A STAIN ON HUMANITY

Israel is a stain on humanity. As incredulous a charge as this may be, there are a goodly number of Jews both in Israel as well as in the diaspora who believe this to be true. Furthermore, these Jews feel it a mitzvah of the highest order to convince you that their belief is sacrosanct. For Palestinian nationalists to hurl such a charge is expected; for anti-Semites to hurl such a charge is understandable. But what causes Jews to view Israel as being a stain on humanity?

For them, it is impossible to replace Jewish plight with Jewish might. Lessons of downtrodden, obsequious and subservient Jews of the shtetl have been firmly etched in their minds and perhaps even in their souls. It is therefore unthinkable to expect these lessons to be replaced in a mere seven decades with the existence of a Jewish state. For them, the term Jew is synonymous with underdog. Their weltanschauung is one where the Jew is the nail and not the hammer. As such, I cannot help but wonder if such Jews celebrate Chanukah, the quintessential festival where a minority population with a ragtag army musters the audacity to go up against a Roman army with state-of-the-art armament.  In their view, Jews do not rock the boat; in their view, Jews seek to ameliorate situations by begging the foreign overlord to find it in his heart to accommodate the Jew. And if such heart-searching is stimulated by financial persuasion, so be it. That’s the price one pays for being a Jew.

Jews, non-observant Jews may have abandoned the teachings of the Torah, but the teachings of the Torah have never abandoned them. It’s no wonder then, that Jews, particularly in this country have been in the forefront when it comes to social action. Show them an oppressed people, either real or perceived; show them suffering masses – it makes no difference whether that suffering was brought on by an outside force or by the sufferers themselves – and such Jews will be among the first to take up the cudgel. They view the widow, the fatherless and the stranger mentioned in Torah in absolute terms. Who turned them into widows, who rendered them fatherless and why they are the stranger is totally irrelevant. For those who recall the definition of chutzpah as being where one murders his mother and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan, such Jews would find it totally incredulous how the court could remain so stone-hearted.

Jews seem to have a knee-jerk reaction when their Judaism is questioned or challenged. And so, the asinine response “I’ll have you know that I’m proud to be a Jew” came into vogue. For a born Jew, being proud to be a Jew makes no more sense than being proud to have black hair and brown eyes. Pride comes about because of what one has worked for and achieved. Pride is commensurate with blood sweat and tears. Unlike those born Jews who parrot “I’m proud to be a Jew,” I cannot help but feel that Jews who charge that Israel is a stain on humanity, are ill at ease at being Jews. Because there is nothing particularly Jewish about their daily lives, their Judaism becomes de facto synonymous with Israel. Because they are uncomfortable with their own Jewishness (Here I go playing psychologist without a license again) they are uncomfortable with the State of Israel. The very same individuals who make a conscious effort not to associate with other Jews and certainly not to incorporate any negative Jewish stereotypes into their behavior, are known for subconsciously maligning Israel on a regular basis.

As of this past Sunday, we have begun to sound the shofar daily. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the minds of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity so that they recognize that that it’s high time they held their heads high, rather than cowering at the sight of the non-Jews. As far as Mah Yomru HaGoyim – what will the other nations say? Quite frankly I don’t give a damn. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the hearts of those who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that those hearts do not go out instinctively to the widow, the fatherless and the stranger in Qabatiya, Qalqas and Qalqilya without first scrutinizing the reason why the widow, the fatherless and the stranger exist in the first place. If only the blast of the shofar would penetrate the souls who regard Israel as a stain on humanity, so that they become more comfortable with being Jewish through learning and doing. Only then will Israel cease serving as their whipping boy when they engage in self-flagellation. If only the blast of the shofar would cause them to see Israel as a bright spot for humanitarianism, instead of a stain on humanity.

RESURRECTED OR DEFECTED

Dan Bilefsky, New York Time’s reporter up in Canada would in all likelihood benefit from a vocabulary lesson. Last week, Mr. Bilefsky wrote an article titled “Old Houses of Worship Resurrected.” Mr. Bilefsky described how once vibrant Montreal churches are now operating as a gym and spa or a comedy club or a fromagerie (cheese shop). Excuse me? The literal definition of resurrected means brought back to life. Resurrected implies brought back to life as it once was. A house of worship that is now operating as a comedy club defies the term resurrection; a house of worship that is now operating as a comedy club is defined as desecration. Just look at what has become of a House of G-d!

