U.S. Jewish community's needed apology to Muslim Americans on Yom Kippur


In the past week, Republican presidential candidates have turned hatred for Muslims into a principle campaign platform. Donald Trump gave sanction to a questioner calling for the United States to “get rid of” all Muslims, and Ben Carson said Muslims are inherently unfit to lead this nation, a notion with which 40 percent of Americans agree.
That these two figures are leading in the polls – and that a call to get rid of all Muslims is actually reverberating in America – reveals just how normative Islamophobia has become within large swaths of our society.
As a Jew whose surviving family sought shelter in America after the Holocaust, I shudder at the hatred being directed today at Muslim Americans. Last night around the dinner table, we all shuddered at this question:

Can you imagine if they were talking about Jews?

I cannot. Nor can I imagine the stress Muslims in this country are feeling right now. Knowing that crowds are cheering their genocide. Knowing that people in the streets eye their children and whisper, terrorist. Wondering whether their place of worship or the very house in which they sleep will last the night, or whether it will be consumed by a hatred being stoked on television.
If anyone should be coming to Muslim Americans’ defense, if anyone should be collectively shouting against such hatred, it should be Jews in this country. Sadly, the American Jewish community – or rather, institutional leaders of the country’s largest Jewish organizations – have been mostly silent.
Indeed, Bernie Sanders is one of the only prominent American Jews to forcefully denounce both Trump and Carson (as did the ADL). In contrast, Jewish leaders as a whole, witnessing rampant bigotry and calls for genocide against Muslims on the national stage, have turned their heads.
As Peter Beinart notes, this is partly due to the anti-Muslim bigotry in certain segments of the Jewish community, personified by figures like Sheldon Adelson:

American Jewish leaders cannot effectively confront the anti-Muslim bigotry marring the 2016 presidential race because they cannot effectively confront the anti-Muslim bigotry in their own ranks. That’s not just a failure of moral courage. It’s a failure of moral imagination. It shouldn’t be hard for American Jews to imagine ourselves on the other side when politicians scapegoat a vulnerable minority. But privilege can be a narcotic. On Monday, after a weekend in which Trump and Carson’s hateful words dominated the news, the websites of the Presidents Conference, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America, and AIPAC said nothing on the topic at all. The message: It’s not our problem.
We claim to be a people with a long memory. Sometimes, sadly, it’s not long enough.

Tonight, Yom Kippur will begin, a day which for many Jews is the culmination of a month-long period of introspection, a period of seeking forgiveness for wrongs comitted. While many consider Yom Kippur to be a day of personal cleansing, the reality is that it’s just as much about communal responsibility.
In fact, the central prayer constantly repeated in many synagogues on Yom Kippur (על חטא) is written in the first-person plural. Forgiveness is asked for the many things we have done, for the many things we have allowed, for the many things we have ignored.
I certainly cannot speak for the American Jewish community, nor can any institutional leader or figure. However, in light of Jewish leaders’ collective silence as Muslims in this country are threatened by hatred, I propose this as a communal apology to the Muslim American community:

While there are those among us who have spoken against the hatred you face, please forgive us our larger collective silence, for our aligning with those who hate, for our failure to invoke “never again” swiftly and immediately. We must do better, for both your sake and our own.
As minorities in this country, we are allies in the fight against bigotry, and must never forget this.

As an agnostic Jew, it’s not God I fear, but the lessons of history being ignored by my community, and by far too many Americans.
May this apology resonate among those who agree with its message, and may it give what small comfort it can to Muslim-American families holding their children close, afraid for what tomorrow might bring.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

33 thoughts on “U.S. Jewish community's needed apology to Muslim Americans on Yom Kippur

  1. Wow — so now you are broadly condemning Jews and holding them (us) collectively responsible for the bigotry that Muslims feel.
    This diary is so over the top, disgusting and unfair. It suggests of animosity toward the Jewish community that is borderline hateful.

