“We Must Stand Up For Each Other”
In Private Meeting with Former VP Mike Pence, Rav Dovid Hofstedter Advocates for Combating Anti-Semitism
By Chaim Gold
“Do not duck. Lean in and fight. Antisemitism is no different than cockroaches. You either turn the light on or it will spread.” Those words of advice were given by former Vice President, Mike Pence to Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Nasi of Dirshu in a private meeting earlier this month.
Pence was responding to a question by Rav Hofstedter as to what is the best way to fight the increasing, drastic uptick in antisemitic acts against the Jewish community – “Is it better to duck it or combat it?” Pence was emphatic that the only way to fight antisemitism was to unapologetically combat it, head on.
The private meeting with Mr. Pence transpired in New York where Rav Hofstedter was the guest speaker at an event that Vice President Pence attended.
The Impetus Behind the Meeting
The background behind the private meeting with Pence was Rav Dovid’s increasingly deep concern over a conglomeration of recent events that clearly show bias and hatred against the Jewish community and especially the visibly Orthodox and Chassidic community. The attacks are coming from both the right and the left. Especially concerning are the attacks from the left, from the academia and the progressives who are spearheading an effort to force government intervention into the chinuch we give in our schools. They are also proving to be implacable foes of Israel and by extension, the millions of Jews who live there.
There is also an increase in antisemitism and antisemitic attacks from the right by white supremacists and bigots who have always expressed antipathy to Jews. All of this has caused great concern to Rav Hofstedter and, as a son and son-in-law of Holocaust survivors, has spurred him to action.
Although Dirshu’s primary mission is increasing limud haTorah, not shtadlanus, Rav Dovid passionately feels that someone who has the ability to influence public discourse on burning issues regarding the perpetuation of Torah, is obligated to invest whatever effort he can. Whether he is trying to help combat government regulation against chinuch, which is essentially thinly disguised antisemitism and anti-religion or whether he is trying shtadlanus for Acheinu Bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael who are under fire from the international community and the left for simply defending themselves, it is his obligation to try!
Pence: The Rise of the Secular Left Does not Bode Well for the Religious Jewish Community or for Israel
That was the reason for the meeting with former secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January and more recently with Vice President Mike Pence and addressed an event with Pence in attendance.
As Rav Dovid entered, Pence, the Vice President, a religious man, stood up, greeted him and expressed how he felt honored to be in the presence of a Torah scholar and leader such as Rav Hofstedter.
After the two sat down, Rav Hofstedter began the meeting by raising the issues currently worrying the Orthodox Jewish community. He specifically mentioned concerns that the community has regarding the denial of basic freedoms that the community has suffered – in the realm of education and otherwise. He also highlighted the tremendous assault the community has experienced on the part of the mainstream media, who have clearly been shown to have a biased agenda against visibly Orthodox Jews and specifically against our institutions of chinuch.
When Pence was asked what he thought was the best way to combat this kind of antisemitism, Mr. Pence replied emphatically with the above-mentioned words, “Do not duck. Lean in and fight. Antisemitism is no different than cockroaches. You either turn the light on or it will spread.”
The Vice President went on to note that the rise of what he described as “the secular left” is on a collision course with Israel and has led to a great deal of antipathy on the part of certain elements of the Democrat party. “The rise of the secular left is inconsistent with support for a Jewish state,” Pence went on to say.
In an astute and insightful commentary, Vice President Pence clearly noted that things have changed in America regarding support for Israel. The left in America is becoming more like Europe that has an affinity for the Arabs and casts blame for the intransigence of the Arabs on the Jews. A classic antisemitic position.
“That Is What Is Needed!”
That is how the caucus to combat antisemitism came up in the conversation.
The Vice President went on to suggest to Rav Dovid that there’s a need for a caucus in Congress to combat these issues related to antisemitism. He suggested that Rabbi Hofstedter work with the caucus that the Vice President had previously chaired during his time as a Congressman from Indiana. When Rav Dovid replied that he had worked toward the creation of a Congressional Caucus for Torah Values with the express intent and purpose of combatting this manifestation of antisemitism toward the Orthodox Jewish community, the Vice President replied that indeed, he had heard of the caucus and of its work. “That’s terrific; and just what is needed.”
The Vice President, engaged as ever, then asked, “Who’s chairing the caucus?”
Rav Dovid responded that it was a bi-partisan commission chaired by Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska and Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. The Vice President, apparently very satisfied with the chairmen, replied, “That’s just what’s needed.”
Indeed, both Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both took pains to stress how important it is for the Jewish and especially the Orthodox community to make their voices heard and not back down thinking the problem will just go away.
It is important to reach out to politicians, to members of the press who are willing to tell the truth and to use every avenue available, both in government and otherwise to fight against antisemitism, especially the type of genteel antisemitism under the guise of human rights. Whether the antisemites target the rights of Jews to give their children a religious education or whether they target the Jewish State for their “Apartheid” policies towards the Palestinians, they must be combated with everything we have and all tools at our disposal.
