A MOMENT OF SILENCE

Walking distance from the Hudson River on West 61st street adjacent to the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan is a High School that ranks in the top third of High Schools in New York City. It prides itself with one of the highest English proficiency scores in the city.  Earlier this month, this school made news for an entirely different reason. Students at that elite High School were asked to pause from their studies to pay tribute to victims of violence in Gaza, when scores of Palestinians (males typically between the ages of 17-27) lost their lives while protesting against Israel. The name of that educational facility is the Beacon School.

I can’t speak for other Jewish leaders, but I’m done talking. I have better things to do than to argue the position of Israel. Besides, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that facts and truths are meaningless to those who are intent on “feeling the pain, anguish and humiliation” of fellow human beings – provided of course those fellow human beings are Palestinians. Instead of talking, I would like to pose three questions to the powers that be at that institution for higher education as well as similar schools that are foolish enough to venture into an area they seem to know nothing about, only to exacerbate their ignorance by making a political statement.

Is concern for victims of violence at the Beacon School limited to Palestinians “suffering” at the hands of Israelis? If not, shouldn’t students have been asked to pause from their studies to pay tribute to Palestinians who have been victimized by Christians? Back in April, two large-scale riots took place in Hamborn district of Duisburg, a small town some 50-minute ride from the north-western German city of Cologne. The Hamborn district of Duisburg is on the cross-hairs of Turkish and Lebanese gangster clans that are demarcating territory in the northern part of the city. Did the powers that be at the Beacon School, ask the students to respond to the mayhem that occurred back in April?

Does the Beacon School offer scholarships so that students can spend their summers at the Jalazun Refugee Camp (or other similar Refugee Camps), not far from Ramallah? As respectful as a moment of silence may be, surely it pales in comparison to a summer of assistance. That way, students at the Beacon School could speak about their experiences and gain firsthand knowledge of the plight of the Palestinians. Isn’t speaking out far more important than a moment of silence? It seems to me that moments of silence are quickly forgotten. Summers of assisting will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on these students for the rest of their lives! Doesn’t true and honest concern warrant the latter course of action?

Are there moments of silence for students at the Beacon School to observe when a family or families in any one of the five boroughs of the city succumb to an apartment fire caused by faulty wiring or a gas leak? If charity begins at home, shouldn’t sympathy also begin at home? In addition to moments of silence, are there also moments of letter writing by students at the Beacon School for family members who have survived the tragedy? Are there also moments of silence at the Beacon School for students to put together baskets of toys and plush animals for children who have become orphaned by such fires?

Once upon a time, I too was a High School student. I therefore feel that it is fair to say that quite often moments of silence in school fall on deaf ears. Selective moments of silence in school on the other hand, make loud and bold statements, where discerning students immediately see through the motives or lack thereof of educators and administrators, leading them to question and challenge genuineness and sincerity of teachers and school officials alike.

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.

 

