EIGHTY

For so many in this country, this past Sunday went by largely unnoticed. Other than being part of Labor Day weekend, precious few were aware that this past Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. As Jews, we have a sacred task. Aside from continuing to serve as the moral conscience for a world that would all too willingly relegate remembering World War II to historians, we Jews must look for a deeper meaning to this 80th anniversary. The carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945 must not be viewed solely in terms of a world war; the carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939  and May 8, 1945 must be viewed as a war that was thrust upon the Jewish world!

It was the great Talmudic sage Yehudah ben Teima who taught us that 80 is commensurate with strength. Little could he have realized just how prescient his words would prove to be. These last 80 years have been years of amassing unimaginable strength, both for Jews in Israel as well as for Jews here in these United States. During this time period (actually only 71 years, since Israel did not become a sovereign state until May 1948) Israel has succeeded in building an army that is feared by its enemies, begrudgingly respected by those who are ambivalent towards the Jewish State, and admired by her friends. From a non-military aspect, I never cease to be amazed by the non-stop construction of factories, office buildings and private homes; I continue to remain in awe at the founding of new towns and the paving of new roads. As for Jews in this country,  who could ever have dared to imagine back in 1939 that there would come a time where there would be annual Chanukah parties at 1600 Pennsylvania  Avenue? Our strength is not that there are Jews who are members of the first family, but that for the most part, American Jews are nonchalant about it. Currently, there are at least two presidential hopefuls who are either Jewish or who have Jewish spouses. Again, American Jews remain un-phased.

Centuries after Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, lived Rabbi Chanina who was known for his wit when it came to word plays. An example his ingenuity can be found  toward the end of Shabbat services, between Ein Keloheinu and Aleinu, where he asks us to read a word as “Bonei’ich” (builders) rather than “Banei’ich” (sons). In the spirit of Rabbi Chanina, I suggest that “shmonim” the Hebrew word for “eighty” be read as “shmanim” (oils), a word that appears in the all-time Chanukah favorite “Ma’oz Tzur.” I do so, because for the better part of eighty years, we have been amassing Holocaust stories and vignettes that defied the odds and were therefore very much Chanukah in nature. With our marking the 80th anniversary or “shmonim shanah,” perhaps the time has come for us to focus on “shmanim”  or oils that are post Holocaust defying of odds, where survivors built and produced and contributed in ways that far surpass  the building, producing and contributing of those who never knew from such horrors. Not unlike Chanukah, it borders on the incredulous when one accomplishes the unimaginable during periods of darkness; not unlike Chanukah, survivor stories border on the incredulous, given what they were able to accomplish during periods of light.

On any typical weekday during Shacharit and Mincha, we implore the Guardian of Israel, “Al yovad goy echad” that the “unique nation” not be destroyed. If there were ever a time for this imploration to take on special meaning, it would be at this very moment. Numerically, “al yovad goy echad” equals 80. This nation, the Jewish nation, I believe is here to stay. Whether or not this nation remains unique is dependent upon us.

For the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II to have meaning in our lives, let us look back on these eight decades and regard them as 80 years of distinction, 80 years of defying the odds, and 80 years of strength.

UNLIKE THE HOLOCAUST

“It was like images out of the Holocaust,” exclaimed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein last weekend in Poway, California  as he found himself a victim of another atrocity aimed at Jews. Far be it from me to take issue with Rabbi Goldstein’s comments, but for the vast majority of us, it is most proper, especially this very week when we observe Yom HaShoah and remember the Holocaust, to realize that to make such a comparison does a great disservice to the six million.

Unlike the Holocaust, no attack on a synagogue, church, or mosque in this country is government executed and government sanctioned. The Chancellor of Germany did not come out and say “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,”  much less place a phone call to any wounded rabbi. The Third Reich was far too busy rounding up rabbis – the Nazis were very democratic, refusing to distinguish one Jew from another – and  shipping them to concentration camps where most would meet their deaths either quickly or slowly.

