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“How to Win the Fight Against Fear” Guest Blog by KE Teacher, Rabbi Jamie Arnold

The principal of a local high school calls me up.  “Hey rabbi, we had another anti-Semitic incident at our school. I’ve spoken to the student and his parents, but I’d like him to meet with you.”

“Of course,” I said.

A few days later, this burly seventeen year-old steps though the doors of the synagogue staring blankly downward, with an apologetic mother on his heels.  I invite him into my office and ask him to tell me why he thinks he’s here.  Then, “What it’s like for you at school?” He starts slowly, but before long he’s rolling, talking about how the Jews control all the banks and yet insist on special status, about how the Germans, the Nazis, were just defending themselves against having their country taken over by Jewish bankers and billionaires.

The defensive impulses surge in me, urging me into attack mode.

Breathe.  Slow it down. I turn my attention back to him and notice his fear and his anger.  If I come out swinging, won’t that exacerbate his fear and frustration? How do help him bear this burden he carries?

I ask if he’d be interested in hearing another version of that history.  With his encouragement, I shared what I had learned about why there happened to be a lot of Jews in banking and finance industries, how many Jews were forced into money lending positions since they were denied the right to own land or join professional guilds.  I spoke about the generosity of those same Jewish businessmen and bankers of the mid-20th century, how they gave so much of their wealth away to help Jewish refugees resettle in Israel and other places. “And perhaps,” I suggest, “there are good reasons that Jewish classmates, in a school with so few other Jews, seek a protected status.  Perhaps it has more to do with being afraid than with feeling entitled.”

“And what might happen,” I said, “if a big, strong guy like you, with friends and influence, could help them feel safer and supported, rather than more isolated and afraid?   What if, next time you overheard someone telling another Holocaust oven joke, you stood up for them, and said, “Hey, that’s not cool.”

He didn’t say anything, but I could see he was mulling it over.

“Well, I think it could make a big difference.  In fact, I can’t think of anyone else that could make a bigger difference than YOU.  Look,” I added, “I need your help.  Only scared kids seek special protections.  And the way I see it, you’ve got two choices.  You can make them more scared and defensive, or safer.”

“What’s the difference?” he replied, clearly not convinced, and visibly deflated.

“Are you happy?  You don’t seem very happy to me.  I don’t know about you, but I’m never happier than when I catch myself doing the right thing, usually helping someone else.  When I am able to help someone feel safer, not only are they happier and more pleasant to be around, but I am happier.  Ragging on these spoiled Jewish kids seems to me to be a lose-lose situation.  It makes them more scared and gets you in trouble – so much so that your principal makes you meet with a rabbi. Nobody wins in that scenario.  Maybe it’s time to try something different.”

Was he buying it?  I couldn’t tell for sure, but he was thinking about it, and he did ask for my card on his way out.

A few weeks later, we convened a meeting of the principals of the mountain-area middle and high schools to discuss ways to address the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents being reported.  After the meeting, that principal approached me, re-introduced himself, and said, “I’ve got to ask you, what did you say to that student I sent to meet with you?”

Surprised, I asked him to explain.

“Well, just yesterday, I was in the hall and saw him with his usual group of friends.  One of his crew turned to rag on one of our Jewish students and he turns and says, ‘Hey, that’s not cool.’  So, I pull him aside, and asked him if he had a chance to meet with the rabbi.  And he smiles, and says, ‘Yeah.  It was cool.’”

Xenophobia, fear of those different from us, is nothing new.  It’s a protective instinct that we’ve all felt and acted upon to one degree or another.  And, ‘fear of the stranger’ lies at the root of so much injustice, violence and war.  History reveals that those who stoke it are no friends of democracy or peace.

So, how does one successfully win a fight against a fear we all feel, prevent it from festering into hatred and terror?  When we go to battle-mode aren’t we liable to create new enemies even if we successfully vanquish existing ones?  Is there another way, a way to have lasting victory over the powerful forces of fear and hate?

The Hebrew language has a word that means both “victory” and “enduring.” The word is netzach. It’s an attribute in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Netzach is a striving, a battling, a fighting that flows from compassion and into gratitude, and its victory lasts, la’netzach netzachim, forever.

So, how does it work?  What did I say to that high school student?  Why did that conversation between the student and me seem to make a positive difference?  When he started justifying what the Nazis did and blaming the Jews, my instinct was to make the case:  why I am right and he is wrong; why one of us is the solution and the other the problem.  But I paused long enough to ask, “What if…”  What if, I switch it up, consider where he has a valid point, invest hope and trust in him, and make him part of the solution, an essential part?  What if, in this struggle, I seek out and invest in the best of him, this ‘adversary,’ this ‘stranger?’