Yet, it seems to me, that a house of worship need not close its doors to suffer desecration. Houses of worship have been undergoing desecration for decades now. And in some cases, synagogues; Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, have done their share to desecrate. Well-meaning rabbis envisioned that the congregation serve as a “one stop” recreation center for its people. Throughout the decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s, suburban synagogues were built with basketball courts, and exercise rooms with the pièce de résistance being “a shule with a pool!” Why, even the names of these congregations evoked the fact that all one’s needs are provided for. In the late ‘70’s, I was teaching Hebrew School at Van Cortland Jewish Center in the Bronx. Hanging on the wall in my office is a vanity license plate denoting my prior pulpit, (Temple) Beth Or. Yet, Temple Beth Or was incorporated as Clark Jewish Center!

Personally speaking, I am very much in favor of a synagogue being home to a Cub Scout pack or a Girl Guide group. I think it’s wonderful that Book Clubs take place in synagogue buildings and I would give anything if we could provide a meeting place for Jewish seniors to get together on a regular to play mahjong or Bridge.

Heaven forbid however, that all these pastimes and recreational activities be at the expense of praying! One of the saddest comments I ever heard, was from a well-meaning congregant who boasted that she was in the synagogue six days a week. What she neglected to say, is that as often as she was in the synagogue building, she entered the sanctuary a mere four times a year – both days of Rosh Hashana, Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur Yizkor. Regardless of the name on the building of a church, synagogue, or mosque; it is still first and foremost a house of prayer. People like to see synagogues active and vibrant. No one would argue that. Yet, when prayer becomes at best secondary to other activities taking place, then I cannot help but feel that it is time for the synagogue leadership to engage in some serious soul-searching.

Halacha or Jewish law was quite specific when it forbade the sale of a synagogue to a church. I cannot help but feel that Halacha or Jewish law saw the very walls of a synagogue being imbued with a sanctity that did not dissipate with the sale of the building. I also cannot help but feel that Halacha or Jewish law fell woefully short. If the sanctity of a synagogue is anything but ephemeral, then that sanctity must take presence over anything and everything that goes on in that synagogue. Let it never be forgotten that Book Clubs, Bridge Clubs, Youth Clubs, as well as all other activities are taking place in a House of Worship.

“My grandmother is happy I spend time in Church, even if I’m exercising my biceps and not my soul,” said Olivier Pratte in a Montreal gym that had once been a church.

Maybe your grandmother is happy, Mr. Pratte. Many other grandmothers are rolling over in their graves, seeing what has become of their house of worship as perspiration replaces inspiration.

CAMP IS VERY ENTERTAINING

Her name was Cheri. She was engaged to Keith and they were planning to marry. I met them in a Conversion to Judaism class that I was teaching. A relationship ensued between Cheri and Keith and me, in that they were totally dissatisfied with their Rabbi and asked if I would “sponsor them” on the road to Cheri’s conversion to Judaism and ultimately officiate at their wedding.  Other than the fact that Cheri broke her leg two weeks before the wedding and walked down the aisle with her leg in a cast, I will always remember a story Cheri told me about her childhood.

Cheri was raised in Brooklyn by a single parent. Her father abandoned her and her mother when Cherie was an infant. Cheri’s mother was Catholic. Yet, when Cheri was ready to attend Summer Camp, not one Catholic Camp in all of Brooklyn was prepared to respond to any and all pleas on the part of Cheri’s mother accept Cheri, in that Cheri’s mother didn’t have the necessary funds. Despite all attempts, virtually every Catholic Summer Camp in Brooklyn slammed the door in their face. There was, however, a Jewish Summer Camp in Brooklyn that did not slam the door in their face. This Jewish Summer Camp would in no way deny a young girl a camp experience. Her religious background and upbringing was not a factor.

I recently thought of Cheri when I read about Camp Nefesh based at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Louis, Missouri hosting refugee children. Regardless how many of us might feel about the current debacle taking place at our southern border, there are those in St. Louis who feel that the children of these refugees should not be denied a (day) camp experience. Nor are they alone.  Jewish Day Camps in Washington State, as well as in California, have adopted a similar approach toward the children of refugees.

