SINS OF THE FATHER

“The die has long since been cast; the fight will take place. The Jews with their backs to the sea, fighting for their very homes, with 101 percent morale, will accept no compromise.”

These words were written mere weeks before Israeli independence was declared and its people having to fight for their very existence in the concomitant War of Independence.

Contrary to one may think, these were not the words of Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion or any of the other founders of the nascent state. These words were penned by a 22-year-old reporter for the Boston Post. Encouraged by his father to travel overseas, but ignoring his father’s advice to steer clear of trouble, a young Bobby Kennedy boarded a flight from Cairo to what was then Lydda airport. It was during that trip to Israel, that the young reporter met with both the Irgun and Haganah (he was actually kidnapped, blindfolded and interrogated by Haganah agents before being released a short time afterwards.)

Two decades later, when Bobby was seeking the presidential nomination, he accompanied Rabbi Shmuel Shrage to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “Is there anything, Mr. Kennedy can do for you, in return for the blessing you gave him?” Rabbi Shrage asked the Rebbe. “Yes,” answered the Rebbe. “There are two Jews sitting in jail in the Soviet Union for spreading Judaism. If Mr. Kennedy can get them released and brought to this country, it would be a great thing.” After a couple of weeks, Bobby Kennedy called Rabbi Shrage. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can get them out of jail and even out of Russia. The bad news is that I can’t get them into the United States.” Rabbi Shrage was incredulous! The former U.S. Attorney General was able to get the two Jews out of Russia but unable to bring them into the United States (most likely because of anti-Semitism of some individuals in the State Department.) Rabbi Shrage contacted the State Department and threatened them with a media campaign. A short time thereafter, those two Jews were safe and sound on American soil.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of Senator Kennedy’s assassination, having been felled by a bullet by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian resident of Silwan in East Jerusalem. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan chose to kill the presidential aspirant on that exact date of June 5th, because it coincided with the first anniversary of Israel’s stunning victory of the Six Day war. Bobby Kennedy was targeted by the twenty-four-year-old Palestinian, because of Senator Kennedy’s unabashed support for Israel. As such, Bobby Kennedy was the first American victim of modern Arab terrorism.

There is little doubt that any number of Jewish newspapers in this country will carry stories about Senator Kennedy. What really ought to be remembered about Bobby Kennedy as far as I am concerned, is not his support for Israel per se (Lyndon Johnson will also be remembered as a great friend to Israel, as will Richard Nixon,) but his support for Israel and his friendship toward Jews in light of his upbringing.

Raised as the son of Joseph Kennedy, Bobby, no different than his older brother John, as well as his other 7 siblings was weaned on anti-Semitic sentiments and comments. Old Joe Kennedy’s dislike for Jews (yes, David Sarnoff was among Joe Kennedy’s best friends. Having a “good Jew” among your coterie of friends is not in any way unusual for anti-Semites. In no way do such anti-Semites see the dichotomy in this,) was legendary. I am neither a sociologist nor a psychologist. It would seem to me that the vast majority of us are products of our upbringing. Quite often beliefs, mores and behaviors are passed along from generation to generation. Conversely, to be have been raised in such an atmosphere and have the temerity to eschew one’s parent’s belief  because it is simply wrong is the sign of an exceptional human being – all the more so if that parent is still alive. Recall if you will, that Bobby predeceased his father by 16 months.

No doubt, many in this country will remember Bobby Kennedy as one who cared for his fellow human being and dared to make a difference where injustices were addressed and wrongs were righted. Even though sins of the father quite often fall on the children, I would hope and pray that Bobby Kennedy is remembered as one who showed us that in his case, sins of the father fall by the wayside.

EMBASSY BLEATS

 

The words of Samuel II, 7:23, which find themselves in the Shabbat Mincha service, took on a new meaning for me this past Monday: “You are one (of a kind), Your name is one (unique) and who is like Your people, a suis generis nation on earth.”

Without a doubt I’m in the minority, but for me the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was the “Shanda of all Shandas” (Shanda is German/Yiddish for shame or embarrassment.) What it shows is 70 years of Chutzpah of the highest order on the part of governments of pretty much all countries of this world. Would any of these countries have dared to open their embassies in New York rather than Washington D.C. or in Toronto rather than Ottawa? Yet, it was perfectly legitimate for them to open their Embassies in Tel-Aviv rather than Jerusalem. For shame!

