DENYING THE DENIERS

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever as to how many Holocaust Deniers sully humanity with their ludicrous claim that the Holocaust never existed. I do know, however, that there is one notorious Holocaust denier less, with the recent death of Ernst Zundel. In addition to spreading lies and misinformation, Zundel’s “claim to fame” was that he was deported from Canada and then the United States. Back in his native Germany, Zundel spent five years in prison for the crime of “Folkverhetzung” or incitement of the masses. I, for one, see a certain sense of poetic justice when a Holocaust denier is in turn denied citizenship – not once, but twice, and then denied freedom. But rather than waste my time on Ernst Zundel, I feel that it is important for us to understand what makes Holocaust deniers tick. Accordingly, I offer three reasons:

Holocaust deniers have a pride and love for their “Vaterland” that is second to none. Because of such extreme pride and love, Holocaust deniers simply cannot allow for an everlasting stain to sully the history of Germany. Unlike others who protest, “I was just following orders,” Holocaust deniers claim that there never were any orders, because the Holocaust never existed. Forgive me for saying so, but if Holocaust deniers knew the term “lashon harah,” which can be understood as besmirching a reputation, Holocaust deniers would maintain that Jews worldwide are guilty of “lashon harah” for besmirching the sterling reputation of a country (Germany) that is simply beyond reproach in any and every way.

They love attention. By knowing how to push all the “right” buttons, Holocaust deniers are in all their glory. It matters little, if any, to Holocaust deniers if they achieve fame or infamy, just as long as they get media coverage and Jewish dander up. Holocaust deniers instinctively know that there are two subjects that are bound to set Jews off – Israel and the Holocaust. Both (the Holocaust outranks Israel) go directly to the emotions. Never accuse Israel of violating human rights of Palestinians; never accuse Jews of fabricating the Holocaust. The very same people who would ignore any lunatic, who claims the French Revolution never happened, refuse to ignore any lunatic who claims the Holocaust never happened. Instead, we Jews give that lunatic every bit of our attention and then some, even though we feel our blood pressure rising by the minute.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, the Holocaust has become the raison d’etre for a good many American Jews. Rather than inculcate Jews with “thou shalt not grant Hitler a posthumous victory,” the Jewish philosopher Emile Fackenheim should have left as his legacy “the Holocaust must not become the sum total of our Jewish existence.” As a rabbi, I can’t tell you the amount of times students have equated Hebrew School experience with learning about the Holocaust. Heaven forbid that Adolph should replace The Baal Shem Tov or The Chofetz Chaim or Sarah bas Tovim or Gluckel of Hamlen! Yet, because of our inability to realize that our national nightmare was but six years of our 4000 year-old history, this is exactly what has taken place!

Holocaust deniers are an extension of “Der Fuehrer.” “Der Fuehrer” came awfully close to eradicating Jews. Holocaust deniers are coming dangerously close to eradicating Jewish education in that Holocaust education seems to have come dangerously close to usurping Jewish education. The Holocaust must never be forgotten!  By the same token, we Jews dare not forget that the Holocaust must never obliterate the rest of our history and heritage.

Living at a time when saying nasty things (unless they are against Israel) is a deadly sin, let the rest of society and our lawmakers deal with Holocaust deniers. Let descendants of World War II veterans take up the cudgel. As far as we Jews are concerned, let us ignore Holocaust deniers. Seeing that they cannot evoke any reaction, much less anger on our part, Holocaust deniers will eventually slink away with their tails between their legs.

 

SINAT CHINAM REDUX

Although accurately translated as baseless hatred, Sinat Chinam has been understood as to what lengths one will do to turn against one’s own people. The Talmudic story that serves as the basis for Sinat Chinam explains that Sinat Chinam resulted in the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem.

American Jewry experienced a most bitter taste of Sinat Chinam toward the end of last week, when it was discovered that it was a Jew – a teenager with dual American/Israeli citizenship – living in Ashkelon, who was behind the bomb threats at Jewish Day schools, JCC’s, and synagogues throughout this country. Far be it from me to decide what punishment, if any, is due him – (I have already decided, but anything I say or print will be held against me) but there is simply no forgiveness for the irreparable damage that he caused.

The teenager caused so many of us to draw the wrong conclusion. Justifiable or not, countless American Jews felt that it must be some “right-wing nut” or sympathizer of “humiliated” Palestinians who was behind all this. At present, tensions are high enough between a good many Jews in this country and these two groups. Thanks to the teenager currently in Israeli custody, fuel has been added to the fire. Quite frankly, this is worst that can happen as far as ecumenism. And this is coming from a rabbi who so often gives new meaning to the word “provincial” when it comes to interacting with the outside world.

