VITAMIN A

Back in the day, Jews living outside Israel – especially Jews in these United States – discovered a new vitamin. It was assigned the name Vitamin I. Although Vitamin I was not available in any Drug Store, or through any pharmaceutical firm, it was believed that Vitamin I (“I” stands for Israel) was just “what the doctor ordered” for any difficult Jewish teenager. A month or two in Israel – preferably working on a kibbutz – would surely straighten out your “rebel without a cause.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that Vitamin I was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is another Vitamin that was also being marketed, although not exclusively by Jews. It was assigned the name Vitamin A (not to be confused with the pre-existing Vitamin A, which is believed to have beneficial effects for the retina.) Much like Vitamin I, it was believed that Vitamin A (“A” stands for Auschwitz) was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was Vitamin A seen as being beneficial to Jewish High School students, in that it added a unique dimension to their Holocaust studies, Vitamin A was also seen as being beneficial to counteract antisemitism. Take a group of avowed anti-Semites on a tour of Auschwitz and “here comes contrition.” Unless one was under the influence of another substance, one should have realized that when dealing with anti-Semites, Vitamin A was little different than taking a few swigs of “Dr. Good.”

There is a teaching handed down to us by our rabbinic sages: “Tsarot rabbim chatzi nechamah” or “learning that there are others out there suffering with the same issue is half the battle.” We call it self-help groups. As a rookie rabbi, I recall speaking to a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a group of parents attempting to deal with the loss of a child. At the very worst, such parents see themselves as victims of divine cruelty. Anti-Semites on the other hand, see themselves as being victimized by Jews. All the problems that plague anti-Semites are caused by Jews. Victims of that variety are not in the least bit interested in self groups; victims of that variety find it reprehensible for someone to tell them that Jews were also victims. Don’t even try to educate anti-Semites about the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a hoax! Auschwitz was part of that hoax. Bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz, introducing them to vitamin A, is an exercise in futility.

Anti–Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, revel in self-pity and hatred of Jews. Anti-Semites, true and tried anti-Semites, are happiest when they are miserable. Their existence is predicated upon getting themselves worked up over the world-wide Jewish conspiracy of planning to take over the world. Even if bringing anti-Semites to Auschwitz isn’t an exercise in futility and actually does have a modicum of efficacy, anyone planning such an outing would be subjecting anti-Semites to cruel and unusual punishment. Introducing anti-Semites to vitamin A would be depriving them of their happiness.

Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator (Ms. Chebli is of Palestinian heritage), recently proposed that any perpetrator of antisemitism (being caught painting swastikas on synagogues and other Jewish owned buildings) be required to visit Auschwitz or other Nazi concentration camp memorial. Apparently Ms Chebli is also a firm advocate of vitamin A. I applaud her for her sincerity, but I am amazed at her naiveté. If someone is truly dedicated to fighting antisemitism, if someone really believes that an anti-Semite has an open mind and is willing to listen and learn, then why on earth would you want to take an anti-Semite to see where Jews died? For heaven’s sake, take an anti-Semite to see where Jews live! Take anti-Semites to see Israeli doctors treating Palestinian children. Take anti-Semites to visit descendants of survivors of Hitler to learn what they have on their minds. Take anti-Semites to a synagogue to hear the subject matter of a rabbi’s sermon. Chances are excellent that they will never hear any hatred being spewed at anti-Semites, much less non-Jews. Let Auschwitz serve as a memorial for those who wish to learn and remember. Let those who truly believe in combating antisemitism, expose the anti-Semite not to the way Jews died, but to the way Jews live.

Cheap Jew

A resident of a shtetl east of Terrell came up to me as I was standing at a display in the Perot Science Museum last week (my grandchildren were visiting). What developed into a most interesting conversation for both of us began with his approaching me and initiating the it in the following manner: “I have a question I would like to ask you and I don’t know how to phrase it. I hope that you don’t take any offense.” After I encouraged him to ask me whatever he had on his mind and assured him that no offense whatsoever would be taken, he proceeded to inquire about the uncut strands of hair that my two older grandsons wear in front of their ears. Five minutes later, we were still talking, as I handed him my card and offered to drive out to his church and speak about Judaism and or Israel.

Despite wearing a kippah on my head at all times, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who has been approached by a non-Jew. Chances are that a goodly number of us have been approached by a total stranger who asked: “Are you Jewish?”
Please don’t take offense at such a question. I beg you!

Unless a non-Jew accosts us or even approaches us with “Why are Jews so cheap?” or “Why do Jews have all the money?” let not our hearts be troubled.  “Why are so many Jews, doctors, lawyers or accountants” ought not to be interpreted as being anti-Semitic. This is a legitimate question which deserves a legitimate answer. I highly doubt that any disrespect is meant by asking such a question. And a legitimate answer is that our European ancestors were forbidden to own land (farms) and work the land. Instead of concentrating on our brawn or manual dexterity, as Jews, we concentrated on our brain and our mental acuity. Incidentally, David Klein – whom I have known since I was fifteen – is a plumber in Oak Park, Michigan.

By virtue of our being Jews, we are all ambassadors to the outside world. It’s a position we never asked for or in all likelihood never wanted. But that’s life. As such, getting our noses out of joint when we perceive that there is some anti-Semitic undertone to a comment or question coming from a non-Jew can only make us look bad. Somebody asked us a question. Chances are that nothing was meant by it. And even if the question or comment reeked of anti-Semitism, we can only lose by lowering ourselves to the standards of the one who asked the question or made the comment. If we really want to make a statement, then let’s do so by ignoring the question or comment. No one likes to be ignored.

Anti-Semites rarely sound off at Jews. Anti-Semites typically sound off at other anti-Semites. That way, their views are validated. At best, anti-Semites mutter under their breath. Such was the case some twenty years ago, when I took the train into Manhattan to attend the annual Salute to Israel parade. The train was packed with scores of others traveling into New York for the very same purpose. As we walked out onto Seventh Avenue, a middle aged man walked toward us. It was clear that he knew who we were and where we were headed.  He so much as said so, as he muttered “f*****g Jews” while passing us on the sidewalk. It’s highly doubtful that he would have extended that very same “greeting” to our faces.

According to recent studies, 9% of Americans harbor anti-Semitic views. Stated differently, 91% of Americans harbor no such views. As a Jew, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get much better than that. As for that 9%, few if any of them have any desire to engage us in conversation. Anti-Semites have little, if anything, to say to us. Let’s not ruin it by being overly sensitive to the other 91% who mean no harm and no disrespect.