As one who has an affinity for a number of Israel’s Prime Ministers, I share with you three different “embassy” responses taken out of context, from three leaders of the modern State of Israel. I do so with full knowledge that these responses are anything but politically correct in the eyes of contemporary culture:

“History has shown us time and time again that what is right is not what is popular.” Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current P.M. could not have been more concise in evaluating the lack of courage exhibited by government after government. Obviously, popular is far more important than right. A modicum of justice would dictate that Israel open its embassy in Sao Paulo rather than Brasilia, in Manchester rather than London and in Leningrad rather than Moscow. Yet, there are those American Jews, who in response to our current president’s decision to open the American Embassy in Jerusalem exult: “Mah Rabbu Ma’asecha!” or “How great are you deeds!” (Psalm 104.) No doubt, I’m a lone voice, but as far as I’m concerned, such effusiveness smacks of the shtetl Jew beholden to the Poritz (wealthy Polish landlord) for the slightest of accommodations.

From my point of view, it behooves us to borrow from Golda Meir who turned to Anwar Sadat on his first visit to Israel over four decades ago and remarked “What took you so long!” All countries of the world, including these United States, have had over half a century to come to terms with the reality that Jerusalem is no longer a divided city. All countries of the world have had over fifty years to accept the reality that the unity of Jerusalem is non–negotiable. Refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is tantamount to refusing to recognize New York City as being on American soil.

There is a speech made by Menachem Begin taking Helmut Schmidt to task for having the audacity to lecture Israel about the rights of the Palestinian people.  “Of all people, for you Germans to speak about human rights is a sham. What gives you the right to speak about minority groups? We Jews should be the ones lecturing you Germans about human rights and not the other way around. We are the people who introduced the notion of human rights to the world.” Given his conviction, given his boldness, it’s quite likely that Menachem Begin would have lectured the world by saying: Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel, long before any of your countries came into existence. If history has taught us anything, it’s that countries come and go. So do their capitals.  But Jerusalem is eternal. We welcome those who relocate their embassies to Israel. But know one thing. With or without your embassies, Jerusalem has been and will continue to be the capital of the Jewish State.

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.

3 M COUNTRY

If people know anything about David Ben Gurion, it’s that he was the George Washington of the State of Israel. On May 15, 1948 corresponding to 5 Iyyar, 5708 (this year celebrations take place on Thursday,) David Ben Gurion proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.

What precious few don’t know about David Ben Gurion are the feverish activities that he was very much part of during the three years that led up to that historical event. I would like to single out three such activities. To me, they will be remembered as the “three M’s”:

“Population, population, population,” argued the fictitious Ari ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) as he debated his uncle Akiva in the movie Exodus. David Ben Gurion did not need Ari ben Canaan, or anyone else for that matter, to remind him that population was the sine qua non for the establishment of a country. So there stood David ben Gurion in Zeilsheim, Germany, at a Displaced Persons Camp addressing hundreds of Holocaust survivors. For Ben Gurion, this was no easy task. As one who had utter contempt for Europe, as well as those who lived there, Ben Gurion swallowed hard and addressed the survivors in…Yiddish! Only in (what was to become) Israel, he argued, could Holocaust survivors rebuild their lives. They desperately needed to settle in Israel, Ben Gurion attempted to convince them, because Ben Gurion knew that Israel desperately needed them. Ari ben Canaan chose to call it population; Ben Gurion chose to call it manpower.

If I were ever to draw up a list of the top ten places in Israel to visit, the Ayalon Institute  would most likely be among them. In 1945, Ben Gurion knew that statehood would be proclaimed sooner than later. Ben Gurion also knew that the neighbors, viz. Arabs, would not be bringing bread and salt or any other housewarming gifts. With the British in charge, there was no way to import any WWII surplus for a soon to be born army of Israel. Ben Gurion, therefore, approached members of a kibbutz on the outskirts of Rechovot. The plan was to construct a clandestine underground bullet factory. A laundry (with the noisiest washing machines and drying machines available) would serve as their cover – both literally and figuratively. Each day, right under the noses of the British who would bring in soiled garments for cleaning, forty-five volunteers would go underground to manufacture thousands of bullets. Ben Gurion knew that the new state would not stand a chance of surviving without munitions.

Protektzia is a word so common in Israeli society that it is often referred to a “Vitamin P.” Protektzia is what many refer to as having connections to either call in favors or get things done. As far as I’m concerned, protektzia is what we call moxie.