However effusive our Yasher Koach is to these Jewish Day Camps who possess such concern and neshomeh (soul) for children of refugees in this country, I would also hope that Jewish Day Camps open their gates, their arms, and their hearts to children born into Jewish families who are in dire financial straits.  The Jewish Day School I attended no longer exists. The memories, however, live on. Among those memories are contemporaries of mine, born to Holocaust survivors who struggled to put food on the table. Yet, those contemporaries of mine were not in any way denied a Jewish education. And those contemporaries of mine had clothes to wear, even if those clothes were “hand-me-downs.” If a Jewish Day School can do this, there is no reason why a Jewish Day Camp cannot. Until Moshiach comes, the reality is that there will be those among our people who are living in poverty.

I have no idea if color wars and other similar activities are still in vogue at Summer Camps. I would hope however that the praiseworthy efforts of Camp Nefesh and other camps become a learning tool for the campers. Five years ago, a documentary was produced titled, “50 Children-The Rescue Mission of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus.” Very much attuned to the storm clouds brewing over Nazi Germany, the Krauses undertook to wrest 50 Jewish children from Vienna in the Spring of 1939. I believe that this documentary ought to be shown to campers – particularly on Tisha B’Av when the inyana d’yoma (Aramaic for topic for the day) ought to be discord among Jews – so that they be made aware of an antidote for the much too pervasive enmity that exists amongst Jewish groups. Shouldn’t the tenet Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la zeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) be inculcated into the minds and souls of the upcoming generation?

Last but not least, embracing the stranger must not be a 4 or 6-week mitzvah. I would hope that on Parents Day, the parents of the campers be sensitized to this Jewish value. To have a refugee family at your Shabbat or Festival family is meritorious; to have a “have-not” Jewish family at your Shabbat or Festival table is one beautiful mitzvah.

Kudos to Camp Nefesh for showing us that what they offer is more than “child’s play.” Perhaps Jewish families will follow suit throughout the year to show that Nefesh and Neshomeh are virtually interchangeable.

HEY, DON’T YOU WALK OUT!

Close to 25 years ago, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, prominent American Jews known for their generosity and largesse agreed that something had to be as far as Jewish youth between the ages of 18-26 identifying as Jews. They came up with “Birthright.”

Known in Hebrew as Taglit, or “discovery,” Birthright brings Jewish youth from gateway cities in this country to Israel for a 10-day, all expenses paid trip of Israel, which includes sightseeing, lectures and meeting with Israelis. As a matter a fact, seated across the aisle from us on our recent flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, were Canadian college students beginning their Birthright experience.

Little did we know, that a mere four days later, five participants (not those on our flight) would walk off their Birthright trip and onto a tour of Hebron led by Breaking the Silence, a group sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. The five participants were also members of  If Not Now,  an American group opposed to Birthright, in that they maintained that Birthright had a “one-sided”  agenda, thereby concealing the “truth” about the “Israeli occupation”.

Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe what took place, just as Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the behavior of the If Not Now members. If there were any justice in this world, other “friendly” Palestinians from Hebron would have greeted the five defectors with a welcoming committee, slingshots armed and ready, tires burning, while screaming “Allahu Akbar.” Heaven forbid that any physical harm would befall them, but I for one would have hoped and prayed that the experience would have left them shaken. Birthright goes out of its way to ensure and guarantee the safety of all its participants, yet a group determined to “save Israel from itself” meanders off to neighborhoods where they could very well be greeted with Arabs chanting “Itbah al-Yahud” (Arabic for “slaughter the Jew”).

Birthright is totally transparent as far as its itinerary and its goal. If that itinerary and goal is too one-sided for your tastes or political views, no one is forcing you to participate. Speaking of one-sided political views, Zehut is a political party in Israel, espousing Jewish sovereignty in all parts of the Land of Israel. Zehut encourages voluntary emigration of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Yet, I am not aware of any members of Zehut or any college age students who identify with Zehut ideology signing up for Birthright and then walking off their Birthright trip only to proceed with a tour of Hebron with the express purpose of meeting with nationalist Jewish settlers, living in a city surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. For them to do so would be an affront to Birthright. To sign up for what amounts to an all expense paid for trip to Israel, only to walk off that trip because of one’s personal political agenda is antithetical to Judaism. My upbringing instilled in me that this is simply no way for a mentsch to behave. Would these same “walkers” accept an invitation to spend an evening with a family, only to get up partway through that evening, to walk over to and visit with a problematic neighbor?

If groups such as “If Not Now” maintain that Birthright is presenting our youth with a jaundiced view of Israel, then let “If Not Now” offer our youth an alternative Israel experience, replete with their own political agenda. They have every right to do so, provided they present themselves honestly. I will be the first to applaud their integrity regardless of how I feel about their orientation. If on the other hand, the behavior of such groups is less than forthright and honest, and their constituents sign up to participate on Birthright only to undermine Birthright, then they’ve reminded me how very repulsive it is when Jews turn against each other. And that, is a shanda of the highest order.

ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.

LOOSE CANONS

Yours truly is up in arms that Jewish groups are up in arms. Pope Francis has recently taken a step that will move Cardinal August Hlond closer to sainthood. Cardinal Hlond was the highest-ranking church official in Poland from 1926 until his death in 1948. What exactly did Cardinal do or say that has raised the ire of Jewish groups? In a 1936 Pastoral letter, Hlond, at the time, primate of Poland, wrote: “It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free thinking and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion”. Adding insult to injury, Cardinal Hlond had the chutzpah to remain silent and not condemn the killing of 40 Jews in Poland in the Post World War II pogrom that took place in July 1946 in the city of Kielce.

Cardinal Hlond’s silence of the post-war pogrom in Poland along with his missive depicting Jews, are viewed as being so egregious, that the director of religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee is quoted as saying: “It’s very difficult to see how you can still claim that the man was a paragon (of saintliness) when the data  is so explicit.

I’m sure that I am in the vast minority, but it seems to me that Jews have no business whatsoever telling the Catholic Church whom they can elevate to sainthood .Twenty-seven years ago, this summer, Yosef Lifsh, driving the third car in a three car motorcade for the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Police escort was the first escort), accidentally hit a concrete pillar that subsequently fell on and killed 7 year old Gavin Cato and injured his 7 year old cousin Angela. However well justified he may have been, there was no reported apology or even comment from the Rebbe, who appears on bill boards throughout all Israel as Melech HaMoshiach – Messiah, the King). Applying the same standards that leaders of Jewish organizations are currently applying against Cardinal Hlond, wouldn’t the Guyanese community of which Gavin Cato and his cousin Angela were part – nay the entire black community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn – have had every right to excoriate the Rebbe through any and all media outlets for his failure to speak out?

I am no Catholic theologian, nor do I profess to be. Yet, from what I do know, one of the main criteria for elevation to sainthood is two miracles to have occurred through the intercession of the individual after his demise. I’m not aware that sainthood in the Catholic Church is contingent upon speaking out against man’s inhumanity against man, nor do I know that sentiments expressed in print, however controversial they are deemed to be, are grounds to withhold elevation to sainthood. Personally, I find it hard to believe that there are rabbis – especially revered rabbis – who have totally immaculate conceptions of non-Jews or are totally guiltless as far as comments – written or spoken concerning “goyim” (I apologize for the pejorative, which I employed to stress a point). So, let’s not be telling other religions how to go about their religious business.

Last, but not least, I dare say that we Jews are out of control as far as our reactions to perceived anti-Semitism. Hallevai (if only) the Third Reich would have come out with such statements instead of genocide. Within the last 6 months, I have heard the following two comments in my office, made by non-Jewish friends: “I tried to Jew him down” and “there’s no question that he’s a Jew, just look at his nose.” I wasn’t angry. I let it go. Perhaps leaders of national Jewish organizations should do the same.

To be sure, Jewish leadership has the right, perhaps even the obligation to express views pertaining to canonization. But these views ought to be expressed respectfully and after the fact. By the same token, Jewish leadership ought to look for the good and the noble in candidates for canonization and then, after canonization has taken place, Jewish leadership ought to take it upon itself to write letters of Yasher Koach and Mazel Tov to Catholic church leadership

ODIOUS COMPARISONS

As a rabbi, I have maintained that neither the pulpit nor written communication is the place for political commentary or viewpoint. Consequently, I take great issue with clergy – rabbis, priests, ministers – who use their position to espouse political views. With separating children from parents at the border having been resolved last week, I continue to remain resolved to withhold political comment. I do take strong exception however to odious comparisons, particularly when journalists have the chutzpah to invoke the Holocaust or  exercise poor judgment in quoting those who do.

The Holocaust is suis generis. It defies comparison. I’m not aware of any American authorities who broke into the living quarters of these families only to forcibly remove children from parents. Children, unless they were identical twins to be subjected to Mengele’s medical experiments were of no value whatsoever to the Nazis. For the Nazis, it would have been far more expedient to shoot (Jewish) children on the spot rather than waste the time, effort and resources of transporting them to death camps and marching them into gas chambers. I would therefore urge those who compare American authorities to Nazis to think twice before doing so.

