THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

A  little over a month ago we spilled the wine, as we recounted the plagues visited upon the obstinate Pharaoh who refused to liberate the Children of Israel. There is yet one other plague however, that is far more abhorrent than those recounted at the Pesach Seder. That is the plague that broke out close to fifteen hundred years later in ancient Israel, among the students of Rabbi Akiva. We learn from the Talmud, that among Rabbi Akiva’s 12,0000 pairs of students, there were those who perished daily, beginning on Pesach, until the thirty-third day of the counting of Omer. The Talmud further relates that the cause of this plague, was the lack of respect that the students of Rabbi Akiva accorded one another.

For close to two thousand years, rabbinic scholars have been totally incredulous at the very notion that the students of Rabbi Akiva could behave toward one another in such fashion. Although I never have considered myself a rabbinic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I cannot help but feel, that three salient points have not been taken into account:

For us as a people, discussion, dispute and divergent opinion have served as our life blood. What makes us Jews so unique, is our ability to hold  contradictory views and opinions. As such, it was our ancestors who were the true promulgators of democracy! Yet, there are times, such as a state of emergency, when democracy must be put on hold  and take a back seat. Such a time was during Rabbi Akiva’s leadership. The tension that existed between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people it governed, was at an all-time high.  With the destruction of the holy Temple having taken place a mere six and a half decades earlier, the lesson that the destruction left in its wake had yet to be absorbed. And that was, that internal dissension can prove to be lethal, when living under the rule of a foreign government. After all, wasn’t “sinat chinam” or baseless hatred that flared up among our people that ultimately served as the root cause for the Roman victory?  Yet, thirty-five years later, the great sage Rabbi Akiva not only defied the Romans from a religious aspect, by continuing to teach Torah publicly, thereby ignoring a recently handed down edict, but he defied the Romans from a military aspect as well! After all, Rabbi Akiva was one of the supporters of Bar Kochba, the Jewish General believed to be able to overthrow the Romans, thereby casting off the yoke that the Romans imposed upon the Jews of ancient Israel! Surely, there must have been strongly held opinions regarding Rabbi Akiva’s political involvement! Disagreement about the understanding of a religious text is one thing; disagreement where students simply fail to understand why a religious leader would get himself so entrenched in the overthrow of a government is quite something else. However useful the exhortation to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company,” one would do well to bear in mind that of the two, discussing politics is far more dangerous to the well-being of relationships  and at times even far more lethal.

Story has it that a renowned rabbi, together with his Shamash  traveled to visit another renowned Rabbi to discuss a pressing religious  matter. Although the host rabbi was informed of the arrival of a revered religious leader, the host rabbi had the visiting rabbi wait in line together with the commoners for hours until he was received. Sometime later, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot. The host rabbi together with his Shamash were visiting the very same rabbi who had earlier paid them a visit. As soon as the rabbi who had been made to stand in line and wait, learned of the presence of his visitor, he gave instruction that a red carpet be rolled out and carte blanche be given to the important visitor. The Shamash was incredulous. “this is how you pay back one who treated you with such disrespect,” he asked his revered leader incredulously.
“Better he and his Shamash  should learn to accord respect from us, than we should learn to accord disrespect from them,” answered the venerated Rabbi.

Once Jews treat one another with respect, a perilous plague will have been eradicated from our nation.

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.

YOU ARE AN ERRANT WEED

“To him and to those like him, we say: ‘You are not part of the community of Israel. You are an errant weed…Judaism spits you out…You are a shame to Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.’” So spoke the Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzchak Rabin, in the aftermath of  what came to be known as the Hebron Massacre. Next Monday, marks twenty-five years since Baruch Goldstein, an American trained physician, dressed in his military uniform, armed with a Galil assault rifle, entered Ma’arat HaMachpelah otherwise known as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Muslim worshippers, while wounding another 125.

So spoke the democratically elected leader of the Jewish State. Given the fact that there were those on the right of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as being heaven sent, while there were those on the left of the political spectrum in Israel who saw Baruch Goldstein as deserving the most horrendous that hell had to offer, the Prime Minister of Israel, the leader of the entire political spectrum dared to deliver  an assessment of Baruch Goldstein, that no psychiatrist had yet to come up with.