On a sultry Sunday in July 1945, Ben Gurion was at a brunch at the home of Rudolph Sonnenborn on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Addressing a group of seventeen Jewish industrialists, developers, and businessmen who were in attendance, Ben Gurion explained the predicament of those who managed to survive Hitler, the grim prospects of the United States accepting the refugees, and the promise a new Jewish State would surely hold for those whose only desire was to start a new life.  Ben Gurion was looking to the group of seventeen for protektzia. What ben Gurion didn’t realize, is that he had just won the protektzia lottery, a lottery that included an aircraft carrier despite the fact that Israel did not yet have an air force. But that lottery did have the makings of an airline to fly the Jewish refugees out of Europe to the Promised Land, thanks to Al Schwimmer, a young flight engineer at TWA. So what if none of that fleet never actually made it to Israel? Al Schwimmer ultimately made Aliyah and founded Israel Aerospace Industries. Most of all, the protektzia lottery ended up with William Levitt, of Levittown fame, handing Teddy Kollek (who would ultimately become Mayor of Jerusalem) a check for one million dollars, made out to the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. William Levitt did not ask for any collateral, in that the Provisional Government of the State of Israel could offer no collateral. It was to be born bankrupt.

Manpower. Munitions. Moxie. All three were indispensable as far as Ben Gurion was concerned. And should it happen that Israel lagged in one of these three ingredients, Israel could always turn to the other two ingredients. As it celebrates seventy years of independence, Israel has every right to glow with pride as it basks in incredible achievements that trace their roots to manpower, munitions and moxie.

M’GOSH M’GOLLY MEGILLAH

In all likelihood, the vast majority of Jews throughout this world will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Shabbat. The amount of our people who will make a point to hoist a “McGuiness” at any of the three Shabbat meals later this week will undoubtedly hardly constitute a minyan. Nevertheless, it might behoove us to know that the monopoly for smiling does not belong to Irish eyes.

I have no idea how many Jews in this country know who served as the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent State of Israel. Whatever that number might be, I’m certain that far fewer Jews are aware that Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog (born in Lomza, Poland in 1888) served as the Rabbi of Belfast and ultimately rose to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland, before moving to Israel in 1936 to succeed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s fluency in Irish was such that he was dubbed the “Sinn Fein Rabbi” (literally “We ourselves,” it was adopted as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.) Rabbi Herzog’s Irish-born son later served as Israel’s sixth President; his grandson and namesake, aka Bougie, rose in political power only to lose to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last national election.

A great affinity toward Israel on the part of the Irish government, there isn’t. One would think that, politically speaking, Irish leaders would look at Israel for inspiration; one would think that Irish leaders would see the daily struggle of Israel against terrorism ever since its founding 70 years ago as something they could relate to. Unfortunately, Irish leaders have instead chosen the “poor Palestinians” as their soulmates. This perhaps explains why formal relations between the two, Ireland and Israel, were not established until 1975 and why it wasn’t until the very end of 1993 that Ireland permitted Israel to open its embassy in Dublin. You know things could be much better when a few years back, unnamed sources from the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that “Ireland (is the) most hostile country toward us in Europe.” Politics, however, is politics and business is business. In 2010, Israeli imports from Ireland approached $520 million and exports to Ireland stood at $81 million. Israeli exports to Ireland include machinery and electronics, rubber and plastics, chemicals, textiles, optical/medical equipment, gems, and fruit and vegetables. Irish exports to Israel include machinery and electronics, chemicals, textiles, and foodstuffs.

However representative a government ought to be of its people, it’s heartening to know that not all Irish have adopted such a cool attitude toward Israel. In fact, there is a group of Irish people committed to understanding and supporting Israel’s security needs. That group proudly calls itself “Irish 4 Israel.” Among other objectives, its raison de etre is to counteract much of the hatred and lies spread in the name of “truth” within certain segments of Irish society and to ensure that Israel’s conflict with Palestinian terrorists along with their sponsors and enablers receives fair and impartial coverage from the Irish media.

As Erin Go Bragh rings loud and clear this Saturday in Irish neighborhoods throughout this country, as well as elsewhere in the world, it might very well be a propitious time for us to invoke Am Yisroel Chai. Whether the wish is “Ireland forever” or the “Jewish People Lives,” the sentiment is pretty much the same. May the Road of Peace rise up to greet us both.

