If Not Now, When?

A Message to Our Community, to Jews across the South, and to Our Neighbors



Ari Hagler

Vice President,

Agudath Israel Y Etz Ahayem

Board of Directors


As many of you know by now, our virtual Slichot/Havdala Zoom service was disrupted by a few clowns who posted, recited, and otherwise broadcast Nazi imagery, slogans, and statements, telling us to “take a shower,” an obvious reference to the gas chambers, and putting up pictures of Hitler and shouting over our services.


This statement is not meant to condemn this cowardly display of the personal insecurity of a few lowlife wannabe Nazis—that is obvious—but instead, to put this moment into some historical context, and to speak directly to the righteous among the nations.


Nobody was prepared for this to happen to us, in our space, in our community. But as upset as we are by being confronted with this gleeful brand of hatred, I don’t think anybody in the Jewish community is surprised that it exists.


We already know that the world possesses all kinds of people: those who love their neighbors, those who are indifferent to their neighbors, and those who hate and are actively malicious to their neighbors. The middle of those three - the indifferent - are the vast majority. Most people adopt only the first line of the famous saying of Rabbi Hillel: Im ein ani li, mi li? “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” These are those who are generally unhappy when their neighbors are subjected to this kind of hatred, but who see it as not their problem: they are looking out for number one, and in the current world, it’s hard to blame them. There is no sin in looking out for oneself - in fact, we are commanded to; for how can we engage in tikkun olam, acts of healing the world, if we ourselves are drained?


There are some who add the second line to their engagement with their neighbors: u’kshe ani le’atzmi, ma ani? “If I am only for myself, what am I?” These people are aware of and troubled by hate, and are willing to speak out against it. They may not, however, perceive the immediacy of the problem. These, our friends and neighbors, are appalled by anti-Semitism, don’t understand it, express their solidarity with us when it happens, and then — as is natural — forget about it.


Lest anyone think that this is a criticism, note that we ourselves tend to do the same. We are shocked and appalled at the hatreds directed toward our neighbors, but go on with our lives when we are not immediately confronted by their consequences.


None of us, as I said, found what happened at Slichot surprising. Leon Pinsker, back in 1882, wrote that Judaeophobia (as he called anti-Semitism) is a pathological disorder that is almost genetic; and that, as a disease transmitted for more than 2,000 years, it is incurable. Anti-Semites, Pinsker knew, would always be with us. Their invasion of our Zoom services was painful, but I think that their intended message—“We’re still here, and we still hate you!”—was lost on an audience that, frankly, already knew that. Might as well say that there are people in Alabama who like football.


What is new is not their hatred or their baseness or their general ineloquence. We live in a world of new technologies that have fundamentally reshaped our society. Much as the printing press made possible a great many things, from Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Catholic Church to Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic hate speech (and that’s just the Martin Luther-produced publications), the internet has allowed for us to have more access to each other than ever before.


The printing press, to which only the very wealthy had access, made it possible for Luther to spread his ideas (good or bad) without fearing the consequences that befell other critics of the Catholic Church of that era; the internet allows every human immediate access to every other human from devices that cost us the equivalent of about four days’ minimum wage-labor, and fit inside our pockets. This new technology is wonderful and terrible. It allows us to stay connected with each other at a time when connection is otherwise too dangerous. And it allows Nazis to connect directly to us in a way that has been essentially out of fashion since the fall of the Third Reich. This new technology isn’t going away. We have to learn to live with it.


Rabbi Hillel finished the statement: ve’im lo achshav, matai? “If not now, when?” The rhetorical question invites us to engage now in acts of healing the world, but only after both sticking up for ourselves and after committing ourselves to the well-being of others. We are well past the days of apologizing for our very existence in the hope that the Judaeophobes will accept us. They won’t. If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? Am Yisrael Chai. Others have hated us before — the Hamans of the world have included not only Haman, but also the Seleucids, the Romans, the Crusaders and the Nazis. They’re gone. We’re still here.


We’re not afraid of some punks who drank anti-Semitic Kool-Aid and then had the mastermind-level intelligence necessary to pop into a public Zoom meeting. We will not allow them to cow us into fear or xenophobia or make us abandon our values that make us Jews. If we are only for ourselves, what are we?


