Occupy Wall Street Now And Then
Reading this month’s cover story, one cannot help but hear echoes of it in today’s news, specifically the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been taking place since September.
Seventy-five years ago a group of British Fascists organized a march through the Jewish quarter of London’s East End, shouting slogans like “No More Jewish Corruption!” They made claims such as, “You have bad houses because the Jews have the good houses. You have bad jobs because the Jews have the good jobs.”
Baruch Hashem – with an emphasis on Hashem – the British people literally stood up to them, and the rest is history. But how scary it is that even those we counted as our allies were so close to siding with the likes of Hitler.
Of course, although anti-Semitic slurs have been documented, today’s Occupy Wall Street is nothing like London 1936. Nevertheless, that it even exists at all illustrates how fragile our sense of security is, reminding us how thin the barrier is between the Dr. Jekyll and the Mr. Hyde of the Gentile world.
This serves as a paradigm of the prophetic vision for the end of time, Milchemes Gog Umagog, the “War of Gog and Magog,” the ultimate conflict between good and evil. Before Mashiach succeeds, the armies of Gog and Magog will join forces and war against Klal Yisrael. It will be a terrifying time, but Gog and his collaborators will be vanquished, and the long foretold era of peace among nations will be ushered in.
The identification of Gog and Magogis complex, however as Rabbi Moshe Eisemann explains in his brilliant analysis (Yechezkal, Chapter 38; Artscroll) Gog is an individual from the arch-enemy of the Jews, Amalek (from Noach’s son, Shem), who will rise to power amidst the people/culture of Magog(from Noach’s son, Yefes) and incite them against the Jews.
Yefes, which means “beauty,” is the forerunner of Greece, the foundation of Western civilization. Beautyis morally neutral. It can inspire to good or intoxicate to destruction. Yefes can place his gifts at Amalek’s feet as readily as he can subordinate them in the service of holiness.
As Rabbi Eisemann explains, “throughout history, we find Yefes fluctuating between the poles of true spirituality and the grossest sensuality. The same Yefes who allowed himself to be turned to holiness by his brother Shem was able, centuries later, to allow a Haman to control his empire, and attempt to wipe out Shem’s descendants. When Gog will seek supporters in his final war against holiness and Godliness, he will turn to the pliable Yefes.”
Milchemes Gog Umagogrepresents a tug-of-war that has replayed itself throughout history. When good people prevail the forces of Yefes become vehicles for light. When they slacken the dark side takes them over.
Despite Amalek/Gog’s apparent power, he only exercises it according to Hashem’s will and in accordance with the spiritual stature of the Jewish people. An external event – political, military or otherwise – reflects our internal state. The cover story this month illustrates that poignantly. May we take it to heart and focus on internals before externals.
It launched the Ku Klux Klan and the Anti-Defamation League. It inflamed a community and ignited a nation. It brought out the worst in people and the best in people….
It is the tragic story of Leo Frank – and it happened in America.
Standing trial for murdering a Christian girl as crowds outside the courtroom screamed for his blood — intimidating witnesses, jury members, judges and politicians — the evidence against Leo Frank was so full of holes that the judge later declared that he was innocent. The lawyer of his main accuser eventually acknowledged that the accuser himself was the murderer.
Yet, none of that was able to stem the tsunami of anti-Semitism. Even as convincing new evidence demonstrating his innocence came to surface, a mob – later discovered to include high-ranking politicians and prominent Georgian community members – abducted Frank right out of prison and lynched him.
Terrifying and infuriating, the story of Leo Frank touches on so many raw nerves that even today, almost a century later, people are afraid to bring up the subject for fear of inflaming old passions and stirring old hatreds.
August 6, 1913. The atmosphere in the streets is fraught with tension. Frenzied hordes march around government buildings, wielding rifles and other weapons. They surround the courthouse where the trial of a Jew falsely accused of murdering a young Christian girl is taking place.
“Hang the Jew or we’ll hang you!” the crowds shout raucously, brandishing their weapons.
“Kill the Jews who killed our savior!” resonates in the street.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of the medieval pogroms of Europe. Rabble-rousing sermons by local priests and other anti-Semitic leaders have aroused the passions of the ignorant masses. And the minority of rational, level-headed individuals are simply too intimidated to take a stand against the blatant injustice and rabid anti-Semitism. It is just too risky.
It reads like an old-world legend from the Middle Ages, but incredibly this happened in the twentieth century in the United States – land of the free and home of the brave.
The city was Atlanta, capital of Georgia. The frenzied hordes wielding rifles and other weapons were red-blooded American citizens. The government building they surrounded was the Fulton County Superior Court House of Atlanta.
The governor of Georgia, a respected and popular man, is trying desperately to keep the situation under control. He has called in the National Guard and the military to protect Jewish neighborhoods. Privately, he has prayed that justice prevail and that he will not have to use force. However, he does not, at that point, fathom how deep the hatred runs and how inflamed the passions have become. Neither does he know the steep price he will pay for trying to help the hapless Jew.
Then, just like now, the Jews of Atlanta felt safe and secure as American citizens with equal rights to pursue the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They lived under the illusion that their non-Jewish neighbors regarded them as equals, and that anti-Semitism was relatively non-existent in America. Then their illusion was shattered. Abruptly, they were faced with the shocking realization that even after doing their utmost to assimilate into the American melting pot, they were no less immune from virulent anti-Semitism than their openly Jewish relatives in the “alte heim.”
This past August 17 marked the 96th anniversary of that dark chapter in American history, when an innocent Jew named Leo Frank was lynched by a group of Americans, not exclusively by low-class, uneducated street ruffians, but by the elite of Atlanta society, including elected officials and judges. Zman headed south on a fact-finding mission to the Jewish community in Atlanta to speak with community leaders, relatives and others well-read in the Leo Frank saga who have invested much effort clearing Frank’s name decades after his brutal murder.
Read the entire story in this month’s issue…