This past Friday night, Jewish congregations marked Rosh HaShanah, The Jewish New Year. It is a happy time and a somber time. It’s a time for reflection and a time for appreciation. It’s a time for recognition and a time for reality. It’s a time to look life squarely in the eye and take stock of our situation, and to see who stands with the Jewish people – and who doesn’t.
Even as the candles flicker on the last survivors of the Holocaust, we come into this new year facing a new wave of antisemitism. We as a people need to express appreciation to those strong individuals who have stood up to the evil of Jew-hatred, and who have castigated those who seek to undermine the world’s only Jewish State.
Thankfully, there are many shining lights, but as a Floridian I tend to focus on those in my own state who advocate for the Jewish people. One of the most underappreciated is Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who has a long history of helping America’s most targeted minority and the world’s most embattled democracy; yet some, for partisan reasons, seem unable to give credit where credit is (over)due.
As a congressman, DeSantis pushed relentlessly for the administration to stand by its promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State. He travelled to Israel to find a site for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and proudly returned for its opening in May 2018.
DeSantis also strongly advocated for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Subsequent events in the Middle East proved the wisdom of this insightful position. Had the Golan Heights been transferred to Syria, Hezbollah, the brutal Iranian-backed terror group, would have entrenchments overlooking the entire Israeli north threatening Israel’s security.
DeSantis’ first overseas trip was to Israel. He led the largest trade delegation in history, held the first-ever cabinet meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and was the first sitting Governor to ever visit Judea and Samaria. DeSantis also visited Israel a few months ago to join in the celebration marking the 75th anniversary since Israel’s founding.
Fighting antisemitism has also been a top priority. He publicly denounced companies like Airbnb and Ben & Jerry’s who refused to do business in parts of Israel. His strong enforcement of Florida’s anti-BDS law helped force them to reverse course. DeSantis also expanded that law to prohibit companies such as investment firms from using anti-Israel ratings systems to facilitate BDS against Israel.
These are hardly the only ways in which DeSantis joined the fight against the world’s oldest hatred. He mandated Holocaust education in Florida’s public school system, and honored Ben Ferencz, the last living prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, with a medal of honor. He helped shepherd through Florida’s legislature a law, HB 269, that enhances criminal penalties against anyone who distributes materials, project images, or otherwise intimidates, threatens or harasses someone based on antisemitic motivation.
Additionally, he signed a bill providing funding for school choice, thereby giving Jewish parents the ability to educate their children in a safe environment that reflects their timeless values. He also provided tens of millions of dollars in much-needed security funding to Jewish Day schools.
All these public stances for Israel and the Jewish people, and against antisemitism, should rightly earn him public acclaim. But for me personally, I was especially impressed by his humanity and friendship during one of the worst disasters in Florida’s history.
Many of the victims of the horrific Surfside building collapse in June 2021 were Jewish, as were survivors, family members, and rescuers. Many were Sabbath observant. For those unfamiliar with this weekly Jewish observance, Shabbos is a day of rest, not just from worldly pursuits and earthly cares but – although lifesaving activity continued – also a respite from pondering the tragedy. Relatives and friends tried to drive their anxieties away and capture a brief bit of Shabbos spirit and religious comfort, while crews searched for their loved ones just a few miles away.
In his role as Governor, Ron DeSantis came to the scene of the collapse to help coordinate the response and marshal the State’s resources. He also brought in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to help. As a fellow human being touched by the tragedy surrounding him, he simply could not leave. He remained with the families to offer what words of comfort and condolence that he could.
He spent that deeply challenging and uncomfortable Shabbos crying, comforting and listening. There were no reporters or juicy photo ops, no self-promoting statements to promote an agenda. The families wanted a quiet Shabbos, and DeSantis respected and honored their wishes. This is almost unimaginable in today’s publicity-driven world, especially for a politician with ambitions for higher office. The Yiddish language has a word for a person like him: a mensch.
During this intense period of introspection, beginning on Rosh Hashanah and culminating with the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, when Jews throughout the world strive to improve themselves and be better citizens of G-d’s world, it is important to recognize those who have led by example, showing America what a true leader should be.
Rabbi Moshe B. Parnes is the Dean of the Hollywood Community Kollel in Hollywood, FL, dedicated to studying and teaching Jewish texts, law, philosophy, ethics and history. He is also the Southern Regional Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic Public Policy organization in America.