A few years later, I was introduced to a woman who was a friend and neighbor of Baruch Goldstein. “He was my children’s pediatrician,” she offered. “As far as you are able to explain, what do you think happened?” I asked. “He snapped! Who wouldn’t have snapped, treating victim after victim, day after day, of Arab terrorism?” she responded.

Prime Minister Rabin could have used that opportunity to tell Jew and Arab alike, that Israel will not tolerate terrorism, regardless of the source. Instead, he chose to usurp the power entrusted to rabbis from a different time and a different place and excommunicate the deceased doctor, declaring that “Judaism spits you out” and that “you are an embarrassment to Judaism.”

As Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin could have said, “Israel is the home of Jews from all corners of the world. We invite our brothers and sister, wherever they may be, to come to Israel and to make themselves at home. We will, however, never tolerate any Jew, from anywhere, who disrupts our home or places our home in harm’s way, because our home is not in the best neighborhood of the world.” Instead, Prime Minister Rabin chose to castigate and chastise.

Twenty months after these incendiary words were spoken, I searched to find the proper words to encapsulate the Prime Minister’s life. Our synagogue was holding a memorial for Yitchak Rabin whose life was abruptly ended, moments after he addressed a crowd at a rally in Tel-Aviv. As you might surmise, I was neither a supporter nor a fan of Yitzchak Rabin. But I put political differences aside and accorded him the honor and respect befitting a Prime Minister of Israel. At the conclusion of the tribute, an Israeli, representing an entirely different political bent than mine, who had been present, approached me to thank me as well as to give me a yasher koach for my remarks. “This was not easy for me,” I confided in her. “I’m very much aware of that and that’s all the more reason you deserve a “thank you” as well as a yasher koach,” she responded.

Twenty-five years have passed since the carnage at Ma’arat HaMachpelah. I cannot help but feel that over this past quarter century, political views of the vast majority of Israelis have by and large remained the same. Those who vilified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today. Similarly, those who glorified Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, continue to do so today as well.

Reflecting on those events twenty-five years later, I sadly shake my head, as I see how very pathetic it was for the same Prime Minister who months earlier,  extended a hand, however reluctantly, on the White House lawn to Yasser Arafat,  an individual who orchestrated decades of mayhem and murder, to then go and spit in the face of a family attempting to deal with the sudden death of a husband and father whose actions, no one may never fully understand.

YOU DECORATED MY LIFE

Contemporary American culture assures us that well before the turkey has tickled our taste buds, our eyes begin to feast on a plethora of Christmas decorations that pop up in the neighborhood. Such was the case with a house on the other side of the street. “Your house is clearly in the forefront,” I said to Julia Boyce who was in my office the other day. The Boyce house had been so tastefully (professionally) decorated, that I had to stop myself from giving Julia a big “Yasher Koach.” My neighbors’ house notwithstanding, I reassessed my comment hours later. I began to think about misplaced emphasis on decorations on the part of Christians, come Christmas and given our proclivity as Jews to parrot the greater culture, our misplaced emphasis on decorations, come the Festival of Lights.

Forgive me for “jumping the fence” and preaching a Christmas sermon before a church filled with Christians on the eve of December 24th, but if a preacher  really wanted to celebrate the birth in Bethlehem, then he or she would do well to instruct his or her parishioners to decorate the world with teachings surrounding a birth that would ultimately change the world beyond wildest expectations. Joseph and Mary may have been the first Jews to be turned away and refused a night’s stay.  Subsequent generations of Jews would be turned away and refused a life’s stay.  Isn’t it time for Christians to realize that come December 25th, mistletoe misses the point?

Once the Christian world is able to discern the difference between decorations that beautify the home and decorations that beautify the world, we, their “older brothers” will in all likelihood follow suit.