Unlike the Holocaust, the New York Times did not bury the story of last week’s synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, or the shooting at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, on page 23 of its newspaper. Both incidents were front page news. What takes place at a synagogue – good or bad – is treated no differently than what takes place at a church or mosque. It’s of major concern to Americans and therefore it garners front page news in newspapers throughout the nation. Whereas the Third Reich maintained the attitude of “we do not distinguish between Jews, we treat them all the same viz. like vermin,” the media in this country maintains the attitude  “we do not distinguish between religions, we treat them all the same viz. with dignity and respect.”

Unlike the Holocaust, non-Jews in this country show solidarity. At Shabbat services one week after the Pittsburgh catastrophe, we at Tiferet had visitors. Unlike other non-Jews who attend our services, either out of curiosity or out of an interest to embrace Judaism, those who joined us at Shabbat services on November 3rd of last year, did so purely out of solidarity. It was their way of saying “we feel terrible about what took place. We lack the necessary words to provide comfort and consolation. We would therefore like to visit with you, so that we can pray together.” Eight decades ago, non-Jews showed  no such solidarity. True to its designation, the silent majority said nothing. Hitler’s war was against the Jews, not the Lutherans. To quote a saying I learned after arriving in Dallas, “the Christian world did not have a dog in that fight.” The precious few who were abhorred by what was taking place, were afraid to speak out, lest they endanger their own lives. Today, days after the catastrophe at Chabad, the silent majority continues to remain silent. The ones who are afraid to speak out however, are not the precious few. They are the repugnant few, who regret that the assailant was not more successful in his vendetta against Jews. They know that American society will not tolerate individuals who harbor such views and cling to such feelings.

I have no idea what Jewish leaders – both religious, as well as lay – will be saying to those who come together to commemorate the Holocaust, this Thursday evening. Personally, I’ll be offering up a prayer. I will be thanking HaShem that I live in a country where the elected political leadership expresses solidarity when a crime is committed against Jews, where the media gives what took place full coverage and where non-Jews stand together with Jews, attesting to the fact that we are one nation under G-d.

NEXT YEAR IN THE VATICAN

Having done some reading about Eugenio Pacelli, aka Pope Pius XII, my interest was piqued the other day, when I read that a year from now, the Vatican will be opening sealed archives in an effort to show how Rome responded to the systematic annihilation of six million of our people, during the Holocaust.

I am neither a historian nor the son of a historian. Nor can I profess to know what those archives will reveal. I cannot help but feel, however, that we are in for no surprises. Chances are that those who have vilified the Pontiff for “having done nothing” will continue to do so. It’s also quite  likely, that those who have defended the Pontiff for having done “more than we realize,” will continue to do so as well.

Because the vast majority of us will never get to see what those archives will reveal, perhaps we can focus on three aspects of these archives that are most revealing. As strange, unfair and inexcusable as it may seem, the Catholic church has its own agenda. The agenda of the Catholic church is not always in harmony with the interests of the Jews or any other non-Catholics for that matter. Right or wrong, the agenda of the Catholic church places the interests of the Catholic church first and foremost, as it well should. Not that there is the equivalent of a Pope in Judaism, but did you hear Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Sephardic Jews) or Rabbi David Lau (Chief Rabbi in Israel for Ashkenazic Jews) speak out last year at this time, when scores of  Syrians being slaughtered by their own? In no way do I presume to equate slaughter of Syrians in an internecine conflict, with the annihilation of Jews by Hitler and his war machine. I do however wish to point out, that agendas and attitudes of religious leaders are by no means culture free and  transcendent of religious boundaries.

Speaking of religious leaders, no Jew should ever forget the efforts of 400 plus rabbis, who, three days before Yom Kippur in October 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, traveled to  the nation’s capital to meet with the President, to plea that action be taken over the genocide of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Rather than refuse to meet with them, the president furtively exited the White House through a side entrance, leaving his aides to tell the rabbis, that the President was not available. I am not aware of any recriminations  by Jews for such behavior on the part of the President, nor do I suggest that there ought to have been. But if pretty much all leaders of the world during that era, get a pass for their “shah-shtill” attitude which was all pervasive, shouldn’t there be a pass for Pope Pius XII as well? There is absolutely no question in my mind, that His Holiness could have done and should have done more to prevent six million Jews being annihilated. But the very same argument of doing more, can also be applied to an American President, Commander and Chief of the Army Air Corps, who could have ordered American fighter aircraft to bomb the railway tracks to Auschwitz, thereby delaying the transport of boxcars stuffed with Jews, destined for extermination, but chose not to. True, the morality expected of a Pope cannot and should not be equated with morality of a President, but let’s put saving human lives at the top of agenda. We can debate morality later.

