Rabbi Yosef Kantor addresses all Jews from Bangkok

Rabbi Yosef Kantor addresses all Jews from Bangkok

"By the Grace of G-d

I am more inspired than I have ever been in my life. Never in my lifetime have I felt so acutely connected to every single Jew in the world. A profound joy and sense of purpose as a Jew suffuses my being.

Let me explain why. Our eyes and hearts are directed to Israel. We have family in Israel. Friends in Israel. Fellow Jews in Israel. Many of us are not physically living in Israel. Yet we are at war. All of us.

If you are a Jew, you are witnessing a phenomenon that you thought was a relic of the past. We say it every year in the Haggadah of Pesach: For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.

Many have thought that we can relate to this statement as something of allegory. But no. It is quite literal as we see with our own eyes. Old fashioned antisemitism.

If you are not sure, just google ‘antisemitism 2023’ and see what shows up. Unapologetic and stripped naked of any sophisticated cover ups. We have nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. You cannot run away from yourself. Wherever you go your identity goes with you.

I have many friends who have Jewish names. They may not dress or act outwardly Jewish, they may feel totally blended into their respective ‘western’ societies, but ultimately, they cannot hide their identity. My name may not be so Jewish, (the original Kantorovitch had a more Yiddish tone to it) but I was blessed to be raised by parents who taught me to make every effort to look and act as Jewish as I can.

What is the most troubling to so many Jews is the shock of this all. Many thought that they were so integrated within societies that they occupy that they were looked at without bias or judgement. Yet somehow, just being a Jew means that you are a prospect for antisemitism. The ‘excuse’ now? The war that has been forced onto Israel on Simchat Torah this year.

I grew up in Australia in a community made up of many Holocaust survivors. One of the reasons survivors emigrated to Australia was to get as far away as possible from the region in which they had suffered inhumanely. Today that is not the case. To quote Josh Frydenberg the formal federal treasurer of Australia: “As a person of Jewish faith growing up in a tolerant and multicultural Australia, I never thought I would feel as my grandparents did in 1933 the rising tide of European antisemitism which would consume their families in the flames of the Holocaust. But now I do.”

How does this make sense? When America fought back after 9/11 was every American a target to be screamed at all over the world? When Russia invaded Crimea was every Russian looking over their back to see if the protesters against Russa’s aggression would be hurling catcalls at them? Why when people have complaints about Israel is every Jew a target for demonstrating against? Why is that a reason for a Jew in Australia to feel unsafe?

I have never lived through such a time of upheaval. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed the evil head of antisemitism come out so forcefully and openly without shame.

The hypocrisy of the demonization of Israel is a very important topic beyond the scope of this article. It is important to familiarize yourself with basic facts as our enemies have a very well-oiled PR machine.

You and I are soldiers in this war of light against darkness. We dare not fall asleep at our posts. You see, what the antisemites got right, is the fact that we are one people. The best analogy for that is that describe the Jewish People as one organism.

The Sages taught us that the Jewish people is compared to one body. Every Jew is part of the collective Jewish body. When our enemies persecute anyone of our nation anywhere in the world, it is a blow to every limb of that collective body.

Right now, in Israel our soldiers are fighting, putting their lives on the line, may Hashem protect them, to protect our people. Our fellow Jews who are living in Israel are heroes for staying in the Holyland and going about their daily routine of life as much as the situation allows.

What should we, you and I, be doing? It has never been clearer that we are all like one body. The best way to help your body fight illness is by strengthening your overall health. We need to strengthen and fortify ourselves spiritually and emotionally.

A healthy body can ward off illness more effectively. Likewise, when one part of the body gets a dose of energy and health, the other part of the body gets the benefit as well. The ‘body of Israel’ is spread out over the entire world in multiple and varied locales. We must all contribute to the war effort.

We in the diaspora are not bearing physical weapons. Our children are not in the army. Our job is to be healthy, proud, devoted and joyous Jews. We have G-d’s recipe and instructions for the collective strength and health of the Jewish people.

Hashem’s ‘manufacturer instructions’ to us have withstood the test of time and endured through the worst circumstances in history. In every generation they have risen against us to destroy us. We are still here. Hashem has promised to Avraham our forefather that we will forever bear His torch.

Hashem has given us the mission of being a light unto the nations. It is a mission that will usher the world into the eternal Messianic peace we believe in and hope for. The spiritual weapons in the Jewish arsenal are eminently accessible. Prayer. Tefilin. Shabbat Candles. Tzedakah. Love of our fellow. Being joyful about our Judaism. Everyone has a plethora of mitzvahs that they can engage in.

The overarching mood and perspective we must work on projecting is positivity and joy. I am incredibly joyous to be a Jew. Every day when we wake up in the morning we thank G-d for the gift of a healthy body. And we thank G-d for the G-d given gift of being a Jew.

My friend Rabbi Aaron Moss sums it up well: Judaism is the most powerful idea that the world has ever seen. Jews should survive because we have a message that the world needs to hear. The Jewish way of life is a revolutionary force that can transform ordinary lives into lives of meaning. A family that keeps Shabbat is always reminded of what is really important—that there is more to life than accumulating wealth. The kosher laws teach us that we are not mere animals that must feed our every urge and desire, and that eating itself can be holy. A mezuzah on the door tells the world that this home is built for a higher purpose.

Judaism teaches lessons that the world urgently needs to learn—that every individual person is created in the image of G-d, and is therefore unique and valuable; that morality is not relative but absolute; that humans are partners with G-d in creation, with a mission to create heaven on earth.

These bold Jewish ideas are more relevant now than ever. But bold Jewish ideas need bold Jewish people to perpetuate them. The world can only be elevated if individuals first elevate themselves. We can only make the world into a divine home if we start with our own home. This is Judaism's formula to change the world for better. This is why we must stay Jewish.

The biggest threat to Judaism is not external pressure but rather internal confusion. When we lose sight of our mission, we lose the strength and stamina to survive. The Jewish feeling we need to develop in ourselves and our children is not fear of anti-Semitism, or guilt about assimilation. It is a humble pride in the greatness of the Jewish mission and confident resolve to fulfill it. When we are clear about our identity, no threat in the world can shake us.

Don’t be a victim. Be a proactive initiator. Transform from being a worrier to being a valiant warrior. Soldiers don’t cover away in hideouts. They come out and fight. This is a defining moment in history.

As rabbi Tzvi Freeman put it to 1200 Jewish kids on American college campuses: Be like Abraham. Don’t let the world define you. Sure, there are people out there that don’t like Jews so much. Don’t let that define you. You are not a Jew because they want to destroy you. You are a Jew because you are an emissary of light to the world.

Spread light by studying Torah. Spread light by praying in Synagogues. Spread light by being openly and proudly Jewish.

Spread light by giving your child Jewish education. Spread light by laying Tefillin.

Spread light by lighting Shabbat candles. Spread light by affixing Mezuzahs to your doors. Spread light by keeping the laws of Jewish Family Purity (Mikvah). Spread light by giving Tzedakah. Spread light incessantly and join the thousands of years of Jewish history as we fight for the victory of light over darkness.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, the coming home of our hostages, the safety or our soldiers, the healing of our wounded, and peace and serenity for all of the humane and good people of our world.

The destination is so near. Mashiach is about to come. We must each try our hardest to do one more good deed, one more act of goodness and kindness, so that we can cross over the hill from the darkest part of the night to the breaking of dawn over the gentle pastures of G-d’s peaceful and benevolent utopian endgame that we all eagerly await. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor"