3 M COUNTRY

If people know anything about David Ben Gurion, it’s that he was the George Washington of the State of Israel. On May 15, 1948 corresponding to 5 Iyyar, 5708 (this year celebrations take place on Thursday,) David Ben Gurion proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.

What precious few don’t know about David Ben Gurion are the feverish activities that he was very much part of during the three years that led up to that historical event. I would like to single out three such activities. To me, they will be remembered as the “three M’s”:

“Population, population, population,” argued the fictitious Ari ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) as he debated his uncle Akiva in the movie Exodus. David Ben Gurion did not need Ari ben Canaan, or anyone else for that matter, to remind him that population was the sine qua non for the establishment of a country. So there stood David ben Gurion in Zeilsheim, Germany, at a Displaced Persons Camp addressing hundreds of Holocaust survivors. For Ben Gurion, this was no easy task. As one who had utter contempt for Europe, as well as those who lived there, Ben Gurion swallowed hard and addressed the survivors in…Yiddish! Only in (what was to become) Israel, he argued, could Holocaust survivors rebuild their lives. They desperately needed to settle in Israel, Ben Gurion attempted to convince them, because Ben Gurion knew that Israel desperately needed them. Ari ben Canaan chose to call it population; Ben Gurion chose to call it manpower.

If I were ever to draw up a list of the top ten places in Israel to visit, the Ayalon Institute  would most likely be among them. In 1945, Ben Gurion knew that statehood would be proclaimed sooner than later. Ben Gurion also knew that the neighbors, viz. Arabs, would not be bringing bread and salt or any other housewarming gifts. With the British in charge, there was no way to import any WWII surplus for a soon to be born army of Israel. Ben Gurion, therefore, approached members of a kibbutz on the outskirts of Rechovot. The plan was to construct a clandestine underground bullet factory. A laundry (with the noisiest washing machines and drying machines available) would serve as their cover – both literally and figuratively. Each day, right under the noses of the British who would bring in soiled garments for cleaning, forty-five volunteers would go underground to manufacture thousands of bullets. Ben Gurion knew that the new state would not stand a chance of surviving without munitions.

Protektzia is a word so common in Israeli society that it is often referred to a “Vitamin P.” Protektzia is what many refer to as having connections to either call in favors or get things done. As far as I’m concerned, protektzia is what we call moxie.

On a sultry Sunday in July 1945, Ben Gurion was at a brunch at the home of Rudolph Sonnenborn on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Addressing a group of seventeen Jewish industrialists, developers, and businessmen who were in attendance, Ben Gurion explained the predicament of those who managed to survive Hitler, the grim prospects of the United States accepting the refugees, and the promise a new Jewish State would surely hold for those whose only desire was to start a new life.  Ben Gurion was looking to the group of seventeen for protektzia. What ben Gurion didn’t realize, is that he had just won the protektzia lottery, a lottery that included an aircraft carrier despite the fact that Israel did not yet have an air force. But that lottery did have the makings of an airline to fly the Jewish refugees out of Europe to the Promised Land, thanks to Al Schwimmer, a young flight engineer at TWA. So what if none of that fleet never actually made it to Israel? Al Schwimmer ultimately made Aliyah and founded Israel Aerospace Industries. Most of all, the protektzia lottery ended up with William Levitt, of Levittown fame, handing Teddy Kollek (who would ultimately become Mayor of Jerusalem) a check for one million dollars, made out to the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. William Levitt did not ask for any collateral, in that the Provisional Government of the State of Israel could offer no collateral. It was to be born bankrupt.

Manpower. Munitions. Moxie. All three were indispensable as far as Ben Gurion was concerned. And should it happen that Israel lagged in one of these three ingredients, Israel could always turn to the other two ingredients. As it celebrates seventy years of independence, Israel has every right to glow with pride as it basks in incredible achievements that trace their roots to manpower, munitions and moxie.

WIEDERGUTMACHUING

Mah Nishtannah? What makes this Yom HaShoah different from all previous Yom HaShoah commemorations? A little over three months ago President Andrzej Duda said that he would sign into law a bill making it illegal to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. In doing, so the President of Poland ultimately shed light on a thorn in the side of the Jewish people that has subconsciously been gnawing at them for over seven decades.

Right or wrong, many have been inclined to characterize the Polish people and the German people as polar opposites. The Poles are visceral; the Germans are cerebral. The Poles are all heart; the Germans are all heartless. After all, who else but a nation of cold and calculating Deutschen could systematically set in motion a plan to annihilate an entire people in the most efficient manner possible?

Wiedergutmachung is the German word for reparation. Like many German words, it is constructed from three other German words: wieder (again), gut (good) machung (making). For me, this three-origin term brings with it three sentiments as well.
Wiedergutmaching acknowledges responsibility. Responsibility is not taken lightly by humans. Adam refused to take responsibility for disobeying HaShem; Adam’s son, Cain refused to take responsibility for murdering his brother. Both father and son resorted to lame excuses: the former pawned the misdeed off on his wife; the latter feigned ignorance by countering – How should I know, am I my brother’s keeper? No different than Adam and Cain, the Polish government also is shirking responsibility. Like Adam, the Polish Government pawns the genocide off on the Third Reich; like Cain, the Polish Government feigns ignorance by countering – How can I be guilty of in-humaneness towards Jews, when I too was the victim of Nazi in-humaneness? Given the disingenuousness of the Polish government, even if Wiedergutmachung was a Polish word, the Polish Government could not bring itself to utter it.

Wiedergutmachung acknowledges contrition. Only when one is contrite, does one ask the question: “How can I set things straight?” Only when one shows remorse, does one turn to the aggrieved or injured and say: “I’d like to make it up to you. Please tell me how.”

Wiedergutmachung acknowledges that there is a desire for resolution and a quest for peace a need for closure. After its defeat, German leadership realized that that in addition to losing the war, they had lost the ability to ascribe value and respect to Jews and to a lesser extent others. German leadership also realized that an embrace, a hug and even a handshake on their part would be repugnant to most Jews. German leadership was well aware that there were no words they could offer, that could possibly set things straight. Even if they were to stumble upon magic words asking for forgiveness, those words would ring hollow in Jewish ears. Resolution, peace and closure could only be achieved through Wiedergutmachung.

Scorn the re-conciliatory  German government as much as you like.  Regard Wiedergutmachung as nothing more than expiation on the part of the German people, if you must. See any and all motives of Konrad Adenauer’s Germany as highly suspect, if that’s the conclusion you have arrived at. But admit if you will, that however flawed and self-serving Wiedergutmachung may have been, it was much more than the Polish government was ever prepared to do.

As we remember the six million, let us also keep in mind that over the years there has been protestation and excuses. On the other hand, there has been admission of culpability and Wiedergutmachung. Let us never blur the difference.

IT’S ALL ABOUT LEAVING EGYPT

Fifty years ago this week, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Black America was stunned and speechless. The sense of loss was beyond proportion. Words however did not fail some in the Jewish community. Among them was Arthur Waskow, who came up with a “Freedom Seder” which was held in a black Church in the heart of Washington D.C. exactly one year later, on April 4, 1969.

As one who sees the late Dr. King as a champion for freedom for his peolpe, I cannot help but feel that a “Freedom Seder,” a “Holocaust Survivor Seder,” a “Yankee Doodle Dandy Seder” or any other new age, creative seder sorely misses the point of what a seder ought to be.  At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, a seder should be all about our ancestor’s being redeemed from Egypt. The Haggadah so much as says so! “Whoever expends much time and effort in relating (our ancestors’) departure from Egypt… all the power to them!” To the best of my knowledge, the Haggadah never makes mention of racial oppression and denying of equal rights to those of a different color skin, nor does the Haggadah make mention of Jews in recovery recalling the enslavement of addiction, celebrating the freedom of sobriety (Mea Culpa! I put together such a Haggadah over a quarter of a century ago when I was drawn to an organization known as JACS – Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others). The Haggadah also makes no mention of Palestinians being denied freedom at the hands of Israeli aggression and oppression (please pardon my cynicism) yet, there are those who dedicate part of their Seder experience to bringing to light the enslavement of Arabs living in Judea and Samaria under “harsh and inhumane conditions” forced upon them by Jewish taskmasters, aka Israeli Security.

Over the ages, various movements and events have borrowed the theme of “Yetziat Mitzraim” or the exodus from Egypt, as presented in the Haggadah, for their own purpose. Even Jewish Communists, who had little or no use for religion and religious tradition, produced their own Haggadah, portraying Lenin as the new Moses, who redeemed the suffering masses from the grip of the wicked Czar. As a child, no Seder would have been complete without a reading bringing to mind the horror of the Holocaust. However meaningful and well-intentioned, to compare Egyptian enslavement with European annihilation is specious. Other than the threat of Israelite males rising up in revolt, Pharaoh desperately needed our people; Hitler desperately needed to rid Germany, Europe and ultimately the world of our people.

Let us pay tribute to the six million on Holocaust Day, let us bring the six million to mind and to heart next week on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as the second week of November when we commemorate Kristallnacht, but let us set aside the Seder to consider how different this night is from all other nights. Let us proclaim the second Shabbat after Simchat Torah when we read about Noah planting a vineyard after the flood and the ruin it brought him, as JACS Shabbat. For those who genuinely wish to take up the cause of Palestinians living under Israeli rule, let them conduct a special ceremony in Shechem (Nablus) approximately two weeks before Chanukah, so that they can piggyback on that week’s Torah reading where Jacob’s two sons eradicated all the males of that city in retaliation for the rape of their sister Dinah.

Had the events on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, never taken place, I would like to believe that the opportunity would have presented itself for the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to have participated at a Passover Seder. Observing the various symbols, joining in on the various passages, I would have hoped that Reverend King would have been moved by a people that preserved stories of an Egyptian oppression so very different than the oppression that was being experienced by his people.

THE IGNORING OF THE JEWS

Like so many others, I make a point of looking at the obituaries in the morning newspaper. Last week, the passing of David S. Wyman caught my attention, in that thirty-four years ago he wrote a best seller,  “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945”. Had the opportunity presented itself for me to meet Mr. Wyman, the conversation that would have ensued would have been filled with irony.

I find Mr. Wyman to be a remarkable individual as well as a paragon of his faith (Methodist). I also find Mr. Wyman to be unbelievably idealistic and extremely naïve.  Mr. Wyman made the charge that while Nazis were exterminating Jews, American Christians forgot about the Good Samaritan. Before Mr. Wyman chose to inveigh against his fellow Christians, he might have first railed against American Jews, who for the most part adopted a “sha shtill” attitude that was so typical of them at that time. Far be it for me to pass any judgement, but if one’s own do not speak up for their own who are in peril, then it is sheer chutzpah to expect others to speak up for one’s own in peril. Jews in this country did not speak up for Jews who were being annihilated. And in no way should this be considered an indictment against them.

Speaking of speaking up, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that on October 6, 1943, two days before Yom Kippur, more than 400 Orthodox rabbis organized by the secular Bergson group and accompanied by marshals from another secular Jewish organization, the Jewish War Veterans of America, marched solemnly from Union Station to the Capitol building and then on to the White House to plead for government action on behalf of the Jews being murdered by Hitler. The President, allegedly on the advice of Rabbi Stephen Wise (an ardent Zionist, no less) and others, slipped out from a side door of the White House, so that no meeting between the rabbis and the President ever took place.  However admirable and praiseworthy the rabbinic march on the White House may have been, one would do well to wonder what took the rabbis so long. The war along with the genocide against the Jews had been in operation for a full four years. Such inactivity as well as “too little too late” on the part of the Jewish community for whatever reason, does not seem to stick in David Wyman’s craw.

I have come neither to bury nor to praise F.D.R., but it’s totally unfair as far as I’m concerned to expect F.D.R. or any other American president to be concerned with Jewish concerns. Running for re-lection in 1940, F.D.R. never campaigned on a promise to save European Jews. America entered W.W.II. with F.D.R. as its Commander in Chief, because this country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, not because trains were delivering Jews to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. As much as it grates on our Jewish nerves to hear this, F.D.R.’s priority was to win the war, not save the Jews of Europe. Was such an attitude heartless or lacking in morals and ethics? Keeping America safe from its enemies was the president’s responsibility, not ethics and morals. And sad to say, from a military and logistical standpoint, targets other than train tracks leading to Nazi Death factories were the main targets of U.S. armed forces.
Had I been able to meet with David S. Wyman within these past few years, I would have asked him about the Rohingya people being victimized and treated inhumanely by the Burmese. Should we be holding the leadership of this country – both the past President as well as the current President – responsible for standing idly by and turning a blind eye, as humans continue to act inhumanely towards another group? Does this mean that American Christians (and Jews) are once again guilty of overlooking the Good Samaritan?

Rather than castigate and admonish, perhaps David Wyman should have found solace and encouragement for the few who did  risk their lives for others and in doing so gave new meaning to the term “mentsch” (humane being) and maybe even “tsaddik” (righteous person). Those rare and phenomenal individuals have to be enough for me not to give up on my fellow human being. David Wyman chose to indict his fellow Christians of this country for abandoning the Jews. Unfortunately, David Wyman chose the wrong word. One can only abandon that which was once his. It is virtually impossible for the Christian World to have abandoned Jews, in that a good argument can be made that Christians never provided care for Jews and understandably so. A far better title for David Wyman’s 1984 book would have been: The Ignoring of the Jews.

TRADE DEFICITS

Typically, it’s with a modicum of interest at best, that I follow news concerning trade deficits involving these United States. Last week, however my interest was piqued when the news carried an article concerning statements and misstatements regarding trade with Canada. Politics and my native country aside, I’m all for fair trade and I firmly believe that there are other ways of arriving at fair trade other than tariffs.

Economics and economies not withstanding, “trade deficits” ought to be our goal in life as Jews. I’m no accountant, but Tiferet has been running a “trade deficit” for some time now, by giving to the community far more than it receives in return. But who’s counting? This past Sunday serves as an excellent case in point. The time, effort and energy expended for our renowned Chili Cook-Off was well worth the crowd that amassed (as well as placing first for our Chili). Say what you want about the various chili recipes; Tiferet has perfected a recipe for a community event that defies comparison. Whether it was enjoying lunch, quenching one’s thirst with ice-cold soda pop, seeing one’s child revel in any of the many activities available, taking a chance on a raffle ticket, buying various merchandise and/or services, or simply just taking it all in, no different than the congregation itself, Tiferet’s Chili Cook-Off is in a league all its own. It matters not one’s branch or denomination of Judaism; it matters not one’s religion or absence from religion, Tiferet’s annual Chili Cook-Off has something for everyone. Let’s continue this trade deficit along with our communities. Whether it be the Chili Cook Off, Jewish Life Around the World Brunches or any other programs we offer where observance is not the criteria, let’s be mighty proud of these programs and the “trade deficits” that go along with them!

As one who believes that he takes HaShem and Judaism seriously, I cannot help but feel that there is an ongoing “trade deficit” between our Heavenly Father and us, wherein most cases HaShem grants us and bestows upon us much more than we give Him in return. Wouldn’t it be something, if we were able to turn that “trade deficit” around, where we do for HaShem much more than He does for us?  I cannot help but feel that just as there is a Dow Jones here on earth indicating how the Stock Market has performed, there is a “Mitzvah Market” up in heaven that indicates how we have performed. An ideal trade deficit would be for HaShem to exclaim, “The Mitzvah Market is at an all-time high!”

With Passover a little more than a week away, there exists a “trade deficit” where more Jews participate in some kind of Seder than one could possibly imagine. As such, they deserve a big Yasher Koach! I dream of yet a different type of “trade deficit” that is part and parcel of the Pesach Seder. I dream of a “trade deficit” where participants leave that Seder with more than an abandoned pile of crumbs where they were sitting. I dream of a “trade deficit” where Seder participants take away lasting messages of matzah, maror as well as lessons gleaned from the hagaddah. I dream of a Seder experience where participants take far more away from the Seder than those who painstakingly prepared for the Seder put in.

More likely than not, there will always be trade deficits when it comes to imports and exports. I pray that our leaders respond and react in the best possible way. I hope and pray that there continue to be “trade deficits” so that Tiferet remain the exemplary congregation we know it to be. I hope and pray that a “trade deficit” is created where we finally do for HaShem than HaShem does for us. I hope and pray that a “trade deficit” appears at the Passover Seder so that the congregants walk away with lasting lessons they never anticipated learning.

M’GOSH M’GOLLY MEGILLAH

In all likelihood, the vast majority of Jews throughout this world will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Shabbat. The amount of our people who will make a point to hoist a “McGuiness” at any of the three Shabbat meals later this week will undoubtedly hardly constitute a minyan. Nevertheless, it might behoove us to know that the monopoly for smiling does not belong to Irish eyes.

I have no idea how many Jews in this country know who served as the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent State of Israel. Whatever that number might be, I’m certain that far fewer Jews are aware that Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog (born in Lomza, Poland in 1888) served as the Rabbi of Belfast and ultimately rose to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland, before moving to Israel in 1936 to succeed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s fluency in Irish was such that he was dubbed the “Sinn Fein Rabbi” (literally “We ourselves,” it was adopted as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.) Rabbi Herzog’s Irish-born son later served as Israel’s sixth President; his grandson and namesake, aka Bougie, rose in political power only to lose to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last national election.

A great affinity toward Israel on the part of the Irish government, there isn’t. One would think that, politically speaking, Irish leaders would look at Israel for inspiration; one would think that Irish leaders would see the daily struggle of Israel against terrorism ever since its founding 70 years ago as something they could relate to. Unfortunately, Irish leaders have instead chosen the “poor Palestinians” as their soulmates. This perhaps explains why formal relations between the two, Ireland and Israel, were not established until 1975 and why it wasn’t until the very end of 1993 that Ireland permitted Israel to open its embassy in Dublin. You know things could be much better when a few years back, unnamed sources from the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that “Ireland (is the) most hostile country toward us in Europe.” Politics, however, is politics and business is business. In 2010, Israeli imports from Ireland approached $520 million and exports to Ireland stood at $81 million. Israeli exports to Ireland include machinery and electronics, rubber and plastics, chemicals, textiles, optical/medical equipment, gems, and fruit and vegetables. Irish exports to Israel include machinery and electronics, chemicals, textiles, and foodstuffs.

However representative a government ought to be of its people, it’s heartening to know that not all Irish have adopted such a cool attitude toward Israel. In fact, there is a group of Irish people committed to understanding and supporting Israel’s security needs. That group proudly calls itself “Irish 4 Israel.” Among other objectives, its raison de etre is to counteract much of the hatred and lies spread in the name of “truth” within certain segments of Irish society and to ensure that Israel’s conflict with Palestinian terrorists along with their sponsors and enablers receives fair and impartial coverage from the Irish media.

As Erin Go Bragh rings loud and clear this Saturday in Irish neighborhoods throughout this country, as well as elsewhere in the world, it might very well be a propitious time for us to invoke Am Yisroel Chai. Whether the wish is “Ireland forever” or the “Jewish People Lives,” the sentiment is pretty much the same. May the Road of Peace rise up to greet us both.

WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT

Be still my heart! Is it true that at the request of Her Majesty’s Government, the Duke of Cambridge – aka Prince William – will be embarking on what appears to be state visit to Israel?

There is a Yiddish expression: “Az meh lebbt, derlebbt men.” Loosely translated, it means, if you live long enough, you will live long enough to see everything. The upcoming trip will be the first time there has been a state visit by the British since the Royal Army departed Haifa Port in May 1948, thereby ending 21 years of British rule. Up until now, whenever Israeli officials have visited 10 Downing Street and extended an invitation to reciprocate with a state visit to Israel, without fail, the British have answered: “When the time is right.”

Mah Nishtanah? Why is this year different from all other years? A political analyst, I’m not. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel that there are at least three reasons for “dispatching the duke.” Regardless of how one views the American decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, most will agree that it has produced positive repercussions throughout the world. Seeing that such a move did not result in any Arab rising, realizing that the mantra Itbah al Yahud (murder the Jew) did not pierce the air over the Gaza Strip, governments of various countries have been rethinking their concern that such a move would be catastrophic throughout the Arab world, making their countries perfect targets for “humiliated Arab militants.” Put differently, other countries may be taking the approach of “if it’s good enough for Uncle Sam, it’s good enough for me.” This is not to suggest that Britain has any plans to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv. It does appear however, that Jerusalem has achieved a higher level of “political kashrut” in the eyes of world leaders.

Perhaps it’s time for the British to stop the charade they have been playing. The unofficial boycott of Israel that has been in place for these past 70 years was due in no small part because of the indignation on the part of the British toward Zionist extremists (Lehi and the Irgun) who (finally) dared to retaliate against the British for sending Jews to the gallows for crimes committed against the (British) government. It’s not just that time heals all wounds; it’s that over the years, the British have made state visits to Kenya as well as other countries where anti-colonialist combatants have carried out even more heinous executions against the British. Such a double standard on the part of the British is intolerable as well as indefensible.

Thirty years ago, Princess Alice of Battenburg (great-grandmother of the Duke) who proudly wore the designation of righteous Gentile bestowed upon her by Yad VaShem for providing a home and shelter for the Cohen family, as the Nazis were hunting down Jews, was reinterred in Jerusalem. In accordance with the request set forth in her will, her remains were taken from Saint Georges Chapel at Windsor Castle and placed in the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. Since that time, there has been any number of clandestine visits by the Royal family. When Prince Charles was in Jerusalem for the funeral for Shimon Peres (an unofficial visit) it was prearranged that he slip away and visit the grave of his paternal grandmother. It was only after the Prince of Wales had departed back to England that the press was permitted to disclose that he had performed the “mitzvah” of “Kever Avot.” Perhaps it’s time for the British to stop this hypocrisy as well.

And so, from the bottom of my heart, I say “cheers” to the “Duke” which roughly can be translated as Todah Rabbah!

POLOCAUST

I’ve come to the conclusion that a steady diet of kielbasa (Polish sausage) causes one to go soft in the head. How else can one explain the recent suggestion of Jaroslaw Sellin, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Culture that a “Polocaust” Museum be erected to honor the victims of Nazi genocide between the years 1939-1945? With the recent passage of a law warning of a monetary fine or incarceration or both for anyone who dares to suggest that the Nazis had an accomplice in the Polish people, as it systematically murdered three million Polish Jews and others, doesn’t Pan (Polish for Mr.) Jaroslaw realize that he’s adding fuel to a fire that was recklessly started?

If Pan Jaroslaw truly wanted to ameliorate a situation that has Jewish leaders world over up in arms, then perhaps thought ought to be given to building a Jewish Heritage Museum in Warsaw or Lodz or Krakow or Kielce? With a rich history spanning over a millennium (in 1264, Boleslaw V actually invited Jews from other countries to settle in Poland), Pan Jaroslaw should have no problem in amassing material that would fill a museum faster than you can say “Jak se mas” (Yak Shemash – Polish for “what’s up.”)

Thanks to our illustrious past in Poland, we Jews can proudly point to a wealth of literature – both religious and secular – that had, and continues to have, an impact on us that is beyond measure. The definitive Talmud (The Vilner Shas) was originally printed in Vilna (Vilnius) when it was part of Poland. Rabbi Moshe Isserless, the (Ashkenazic) redactor of the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law lived in Cracow, Poland. The Magen Avraham, a renowned commentator of the Shulchan Aruch hailed from the Polish town of Gombin. On the secular front, great novelists such as Peretz of Bontshe the Silent fame and Sholem Asch, who has left an indelible mark on yours truly with his trilogy (assailable in English translation,) Three Cities can lay claim to Polish ancestry as well.

Close to 30 years ago, I was sitting across the table from a native Pole in a coffee house in Warsaw, as an ensemble was tunic up. “Kapelye, tak?”  “An ensemble, correct”, I asked in Polish. My knowledge of the Polish language is admittedly fairly limited. But one thing I do know. In Jewish music you can find many elements of Polish folk music. The instruments, the key, the tempo all sound eerily familiar. Yet, this should come as no surprise, given how our people living in Poland were influenced by the greater culture.

You don’t have to be fluent in Yiddish to have used words such as “schmatte” (rag) or “farblondget” (lost, geographically), but both words find their roots in Polish. Even though the Yiddish language contains any number of slavisms such as “kishke” and “polke”, there are a goodly number of Yiddish words that are uniquely Polish in origin.

Last, but not least, the recipes of the many ethnic foods we eat, find their origins in the Slavic countries of Europe. A food maven, I am not. I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly which country spawned gefilte fish as we know it, or stuffed cabbage or kreplach or latkes. I would be quite surprised, however, if Poland couldn’t make a claim as the birth place for some of the dishes we claim to be uniquely Jewish.

Pan Jaroslaw. Play it safe. Play it smart. The Holocaust is a “lose-lose” proposition for Poland. Why emphasize the negative when it comes to Jews in Poland? Why not emphasize the positive? Given the centuries that preceded the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, there is no shortage of areas in which Poland richly contributed to and enriched Jewish life. Let Poland bring a smile to Jews worldwide who typically grimace the mention of its very name.

OPEN ARMS AND NOT POINTED FINGERS

It sickens me that the mass onslaught at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida last week will in all likelihood not be the last time an out of control individual snuffs out the lives of innocents who in all likelihood never even knew their assailant, much less meant him any harm. It sickens me to realize the time, effort and energy the people of this country expend on useless and meaningless recrimination in the aftermath of a mass killing.

As one who has been a “first responder” when hearts have been broken and lives have been shattered, I would like to suggest that when needless tragedy strikes, there are meaningful and constructive steps we can take.

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1839-1933) better known as the Chofetz Chaim has been known for his time and energy devoted against “Loshen Hara” or gossip and more specifically slander. He understood only too well the deleterious effects character assassination had on people. I have every reason to believe that the Chofetz Chaim would be left speechless at the hyper rapid speed achievable nowadays when it comes to character assassination, thanks to the internet. Called cyberbullying, victimized students have in some cases responded through suicide and even homicide when their characters have been sullied through “Loshon Hara.” A recent cause celebre has been for concerned citizens to take up the cudgel against pornography on the internet and its effect on teenagers. That’s perfectly fine. Yet, I’m not aware of any student taking an assault weapon, entering his school and randomly snuffing out the lives of other students after having been exposed to pornography on the internet. Perhaps equal, if not greater effort should be mustered by concerned citizens against “Loshen Hara” or cyberbullying than is being mustered against pornography.

A good many American presidents had dreams for this country. For Franklin Roosevelt, it was a “New Deal;” for Lyndon Johnson, it was a “Great Society.” I find it unbelievable that American presidents have not been appalled by mass killings at schools, places of worship and community centers; I find it utterly disgraceful that not one President of these United States of either political party has spoken out about how horrendous and unacceptable victims of cyberbullying in our society have reacted to as well as responded to the evil of character assassination. Similarly, I find it utterly disgraceful that that not one President of the United States of either political party has spoken out against those responsible for the evil of character assassination through cyberbullying. Isn’t it time for zero tolerance to be dispensed against cyberbullying? If pollution of the atmosphere was deemed as an evil dooming our lives, shouldn’t pollution of the character also be deemed as an evil dooming our lives?

I was not quite 15 years old, when the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. What I remember most, is Senator (Bobby) Kennedy announcing the assassination to an unsuspecting crowd in Indianapolis: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Because mass killings have been taking place for the last quarter of a century, the numbers of family members whose lives have been turned upside down, probably number the hundreds, if not thousands. Let the bereaved reach out to the bereaved. Let them echo the words of Bobby Kennedy “I had member of my family killed.” Let them substantiate the teachings of our rabbinic sages who reminded us that “words that come from the heart find their way into the heart of others.”

Now is not the time for pointing fingers. Now is the time to turn with open arms to the family members of those whose lives were tragically and senselessly snuffed out.

DOES THE POLISH PRESIDENT LACK POLISH?

I never met Polish President Andrzej Duda, but I have a great deal of respect for him.  “We have a right to our historical truth,” he said, after signing a law that would punish those who accuse Polish society of complicity in the Holocaust. I admire his candor. President Duda never mentioned anything about “the truth” when it came to the Holocaust; President Duda spoke about our historical truth.

I do not consider myself an expert when it comes to Poland, its people and its history, but there is one thing I do know. No different than the Jews, the Polish people see themselves as victims of Nazi inhumanity. There is a great deal of truth to the Polish self-image of victim-hood, in that the Nazis did regard Poles as sub-humans, albeit on a higher level than Jews. As far as a good many Poles are concerned, Polish complicity with the Nazis was academic. How can one be complicit when one is treated as an inferior many Polish people will argue? Therefore, there are any number of Poles who maintain that complicity with the Nazis is not up for discussion, in that it never happened.

Neither is the message of deicide, spewed for centuries by any number of Polish parish priests over the centuries, indicting all Jews for the death of their savior. That too is not up for discussion. If any generalization can be made, and generalizations typically are made when it involves war, it was Ukrainian peasants working in Auschwitz, Dachau, and any other Nazi death factory who were complicit in the Holocaust. Ukrainian peasants had far more blood on their hands than the Polish populace. Having been systematically starved to death by the millions a decade earlier, courtesy of Uncle Joe Stalin with his nationalization program, a good many Ukrainians were inured to suffering and death. Religion aside, it was any number of Ukrainians, and not Poles, who participated in the gross human injustice of shoving Jews into the gas chambers. As such, Polish President Duda was not wrong in speaking for the Polish people when he maintained that “We have a right to our historical truth.”

“Having a right to our historical truths” enables Polish President Duda to remind the world that close to 7,000 Poles have been awarded the distinction of righteous Gentiles at Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. No nation other than Poland can make that claim. Among those Polish righteous gentiles, there were those who ended up paying the supreme price for aiding, abetting, and harboring Jews. One such individual was Sister Marta, a Catholic nun who was executed by the Nazis for the “crime” of rescuing Jewish families from the Slonim Ghetto and hiding them in her monastery.
Last but not least, “having a right to our historic truths” reminds us that there is more than a modicum of ethnocentricity when it comes to wars. It is this ethnocentricity that defines how we refer to a war. To wit: The War of Independence that a fledgling Jewish nation was caught up in immediately upon proclaiming statehood in May 1948, is referred to by the Arabs in countries surrounding Israel as “Al Naqba” or “the catastrophe.” Put differently, what is arguably remembered as the proudest day in the twentieth century for Jews world-wide is recalled as the most calamitous day in the twentieth century for Arabs worldwide.  However much it may pain us, however justified we may be, it is simply not within our purview to tell the Polish people, or any other people involved in World War II, how to define the years 1939-1945. If the Polish government remembers World War II completely differently than the way we Jews remember World War II – if the Polish government subsequently passes a law to punish those who accuse it of complicity in the Holocaust – as a sovereign nation, they have that right, regardless of how wrong we Jews consider them to be.