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.

AUSCHWITZ CALLING

Predictably, the visit by Pope Frances to Auschwitz this past Friday was on the radar screens of more than a few Jewish organizations. Some of these organizations were hoping against hope that as result of this visit, the Pontiff will break with the policies of six predecessors dating back to immediately following the end of World War II and order the release of Holocaust –era archives which have up until now been sealed by the Vatican. It is maintained that access to these sealed archives would provide the Jewish world with the following information:

1. How much business dealings did the Vatican have with the Third Reich?
2. Could Pope Pius XII have done more to save the Jews?
3. What role did the Church play in enabling Nazi criminals to escape Germany after the war?

As many of you might have surmised, the Pope’s visit was not on my radar screen; as many of you might have guessed, I am not in the least bit interested in what revelations these documents hold. Let’s assume the very worst. Let’s assume that during the years of 1939 Hitler’s hell, Pope Pius XII was in bed with Adolph and was complicit with every inhumane policy and action that was executed. Does knowing that about the Catholic Church make us feel any better as Jews? Do those of us who have maintained all along that the Catholic Church has blood on its hands, now feel exonerated, as we go around espousing a self-righteous attitude of “I told you so” to anyone who will listen?

Alternatively, let’s assume the very best. Let’s assume that Pope Pius XII did everything he could have done to help Jews while not getting on Adolph’s bad side? Doesn’t that now make us look ridiculous for pointing a finger, as we sought comfort with self-conferred victim status? Doesn’t that make us feel foolish for automatically seeing the Catholic Church as being anti-Semitic?

Instead of focusing on that which is sealed, perhaps it’s time that we focus in on that which is revealed? Last year was the worst year in modern history for Christians being persecuted. You would however have no way of knowing it, based on what came out of the Vatican. Along those same lines, I do not recall the Vatican ever speaking out on behalf of Christian Arabs suffering at the hands of Muslim extremists in any number of countries throughout the world.  Not once did the Pontiff express outrage at ISIS (they claimed responsibility) for the slaying of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was murdered in cold blood in his Church in Normandy two weeks ago. His Holiness is far too busy asking for Divine forgiveness, than seeing the need for human culpability.  If the Holy See sees no real need to become enraged and speak out when Christians are victims and hold the perpetrators responsible, then why should we Jews think that the Holy See sees any need to become enraged and speak out for justice when Jews are victims?

Perhaps the time has come for us Jews to stop deluding ourselves that we have a right to have certain expectations from the Pontiff regarding the Holocaust or even the well-being of Israel.   Perhaps the time has come for us Jews to follow the pattern established by any number of Holocaust survivors and instead of looking for apologies or the taking of responsibility or the redressing of wrongs, (people and nations rarely admit that they are wrong – it’s been that way since Adam and Eve) – perhaps it’s time for us to look ahead and make sure that we don’t behave in the same manner towards others, as others behave toward us. Perhaps the time has come for us as Jews to realize, that as important as it is for the Pope to visit Auschwitz, it’s even more important for Auschwitz to visit the Pope.