BY JOHN MCCURDY / MANAGING EDITOR //
Rabbi David Nesenoff is quick to point out that anti-Semitism is not to blame each and every time a Jew faces a problem.
“Sometimes, a Jew can be wearing a yarmulke, driving down the Long Island Expressway in New York going 90 miles per hour . . . and the cop pulls him over,” the rabbi said, then cracked a grin. “And maybe it was the 90 miles per hour and not the yarmulke that got him pulled over.”
The self-made journalist (and “recovering Conservative rabbi”-turned-Chabadnik, as he calls himself) was at Chabad Intown and then Chabad of Cobb last week for two separate speaking engagements on the same subject: “How to Catch an Anti-Semite.”
Each time he shared with a capacity crowd the story of his now-infamous 2010 encounter with former White House Press Corps member Helen Thomas, as well as the lesson he gleaned from the event and his own subsequent research:
“The children of Israel and the land of Israel are one, and they exist because of one another and are connected. You cannot tear them apart.”
During his recent presentations, Rabbi Nesenoff first recounted the events leading up to his moment of hashgacha pratis (“divine providence”). His then-17-year-old son Adam – well-connected in the capital and beyond – had secured passes for Jewish Heritage Week at the White House. The two plus a friend of Adam’s were there collecting snippets of video for a pro-Israel film project of the rabbi.
While waiting for the festivities to start, they bumped into Thomas, the aged correspondent who covered every president from Eisenhower to Obama. When asked for any comments on Israel, she made her damning statement, obviously disturbing to her small audience.
Then, she sealed her fate by asserting that the Jewish people should “go home” to “Poland and Germany,” striking a nerve with not just Rabbi Nesenoff, but many others.
“I’m named David – Dovid – after my great-grandmother, who is buried in Babi Yar with tens of thousands of other Jews, not even a marked grave,” he said. “And I know we all could go through the stories of what we lost [in the Holocaust].”
Once the story broke, the Nesenoff family sadly had to deal with many threats to their safety, and the rabbi was hounded by media from across the globe. He consulted with former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, famous author and activist Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov so as to best prepare himself for his new role: that of spokesperson for his people.
That is how he distilled the aforementioned message, which he carries with him on his speaking tours today. He also teaches that it’s by “being and doing Jewish” that anti-Semitism can most effectively be combated.
“The IDF does their part – G-d bless them, they have to – but you can’t be with the IDF,” he said. “So you be the solider ‘doing Jewish.’ Each next level fights anti-Semitism.
“You know what the Hebrew name of the Iron Dome is?” he asked. “Kipat Barzel – the ‘steel kippah.’ When you’re fired at by these anti-Semites, that’s how you stop it: You ‘put on Jewish.’”
See more from Rabbi David Nesenoff at his website, rabbilive.com, or by purchasing his new book, “David’s Harp,” available online.