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

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.