The Dallas Morning News did itself a great disservice last week when it reprinted an article that appeared a day or two earlier in the New York Times. The journalist had the temerity (I’m being kind) to make reference to illegals in this country as “unauthorized” immigrants. Excuse me? Unauthorized immigrants? Would the same journalist refer to someone who stole merchandise from a Convenience Store as an “unauthorized customer”? Is the word “illegal” so politically offensive these days that it must be sanitized? The only illegal activity that could be pinned on Jews in Germany, Poland, Romania and all other countries overrun by Adolph and his acolytes was the fact that they existed; the only unauthorized behavior that could be attributed to the above mentioned Jews is that they polluted the atmosphere by their very being, thereby denying the Aryans pure air for their pure lungs. As one who can point to illegal immigrants in my own family, I do not sanitize the word. If only six million Jews could have managed to illegally leave all countries overrun by Nazis and illegally enter countries that refused to lift a finger to help them when they faced extermination! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of either the children or the parents detained by U.S. authorities at our borders facing extermination by any government. So why the comparison?

I’m not aware of journalists living in Nazi Germany and other countries having made odious comparisons. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of journalists in this country during the years 1939-1945 or any other country in the free world making odious comparisons either. When it came to the Holocaust, most journalists were indistinguishable from ostriches. Thankfully, this country provides us with a free press. But freedom and objectivity, freedom and responsibility are not, nor have they ever been synonymous. Equally as troubling, journalists, regardless of their integrity, are at the mercy of their editors. If an editor wants to milk an event, the journalist is best advised to keep the stories coming and to be “creative” if necessary. Conversely, if the journalist wishes to cover an event from an angle not in sync with that the editor, such as the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala failing to protect its citizens, that article will not garner the same exposure as our border with Mexico, if that article is printed at all.

As a rabbi, I find the removal of children totally unconscionable, however well cared for the children will be. Voices ought to be raised in protest. Our government officials ought to be contacted en masse by concerned citizens. No different when a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane occurs, journalists ought to bring the plight to light in a responsible fashion and offer suggestions how the public might assist. As a rabbi I also find odious comparisons totally unacceptable. When one reads these odious comparisons, one loses perspective. Odious comparisons besmirch the memories of those who not only suffered at the hands of the Nazis but were murdered by the Nazis; odious comparisons distort the real picture of those who truly need to seek asylum.

IF NOT NOW

If Not Now is an American Jewish progressive activist group opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The If Not Now movement consists of young Jewish Americans who demonstrate against politicians, US Government policies, and Jewish institutions perceived to support the “apartheid” behavior of Israel toward the Palestinians, primarily through direct action and media appearances.

If Not Now was founded four years ago to protest American Jewish institutional support for Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge, where following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Israel set out to destroy the tunnels Hamas built in Gaza with the sole aim of infiltrating into Israel. If Not Now’s first action was to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City.

Regardless of my feelings toward If Not Now, the group has every right to exist and promulgate their views. So too, for that matter, does Lehava, a group from the other end of the political spectrum have every right to exist, however odious its views. For the record, Lehava sees Christians as “blood-sucking vampires” and maintains that “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land.” Recently Camp Ramah found itself in an imbroglio when it included If Not Now in its camp curriculum. Facing enormous pressure to remove If Not Now from its programming, Camp Ramah recanted.

Lest they commit another egregious and unacceptable faux pas in the future, Camp Ramah’s leadership would do well to ask itself whether Jewish parents send their children to summer camp for the purpose of gaining an understanding of Palestinian suffering rarely, if ever, addressed by the American Jewish establishment. I may be totally off base, but it seems to me that in addition to being with friends and not having to worry about dietary laws, a good many Jewish parents send their kids to summer camp for swimming, boating, bonfires, and color wars. When all is said and done, parents send their children to summer camp to escape boredom that usually descends upon teenagers and pre-teens by the end of the first week of summer vacation.