We will continue to fight against anti-Semitism. We will continue to protect ourselves and our community. We will take steps to secure our online gatherings, to ensure that this particular kind of attack does not happen again. In order for those who hate us to remain marginalized, our neighbors must step up (as some are already doing) to address the hatred coming from their own communities, no matter on which side of the American political spectrum they fall. However strong our community, our values, and our resolve, the fact is that our ability to defend ourselves here in Montgomery, and in a larger sense across the South, is limited; we can’t end anti-Semitism coming from the supremacist world. This is not New York or Israel, and our small numbers make us even more vulnerable.


For those of you who are not Jewish, ask yourselves the question: What can I do to make a difference? Can I talk to my children about the history of anti-Semitism? Resources are available at, among many other places, the ADL, the National Holocaust Museum, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.


This is not the first time anti-Semitism has touched our lives: our son was subjected to anti-Semitic death threats as a six-year-old, before he had any idea that simply being born Jewish could be the cause of such hatred.


We are in the midst of an overdue national reckoning on the subject of race in this country and rightly so. I am asking our non-Jewish neighbors to spend some of their intellectual energy on the hatred that is directed against us, too.

We thought we were Russians; the Cossacks told us we were not Russians, but Jews.

We thought we were Germans; the Nazis told us we were not Germans, nor even human.


We see ourselves as proud Americans. If the response of other Americans to this kind of hatred—which includes not just this Zoom incident and the odd neo-Nazi march, but also the Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburgh, the Poway Synagogue Shooting, the stabbings in New York — is silence, then that sends its own kind of message.

We will stand up for ourselves and we will continue to be there for you, our neighbors.

Will you be there for us now?


If not now, when?


The printing press, to which only the very wealthy had access, made it possible for Luther to spread his ideas (good or bad) without fearing the consequences that befell other critics of the Catholic Church of that era; the internet allows every human immediate access to every other human from devices that cost us the equivalent of about four days’ minimum wage-labor, and fit inside our pockets. This new technology is wonderful and terrible. It allows us to stay connected with each other at a time when connection is otherwise too dangerous. And it allows Nazis to connect directly to us in a way that has been essentially out of fashion since the fall of the Third Reich. This new technology isn’t going away. We have to learn to live with it.


Rabbi Hillel finished the statement: ve’im lo achshav, matai? “If not now, when?” The rhetorical question invites us to engage now in acts of healing the world, but only after both sticking up for ourselves and after committing ourselves to the well-being of others. We are well past the days of apologizing for our very existence in the hope that the Judaeophobes will accept us. They won’t. If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? Am Yisrael Chai. Others have hated us before — the Hamans of the world have included not only Haman, but also the Seleucids, the Romans, the Crusaders and the Nazis. They’re gone. We’re still here.


We’re not afraid of some punks who drank anti-Semitic Kool-Aid and then had the mastermind-level intelligence necessary to pop into a public Zoom meeting. We will not allow them to cow us into fear or xenophobia or make us abandon our values that make us Jews. If we are only for ourselves, what are we?


We will continue to fight against anti-Semitism. We will continue to protect ourselves and our community. We will take steps to secure our online gatherings, to ensure that this particular kind of attack does not happen again. In order for those who hate us to remain marginalized, our neighbors must step up (as some are already doing) to address the hatred coming from their own communities, no matter on which side of the American political spectrum they fall. However strong our community, our values, and our resolve, the fact is that our ability to defend ourselves here in Montgomery, and in a larger sense across the South, is limited; we can’t end anti-Semitism coming from the supremacist world. This is not New York or Israel, and our small numbers make us even more vulnerable.


For those of you who are not Jewish, ask yourselves the question: What can I do to make a difference? Can I talk to my children about the history of anti-Semitism? Resources are available at, among many other places, the ADL, the National Holocaust Museum, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.


This is not the first time anti-Semitism has touched our lives: our son was subjected to anti-Semitic death threats as a six-year-old, before he had any idea that simply being born Jewish could be the cause of such hatred.


We are in the midst of an overdue national reckoning on the subject of race in this country and rightly so. I am asking our non-Jewish neighbors to spend some of their intellectual energy on the hatred that is directed against us, too.


We thought we were Russians; the Cossacks told us we were not Russians, but Jews.

We thought we were Germans; the Nazis told us we were not Germans, nor even human.


We see ourselves as proud Americans. If the response of other Americans to this kind of hatred—which includes not just this Zoom incident and the odd neo-Nazi march, but also the Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburgh, the Poway Synagogue Shooting, the stabbings in New York — is silence, then that sends its own kind of message.


We will stand up for ourselves and we will continue to be there for you, our neighbors.


Will you be there for us now?


If not now, when?



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