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Kanye West: Where are the Voices? #750

10/28/2022 02:23:27 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Noah: "Noah was “a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation.” Genesis 6:9

Kanye West: Where are the Voices?


A few months ago, while vacationing, my wife and I paused at an outdoor bar to enjoy the music of a local blues singer.

We were quietly sipping our beverages when we were joined by three women – nurses from Mississippi on temporary assignment – and we began to engage in casual conversation.

One nurse began chatting with my wife – also an RN – while the second began asking me questions.

“What church do you go to?” she inquired. 

“I don’t go to a church,” I replied, as I adjusted my Mets ball cap. “We are Jewish.”

And then it began. A third woman sitting opposite me began to circle her index about three inches in front of my face.

“It’s your fault,” she began.

“My fault?” I inquired.

“It’s because of you and your tribe that the world is in such a mess. You and your tribe control the media – and that is the problem for us, as God-fearing people.”

I paused for a moment in shock, raised my left hand in the form of a stop sign and said, “I have to tell you that the statement you made is racist. We are here enjoying the music. Let’s move on.”

As the temperature began to rise, my wife poked me in the ribs with a clear message to cease and desist. 

But the assault continued, until the point where we felt quite vulnerable. We bid everyone good evening and began walking toward our car.

I am now in my 70th year. I am also completing my first year as an American citizen. But that was the first time I had ever experienced blatant anti-Semitism. And it sticks with me to this day - months later.

Now, as I reflect upon the incident, I ask myself - as that person’s racist rant echoed across the tables - where were the voices of concern from others around us? The condemnation of anti-Semitism.

I thought about that evening this past week, as I began to read the text of Kanye West’s recent anti-Semitic rants: The fact that he even wanted to “name an album after Hitler.”

Yes, there are some mental health issues at play here, but I keep asking myself as politicians and corporations - some too many days after - sever ties with the controversial rapper. “Where are the voices of everyday people?”

Where are the voices of those who howled in outrage when Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” prior to a pre-season football game in 2016?

Where are the voices of those who have protested and marched against injustices toward African Americans and other minorities? Many of those protesters were Jewish.

The silence is resounding.  Meanwhile, certain media outlets have provided the rapper with a platform to spread his views – in the name of free speech.

Some have declared him, “a good guy.”

Yes, there has been some backlash on social media and beyond, but in my view, not enough.

Recently, an incident came to my attention at a local school. A young man asked a girl to a dance. She happily said yes but later added that she was told by her parents that she should not be friends with anyone who was Jewish.

I am especially inspired to consider these matters on this, the Shabbat when we will read the story of Noah, the Great Flood and its aftermath.

The Torah tells us that Noah – was “a righteous man; he was blameless in his generation.” He built his ark and rescued his own family, but that was the extent of his virtue. Although he ultimately saved humanity, his righteousness did not extend to others.

Over the centuries, Jewish commentators have considered what it means to be “righteous in our generation.” Can we say that those Germans, who did not turn in Jews during World War II, were “righteous in their time” compared to their Nazi neighbors?

Perhaps. But we are living in these times.

And when we or others sit idly by as bigots rant in front of millions, we need to ask ourselves, “Who, today, is truly righteous?”

A few years ago, a young man that I know and treasure returned from a Birthright trip. He was excited at what he had experienced in Israel and shared it on Facebook.

What he didn’t expect from his fellow university students was a backlash against him and against Israel. The heat became so intense on campus, that he eventually felt compelled to change schools.

I asked myself a question, as I read about a recent decision by some groups at Berkeley University to ban “Zionist” speakers, in the aftermath of West’s comments, where were those same voices of “injustice?”

And where this week were the voices of that young man’s university?

Friends, as much as I have always been reticent to lean on the term anti-Semitism as a living force in modern society, as I observe the complacency of many of our fellow citizens in allowing this trend to continue unchecked, I ask myself, “Where are the voices of today’s righteous?”

How many parents – both Jewish and non-Jewish – are actively discussing these issues with their children?

Recently, after I boarded a plane, the pre-flight safety video highlighted the fact that this particular airline was diverse and multi-culturally friendly.

I noticed many ethnicities. There were many head coverings representing diverse cultures and religions. But in this video, and in most television commercials attempting to model diversity, do you ever see a Jewish person represented?

I’m not sure how Jews could be represented, but for me, the exclusion is disturbing. 

It leads me to believe that there exists in this country and within many others, a disturbing tolerance of anti-Semitism. Perhaps everyone feels we can take it, or that ultimately we are safe in this country.

However, whether we like it or not, the silence of everyday citizens, parents and consumers is deafening.

Children are not brought into this world to hate. They learn it from their environment, including the action or inaction of their parents, and the unchallenged words of their role models.

This calls upon each of us to never leave words of hate, toward Jews - or anyone else – unchallenged.

For in the end, it is not only politicians or CEOs who must exemplify tolerance, peace and co-existence. It must begin with our children - at home, at school, in the playground and within the lyrics and culture that influence them.

While we remain exceedingly safe as Jews in the United States, we must be aware of certain trends taking root on our country and within other western nations.

It behooves us to elbow our neighbors, coworkers, clergy and educators to ask, “Where is your voice on the issue of anti-Semitism?”

As these trends continue to swell, we need to let our voices be heard and to encourage not only ourselves, but others around us to ask:

“Are we being righteous in our generation?”

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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