    • .
      My first impulse was to disable comments on this article, afraid that the message of empathy and support echoed here would be drowned out by those few voices who willfully do not see nor understand what this post is truly about and what Muslims in this country face.
      However, I’m choosing to let comments like this stand as testament to the need for such a post.
      To Muslim Americans reading this article: know that the majority of American Jews are troubled and saddened by what you are facing. May the collective silence in some of our largest organizations end so as to reflect this.

      • Your first impulse may have been to disable comments, but your next impulse will be to delete the comments you don’t like, as you always do.

        • What I find ironic is that while David is quite quick to demand that people address his concerns and if they don’t speak out, he charges complicity in whatever action or attitude he is condemning, David has a tendency to blow off those comments made by anti-Semites and other bigots and refuses to address their support for the many positions he takes and articles he writes.
          That is a tad ironic – isn’t it?

  2. You write that Jewish leaders as a whole have turned their heads to anti-Muslim bigotry. That is about as fair as saying that Muslim leaders as a whole have turned their heads to Ann Coulter’s antisemitism.
    Your broad condemning of Jews does nothing to heal the very real anti-Muslim bigotry that has been displayed by the Republican candidates. Rather, it stokes even more unwarranted hatred.

  3. David,
    While you certainly are welcome to apologize for your own transgressions on Yom Kippur, you are NOT welcome to speak for or apologize on my behalf.
    This is simply a self-serving post with absolutely ZERO redeeming value. And on Yom Kippur our duty is to apologize to G-d for our sins. One of those would be allowing this dishonesty and attempt at self-aggrandizement to stand.
    Muslims in our country do face prejudice and racism from all aspects of American society. So do Jews. So do African Americans and so on, AND individual Muslims in this nation also harbor racism towards other groups.
    The problem with this post beyond it’s self aggrandizement is that you pick out Jews as a collective for the sins of individuals within our community and in doing so enable both the most hateful elements in the anti-Semitic community (by providing them with some “Jew Washing” for their hate – something I believe you had every intent of doing) as well as those who assign any collective blame to our people.
    I know you will “block” this comment, but this Yom Kippur (on this day in particular), I would hope that you would realize what it is that you are doing, reflect on it, and understand that you are way out of bounds here. IF anyone deserves an apology from you it is those of us in the Jewish Community who have been cartoonishly turned into villains by you and then subsequently censored from the discussion or debate so that the weaknesses that your positions hold are not exposed. Will you be so bold this year as to engage in thoughtful debate or will you continue to hide behind filters and censoring devices so you don’t hear the voices that dissent from your opinion. What will your choice be?

    • .
      Dear readers,
      The commenter above is Jon Segall, who likes to call me a “kapo,” “self-hating Jew” and “anti-Semite” in various online venues.
      He also had this to say about my memoir:

      His book is “a blatant attempt to pimp a tragedy that wounded his wife and killed friends and turn it into both a scheme to make a couple of bucks AND draw attention to the cause of Palestinian nationalism.”

      So one might forgive me for not engaging with him, and for finding his calls for dialogue and an apology well … rather rich.

      • Your history with the commenter is of no interest to us. The comment made a very constructive point about the diary’s collective finger pointing at the Jews. Your response is to reveal the commenter’s identity, an obvious attempt to distract from the critique of your assignment of collective blame to the Jews.
        The critique is valid.

      • It’s amazing to me that on Yom Kippur that you can be so blind David. Leave aside your cherry picking an article (and the whole article is there for people to see).
        You absolutely refuse to offer a substantive response to anything. Your “apology” (this article) here is meaningless. Why? Because you do not speak for a collective. Now let me be clear, I too am troubled by the anti-Muslim bigotry that is becoming more and more widely accepted in our nation. I think Peter Beinart makes an excellent point when he says (paraphrased): “What if they were talking about Jews?”. HOWEVER, I constantly speak out AGAINST this prejudice both on-line and in personal conversations. That said, I don’t represent anyone but myself in these discussions and I don’t believe it is up to me to pose as the spokesperson of a collective.
        So again, David perhaps you can take this period of self-reflection to consider the arrogance of your position and your need to censor critics. Many times I have offered for you to prove me wrong. Yet… you simply won’t do it. Why? Because you can’t. You know that the objections I and others pose are valid. Look, all I (and I believe other critics) want from you is honesty. Be honest with where you stand and defend your positions. Prove me wrong.

