique accomplishment.”

Not this time. This time, the effect will not be to make a lot of Jews cry.

It will be to make a lot of people shrei.

As in, scream.

About The Author


Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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