Providing a forum for the wrongs and atrocities (I’m being facetious) committed against the Palestinians by the Israelis opens up a Pandora’s Box. If it’s kosher to include discussion/study about Palestinian victims, shouldn’t it be equally kosher to include discussion/study about German victims of the Holocaust? In the German city of Dresden, well over 20,000 Germans were killed within a 24 hour period in February 1945, as close to 4000 tons of high explosive bombs and other incendiary devices were dropped over its skies by the RCAF and the United States Army Airforce. Surely, many of the victims were innocent Germans. Perhaps at the next Yom HaShoah commemoration, Kaddish should be recited in memory of the innocent Germans who lost their lives in WWII. Better yet, with Tisha B’Av being observed in the very midst of camp season, isn’t it time that in addition to mourning the destruction and loss of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, that we also mourn the deaths of innocent Jews, as well as the deaths of innocent Babylonians (First Temple) and the deaths of innocent Romans (Second Temple), in that there was a high likelihood that casualties were borne by innocents on both sides? Why must the memories of innocent Germans of WWII, innocent Babylonians and innocent Romans of first and second Temple period be obliterated, as we champion the poor Palestinians?

Eight weeks of summer camp is an extremely short period of time to infuse Jewish teaching into the minds of children and adolescents. With a plethora of subjects available to its educators, ranging from ancient Midrash to Jewish American Biographies, one would think that the staff of Jewish summer camps has a challenge of cramming so much into such a limited time. If political viewpoints are of such critical importance to the curriculum of a summer camp, better the campers should learn about the political differences that raged among Jewish leaders as Jerusalem was besieged by the enemy.

Once upon a time, Camp Ramah was the single most successful story of the Conservative Movement. In eight weeks of summer, its counselors imbued more Judaism in their campers than the vast majority of Conservative rabbis imbued in their congregants week after week, year after year. Perhaps controversy and politics should be avoided at all costs; perhaps practice and ritual should be incremented at all costs. The results may very well be priceless.

JUDAISM IS DANGEROUS

Farfetched, it isn’t. In fact, it’s quite tempting. The more I think about it, the more I am drawn to construct a course entitled Judaism is Dangerous. As such, I am indebted to Reverend Shelton Gibbs, III; Pulpit minister of Greenville Church of Christ in nearby Richardson, who recently advertised an upcoming course on “Dangerous Isms,” where Judaism appeared alongside Islamism (sic).

Judaism, no different than “Christine,” lehavdil* (the name bestowed upon an indestructible 1958 Plymouth that “starred” in a Stephen King movie of the same name) is indestructible. Judaism is impervious to outside forces. Try as they might, outside forces while successful in destroying Jews, have shown themselves to be powerless when it comes to destroying Judaism. Pope Urban II, the force behind the first Crusade, was a farce when it came to Judaism. Yes, Jewish casualties were in the thousands and yes, although we have no statistics, there were Jews who chose acceptance of Jesus over acceptance of being murdered, but Judaism did not miss a beat. If anything, Judaism grew stronger as survivors looked to HaShem for answers, while the unscathed offered gratitude to HaShem for having come through man’s inhumanity to man, unscathed.

Judaism is resistant to prediction. Whether it is Pew reports or concerned committees at local synagogues, Judaism has shown time and time again that it is oblivious to discussion. Discussions and contingencies have at times proven successful in saving Jews, but totally irrelevant as far as saving Judaism. Instead of conducting studies, better one should study Talmud or this week’s Torah portion. Discussions are the mainstay of Judaism, particularly when the discussion is centered upon what meaning a particular prayer holds for a particular individual. Precious few individuals refrain from reacting to stimuli. Judaism however is far more precious. Never consign Judaism to the foibles of people. Ever!

As a rabbi, I feel it safe to say that more than a few of us are disturbed, to say the least, when we learn of a Jew forsaking Judaism and embracing Christianity. Are we Jews so myopic that we fail to understand that it’s quite possible and even probable that there are Christians and Christian leaders who are equally disturbed when they learn of a Christian embracing Judaism? Do we Jews possess a monopoly when it comes to  feeling a sense of abandonment and perhaps even go so far as to blame ourselves by resorting to the “where did I go wrong” when people forsake our religion? Don’t Christians have every right to ask that same very question? While Christians converting to Judaism, particularly for the sake of marriage, is an American phenomenon, wouldn’t it be fair to say that here in the “Bible Belt,” there is far greater likelihood of Christians seeking out and embracing Judaism for the purest of reasons, in that they feel that Judaism offers them more than Christianity offers them or can offer them? Furthermore, wouldn’t it be also fair to say that such conversions are occurring on a much more frequent basis than ever before? If it was okay for our ancestors to pronounce a “curse on Columbus” and behave in less than respectful manner when passing a church, how proper is it for us to immediately become judgmental before we even know what was meant by the “catchy” titles for the course offerings being offered by Greenville Church of Christ?