“Do you see what I see” should be the lyrics of a Chanukah song. Jews should be challenged to see various Maccabean messages in the flames of the candles irrespective of the creativity of the menorah that holds those candles. Shouldn’t a rabbi, an honest rabbi, who is untouched by the commercialism that has permeated the lives of his people, be reminding his congregation that as creative as Walt Disney Chanukah menorahs are, relegating the message of Chanukah to Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy is pure fantasyland? It isn’t the menorah, or any other tangible object brought into Jewish homes for that eight-day period that decorates and beautifies, it is the very message contained in the flames of those Chanukah lights. Shouldn’t a rabbi be telling his congregants that they have it all wrong when it comes to making use of the flames of the Chanukah candles? Shouldn’t a rabbi tell his people that the flames are off limits only when it comes to physical benefit? Isn’t it time then to look into those flames and see the dark color closest to the flame and recall how Chanukah began in a dark period of time during our history, when an internecine struggle was rearing its head between Hasmoneans and Hellenists? Shouldn’t Chanukah be a time to show that the harmony of the lights more than offsets the acrimony that festered between groups of Jews?  Wouldn’t the ultimate Chanukah decoration for any home  be one where there is an emphasis is placed on the fact that no two flames are alike? Shouldn’t there be an explanation  that some flames will be larger while other flames will be smaller? Couldn’t it be pointed out that neither the size of the flame nor the intensity of the flame has any bearing whatsoever as to which flame will go out first? Doesn’t the fact that  all candles are standing together overshadow the differences of color, flame size, and burning time?

Our Christian brethren are busy decorating their homes because of a miracle that  that would ultimately change their lives, not their homes. Perhaps we Jews can busy ourselves by using the lessons found through looking deeply into the flames of the Chanukah lights. Let us make miracles happen. Let us illuminate our homes so that we ultimately bring light into the lives of those we touch. Let us decorate this world.

BANKRUPTCY

“Na (sic) ha (sic) can you compete!” exclaimed my late Uncle Morris in his Polish accented English, as he commiserated with my father over their plight as small independent clothing store owners, attempting to eke out a livelihood in a city with more top notch retail stores than one could have imagined.

My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind last week, as I read about Sears recently filing for bankruptcy. Given the current retail climate in this country, Sears simply couldn’t compete.  My Uncle Morris’ words came to mind however for yet another reason. As a congregational rabbi, I’ve come to realize, that although in all likelihood I am a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, when it comes to competing, unlike retail stores,  synagogues shouldn’t compete.

Yes, competition is part and parcel of human nature. Communism was destined to fail from the start, because it did away with the individual as well as competitive spirit of the individual. I’ll be the first profess  that competition, if correctly executed (and it hardly ever is), is quite healthy and even desirable for humans. The intent and goal of Judaism however, isn’t to make us more human; the intent and goal of Judaism is to make us more humane. Competition is part and part of human nature. Judaism on the other hand, challenges us to rise above human nature. How else can we explain the basis of kashrut, which by its very essence, is designed to suppress human urges and to ask of us to work on rechanneling human nature? Judaism asks that each of us incorporate a non- compete clause into our very nature.

“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people” according to David Sarna. Recently, I returned a call to someone from the greater New York City area who was looking to relocate to Dallas. It didn’t take long to realize that I was falling prey to the very competition against which I am inveighing. “I’m sure that you’ve reached out to other rabbis as well” I said in my phone conversation to the gentleman. “And how many rabbis have taken the time to get back to you”, I smugly asked. Implicit in my question of course, was the fact that I provide better service than do other rabbis. By asking about other rabbis, I succumbed to the very worst aspect of competition; I showed that I was there for him by pointing out that other rabbis were not. Mea culpa!

Yet as uncalled for as my question was, I was mild in my condemnation of those “competing” against me. One need only watch political commercials being presently aired to see the very worse aspect of competition. We call it negative campaigning. Rather than present their attributes and explain why one should vote for them, political candidates  point out the shortcomings, drawbacks and faults  of their rivals. In Judaism, we call that Loshon HaRa or slander. As far as our sages were concerned, Loshon Hara is about as low as one can go.

How did it ever happen that synagogues capitulated to clichés and worn out phrases such as “warm congregations,” “friendly services” and “caring rabbis”? How is it that congregations  deigned to respond to the repugnant term “Shul shopping” ? Recently, I heard a speaker tell us how Jews are defecting from Modern Orthodoxy, because it does not fill their needs as far as women’s participation and involvement. Politically, the current trend of Modern Orthodoxy is also not to their liking. Excuse me? I was always under the impression that religion was for prayer and connecting with G-d. How did it happen that religion must now compete for our political comfort as well as our personal view of the world? The real travesty however is that so many rabbis and so many congregations will spare no expense to keep the shul shopping congregant, real or perceived,  satisfied.