      • But David… I appreciate that you linked to my blog at TOI – there people can actually see that my positions are very reasonable, rather than the raging Right Winger you cartoonishly try to paint me as so…

  4. I’m sorry but this is terrible. On Yom Kippur we pray for forgiveness for our sins but the ashamnu prayer is in plural because we pray as a community. This so-called “apology” neither asks for forgiveness on behalf of its author (who exempts himself by writing “while there are those among us who have spoken against the hatred you face”) nor speaks in the voice of the community it purports to represent. It is a voice we hear much too much of over the year – the Jew who sees himself as distinct from, and embarrassed by, the broader Jewish community. We’re taught that the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam for our fellow Jews. How about an apology to all the Jews you maligned throughout the year because they had the temerity to disagree with your opinions about what is true and right?
    Throughout our tradition there are Jewish leaders who have argued with G-d, Himself to demand forgiveness for the Jewish people. Moshe Rabbeinu told G-d he would prefer to be written out of his Torah than the Jewish people not be forgiven. This is the tradition we’ve been taught to work in. Not the tradition of condemning the Jewish people and comparing them unfavorable to us and our few compatriots. A true Jewish leader loves all the Jewish people, and when the Jewish people feel completely loved and accepted by a leader, they are open to hearing ways in which they can more fully spread light to the world and transform darkness. But not from self-serving bloggers with political axes to grind.

  5. How sad. Mr. Gershon, the professional “as a Jew,” turns out to know so little about Judaism that he doesn’t even understand what Yom Kippur is for. Hint: It is not about atoning for what you have perceived that others have done (strike one), on their behalf (strike two), in public (strike three). Oh well.

  6. So should there be a collective apology from the hundreds of million of Muslims for the hijackers who flew the planes into the WTC and Pentagon? Wow! I am disgusted and this the eve of Yom Kippur. Is it too late to ask author of this horrific blog to apologize to the diverse Jewish community for making such a demand. I have never seen so many turn to Jews to come to come to those who are the target of oppression. I am not anti Muslim, but I am no going to apologize for something me of my community is not responsible for,

  7. David,I am saddened to hear you being attacked by persons who I thought would have sympathy for others because of their history. A heartfelt call to stand up against racial hatred and bigotry should not evoke such criticism.

    • What if that call is made in a way that mocks a Jewish holiday and shows absolutely no understanding of the meaning or traditions of said holiday?

    • Jews do not have a collective responsibility to apologize for a sins they did not commit. Sympathy, empathy? Yes. Apology? Absolutely NOT. The Jewish community has done; NOTHING to the Muslim American community, NOTHING. This is just wrong.
      I am quiet sue David is going to come back to his blog and erase all comments objecting to his blog, because that would be him being dishonest.

      • you’re invited to come hang-out with us here in israel, while this fool who calls himself a jew isn’t welcome

  8. I am not a Jew but hate and self righteousness is not the way I choose to commemorate this holy day. I appreciate the idea of collective atonement. We do it in my Presbyterian Church each Sunday. You have convinced me to atone for my role in the US support for Israel by standing in peaceful protest outside of my local synagogue. G-d does work in mysterious ways!

    • This comment is either disturbing confirmation of the immorality of Mr. Gershon and those who read him, or brilliant snark. It is troublesome that I can’t tell.

    • Jim, you are a very disturbing person, I mean really. You would stand in front of a synagogue to protest? Really? You have no place in this discussion. None whatsoever, I don’t have to apologize forTrumps ignorant comments nor anyone else’s. Tat is for them to do, not me. I take responsibility for my now action.
      As for your withdraw of support for Israel. What does that mean? You support Israel being annihilated?
      You are no better tan Donald Trump or Ben Carson.