Regardless of its authorship, in his last speech to the public, Hubert Humphrey reminded us that “…the moral test of government is how that government treats … the needy…”. That same standard applies to any society or community. For a good portion of my life, I harbored much resentment toward the church, for the way it treated Jews over the centuries. Once I discovered how the church treated its own, my resentment toward the church ceased. The silence on the part of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust was no different than the silence on the part of his predecessor Pope Pius XI a quarter earlier, during the Armenian genocide, when Moslem Turks annihilated well over a million Christian Armenians.

Let the Vatican archives be finally opened. Regardless of what those archives reveal, let us reveal, that we are aware that the Vatican has its own agenda, that other world leaders turned deaf ears to us Jews as well, and that before we expect any contrition from Rome, the Vatican has plenty of “teshuvah” to do for neglecting its very own. Next year in the Vatican!

PERCENTAGES

I am most likely in the minority, but in reading about International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was commemorated this past Sunday, I was not the least bit alarmed to learn that 52% of millennials cannot name even one ghetto or concentration camp that existed during the Holocaust. Nor was I dismayed to learn that 62% of millennials did not know that six million Jewish lives were snuffed out in the Holocaust. Please understand, in this case, I forgive any and all millennials for being oblivious. Quite frankly, I’m not in any way convinced that the millennials are different in any way different from any other segment of the population in this country. I would however be alarmed and dismayed if 62% or even 52% of the population in this country:

a) felt that Jews wielded too much power in this country and in doing so, had both Congress and the Senate under their thumb and that Jews controlled the media. As one strongly feels that the Holocaust ought to be sacrosanct as far as Jews are concerned, I am much more concerned about the outside world being aware of the state of the Jews in the here and now. Learning about the Holocaust, portrays Jews as victims; perceiving Jews as being in control of government as well as the media, portrays Jews as assailants.  Both  are portrayals, that are nothing short of repugnant. If I were forced to choose between being portrayed as a victim or being portrayed as an assailant, I would opt for the former. For it is the latter that creates disdain. And it is disdain and not sympathy that has historically caused us bloodshed and expulsion. I am relieved that far less than 62% or even 52% in this country do not feel that we Jews wield too much power I this country.

b) felt that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks. Close to a decade or so, I showed a group of teenagers here at Tiferet a clip from the ABC network  “What Would You Do” . It was shot a N.J. bakery, where an employee (staged) refused to put up a flyer given to him by two Jewish teenagers about a Job Fair at a nearby synagogue. While most of the customers in the bakery told the employee that he was way out of line with his attitude towards Jews as well as what he said, there was one customer who felt that there was a kernel of truth to Jews being too pushy and controlling  all the money (the customer cited Bernie Madoff). I am grateful that this was a minority view. I am relieved that far fewer than  62% or even 52% of the populace in this country do not feel that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitism.

c) felt that the Holocaust was a hoax. Unlike so many others, I am adamant that the Holocaust never be forgotten, not because of the outside world, but primarily because of the lessons it holds for us Jews. The first lesson is that no Jew should be smug enough to reassure himself  that there will never be another Holocaust. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked if he thought that “it could happen here”. Without flinching, he said: “Morgen in der frie (tomorrow morning)”. The Holocaust teaches us that we dare not expect others to take a stance and to rush to help. If we do, we will be bitterly disappointed. Perhaps most important of all, the Holocaust teaches us  about unbelievable acts of heroism on the part of the precious few – Jews and non-Jews – who dared to do what most did could not or would not. Unlike so many others, for me the Holocaust teaches us that hope peeks through when hopelessness overwhelms. Perish the thought that 62% or even 52% of the populace in this country believe that the Holocaust was a hoax.