He caused a good many of us to review the meaning of “land of the free and home of the brave.” Once upon a time, our children and grandchildren answered “nothing” when we asked them: “What took place at school today?” For the last period of time, not only have we been afraid to ask, but we feared that we might be confronted by an excited eight year old exclaiming: “Guess what? We had a bomb scare at our school today!”  The more sanguine among us might very well have waxed philosophical, finding comfort in that it was “only” a scare and not the real thing. Then again, who ever thought that one should have to resort to being sanguine when it came to bomb threats at our schools, our JCC’s, and our synagogues?

There are deranged individuals in our society.  Quite often, they lack the creativity and ingenuity to devise and plot and scheme. And so, they are rarely a threat to others. For this we are extremely grateful. The Jewish teenager in Ashkelon provided these deranged individuals with fodder. We call it copycat crimes. And so, few should have been surprised – unnerved yes, but surprised no – when a bomb threat was called into our JCC here in Dallas, after the Israeli teenager had been apprehended.

Most of us recall the Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” There are only so many times that the authorities will give top priority to a bomb scare. Sooner or later, thorough investigations will give way to cursory inspections. Heaven forbid that a cursory inspection fails to detect a real bomb resulting in carnage and destruction.  I would like to believe that the teenager in Ashkelon would not have gone any farther than calling in bomb threats; I shudder to think what a “copycat” deranged individual might have done. Would he too not have gone any farther than calling in the bomb threat? Or would he have gone all the way?

Sinat Chinam is hate for no reason. Unfortunately the teenager now in custody in Israel provided us with many reasons.

BIRTHRIGHT or BIRTH LIGHT

Last month I read about a program which is essentially Birthright turned on its head. Birthright as many of you may know is the brainchild of Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt. Twenty-two years ago, these two philanthropists came up with the idea of bringing Jewish youth (where at least one parent is a member of the tribe) to Israel. Whether you call it vitamin I (Israel) or vitamin J (Judaism), the purpose of Birthright is to introduce and hopefully whet the appetite of American Jewish youth toward their heritage. As far as numbers (participants), Birthright has been a phenomenal success.
The converse has been now created. A little more than a month ago, twenty-five students at the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at Haifa University embarked on a trip to these United States as part of a program to introduce them to American Jewish history, religion, and culture.
Kol HaKavod (way to go)! Yet, as important as it is for American Jewish youth to be exposed to Israel and as important as it is for Israelis to be exposed to Jewish America, it is vital that American Jewish youth be exposed to American Jewish history, culture and heritage. Sad to say, this has yet to happen. American Jewish youth – for that matter American Jewish adults as well – know bupkess when it comes to the contributions Jews have made to these United States and the ways Jews have shaped American culture.
If there are two abysmal failures inherent in the upcoming generation of American Jews, then it is the failure to take pride – real pride – in our country as well as the inability (due to ignorance)  to take pride in our American Jewish heritage.
Polish Americans have every right to shep naches that there is the Pulaski Skyway named for Casimir Pulaski founder of the American cavalry and hero of the American Revolution or that Henryk Magnuski, an engineer at Motorola was the principal engineer on the team that created the first walkie-talkie. Italian Americans have every right to shep naches that Christopher Columbus, Giovanni Verrazano and others played a major role in discovering this country. Irish Americans have given us no fewer than six presidents including, Andrew Jackson and J.F.K. as well as actors and television personalities such as Gregory Peck, Gracie Allen and Ed Sullivan. American Jews have every right to boast as well. The only problem is that American Jews are woefully ignorant when it comes to prominent American Jews such as Jonas Salk, Sergey Brin and Hal David, to name but three of so very many.
I love Israel. I truly do. But as proud as I am that Benjamin Netanyahu is the first Prime Minister to have been born on Israeli soil, I’m equally proud that Jack Lew, our current Secretary of the Treasury is a Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observing) New York born Jew. My heart would soar every time I would watch the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin make havdalah; my soul soars when I know that Ben Braffman, one of the leading defense attorneys in New York, would never dream of missing a Shacharis, or a Mincha, or a Maariv service. If it’s true that charity begins at home, then perhaps it’s also true that pride begins at home. I am so amazed, that I am at a loss for words when I see that Israel has become number one so many fields, despite all the obstacles it must overcome; I am so amazed that I am at a loss for words when I see how, in previous generations, American Jews became number one in so many fields, despite all the obstacles that they had to overcome.
Jewish leaders, secular as well as religious are bewailing the fact that we are losing so many of our best and brightest to assimilation. Perhaps these leaders ought to get up from their self-induced shivah they are sitting and realize that the epidemic that threatens American Jews is not assimilation, but ignorance. By all means, full steam ahead with Birthright Israel. At the same time, let’s use all means to sound the alarm, loud and clear for Birthright America.