GET A LIFE

The other week, Karen and Mike, known to some of us as Vice President and Mrs. Pence were in Israel. During their relatively brief stay, they visited Yad VaShem, Israel’s memorial to the six million whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their henchmen. It was there in front of the eternal flame, that Mr. Pence inflamed more than a few of our people. While paying his respects to the six million, he remarked: “…three years after walking beneath the shadow of death (they) rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future.” Faster than you could say “shalom aleichem” Mr. Pence was being excoriated for introducing Christian terminology into his metaphor.

Is it such a sin to take Mr. Pence’s remarks at face value? Personally speaking, I’m amazed that the very same Jews who in all probability never heard of Rashi, much less have ever looked into even one of Rashi’s commentaries are so quick to offer commentary on the remarks of an American leader. I shudder to think how these same individuals would have reacted, had Mr. Pence remarked: “As a non-Israeli and a non-Jew, I cannot help but feel the holy spirit of the six million throughout this edifice that memorializes them.” Any number of Jewish and/or Israeli publications would have accused him of sullying the souls of the six million by invoking the trinity!

There is a disease rampant among our people. Unlike other diseases, it does not distinguish between Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews. That disease is ignorance. As a people, we are woefully ignorant of our tradition. Jews, who have no trouble providing the name of the mother of Jesus, are completely stumped when it comes to providing the name of the mother of Moses. Mention “resurrection” and immediately Jews associate it with an event that purportedly occurred three days after the crucifixion. Yet, the very same individuals do not realize that resurrection is a concept that it is profoundly Jewish. There is a discussion in the Talmud, not whether we Jews believe in resurrection – that ought to be a foregone conclusion- but whether the source for resurrection is biblical or rabbinic. Surprise! Surprise! Resurrection of the dead is found in our prayers minimally three times a day virtually every day of the year. Why then the uproar?

Last but not least, a big “al chet” (for the sin that I have committed- part of the Yom Kippur confessional) is in order on the part of all the accusers. For argument’s sake, suppose for a moment, that Mr. Pence did in fact have Jesus in mind. If so, then I caution his accusers to think carefully before they use phrases such as: “wash one’s hands of the matter”, “blind leading the blind”, and “go the extra mile” in their daily parlance. All three expressions come from the Book of Matthew! Why then is it kosher for the same Jews who take Mr. Pence to task for using a term that is inferred being connected with Jesus, to use phrases that are unmistakably Christian in origin in their everyday speech?

Within a short time period of his Yad VaShem visit, Mr. Pence addressed the Knesset. In addition to his adulatory remarks for the Jewish State, Mr. Pence invoked the following five words: “Shehechiyanu, V’kiyimanu, V’higiyanu lazaman hazeh” (who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this moment in time). Instead of a slap in the face for a questionable reference at best, perhaps Mr. Pence deserves a slap on the back for his successful and some would dare say beautiful gesture of quoting a Hebrew prayer in its original.

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.

SEEKING THE SHTETL

I did something very atypical this past Sunday. I actually read the cover story of the Travel Section of the New York Times. How could I not? Once I glanced at the title, “Seeking the Shtetl,” wild horses couldn’t drag me away. Within seconds, however, the article confirmed my feelings toward the typical odyssey undertaken by so many of our people (my sister included) when they fly over to Europe in an attempt to search for their roots. I wish them Godspeed and I pray that they find what they are looking for. But I have another wish as well – actually three wishes:

I wish that in addition to spending time and energy,not to mention money, in an attempt to discover where their ancestors lived ((some are able to locate the house, and actually come across descendants of non-Jewish neighbors who can testify that a Jewish shoemaker — one’s great-grandfather, with his wife and five children — really lived in that house next door, and the shoemaker and his wife were on friendly terms with their great-grandparents), that the searchers of our generation spend equal amounts of time and energy in attempt to discover how their ancestors lived. Were they the pious individuals we were led to believe they were? Was great grandfather Shia as learned as they say he was? Maybe our ancestors were caught up in the Bolshevik revolution and replaced their Judaism with Communism. Perhaps the best question to be pondered is how those we hope to learn about would react if they were to learn about the lifestyle that is ours.