The fact that 62% of millennials or any other segment of the population did not know that six million perished, the fact that 52% of millennials  or any other segment of the population were unable to name a ghetto or concentration camp – the same percentage would in all likelihood be unable to list ten American Presidents or ten states and their capitals – does not faze me at all. I find solace:

that when it comes to feeling that Jews wield too much power in this country

that when it comes to feeling that there is a kernel of truth to any and all anti-Semitic remarks

that when it comes to feeling that the Holocaust was a hoax

and that the percentage of Americans who hold these feelings is reassuringly very low.

MEMO TO MAHMOUD

What’s the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you are playing with those “Poor Palestinians.” Never invoke the Holocaust in an attempt to cast Israelis in a bad light! Ever!

Imagine that! A Menachem Begin adulating rabbi, dispensing advice to a Palestinian thug who treats his own with nothing but contempt and disrespect. Abu Mazen! If you are so drawn to the Holocaust, better you should learn from the best! I’m infatuated with Menachen Begin. Chances are that you are infatuated with Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. Better you should commit the following Goebbels quote to memory: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Continue to lie to yourself, your people and the rest of the world about how oppressed the Palestinians are because of the Zionist imperialists. The fact that you no longer have any credibility with your own people, the fact that other Arab countries see you for the phony and crook that you really are, shows that you haven’t done good enough job of telling a lie that was first promulgated decades ago.

Mahmoud Abbas! The sharpest knife in the drawer, you aren’t. Don’t you realize that by invoking the Holocaust, you are leaving yourself as well as the populace you feign to care for extremely vulnerable? The legacy of the Holocaust is that when Jews suffer a terrible blow, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, move on and create productive lives and promising futures for themselves. Can the same be said for your people who continue to live in squalor? You and your people are an embarrassment to humanity! Rather than encourage your people to muster their human resources and build better lives for themselves, you and your people have wasted these past 70 years wallowing in self-pity. You want Holocaust comparisons Palestinian Authority President? I’ll give you Holocaust comparisons! Hitler set out to destroy a people. You and your predecessors have set out to destroy the integrity and self-worth of a people. Hitler extracted gold from the mouths of Jews; you extract food from the mouths of your own people. If I were you, I’d think twice before I make any Holocaust comparisons.

Father of Mazen, Yasser and Tareq! At the same time you were studying law at the University of Damascus, singer-songwriter Cal Perkins was telling young Americans: “You can do anything you want, but don’t step on my blue suede shoes.” As far as Israel is concerned, trash it any way you wish, but don’t you ever accuse Israel for the Holocaust or liken Israeli leadership to the Third Reich. When will you ever learn that we are living in the age where there is zero tolerance for anti-Semitic remarks? Repeat after me: Israel bashing? Kosher! Jew bashing? Treif! Refer to the Prime Minister of Israel as “Bibi the Butcher” and no one will even raise an eyebrow. Call Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “the Mad Russian” and there will be those who might even chuckle. But don’t even think that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust. That’s one place you don’t wish to tread!

Mahmoud Abbas! I can’t help but feel that you would greatly benefit from a class in firearm safety. Enrolling in and successfully graduating from such a course might just prevent you from shooting off your mouth as well as shooting yourself in the foot as you seem to be able to do with such great aplomb.

POLOCAUST

I’ve come to the conclusion that a steady diet of kielbasa (Polish sausage) causes one to go soft in the head. How else can one explain the recent suggestion of Jaroslaw Sellin, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Culture that a “Polocaust” Museum be erected to honor the victims of Nazi genocide between the years 1939-1945? With the recent passage of a law warning of a monetary fine or incarceration or both for anyone who dares to suggest that the Nazis had an accomplice in the Polish people, as it systematically murdered three million Polish Jews and others, doesn’t Pan (Polish for Mr.) Jaroslaw realize that he’s adding fuel to a fire that was recklessly started?

If Pan Jaroslaw truly wanted to ameliorate a situation that has Jewish leaders world over up in arms, then perhaps thought ought to be given to building a Jewish Heritage Museum in Warsaw or Lodz or Krakow or Kielce? With a rich history spanning over a millennium (in 1264, Boleslaw V actually invited Jews from other countries to settle in Poland), Pan Jaroslaw should have no problem in amassing material that would fill a museum faster than you can say “Jak se mas” (Yak Shemash – Polish for “what’s up.”)