This is netzach in action, fighting not to best our adversary, but rather to bring out the best in them, and in ourselves.  And, it may be our best bet for a lasting victory in the battle against human fear.

Rabbi Jamie Arnold

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Comments 3

  1. Alex Jones, a TV anchor is a huge conspiracy theories in the worst ways for JEWS,actually anti jewish in its leanings. Your community really needs to listen to the hysteria he perpetrates to present “RICH jewish bankers and top level jewish medial moguls as the puppeteers behind our farce of a political system”. I have seen his programs ,not because I give credence to what he says…but because he has a DANGEROUS following. Much of what the young man shared with you about his belief systems…come straight out of Alex Jone’s show. The young man is just mouth off what Alex Jones has been belting out of his microphone. Mind you…He was the reason the PIZZAGATE conspiracy, which he fueled and had gone viral during the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, caused mayhem. Members of the alt-right spread the A.J.conspiracy theory and a man from N Carolina fired his rifle inside the restaurant.In addition, the restaurant owner and staff received death threats. The man behind the curtain was Alex Jones. Your community really needs to pay attention to his show,as what the young man shared with Rabbi,it is exactly, verbatim, on the dot…a carbon copy if the AJ show.

  2. Dear Rabbi Arnold,Please give your card to our President.He desperately needs a one on one talk with you.
    Chris Hedges – The cult of Trump-Donald Trump has transformed the decayed carcass of the Republican Party into a cult. All cults are personality cults. They are extensions of the cult leaders. The cult reflects the leader’s prejudices, worldview, personal style and ideas. Trump did not create the yearning for a cult leader. Huge segments of the population, betrayed by the established elites, were conditioned for a cult leader. They were desperately looking for someone to rescue them and solve their problems. They found their cult leader in the New York real estate developer and reality television show star. Only when we recognize Trump as a cult leader, and many of those who support him as cult followers, will we understand where we are headed and how we must resist.

    It was 40 years ago next month that a messianic preacher named Jim Jones convinced or forced more than 900 of his followers, including roughly 280 children, to die by ingesting a cyanide-laced drink. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge and address the impending crisis of ecocide and the massive mismanagement of the economy by kleptocrats, his bellicosity, his threats against Iran and China and the withdrawal from nuclear arms treaties, along with his demonization of all who oppose him, ensure our cultural and, if left unchecked, physical extinction. Cult leaders are driven, at their core, by the death instinct, the instinct to annihilate and destroy rather than nurture and create. Trump shares many of the characteristics of Jones as well as other cult leaders including Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, the founders of the Heaven’s Gate cult; the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who led the Unification Church; Credonia Mwerinde, who led the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda; Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong; and David Koresh, who led the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive. They see those around them as objects to be manipulated for their own empowerment, enjoyment and often sadistic entertainment. All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.

    “A cult is a mirror of what is inside the cult leader,” Margaret Thaler Singer wrote in “Cults in Our Midst.” “He has no restraints on him. He can make his fantasies and desires come alive in the world he creates around him. He can lead people to do his bidding. He can make the surrounding world really his world. What most cult leaders achieve is akin to the fantasies of a child at play, creating a world with toys and utensils. In that play world, the child feels omnipotent and creates a realm of his own for a few minutes or a few hours. He moves the toy dolls about. They do his bidding. They speak his words back to him. He punishes them any way he wants. He is all-powerful and makes his fantasy come alive. When I see the sand tables and the collections of toys some child therapists have in their offices, I think that a cult leader must look about and place people in his created world much as a child creates on the sand table a world that reflects his or her desires and fantasies. The difference is that the cult leader has actual humans doing his bidding as he makes a world around him that springs from inside his own head.”

    George Orwell understood that cult leaders manipulate followers primarily through language, not force. This linguistic manipulation is a gradual process. It is rooted in continual mental chaos and verbal confusion. Lies, conspiracy theories, outlandish ideas and contradictory statements that defy reality and fact soon paralyze the opposition. The opposition, with every attempt to counter this absurdism with the rational—such as the decision by Barack Obama to make his birth certificate public or by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to release the results of her DNA test to prove she has Native American ancestry—plays to the cult leader. The cult leader does not take his or her statements seriously and often denies ever making them, even when they are documented. Lies and truth do not matter. The language of the cult leader is designed exclusively to appeal to the emotional needs of those in the cult.

    “Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic upheaval,” Joost A.M. Meerloo wrote in “The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing.” “They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do next. Hitler was never logical, because he knew that that was what he was expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot—it confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason. While the enemy is still searching for a reasonable counter-argument to the first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.”

