ODIOUS COMPARISONS

As a rabbi, I have maintained that neither the pulpit nor written communication is the place for political commentary or viewpoint. Consequently, I take great issue with clergy – rabbis, priests, ministers – who use their position to espouse political views. With separating children from parents at the border having been resolved last week, I continue to remain resolved to withhold political comment. I do take strong exception however to odious comparisons, particularly when journalists have the chutzpah to invoke the Holocaust or  exercise poor judgment in quoting those who do.

The Holocaust is suis generis. It defies comparison. I’m not aware of any American authorities who broke into the living quarters of these families only to forcibly remove children from parents. Children, unless they were identical twins to be subjected to Mengele’s medical experiments were of no value whatsoever to the Nazis. For the Nazis, it would have been far more expedient to shoot (Jewish) children on the spot rather than waste the time, effort and resources of transporting them to death camps and marching them into gas chambers. I would therefore urge those who compare American authorities to Nazis to think twice before doing so.

The Dallas Morning News did itself a great disservice last week when it reprinted an article that appeared a day or two earlier in the New York Times. The journalist had the temerity (I’m being kind) to make reference to illegals in this country as “unauthorized” immigrants. Excuse me? Unauthorized immigrants? Would the same journalist refer to someone who stole merchandise from a Convenience Store as an “unauthorized customer”? Is the word “illegal” so politically offensive these days that it must be sanitized? The only illegal activity that could be pinned on Jews in Germany, Poland, Romania and all other countries overrun by Adolph and his acolytes was the fact that they existed; the only unauthorized behavior that could be attributed to the above mentioned Jews is that they polluted the atmosphere by their very being, thereby denying the Aryans pure air for their pure lungs. As one who can point to illegal immigrants in my own family, I do not sanitize the word. If only six million Jews could have managed to illegally leave all countries overrun by Nazis and illegally enter countries that refused to lift a finger to help them when they faced extermination! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of either the children or the parents detained by U.S. authorities at our borders facing extermination by any government. So why the comparison?

I’m not aware of journalists living in Nazi Germany and other countries having made odious comparisons. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of journalists in this country during the years 1939-1945 or any other country in the free world making odious comparisons either. When it came to the Holocaust, most journalists were indistinguishable from ostriches. Thankfully, this country provides us with a free press. But freedom and objectivity, freedom and responsibility are not, nor have they ever been synonymous. Equally as troubling, journalists, regardless of their integrity, are at the mercy of their editors. If an editor wants to milk an event, the journalist is best advised to keep the stories coming and to be “creative” if necessary. Conversely, if the journalist wishes to cover an event from an angle not in sync with that the editor, such as the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala failing to protect its citizens, that article will not garner the same exposure as our border with Mexico, if that article is printed at all.

As a rabbi, I find the removal of children totally unconscionable, however well cared for the children will be. Voices ought to be raised in protest. Our government officials ought to be contacted en masse by concerned citizens. No different when a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane occurs, journalists ought to bring the plight to light in a responsible fashion and offer suggestions how the public might assist. As a rabbi I also find odious comparisons totally unacceptable. When one reads these odious comparisons, one loses perspective. Odious comparisons besmirch the memories of those who not only suffered at the hands of the Nazis but were murdered by the Nazis; odious comparisons distort the real picture of those who truly need to seek asylum.

NO ACCOSTIN’ IN AUSTIN

Tiferet did it again. Ed Jerome and I, who were part of last week’s visit to Austin, arranged by our local Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, were the only President/Rabbi duo – I dare say – at the entire State Capitol.  As one who has not participated in such a mission in over a decade, the trip to Austin stirred in me a number of positive reflections.

The State Capitol was jam-packed with any number of groups and organizations meeting with their elective representatives, awakening their interest and asking for their support on any number of issues. Contrary to what many of us believe, there are a good many people in this country who care enough about issues and concerns to take the time to meet with government officials, so that changes can be implemented in the way Austin does business. If we want our elective officials to care about issues that are important to us, we have to show them that we care ourselves. Otherwise, any State Representative has the right to say, “I would have gladly voted for (or against) this proposal or law, but nobody cared enough to bring it to my attention.”

In my office, I have an information packet similar to the one we were given for our day in Austin. It was left over by another group that chartered the bus on a previous trip. The sticker on the packet reads:  Texas Muslim Capitol Day. I sincerely doubt that Muslims were concerned about Israel’s well being.