There is however one type of competition that congregations would do well to embrace. And that is competition against oneself. Rather than worry about what other synagogues are doing best, congregations are better served when they are concerned about their own performance, and constantly looking to live up to their potential and seek new spiritual challenges.

Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to show what they stand for. Perhaps it’s time for congregations and rabbis to no longer fall prey to merchandising. When all is said and done, since its inception, Judaism has shown itself to be impervious to bankruptcy.

 

RESERVING A SPECIAL THOUGHT

As a firm believer that a special thought deserves a reciprocal special thought, I should like to communicate to Pope Francis, that just as he reserves a special thought for the Jewish community as he stood at the site of the former Vilna Ghetto the other day  on the 75th anniversary of its liquidation, so too do I reserve a special thought for him as well. Actually, I reserve three special thoughts for the Holy See:

Your standing at the site of the former  Vilna Ghetto or at the site of any Ghetto reminiscent of the Holocaust or at any Concentration Camp or Extermination Camp leaves me totally unmoved.

Regardless of any special thought that you reserve, I don’t hold you responsible for any of the atrocities committed against my people under the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler. You were a mere eight years old at the end of World War II. I don’t even hold Pope Pius XII responsible, despite all the controversy that surrounds him. Special thoughts should be reserved in the minds and on the consciences of children and grandchildren of those who were responsible for the Vilna Ghetto as well as the liquidation of Lithuanian Jews that soon ensued. Let them “Klap an al-chet” (beat their breasts) for the sins of their fathers. Any special thoughts you reserve in Lithuania should be reserved in any of the multitude of Catholic churches found throughout the country. Reserve special thoughts as you ask forgiveness from your savior for the inhumanities committed by his faithful while they either ignored or perverted his teachings.

Reserve special thoughts for the Rhineland massacres, where German Christians murdered innocent Jews living in the cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Visit churches that date back to the 11th century  and stand before the crucifix as you reserve special thoughts for the Jewish community. While you are at it. You might ask forgiveness for sullying the name of the Nazarene whose mission was to preach love as well as peace on earth. Stand there in front of the one who suffered at Calvary, just outside of Jerusalem and consider how he would have suffered that much more had he witnessed  murdering masses committing reprehensible and unspeakable acts, thereby besmirching his name and reputation.

Speaking of Jerusalem, reserve special thoughts for 160 churches in Jerusalem (including churches within schools and Christian institutions) that are not subject to defacement and desecration the way our synagogues are throughout cities in Europe. While you reserve special thoughts, you might also offer up a prayer of thanksgiving that the close to 15,000 Christians living in Jerusalem have never feared the Jew. Unlike Jews living in predominantly Christian countries in Europe, who no longer dare wear Jewish identification such as a yarmulke on their head or a Chai around their neck in public for fear of attack or worse, Christians mill about any and all neighborhoods of Jerusalem, feeling completely safe and secure. Perhaps the Holy See will consider a trip to the Holy Land  devoid of any political agenda, simply to express gratitude for the well-being and flourishing of the small Christian community  amidst a Jewish majority.
Your Holiness, history, Jewish existence and safety has been dependent on action and behavior -both by Jews themselves and especially by the outside Christian world. Never throughout our history as a people, has Jewish existence and safety been dependent on  special thoughts reserved by you or anyone else for that matter.

Your Holiness, there is one other special thought that I reserve – actually, it is a prayer. I reserve a special thought that you are able to devote your energies to dealing with the many issues that currently plague the Catholic Church. I will fully understand your not having the time to visit Holocaust memorials where you reserve special thoughts.

LIST OF ENEMIES

Up until last week, I had never heard of Heritage House. Located on 7 HaMalakh Street in the Jewish Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, this heretofore non-descript house of lodging made news, when it was discovered that the proprietors of Heritage House drew up a list of individuals who are not welcome. Among those who need not apply for a night’s stay are Senator Bernie Sanders, comedian Jon Stewart and actress/entertainer Bette Midler. Aside from the fact that all three are American Jews of notoriety, they appear to share political views concerning Israel that are not are not supportive of the government. Because of their views, they have been relegated to the category of “Soneh Yisroel” or enemy of Israel and have therefore been blacklisted.