“If We Don’t Stand Up For Each Other, We Leave The Door Wide Open For Them!”
Indeed, that was the focal point of the speech that Rav Hofstedter gave in the aftermath of his meeting with Vice President Pence in his presence.
He opened the speech by expressing what a great honor it was to be in the presence of a great American, a great statesman and leader who has served the United States with such honor and distinction. He also praised Pence as a great and true friend of the State of Israel, expressing the heartfelt gratitude of the Jewish community for the friendship Pence has shown and emphasizing how much it is cherished.
He spoke about his fears regarding the great uptick in antisemitic incidents and his alarm over the fact that antisemitism has become acceptable in many quarters in parlor meeting company. Something that was unheard of in the recent past.
He said that just in the past few weeks, there have been incidents of violent attacks on visibly Orthodox Jews, hate literature, the desecration of a synagogue, and the outrageous desecration of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston.
“Things have gotten so bad, that even those who speak out against antisemitism have been vilified for speaking up and calling it by its name.”
“Therefore, the most important question is not only what we can do, it’s also what we must do?”
Rav Hofstedter said that as people of faith we must believe in and cherish our ability to be able to keep our traditions. We must show mutual respect and at the same time show the courage of our convictions.
He praised Vice President Pence as the embodiment of this ideal. “You have demonstrated in public office the dignity and grace as well as the courage of your convictions. You have stood up for your principles in the face of criticism, being proud of your faith, your country, the constitution. You have stood by your friends and what a great and loyal friend you have been!”
Rav Dovid said that as a son and son-in-law of Holocaust survivors, “we must take inspiration from the survivors. They came to these shores broken and penniless after having endured the tortures of the Holocaust. They didn’t back down. They had the courage to rebuild their lives from nothing.
“We must emulate them, have faith in our beliefs, pride in our heritage and pride in each other. We must not back down or be intimidated.”
Rav Dovid thundered, “If we will have the courage of our convictions, our enemies will not succeed! If we don’t have respect for each other, cherish our beliefs, our religion and our homeland, they certainly won’t.”
He concluded his address with a powerful charge, “If we don’t stand up for each other, we leave the door wide open for them!”
“Sometimes We Don’t See The Fruits Of Our Labor Right Away, But It Can Have A Real Impact.”
In a conversation with this writer Rav Hofstedter outlined his hashkafa regarding shtadlanus.
“Not everyone is able to engage in shtadlanus with politicians but for those who can, we have ample evidence from the previous generations of Gedolim that this kind of hishtadlus is very important. I remember once speaking to HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zt”l, about the great Rav Meir Shapiro and his impact on the Jewish people with his revolutionary innovations such as the establishment of the Daf Yomi and the founding of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin that raised kavod haTorah in an unprecedented way during the pre-war depression years in Europe. Rav Shteinman pointed out that another important accomplishment of Rav Meir Shapiro was that he was a representative in the Polish Sejm, the Polish parliament, where he engaged in shtadlanus on behalf of his brethren. I knew that Rav Shapiro himself, did not attribute much value to his efforts in this regard, but it is clear that Rav Shteinman valued them tremendously.
“For those capable of engaging with politicians and other people of influence, although at times it looks like these efforts are futile, the reality is that you don’t know what kind of impact you make on people with access to power. Sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our labor right away either, but it can have a real impact.”
He then spoke on a personal note. “Both my parents survived the war and I barely had family after the war. Hashem in His kindness, however, spared my paternal grandfather, Reb Zev Hofstedter who had served as Rosh Hakahal in his community in Hungary. He had lost everything, most of his family and his community. When I was growing up, he lived near us in Toronto. Every Friday night we would go visit him. He constantly bemoaned the great losses, the loss of the talmidei chachomim, the unique way and rhythm of Torah life in Hungary where he was born and raised. He would say, ‘Where was America when six million Yidden were being killed?’
“We didn’t have the voice in the government back then. We must therefore use our voices and raise them when we see such a precipitous rise in antisemitism.”
In the meeting with Mr. Pence, the Vice President pointed out that he had done much work to combat antisemitism with the late Congressman from California, Mike Lantos, who himself was a Holocaust survivor. “When Congressman Lantos asked me to chair the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force, I did so with great pride.”
The underlying message expressed by Rav Dovid Hofstedter is that yes, our primary mission is to be engaged in Torah and tefillah and promote the learning of mussar and ethical behavior and without a doubt these hallowed activities invoke tremendous rachmei shomayim on behalf of Klal Yisrael. At the same time, our tradition and mesorah from Gedolei Yisrael from previous generations is that those who have the ability to engage in hishtadlus on behalf of their fellow Yidden to help combat and rescind gezeiros should avail themselves of every effort possible to engage on Klal Yisrael’s behalf, because “If we don’t stand up for each other, we leave the door open for them!”