Thanks to our illustrious past in Poland, we Jews can proudly point to a wealth of literature – both religious and secular – that had, and continues to have, an impact on us that is beyond measure. The definitive Talmud (The Vilner Shas) was originally printed in Vilna (Vilnius) when it was part of Poland. Rabbi Moshe Isserless, the (Ashkenazic) redactor of the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law lived in Cracow, Poland. The Magen Avraham, a renowned commentator of the Shulchan Aruch hailed from the Polish town of Gombin. On the secular front, great novelists such as Peretz of Bontshe the Silent fame and Sholem Asch, who has left an indelible mark on yours truly with his trilogy (assailable in English translation,) Three Cities can lay claim to Polish ancestry as well.

Close to 30 years ago, I was sitting across the table from a native Pole in a coffee house in Warsaw, as an ensemble was tunic up. “Kapelye, tak?”  “An ensemble, correct”, I asked in Polish. My knowledge of the Polish language is admittedly fairly limited. But one thing I do know. In Jewish music you can find many elements of Polish folk music. The instruments, the key, the tempo all sound eerily familiar. Yet, this should come as no surprise, given how our people living in Poland were influenced by the greater culture.

You don’t have to be fluent in Yiddish to have used words such as “schmatte” (rag) or “farblondget” (lost, geographically), but both words find their roots in Polish. Even though the Yiddish language contains any number of slavisms such as “kishke” and “polke”, there are a goodly number of Yiddish words that are uniquely Polish in origin.

Last, but not least, the recipes of the many ethnic foods we eat, find their origins in the Slavic countries of Europe. A food maven, I am not. I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly which country spawned gefilte fish as we know it, or stuffed cabbage or kreplach or latkes. I would be quite surprised, however, if Poland couldn’t make a claim as the birth place for some of the dishes we claim to be uniquely Jewish.

Pan Jaroslaw. Play it safe. Play it smart. The Holocaust is a “lose-lose” proposition for Poland. Why emphasize the negative when it comes to Jews in Poland? Why not emphasize the positive? Given the centuries that preceded the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, there is no shortage of areas in which Poland richly contributed to and enriched Jewish life. Let Poland bring a smile to Jews worldwide who typically grimace the mention of its very name.

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.

 

SPRECHEN SIE DEUTSCH

David M. Friedman, President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, recently committed a faux pas with possible disastrous implications. While speaking about J Street, the American liberal Jewish group that claims to know what’s best for Israel, Mr. Friedman said that its supporters are worse than kapos (inmate Concentration Camp Jews who did the dirty work for the Nazis such as transporting dead Jews from the gas chambers into the crematorium).

Whether we like to admit it or not, the post -Holocaust generation of Jews, and in some cases non-Jews, has permitted Holocaust references to infect their speech. In the 1971 black comedy The Hospital, written by Paddy Chayefsky, Herb Bock, the irate Chief of Staff of a Manhattan Hospital, played by George C. Scott, explodes at a head nurse with the following: “The incompetence at this hospital is radiant! I mean, where do you train your nurses, Mrs. Christie, Dachau?” Shtisel, an Israeli weekly television series that exposes Black Hat Jerusalem Jews in a similar fashion to the way HBO exposed the Mafia with its hit series The Sopranos, has Ruchama Weiss, a teenager who is wise well beyond her years, scream “Nazi!” at a poster she made of her father Lipa, whom she more than suspects of having betrayed Judaism as well as her mother. Personally, I have it on good authority that there is a rabbi here in Dallas who mutters Gestapo every time he sees a speed trap set up by the police.