Judaism is dangerous, very dangerous. When Jews are threatened or harmed by outside forces, there is an excellent chance that Judaism will grow stronger. Wring your hands if you must, as far as the future of Judaism. Remember, however, that hand-wringers come into this world and take leave of this world, while Judaism perseveres, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad. And if it’s kosher for Jews to look upon Christianity as being dangerous when it is embraced with no ulterior motives by a family member or friend, shouldn’t it be equally kosher for Christians to feel exactly the same way about Judaism, when it is embraced by no ulterior motives by a family member or friend? Judaism – a unique, wonderful and sometimes, even dangerous, religion.

*A comparison that one ought not to make.

SINS OF THE FATHER

“The die has long since been cast; the fight will take place. The Jews with their backs to the sea, fighting for their very homes, with 101 percent morale, will accept no compromise.”

These words were written mere weeks before Israeli independence was declared and its people having to fight for their very existence in the concomitant War of Independence.

Contrary to one may think, these were not the words of Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion or any of the other founders of the nascent state. These words were penned by a 22-year-old reporter for the Boston Post. Encouraged by his father to travel overseas, but ignoring his father’s advice to steer clear of trouble, a young Bobby Kennedy boarded a flight from Cairo to what was then Lydda airport. It was during that trip to Israel, that the young reporter met with both the Irgun and Haganah (he was actually kidnapped, blindfolded and interrogated by Haganah agents before being released a short time afterwards.)

Two decades later, when Bobby was seeking the presidential nomination, he accompanied Rabbi Shmuel Shrage to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “Is there anything, Mr. Kennedy can do for you, in return for the blessing you gave him?” Rabbi Shrage asked the Rebbe. “Yes,” answered the Rebbe. “There are two Jews sitting in jail in the Soviet Union for spreading Judaism. If Mr. Kennedy can get them released and brought to this country, it would be a great thing.” After a couple of weeks, Bobby Kennedy called Rabbi Shrage. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can get them out of jail and even out of Russia. The bad news is that I can’t get them into the United States.” Rabbi Shrage was incredulous! The former U.S. Attorney General was able to get the two Jews out of Russia but unable to bring them into the United States (most likely because of anti-Semitism of some individuals in the State Department.) Rabbi Shrage contacted the State Department and threatened them with a media campaign. A short time thereafter, those two Jews were safe and sound on American soil.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of Senator Kennedy’s assassination, having been felled by a bullet by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian resident of Silwan in East Jerusalem. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan chose to kill the presidential aspirant on that exact date of June 5th, because it coincided with the first anniversary of Israel’s stunning victory of the Six Day war. Bobby Kennedy was targeted by the twenty-four-year-old Palestinian, because of Senator Kennedy’s unabashed support for Israel. As such, Bobby Kennedy was the first American victim of modern Arab terrorism.

There is little doubt that any number of Jewish newspapers in this country will carry stories about Senator Kennedy. What really ought to be remembered about Bobby Kennedy as far as I am concerned, is not his support for Israel per se (Lyndon Johnson will also be remembered as a great friend to Israel, as will Richard Nixon,) but his support for Israel and his friendship toward Jews in light of his upbringing.

Raised as the son of Joseph Kennedy, Bobby, no different than his older brother John, as well as his other 7 siblings was weaned on anti-Semitic sentiments and comments. Old Joe Kennedy’s dislike for Jews (yes, David Sarnoff was among Joe Kennedy’s best friends. Having a “good Jew” among your coterie of friends is not in any way unusual for anti-Semites. In no way do such anti-Semites see the dichotomy in this,) was legendary. I am neither a sociologist nor a psychologist. It would seem to me that the vast majority of us are products of our upbringing. Quite often beliefs, mores and behaviors are passed along from generation to generation. Conversely, to be have been raised in such an atmosphere and have the temerity to eschew one’s parent’s belief  because it is simply wrong is the sign of an exceptional human being – all the more so if that parent is still alive. Recall if you will, that Bobby predeceased his father by 16 months.

No doubt, many in this country will remember Bobby Kennedy as one who cared for his fellow human being and dared to make a difference where injustices were addressed and wrongs were righted. Even though sins of the father quite often fall on the children, I would hope and pray that Bobby Kennedy is remembered as one who showed us that in his case, sins of the father fall by the wayside.