    The cult leader grooms followers to speak in the language of hate and violence. The cult leader constantly paints a picture of an existential threat, often invented, that puts the cult followers in danger. Trump is doing this by demonizing the caravan of some 4,000 immigrants, most from Honduras, moving through southern Mexico. Caravans of immigrants, are, in fact, nothing new. The beleaguered and impoverished asylum seekers, including many families with children, are 1,000 miles from the Texas border. But Trump, aided by nearly nonstop coverage by Fox News and Christian broadcasting, is using the caravan to terrify his followers, just as he, along with these media outlets, portrayed the protesters who flooded the U.S. capital to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as unruly mobs. Trump claims the Democrats want to open the border to these “criminals” and to “unknown Middle Easterners” who are, he suggests, radical jihadists. Christian broadcasting operations, such as Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club, splice pictures of marching jihadists in black uniforms cradling automatic weapons into the video shots of the caravan.

    The fear mongering and rhetoric of hate and violence, as I saw in the former Yugoslavia, eventually lead to widespread acts of violence against those the cult leader defines as the enemy. The 13 explosive devices sent last week to Trump critics and leaders of the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, along with George Soros, James Clapper and CNN, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, an ex-stripper and fanatic Trump supporter who was living out of his van, herald more violence. Trump, tossing gasoline on the flames, used this assault against much of the leadership of the Democratic Party to again attack the press, or, as he calls it, “the enemy of the people.” “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” he tweeted. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its acts, FAST!”

    It should come as no surprise that on Saturday another enraged American white male, his fury and despair seemingly stoked by the diatribes and conspiracy theories of the far right, entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and massacred eight men and three women as he shouted anti-Semitic abuse. Shot by police and arrested at the scene was Robert Bowers, who believes that Jewish groups are aiding the caravan of immigrants in southern Mexico. He was armed with a military-style AR-15 assault rifle, plus three handguns. The proliferation of easily accessible high-caliber weapons, coupled with the division of the country into the blessed and the damned by Trump and his fellow cultists, threatens to turn the landscape of the United States into one that resembles Mexico, where at least 145 people in politics, including 48 candidates and pre-candidates, along with party leaders and campaign workers, have been assassinated over the last 12 months, according to Etellekt, a risk analysis firm in Mexico. There have been 627 incidents of violence against politicians, 206 threats and acts of intimidation, 57 firearm assaults and 52 attacks on family members that resulted in 50 fatalities. Trump’s response to the mass shooting at the synagogue was to say places of worship should have armed guards, a call for further proliferation of firearms. Look south if you want a vision of our future.

    Domestic terrorism and nihilistic violence are the natural outcomes of the economic, social and political stagnation, the total seizure of power by a corporate cabal and oligarchic elite, and the contamination of civil discourse by cult leaders. The weaponization of language is proliferating, as seen in the vile rhetoric that characterizes many political campaigns for the midterm elections, including the racist robocall sent out against Andrew Gillum, an African-American candidate for the governorship of Florida. “Well, hello there. I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I’ll be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida,” a man speaking in a caricature of a black dialect accompanied by jungle noises said in the robocall. Cults externalize evil. Evil is embodied in the demonized other, whether desperate immigrants, black political candidates and voters, or the Democratic Party. The only way to purge this “evil” and restore America to “greatness” is to eradicate these human contaminants.

    The cult leader, unlike a traditional politician, makes no effort to reach out to his opponents. The cult leader seeks to widen the divisions. The leader brands those outside the cult as irredeemable. The leader seeks the omnipotence to crush those who do not kneel in adoration. The followers, yearning to be protected and empowered by the cult leader, seek to give the cult leader omnipotence. Democratic norms, an impediment to the leader’s omnipotence, are attacked and abolished. Those in the cult seek to be surrounded by the cult leader’s magical aura. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who challenge the fantasy are not considered human. They are Satanic.

    Meerloo wrote:

    The dictator is not only a sick man, he is also a cruel opportunist. He sees no value in any other person and feels no gratitude for any help he may have received. He is suspicious and dishonest and believes that his personal ends justify any means he may use to achieve them. Peculiarly enough, every tyrant still searches for some self-justification. Without such a soothing device for his own conscience, he cannot live. His attitude toward other people is manipulative; to him, they are merely tools for the advancement of his own interests. He rejects the conception of doubt, of internal contradictions, or man’s inborn ambivalence. He denies the psychological fact that man grows to maturity through groping, through trial and error, through the interplay of contrasting feelings. Because he will not permit himself to grope, to learn through trial and error, the dictator can never become a mature person. … It is because the dictator is afraid, albeit unconsciously, of his own internal contradictions, that he is afraid of the same internal contradictions of his fellow man. He must purge and purge, terrorize and terrorize in order to still his own raging inner drives. He must kill every doubter, destroy every person who makes a mistake, imprison everyone who cannot be proved to be utterly single-minded.
    Behavior that ensures the destruction of a public figure’s career does not affect a cult leader. It does not matter how many lies uttered by Trump are meticulously documented by The New York Times or The Washington Post. It does not matter that Trump’s personal financial interests, as we see in his relationship with the Saudis, take precedence over the rule of law, diplomatic protocols and national security. It does not matter that he is credibly charged by numerous women with being a sexual predator, a common characteristic of cult leaders. It does not matter that he is inept, lazy and ignorant. The establishment, whose credibility has been destroyed because of its complicity in empowering the ruling oligarchy and the corporate state, might as well be blowing soap bubbles at Trump. Their vitriol, to his followers, only justifies the hatred radiating from the cult.