  9. It is deeply disturbing that contenders for the US presidency would reinforce, rather than challenge and clarify, the strain of bias among the populace conflating radical Islamicist terrorists with Muslims in general. It would be a sad and dangerous day for our country and the world were Dr. Carson or Mr. Trump to receive the nomination, let alone win the presidency. One particularly dangerous aspect of this approach is that marginalizing or even demonizing all Muslims may bring us closer to the global conflict (Muslims vs. everyone else?) that someIslamicist radicals seem to want–in other words, Carson, Trump et al are really on Al Qaida’s and ISIS’s mission. Perhaps someone should point that out to them.
    I am offended and saddened as an American, not as a Jew, at the contempt for the Constitution shown by these wholly inadequate candidates. Individual Jews may, from their experience, have particular reason to struggle against prejudice and assumptions of collective guilt– but like some of the other posters, I don’t think that Jews have collective responsibility of any kind– that is just the other side of the collective guilt coin. In fact, the idea that all Jews (or Muslims, or Christians, or Hindus, etc.) should have the same opinion about anything definitely goes in the wrong direction. I also don’t think the use of the word “genocide” in the blog is justified by anything that has been said by public figures (thus far at least) on this topic,

  10. I have not read all of the comments but I so agree with the theme of David’s article. I relate to all people and their struggles and hatred by others for no reason other than their faith/belief/religion/background. There is beauty in Islam as well as Judaism and Christianity. You have only to look at Rumi, the Sufi poet. I do not understand and never will, why people are so eager to jump on the hatred bandwagon. We do not need to kill the messenger to understand the message. I strongly believe that the powers that be have purposely set it up for the hatred that is going on in America now towards Muslims. A short time ago it was the Mexicans and before that the African-Americans and before that the Native Americans. Will it ever stop. Not unless people finally wake up and say enough. The whole strategy is to divide and conquer and people fall right into that trap. They want to instill fear in order to control. I do not honestly think there is anything to fear and definitely not to hate in a Muslim person, any more than there is of being afraid that a Tiger will come and eat you. People are no longer ruled by their hearts, but instead allow the pervasive ideology of the moment to rule their lives. When is enough enough? When will Hillel’s comment to “love they neighbor as thyself. All the rest is commentary” really take hold in people’s hearts? Or will human beings allow the hatred to bring us all to extinction? The choice is ours. The time is now.

  11. this sad little jew”ish” jew in exile feels the need to be weak & apologetic. did you feel sorry for the boys who be you up in school because you were the jew?
    are you hoping to have your head cut off last?
    i recommend that instead of coming here to visit ever again, go by way of egypt & sneak into gazanistan through 1 of the tunnels that are quickly being destroyed by el-sisi & co.
    they would love to use you as a human shield the next time we need to destroy more of what they reate

  12. .
    this sad little jew”ish” jew in exile feels the need to be weak & apologetic. did you feel sorry for the boys who beat you up in school because you were the jew?
    are you hoping to have your head cut off last?
    i recommend that instead of coming here to visit [Israel] ever again, go by way of egypt & sneak into gazanistan through 1 of the tunnels that are quickly being destroyed by el-sisi & co.
    they would love to use you as a human shield the next time we need to destroy more of what they reate

  13. While the comments here initially raised thoughtful critiques of a disturbing piece, the comments that posted in the last couple days are even more hateful than the original piece’s disturbing finger-pointing at the Jews.

  14. I see comments here which are directed not at the questions raised, but at some past history between commenter and writer. Or comments which pretend to predict what the writer will do to the commenters comments. Or comments which indicate that the commenter did not carefully read the text itself, but rather read into the text what he wished to comment on. I did not read condemnation anywhere in the text. One should consider the root meaning of the word before using it. Condemnation, if there is any, comes from the accused who feels himself accused, not the accuser. I did read questions raised. I heard no answers from the negative and defensive commenters. Really, “Can you imagine if they were talking about Jews?” Can you?

    • Any comment on the fundamental misrepresentation that this supposed Jewish spokesperson D.H. Gershon exhibits about the theological meaning of Yom Kippur in Judaism?

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