Lists can be dangerous. Anyone who has made (read planned) a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or other life-cycle event, knows only too well that family relations and friendships have been destroyed because of lists. As a rabbi, I’ve heard more times than I care to recall, why congregants no longer have anything to do with “that side of the family” because a son and daughter-in-law never received an invitation to Mervin and Madeline’s wedding. Even though I have yet to see the list drawn up by those at Heritage House (if in fact such a list does exist), I cannot help but feel that it is entirely possible that some names on the list were erroneously added while other names that ought to be on the list, for whatever reason, never made the cut. A word to the wise at Heritage House: If you must blacklist, keep it to yourself and never, ever commit such a list to writing.

Soneh Yisroel is an elusive term. Much like Anti-Semite, Soneh Yisroel is dependent on the individual and the situation. Dare we equate one’s belief that all Jews should be wiped off the face of this earth with one’s belief that a certain segment of the population in Israel is a victim of apartheid, however naïve and reckless that belief may be? Does the fact that one takes up the cudgel for the enemy, make one a Soneh Yisroel? Provided we permit Israeli officials at Passport Control at Ben Gurion Airport to responsibly carry out their duties, neither those at Heritage House nor any other hotelier/ hostelier need be concerned about any Soneh Yisroel. And should it happen, that the officials at Passport Control are too lax in their standards at filtering out “undesirables,” for the likes of hoteliers/ hosteliers, the hoteliers/hosteliers can always resort to the age-old trick at the time of reservation and feign that they are booked solid and there is no room at the inn.

Perhaps most important of all, don’t those at Heritage House have anything better to do than make lists? Although I have never heard of, much less visited Heritage House, I feel it safe to make the following comparison: The King David, it isn’t! Do those at Heritage House actually believe that anyone on that list has any desire or inclination to stay at the Heritage House? Typically, those that made the list, receive a special “Baruch HaBa” or welcome upon arriving in Israel.

If only the purported list were for a totally different reason! Story has it that during the Civil War President Lincoln had occasion at an official reception to refer to the Southerners as erring human beings rather than as enemies to be exterminated. An elderly lady, a fiery patriot, rebuked the President for speaking kindly of his enemies when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. “Why, madam,” said Lincoln, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Perhaps Heritage House’s purported list of enemies was for the purpose of sending them Rosh Hashanah greeting cards wishing them the best for 5779. If only!

GO TO HELL

Every so often, it happens that Christian clergy or laity, Christians of notoriety or insignificance call upon Jews to accept Jesus into their lives as the savior. Alternately, these same Christians warn Jews that as long as they continue to reject Jesus as the savior, they are destined to go to hell when they depart this world. I wish it weren’t so, but more than a few Jews have a knee jerk reaction to such statements. They go ballistic. To say that I am amused by the statements of such Christians; to say that I am horrified by the reactions of such Jews would be an understatement.

Do you really think that I give a damn what such Christians believe about me and my people? If I can soundly reject their belief in Jesus as the savior, then I can also dismiss any remarks they make as a result of their belief in Jesus as the savior. As long as Christians commit no acts of anti-Semitism or propose reinstating Crusades, Inquisitions or Pogroms, I adopt the attitude of “zollen zei leben un zein gezunt” or as the late Leonard Nemoy in his role as Mr. Spock was wont to say: “Live long and prosper.”

Having made mention of Crusades, Inquisitions and Pogroms, I cannot help but feel that any Christian who is so concerned about Jewish souls as well as the destination where those Jewish souls are most assuredly headed because of Jewish theological pigheadedness, ought to look twice… and twice again before uttering the name of Jesus and Jewish souls in the same breath. The amount of Jewish blood that has soaked into the soil of this world over the centuries (for the record Christians had absolutely no problem shedding Moslem blood or the blood of fellow Christians as well) in the name of Jesus is nothing short of reprehensible. Funny thing though, I have yet to hear any Christian raise a question similar to the baseless question raised by far too many Jews over these last seven plus decades: How could Jesus sit by and do nothing while such carnage continues?