    The cult leader responds to only one emotion—fear. The cult leader, usually a coward, will react when he thinks he is in danger. The cult leader will bargain and compromise when afraid. The cult leader will give the appearance of being flexible and reasonable. But as soon as the cult leader is no longer afraid, the old patterns of behavior return, with a special venom directed at those who were able to momentarily impinge upon his power.

    The removal of Trump from power would not remove the yearning of tens of millions of people, many conditioned by the Christian right, for a cult leader. Most of the leaders of the Christian right have built cult followings of their own. These Christian fascists embraced magical thinking, attacked their enemies as agents of Satan and denounced reality-based science and journalism long before Trump did. Cults are a product of social decay and despair, and our decay and despair are expanding, soon to explode in another financial crisis.

  3. SAN FRANCISCO — PayPal has become the latest tech giant to cut off Infowars, the conspiracy website run by the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones( I am so happy Alex Jones was cut off…who would have ever thought this would happen…This is a true miracle. This man who spewed so much hate and disinformation is done for).

    Infowars was informed by PayPal on Thursday night that it would have 10 business days to find a new payment processor.

    PayPal handles all transactions, including credit cards, for the Infowars online store. The store has been a significant source of revenue for the company, selling vitamins and nutritional supplements, as well as Infowars-branded apparel. PayPal has also handled donations that Infowars receives from its supporters.

    PayPal acted weeks after Twitter, Facebook and other large tech companies blocked Infowars from their services. Most of those companies said the site had violated their policies by promoting hate speech and misinformation.

    PayPal said it had made its decision not because of any policy violation but because Infowars’ “promotion of hate and discrimination runs counter to our core value of inclusion.”

    “Our values are the foundation for the decision we made this week,” PayPal added.

    The aggressive steps against Infowars have become fodder for claims that Silicon Valley companies are biased against conservative voices — an opinion expressed by President Trump and a number of Republican officials. Jeff Sessions, the United States attorney general, plans to meet with Republican state attorneys general next week to discuss the tech industry, competition and free speech.

    Mr. Jones attended a recent Senate hearing where Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg discussed efforts by their companies to deal with disinformation on their platforms. And after a separate House hearing that directly addressed Republican claims that Twitter was biased against conservatives, Mr. Jones tried to confront Mr. Dorsey on Mr. Dorsey’s way out.

    After the phaseout period of 10 business days, PayPal will stop doing any business with Infowars and its subsidiaries, like the site Prison Planet, a PayPal spokesman said.

    The spokesman declined to cite any specific problems that had led to the decision, but said that after “extensive reviews” the company had “found many instances of content that promoted hate and discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions.”

    This is not the first time that PayPal has waded into politically fraught territory. In 2010, the company cut off payments to WikiLeaks. More recently, PayPal stopped working with neo-Nazi and alt-right websites.

    Records from 2014 show that Mr. Jones’s operations were bringing in nearly $20 million, mostly from supplements, such as Super Male Vitality, which purports to increase testosterone, that he hawks on his radio shows, The New York Times recently reported.

    Since being barred from Facebook and Twitter, Infowars has had to find new online platforms, and its audience has fallen off significantly. But PayPal’s decision may be particularly damaging, because it will be much harder for Infowars to find another company to handle transactions for the site.

    For now, Infowars is still able to sell at least some of its goods on Amazon and eBay, where its payments are not handled by PayPal.

    An article on the Infowars site that announced PayPal’s decision said the move was a “political ploy designed to financially sabotage an influential media outlet just weeks before the midterm elections.”

    The article said PayPal had told Infowars that the decision was made because Infowars had violated its “acceptable use policy.” PayPal’s spokesman said its decision went beyond the violation of any single policy.

    Right Wing Watch, a progressive advocacy organization, published an article in August pointing out areas where Infowars appeared to be violating PayPal’s terms of service. At the time, PayPal did not take action and offered no comment.

    Infowars did not respond to an email requesting comment.

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