Editor’s Note: Philip Meissner is a New York based attorney. He also founded JewishSafeHavenFund.org, a group dedicated to protecting Jews from terrorist attack in America and abroad.
By Philip Meissner, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mumbai, India. Bangkok, Thailand. And now Toulouse, France. While we have seen a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks here in the United States – including the firebombing of a synagogue in Rutherford, New Jersey and cars set on fire in an Orthodox neighborhood of Midwood, Brooklyn – a series of organized terrorist attacks is also being carried out at an ever-accelerating pace against Jews overseas. One cannot help but wonder if American Jews are safe from the growing threat, either at home, or abroad.
As a young boy of nine-years old, my father miraculously escaped Nazi Germany on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. His parents had the foresight to know that they could no longer stay in Berlin. They first went to Poland to say good-bye to their parents, my great-grandparents, who were tragically convinced that the Nazis in Germany would pass by as just another political party, and that they would be safe in Poland. That was the last time they saw one another. My grandparents left everything behind, and undertook the dangerous journey of traveling by train to Marseille, France. They thereafter boarded the SS Normandie for its last voyage to New York before the war, which ultimately saved their lives.
Decades later, after establishing their life in the United States, our link to the Holocaust came full circle as my eldest sister married into the Bielski family, whose heroism was recounted recently in the film “Defiance.” The Bielskis did not have either the good fortune, or the inclination to leave Europe during the war. Following the murder of their parents, the Bielski brothers- Tuvia, Zus and Asael- realized that they would have to save themselves. They formed the Bielski brigade and provided safe haven to the Jews who joined them. For almost three years, they fought against the Germans and provided food and shelter to 1,250 Jewish men, women and children in the forests of Western Belorussia. This was the largest armed rescue of Jews by Jews during the war.
My childhood resonated with the stories my father told me about the Nazi youth attacks, and the other horrors he escaped. My personal background has taught me that evil exists. Imprinted by the danger experienced by my father, that knowledge is never far from my thoughts. I often ask myself, will I ever have to experience the fear that gripped my father, and world Jewry, so many years ago? But I have also heeded my father’s constant lessons that we can withstand our enemies. Each year, during Passover, my father would read from the Haggadah: “And it is that promise which has been the support of our ancestors and of ourselves, for not only one has risen up to destroy us, but in every generation some have arisen against us to destroy us, but the Most Holy, blessed be He, always delivered us out of their hands.” Exodus 13:18 says “So God turned the people toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds. The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt.”
With God’s help they were prepared. I am afraid that the time to prepare is once again upon us.
I know that it is human nature to be complacent, to put blinders on, to hide from troubling and fearful events, and to placate ourselves by going through the motions of our ordinary lives: doing the dishes, going to work, talking with friends, attending weddings, welcoming newborns. However, after 9/11, it is clear that the effects of radical Islam have reached far beyond southern Asia and the Middle East. If we attempt to ignore this reality, we do so at our peril. History has well taught us the danger of trying to ignore the threat posed by a violent minority. The power of the violence grows if the majority stands by in silence. It can be defeated only if the majority stands up together to stop it.
The Jews, once again, are in danger. I am worried that if we do not confront the present murderous trend, then my daughters 18 and 22 will face an ever-growing threat both here and abroad. Their dreams of careers in the fashion and TV industries could be interrupted or worse. I believe that we can no longer sit idly by, waiting for the next headline. Just as security is being tightened by our government and local police forces, we must take personal responsibility to meet the looming threat. Since the terrorists are looking for “soft targets,” it behooves us to prepare to defend ourselves.
That is why I have worked together with Bielski family members to form the Jewish Safe Haven Fund. In light of recent events, we can no longer close our eyes to the gathering storm. Instead, we must take prudent steps to meet the threat. We must raise the funds needed to improve security at Jewish centers, schools and congregations, where Jews gather to learn and pray, not only in America, but around the world, in places like Toulouse,France, Mumbai India, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I do not want my daughters to ever be in my father’s position. We must stand together to confront the present evil, to say “never again.”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Philip Meissner.