AMBASSADOR RAIL SERVICE

I have a proposal. When Israel inaugurates its rapid transit train service between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, I propose that the German Ambassador to Israel, The British Ambassador to Israel and the Jordanian Ambassador to Israel be invited to be passengers on the maiden voyage. It’s not the trains’ speed of up to 100 M.P.H. that ought to serve as an eye-opener for them, nor is it the cutting edge of technology that Israel has every right to pride itself with. Satisfaction on Israel’s part ought to be the reason for these three invitations.
The German Ambassador to Israel needs to make that trip aboard Rakevet Yisrael (Israel Rail) to be shown that whereas the Third Reich saw efficiency in transporting as many Jews as possible whether they be elderly, young children or infirmed via trains bound for Concentration Camps and Death Camps having the innocent victims stand for days (there were so many Jews packed in that there was virtually no room to sit) without food, water or bathrooms, Israel sees efficiency totally differently. Efficiency for Israel means station entrances and exits that are more than adequate in number and size; efficiency in Israel means comfort aboard the train; efficiency for Israel means the capability of safely transporting thousands of passengers by train each hour in comfort.
The British Ambassador to Israel needs to make that trip aboard Rakevet Yisrael (Israel Rail) to be shown that whereas the British High Command cursed the Jews in Palestine with their bloody underground fighters; Israel sees the concept of underground totally differently seven decades later. After descending hundreds of feet below street level, passengers will enter a world of climate controlled comfort filled with snack bars, coffee shops and kiosks. Rather than pour salt on the wounds of the British with the complete absence of British Leyland Buses that at one time served as the main vehicle of mass transit on Israel’s highways, Israel can now give the British yet another “shtoch” (jab) knowing fully well that the British are eating their hearts out seeing a state of the art train station under Binyanei HaUma, Jerusalem’s International Convention Center and then comparing it to London’s Victoria Station. Pity!
The Jordanian Ambassador to Israel needs to make that trip aboard Rakevet Yisrael (Israel Rail) to be shown that whereas Jordanians used rocks to block the highway at Castel (Al Qastal) and then open fire at the stopped buses, murdering innocent Jews as they were on the last leg of their journey to Jerusalem, Israel handles rocks completely differently.  In creating the high speed rail line, demolition crews blasted through rocks to enable construction crews to dig the longest tunnel in the country (the longest bridge in the country was also built for the very same reason). Some see rocks as weapons; Israel sees rocks as a challenge which its people have been able to meet and successfully surmount time and time again.
And while those three ambassadors are traveling on that first state of the art train estimated to pull out of the station in March 2018, their Israeli host may want to point out that the twenty-eight minute journey from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv has a significance all its own. In Gematria, Hebrew Numerology, the Hebrew word Koach (strength) equals twenty-eight. What a wonderful way of showing strength!

HI HITLER

As one who grew up in a city heavily populated by Ukrainians, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Kapusta (Ukrainian word for cabbage) eaters. Despite many exceptions on both sides, there were a good many Jews who saw the ancestors of the local Ukrainians as “pogromchiks” who would ride into a shtetl and revel in the rape and carnage of “Christ Killers”. Similarly, a good many Jews saw the parents and grandparents of the local Ukrainians as eagerly assisting the Nazis by doing all of the dirty work in the Concentration camps. Here too, the Ukrainian henchmen were avenging their savior’s death. Given that most Ukrainians in my hometown were descendants of peasant stock, we Jews referred to them as prosteh goyim (crude Gentiles) in Yiddish, while in English, we resorted to the local vernacular and called them Bohunks.
It was therefore with more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Pope Francis affixing his signature to a decree affirming the “venerable” status of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky. His Excellency’s claim to fame as far as I’m concerned, lies not in the fact that he served as the Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church for four decades, or that he served as the de facto political leader of western Ukraine, because of the government turmoil that existed; His Excellency’s claim to fame lies in the ambivalent view that Jews with knowledge of his participation in World War II, have of him. On the one hand, he is an angel from heaven, in that together with his brother Klementiy, he saved hundreds of Jews, among them, more than one hundred Jewish children from Nazi slaughter. It should be noted that not one Jewish child saved by Sheptytsky was lost to the Nazis or was lost to the Jewish people (through conversion). On the other hand, Sheptytsky is the devil incarnate for welcoming the Nazis, as they liberated Ukraine from Soviet rule. Because of the latter, Yad VaShem leadership refused to accord Archbishop Sheptytsky a plaque or signpost on the Avenue of the Righteous until 1995. Belated Righteous Gentile recognition notwithstanding, consider the following:
Andrey Sheptytsky’s welcoming the Nazis had nothing to do with the Jews. For him and millions of other Ukrainian nationals, the Soviets were the arbiters of man’s inhumanity against man. Soviet purge of religion aside, Uncle Joe Stalin systematically starved seven million Ukrainian peasants to death less than a decade earlier, in an effort to “nationalize” agriculture. The way Archbishop Sheptytski saw things; the Nazis were their enemy’s enemy and therefore friends of the Ukrainians. Never could the Archbishop fathom that the Nazis would be more inhumane than the Soviets. After all, what would be worse than stealing land from millions upon millions of peasants and then starving them to death?

