GRAGGERS FOR THE GROGGY

As a teenager, I recall reading in Mad Magazine, that Hitler was alive and well, running a used Volkswagen dealership in Bayonne, New Jersey. While I’d like to consider myself of a different caliber than the writers at Mad Magazine, I cannot help but speculate what would happen, if Haman, and not Hitler were alive today. No used Volkswagen dealership for Haman, of that I am sure. Haman in my musings, would be  serving in the U.S. Congress, having been elected by the large Iranian constituency in Nassau County, Long Island. And since a leopard does not change his spots, (Jeremiah 13:23), Haman would be voicing his utter contempt for Jews. As an added feature, Haman would also be making known his diatribe against Israel. Oddly enough, I would not be troubled by any of Haman’s comments, however factually incorrect and ludicrous they would be. What  would give me agita though, would be those who would rise up to protect Haman from well-founded criticism and well deserved reprimand.

Given those Jewish voices that were recently heard in the media, however few they have been, protecting a freshman Congresswoman’s ill-advised comments about Jews and Israel, I cannot help but feel, that  those very same Jewish voices that spoke up in defense of the freshman Congresswoman, would have weighed in similarly on Haman’s defense as well. Their comments would in all probability be not all that different than the three paragraphs that follow:

In no way was Congressman Haman anti-Semitic. He was merely pointing out how terribly unhealthy the relationship is between the United States and Israel. If Congressman Haman is guilty of anything, it is that he did not speak out four years ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister had the chutzpah to lecture Congress and tell Congress how it must deal with yet another foreign country. This was Congressman Haman’s beloved Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister was vilifying. Are we Americans so heartless, that we cannot feel Congressman Haman’s pain?

Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred nor prejudice against Jews or any other people. Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred or prejudice against Israel or any other country. Otherwise, how could he have been elected to Congress in the first place? I’m not asking that you necessarily agree with Congressman Haman’s well thought comments about American Jews and Israel. I’m asking that as Americans, you accord him honor and respect. After all, isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about in this country?

As, a Jew, I strongly condemn, anti-Semitism, whether it comes from Congressman Haman or from the person behind the counter at the bakery, where I shop. Let us not however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of  the “Shanda Government” in Israel. When Congressman Haman said, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” his remarks were taken out of context. What Congressman Haman meant to say, is that American Jews have no right to support an apartheid, fascist, government that treats its Arab citizens worse than the way the Nazis treated our people in World War II. As an American, as a Jew, I implore you!  Let us never deny Congressman Haman, the right of legitimate debate and certainly, the right of free speech.

Congressman Haman apologized to me the other day – not only for the words he used – he apologized to me as a Jew. He did not have to. I admire him for that. I want to tell you, that being a Jew, is to be welcoming to the stranger. And I want to tell you, that Haman is from Iran. Who are we to call him out for anti-Semitism?  Yes, anti-Semitism is a huge problem, but so too is the way we view the Ayatollah, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his government. Shouldn’t we Jews serve as an example to learn from other cultures, rather than criticize them? As Jews who know only too well what it’s like to be a refugee, how dare we treat Congressman Haman, a refugee himself, in such a condescending fashion! It is we who owe Congressman Haman an apology. Let us seek to establish dialogue with Congressman Haman. Let’s work toward peoplehood, peace and good. Let us seek love, understanding and coexistence. Why can’t we all just get along?

As one who takes the message of the Megillah very seriously, I pray that next week’s grating sounds of the graggers, penetrate the auditory nerves of groggy Jews who make it a point to defend those who vilify Jews and the Jewish State, for it is they who ultimately they pose the greatest danger in what they say.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BABY

I was always under the impression that freshman congressman, much like children, should be seen and not heard. A goodly number of American Jews might well have agreed with me, given what transpired  earlier this month, following an exchange of tweets, between two members of Congress. In response to a fellow Congressman from another political party tweeting: “It’s stunning, how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” the foreign born, newly elected congresswoman tweeted back: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The Congresswoman was quoting a rap song from a quarter a century ago, which referred to hundred-dollar bills as “Benjamins”, in that Benjamin Franklin appears on the hundred-dollar bill.

Despite the brouhaha which erupted, accusing the congresswoman of anti-Semitism, prompting an immediate act of contrition on her part, I should like to point out that politics notwithstanding,  the neophyte nabob was not entirely wrong.

Centuries before the congresswoman’s country of birth gained its independence, our ancestors in Eastern Europe were enriching our vocabulary with the following Yiddish aphorism: Der vos hot die mayess, hot die dayess. Translated into English, it reads: “whoever has the ‘hundreds’ has the right to express opinions.” While it is highly doubtful that our ancestors even knew who Benjamin Franklin was, much less had the remotest idea that Benjamin Franklin would appear on an American hundred-dollar bill,  there is little, if any doubt, that our ancestors would have dismissed the yet to be born statement “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” as being anti-Semitic, in either spirit or tone. But then again, never in their wildest dreams, could our ancestors have envisioned  a Jewish State that would come into being prior to the advent of the Messiah, just as never in their wildest dreams could our ancestors have envisioned a close bond that would develop between the “Goldeneh Medinah” and the “Yiddisheh Medinah.”

Towards the beginning of Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers, the sage Shimon the Tzaddik (righteous) taught us that “the world depends on three things: Torah (study), Service (worship), and acts of kindness.” Leave it to our Eastern European ancestors with their sardonic view of the world, to emend that teaching as follows: “the world rests on three things: Gelt (money), gelt (money), and gelt (money). Given the abject poverty that threatened the everyday existence of our shtetl dwelling bubbes and zeides, our ancestors’ predilection for “Benjamins” is most understandable. It was only logical therefore, that Tevye, the quintessential shtetl Jew in Fiddler on the Roof, would break out in song, as he begins to muse: “If I were a rich man.”

Among the many inventions  that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this country introduced into this world, was the bifocal. Two decades after Benjamin Franklin was taken from this world, a Lithuanian rabbi of renown, was able to direct our attention to the human eye as well. It was Rabbi Israel Lipkin, better known as the Salanter Rov or the Rabbi of Salant,  who pointed out, that a small coin placed directly in front of the human eye will hide everything else from sight. Optics aside, if a small coin has the capability of blinding us to all else, one can only imagine the great power of the hundred-dollar bill, aka the Benjamin!

Short of human nature undergoing a profound metamorphosis, the task will fall to the all too precious few moralists in our society, who will continue to impress upon us that “money isn’t anything.” Unfortunately, there will be a good many in our culture, who will continue to maintain that “money is the only thing.” Like the newly elected Congresswoman, they will add their voices to the mantra, as they bleat: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!”