There were three items on our agenda; only one was directly concerned with Israel. We were asking that funding whether it be through subsidies, investments or contracts, no longer be allocated by the State of Texas to companies as well as other entities that support Boycott, Divest and Sanction when it comes to Israel and either refuse to purchase products made in Israel or cancel orders on such products. When someone in the group (we joined with the  Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin delegations) asked what early child care and care for special adults had to do with our mission (the other two items on our agenda) a certain rabbi spoke up. He said “If Representative Phil King from the 61st district of Weatherford, which in all likelihood has nary a Jewish constituent, can be so passionate about Israel and speak so strongly on its behalf, the very least we can do is take up issues that are for the good of the general public.” As far as I’m concerned, we Jews owe Representative King and others like him “big time.”

Those of us who are second and third generation Americans, especially those of us with Eastern European roots, can well identify with the question memorialized in Fiddler on the Roof:  “Is there a blessing for the Czar”? The answer given was: “May G-d bless the Czar and keep him far away from us.” There are no (openly) anti-Semitic Czars in contemporary American government; there are no (openly) anti-Semitic Congressmen, Senators or other officials in contemporary American government. Call me hopelessly naïve, but I cannot help but feel that the majority of our elected officials want to see a safe and strong Israel. Let’s not take the freedom that is ours or the government we are blessed with for granted. Let’s thank HaShem for the democracy that is ours. Let’s show our gratitude by participating in the democracy that is ours. How many seats on the bus would you like me to secure for you on the next trip to Austin?

Shoot Blanks

How did things ever get so far? More people die by firearms in this country than by traffic fatalities. For the record, I am entirely pareve when it comes to guns, just as I am entirely pareve when it comes to cars (not really as far as cars, but that’s for another article). I neither maintain that we have a “HaShem given right” to prevent a normal rational person from legally obtaining a firearm nor do I maintain that we have a “HaShem given right” to prevent a normal rational person from legally obtaining driver’s license and/or a car. Unlike the vast majority of substandard legislators that we are plagued with in this country, I recognize that the issue is not, nor has it ever been, gun control. The issue is and has always been people control! And until our leaders recognize this, any legislation that they propose with regard to curbing mindless murders in this country will (at best) be a shot in the dark.
Together with countless other baby boomers, I grew up on The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, Gun Smoke, Bonanza and Wanted Dead or Alive; together with countless other baby boomers, at the age of 5, I walked around with a replica pistol of the one carried by Josh Logan, aka Steve McQueen of Wanted Dead or Alive, along with a holster and an ample supply of caps for “shooting outlaws”. Yet, we baby boomers went through school without the slightest concern or fear that a fellow student would enter a classroom with a real firearm and create carnage. Why was that? Could it have been that our culture — State, Church and Home — stressed the sanctity of human life? Might it have been possible that human beings were considered to have had more worth than they do now? Or was it simply that it was totally unacceptable to take the life of an innocent human being?
Richard Gordon o.b.m. was a photographer of renown, who published a number of books of his works and had various exhibitions and showings of his photography. He was a gifted artist. I would say this even if he weren’t my cousin. Among Richard’s earlier works, dating back decades, was a picture of a nondescript store advertising toys and guns. Richard was prescient.
His commentary has become a fact of life in our society. We look at guns much the same way we look at toys. We collect AK 47’s much the same way we collect Pez dispensers from our childhood. But AK 47’s are not Pez dispensers. AK 47’s, as well as all other firearms, must be treated with the greatest respect. Where is the emphasis on the part of society for total and complete restraint with regard to firearms, unless it is extremely clear that you are in mortal danger and that using such a weapon is an act of self-defense? Where is the rule, to be repeated again and again, that such weapons are to be used only at firing ranges? Until American society imbues in its people respect and perhaps even fear when it comes to guns, Americans will continue to treat lethal weapons as toys, producing disastrous as well as devastating result.
For some time now, our society has done away with the idea of being held responsible for one’s own actions. A person who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after years of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day sues the tobacco company and wins! Someone buys a coffee “to go” from a fast food restaurant, stupidly places the cup of coffee between his thighs while driving (that’s why we were born with thighs, so that they can serve as cup holders) only to have the lid pop open causing the coffee to slosh and burn his thighs. The “victim” then sues the restaurant and wins! We live in a culture where a disgruntled employee (he was fired) comes back to where he was employed and empties dozens of bullets into his former boss and coworkers. Unless I’m wrong, employees have been fired ever since there has been employment. Yet, no matter how disgruntled fired employees may have been, they never resorted to such methods. Once upon a time in America, employees who were fired were taught to take a good hard look at themselves. And if, after careful determination, these terminated employees concluded that they were fired for no just cause, they were taught that the best way to get back at the scoundrel who fired them was to get an even better job! Only gangsters and psychos and cold blooded murderers take revenge with a rifle! When did it happen that being disgruntled became reason enough to blame others and then murder and create havoc? Until we are prepared to take responsibility for our feelings, moods and actions, American society will remain out of control.
Gun Control is nothing more than a smoke screen. Until we look toward people control, control of American values and self-control, we will continue to shoot blanks.