Such speech cheapens and demeans the Holocaust. Because of its inhumanity that had no limits, its evil that was without end and its diabolical design, the Holocaust is sui generis. There is no equal. By design, Holocaust terminology has an exclusivity about it that must not and dare not be shared. Shame on those who use Holocaust terminology for dramatic effect or to make comparisons! If it’s in the poorest and most reprehensible of tastes to ask: “What did he fill his car up with, Zyklon B (the poison used in the gas chamber in the Death Camps)?” while sitting behind a car that that is belching noxious fumes into the atmosphere, why is it acceptable to refer to a fellow Jew as being worse than a kapo? One would be hard pressed to justify “Nazi speak” as an attempt on our part not to forget the Holocaust.

Although there were many of my parents’ generation who recoiled when hearing German being spoken, German is a most valuable language. Aside from Latin and French, the English language is comprised of thousands upon thousands of German words. Words such as craft, laugh, folk and friend are all of German or Germanic origin. Rather than latch onto Arbeit Macht Frei or Sieg Heil, why not enrich our vocabulary with words such as Schadenfreude (finding joy at the distress or hurt of another person) Angst (feeling of dread or anguish) or Gemutlich (pleasant)?

Justifiably, although not quite often enough for some, we Jews exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to six million of our people.” The next time we hear leaders or lay people, Jew or non-Jew, Israeli, American, or any other nationality for that matter, make flippant comparisons as well as take stabs at hyperbole or poor attempts at humor by resorting to words that are associated with Hitler and his war machine, perhaps we should exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to us!”

THE VISION OF JOHN GLENN

I highly doubt that I was the first Jew or even the first rabbi to go to the computer to see what information I could get on former astronaut and Senator John Glenn and the Jews. No, I did not learn that John Glenn was a staunch supporter of Israel. And no, I did not learn that John Glenn peppered his conversations with Yiddish words. I was however vindicated, in that while researching Senator Glenn’s life, I was reminded yet again that Jewish eyes differ from American eyes. Furthermore, we Jews have no right whatsoever to expect non-Jews to see things our way.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. As one who supported negotiations between Israel and the P.L.O., Senator Glenn was drawn into a heated political discussion on the topic. In the midst of that discussion, Senator Glenn compared Menachem Begin and the Irgun with the P.L.O. In his eyes, the Senator was unable to see that he was making an odious comparison; in his eyes, the Senator was unable to see that he was committing “political suicide”. A good many American Jews (including Rabbi Zell) find it difficult, if not impossible to be dispassionate about Israel. I would suspect that Senator Glenn was either unaware of this or couldn’t for the life of him understand why we Jews get so worked up over the Jewish State.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. When Senator Glenn voted in favor of selling F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, American Jews saw red. Senator Glenn on the other hand saw red, white and blue. He reasoned that if The United States did not sell warplanes to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would turn to France for similar French made fighter jets. Unlike the United States, France would sell its warplane to Saudi Arabia without any restrictions attached. Such reasoning did not sit well with American Jews. Whether American Jews are willing to admit it or not, love is blind and American Jews have a deep love for Israel. It would be totally unrealistic as well as grossly unfair for American Jews to expect a non-Jewish (Presbyterian) Senator from the Buckeye State to harbor the same degree of love towards Israel.
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. He had a best friend Henri Landwirth who was also his business partner. Henri Landwirth was a Holocaust survivor. Henri Landwirth had numbers tattooed on his arm to prove it. Some Holocaust survivors find it hard to go through life with such numbers tattooed on their arms. Henri Landwirth was one of them. He tried to hide his tattooed arm whenever possible. Senator John Glenn was unable to understand the nightmare that was Henri Landwirth’s. He saw Henri’s discomfort and maybe even the shame that he bore, but he was unable to understand it. Senator John Glenn once told Henri Landwirth, “If it were me, I’d wear that number like a medal with a spotlight in it.”
Senator John Glenn had American eyes. It was those American eyes that piloted his plane both in World War II where he flew fifty-nine combat missions and then again in Korea where he flew ninety combat missions. Those same eyes viewed the earth from space aboard the spaceship Friendship Seven close to five and a half decades ago, when he was the first American to orbit the earth. Years later, Senator Glenn set his sights on serving the State of Ohio, serving as a four term Senator. From my point of view, that makes him a true American hero…even if from a Jewish viewpoint we Jews and Senator John Glenn may not have always seen things eye to eye.

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.