I wish that those who undertake the quest of ancestry discovery would compare the choices that are ours with the choices that were our Shtetl ancestors. There is a world of difference, to say the least. In the world of our great grandparents, the choice – if there was a choice  – was, do we uproot ourselves now and sail for the new world, or do we wait until our elderly parents, who are too frail to make the trip, live out their days here on earth? The world of our ancestors in the shtetl was not one of redecorating or remodeling, nor was it one of dilemmas of whether to buy or lease. In so many cases, our ancestors were much too preoccupied with whether there would be enough money to put food on the table, how they were going to afford clothes for their children, or would sufficient funds be found to pay the melamed (teacher) so that the boys would be raised as learned Jews.

I wish that those who undertake this quest realize that in reality they are searching not only for their past, but for their future as well. Can you imagine what would happen if someone searching for (non- Jewish) ancestry suddenly discovered that they are descendants of nobility? Should discovering that one is a descendant of a great rabbinic dynasty be any different? Shouldn’t searching for one’s past have implications for one’s future as well? If we find it important enough to go back in time to discover our roots, isn’t it possible that generations from now, our descendants will be undertaking similar projects to discover their roots, and in doing so will make every effort possible to learn about us? In all likelihood, they will be able to learn much more about us than we are able to learn of our ancestry.

As we beseech HaShem to seal us in the Book of Life this Shabbat, let us realize that there is another book we ought to be concerned about as well. Each day we are here on earth, we are de facto writing pages of our lives that will ultimately form the book that might very well be of great interest to future generations.

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.

 

BACK TO THE WALL

Bibi’s (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayu) back is to the wall –in the most literal sense. Earlier this week, he had to renege on an agreement adopted 17 months ago with Jewish leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, along with a Jewish feminist group Women at the Wall that was supposed to restore harmony at the Kotel (Western Wall). Did Bibi really believe that he could bring the Orthodox around to permitting a section at the Kotel to be used for non-Orthodox davening? Or perhaps Bibi was just biding his time by wasting the time of the non-Orthodox leadership that negotiated. Perhaps those who negotiated knew what the outcome would be before going into negotiations, but they felt that they had nothing to lose and that they would be gaining momentum. Dream on!

Politics is politics and religion is religion and for the foreseeable future in Israel, the two will continue to meet and mash, as they have for decades now, blend nicely and yield power that their grandparents could never have fathomed. Like it or not, the Orthodox control the Kotel. That’s not to say that a Bar Mitzvah or Aufruff (the calling up to the Torah of a groom prior to his wedding, where HaShem’s blessings are invoked upon him and his bride) of non-Orthodox cannot take place at the Kotel. It can, it has, and it will continue to take place as long as the Bar Mitzvah or Auffruf along with any participation is acceptable to Orthodox guidelines and standards. Given the political reality of Israel, anyone who thinks that the status quo at the Kotel is likely to change any time soon is … off the wall.

Speaking of change, the non-Orthodox refuse to acknowledge (I’m sure they realize this – they cannot possibly be so stupid) that the only way that they can affect change at the Kotel is to pattern themselves after the Orthodox. The non-Orthodox  have to be prepared to make Aliyah (move to Israel) en mass, up their birthrate significantly, become politically involved  – that is to say start their own party, gain seats in the Knesset and… stop being so politically correct. Political prowess all too often requires resorting to “shtick” (questionable ethical behavior). Unfortunately, this seems to be to be especially the case in Israel. Until the non-Orthodox are prepared to reform themselves, any negotiations they enter into concerning the Kotel will be tantamount to talking to the wall.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism was quoted as saying: “We all care deeply about Israel…” Puhleese! Never has such a meaningless, vacuous statement been uttered. As a rabbi, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard grown children tell me how much they “care” about their frail and aged parent. For some children, caring for a parent  means visiting more often and becoming more involved in the parent’s well-being; for other children it means visiting the parent as little as possible, and letting others step in when it comes to the parent’s well-being. But let’s give Rabbi Jacob’s the benefit of the doubt. Let’s accept his “we all care about Israel” as being truly genuine. Let’s accept his fantasy as fact (even though no religious leader in his right mind would be careless and reckless enough to speak on behalf of the masses proclaiming “we all care”). Let us then suggest the following bumper sticker to Rabbi Jacobs: The Reform care about Israel; The Orthodox care about the Orthodox. To believe otherwise, to believe that an Israeli Prime Minister whose very political existence is dependent upon a coalition with the Orthodox parties, is about to offer concessions to non-Orthodox at the Kotel is utter nonsense. Why the non-Orthodox continue to beat their heads against the wall, is beyond me.