However true it may be that hindsight is 20/20, hindsight greatly distorts one’s view as well. When Adolph first came to power, there were more than a few Jews in Germany who were fawning all over him. I have heard first hand, that our very own co-religionists were lovingly referring to him as Der shoner Adolph. Put differently, long before he devised the “final solution”, Adolph was seen as “the solution”! Before we excoriate others for rolling out the red carpet to the greatest enemy our people were ever cursed with, we would do well to beat our chests with an enormous chatati (I have sinned) in that there were those of us who also rolled out that very same red carpet!
Speaking of “final solution”, we would do well to realize that the “final solution” was a product of the Wannsee Conference which took place well over two years after the Nazis invaded Poland. Back in 1939, there were still those who were naïve enough to believe or to hope against hope that Hitler could be mollified, whether through the acquisition of Sudetenland or maybe even Poland.
Andrey Shepytsky was a priest, not a politician. One of the features of the vast majority of clergy is that they believe not only in a Supreme Being, but in their fellow human being as well, however naïve and foolish and even dangerous at times that may be. In September 1939, the Archbishop of western Ukraine simply couldn’t fathom that humans could undertake such diabolical, dastardly plans and come awfully close to succeeding.
As one, who by my own admission is no ardent supporter of Pope Francis, I extend to him a big Yasher Koach for his latest action concerning Andrey Sheptytsky. Such recognition, as far as I’m concerned, is long past due. This Wednesday marks the 150 anniversary of Andrey Sheptytsky’s birth. No doubt the descendants of those saved by Andrey Sheptytsky will thank HaShem for putting him on the face of this earth.

JUDGEMENT AT LUNEBURG

I have no idea how many of you have been following the trial of 94 year old Oskar Groning, who was sentenced last week at a courthouse in Luneburg, Germany to four years in prison for his role as an accomplice in World War II Germany. I have no idea how many of you reacted to a 94 year old spending 4 years in prison, despite the fact that the state prosecutor had asked for 3 ½ years, jail time. Finally, I have no idea how many of you realize that Oskar Groning may not be doing any jail time at all, if his lawyers decide to appeal the case. Appeals can easily stretch into months and 94 year old people don’t always have months left in their lives. It’s entirely possible that Oskar Groning will die before any and all appeals are exhausted.
What really caught my attention about the entire case had nothing whatsoever to do with the defendant. What really caught my attention about the entire case were the remarks made by Franz Kompisch, the judge who presided over the case. Upon handing down sentence, the judge said… “to join the S.S. and take a safe desk job at Auschwitz was your decision… You had the freedom to think… yet you asked to join the S.S.”
For the life of me, I wish I knew the German equivalent of Kol HaKavod! Because Kol HaKavod is exactly what I would like to say to Judge Kompisch. Come to think of it, a big Yasher Koach would be very much in order as well for the Judge. In making those remarks, the Judge shed light on the following three areas:
You have the freedom to take responsibility! For decades now, we have been hearing the standard “I was just following orders”. Gott in Himmel! Such lame excuses have done nothing but insult the intelligence and arouse the anger for those of us who still have the ability to think for ourselves. Siegfried! Fritz! Reinhart! Were you “just following orders” when you joined the Nazi Party or became part of the S.S. or enrolled in Hitler Youth or do you take full responsibility for you actions?
You have the freedom to listen to a moral conscience, that is, if you have one, or work to develop a moral conscience, if you are lacking one. Those Germans who do not resort to the tried and true “I was just following orders” rely on another excuse that they can fall back on: “If I refused to fulfill my duty, there was any number of others that would have taken my place”.
No argument! There was no shortage of Germans willing and in some cases even eager to help make Germany and the rest of Europe, Judenrein. You had the freedom however, to decide whether your hands would remain clean, or be full of blood. Unfortunately, not nearly enough Germans chose the former.
You have the freedom to turn a blind eye each time you look at your face in the mirror. Remember however, that very same Gott in Himmel, mentioned earlier, does not turn a blind eye. He sees all. And because Gott in Himmel sees all, and because you chose to have selective vision which leads to temporary blindness each time you look into the mirror, Gott in Himmel becomes irate and says to you: You make me sick! Get out of my sight!
News reports say that judge Kompisch delivered a sweeping 75 minute speech. As far as I’m concerned, he said it all in just a couple of sentences.