If Christians believe that G-d sent His son, His one and only son (sound familiar?) to earth so that the world could behold his birth, share his life and witness his death, all the power to them! If Christians believe that the second coming can only come about, when he is acknowledged and accepted by all as the savior, they are out of bounds and out of control. It is a terrible sin to believe at the expense of others! It is a deep embarrassment to believe at the validation of others!

Once upon a time in America, we were taught that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” America of today seems to take the exact opposite tack. As a child, I remember coming home crying when a Christian neighbor called me a Christ Killer. Since then, I’ve found much more important and meaningful things to cry over. I no longer cry at being called a Christ Killer (few, if any in our culture of today would have the temerity to call any Jew a Christ Killer). I summarily dismiss being told I will end up in hell – certainly as a result of my beliefs.

But I do cry over Christians who feel that they need to have their beliefs shared….or else. I do cry over Jews who go ballistic over well intentioned comments (I truly see these comments as such – so much for intention) by Christians who only wish to save our souls. I cry because there are so many more important things to cry over in this world.

THE IGNORING OF THE JEWS

Like so many others, I make a point of looking at the obituaries in the morning newspaper. Last week, the passing of David S. Wyman caught my attention, in that thirty-four years ago he wrote a best seller,  “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945”. Had the opportunity presented itself for me to meet Mr. Wyman, the conversation that would have ensued would have been filled with irony.

I find Mr. Wyman to be a remarkable individual as well as a paragon of his faith (Methodist). I also find Mr. Wyman to be unbelievably idealistic and extremely naïve.  Mr. Wyman made the charge that while Nazis were exterminating Jews, American Christians forgot about the Good Samaritan. Before Mr. Wyman chose to inveigh against his fellow Christians, he might have first railed against American Jews, who for the most part adopted a “sha shtill” attitude that was so typical of them at that time. Far be it for me to pass any judgement, but if one’s own do not speak up for their own who are in peril, then it is sheer chutzpah to expect others to speak up for one’s own in peril. Jews in this country did not speak up for Jews who were being annihilated. And in no way should this be considered an indictment against them.

Speaking of speaking up, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that on October 6, 1943, two days before Yom Kippur, more than 400 Orthodox rabbis organized by the secular Bergson group and accompanied by marshals from another secular Jewish organization, the Jewish War Veterans of America, marched solemnly from Union Station to the Capitol building and then on to the White House to plead for government action on behalf of the Jews being murdered by Hitler. The President, allegedly on the advice of Rabbi Stephen Wise (an ardent Zionist, no less) and others, slipped out from a side door of the White House, so that no meeting between the rabbis and the President ever took place.  However admirable and praiseworthy the rabbinic march on the White House may have been, one would do well to wonder what took the rabbis so long. The war along with the genocide against the Jews had been in operation for a full four years. Such inactivity as well as “too little too late” on the part of the Jewish community for whatever reason, does not seem to stick in David Wyman’s craw.

I have come neither to bury nor to praise F.D.R., but it’s totally unfair as far as I’m concerned to expect F.D.R. or any other American president to be concerned with Jewish concerns. Running for re-lection in 1940, F.D.R. never campaigned on a promise to save European Jews. America entered W.W.II. with F.D.R. as its Commander in Chief, because this country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, not because trains were delivering Jews to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. As much as it grates on our Jewish nerves to hear this, F.D.R.’s priority was to win the war, not save the Jews of Europe. Was such an attitude heartless or lacking in morals and ethics? Keeping America safe from its enemies was the president’s responsibility, not ethics and morals. And sad to say, from a military and logistical standpoint, targets other than train tracks leading to Nazi Death factories were the main targets of U.S. armed forces.
Had I been able to meet with David S. Wyman within these past few years, I would have asked him about the Rohingya people being victimized and treated inhumanely by the Burmese. Should we be holding the leadership of this country – both the past President as well as the current President – responsible for standing idly by and turning a blind eye, as humans continue to act inhumanely towards another group? Does this mean that American Christians (and Jews) are once again guilty of overlooking the Good Samaritan?

Rather than castigate and admonish, perhaps David Wyman should have found solace and encouragement for the few who did  risk their lives for others and in doing so gave new meaning to the term “mentsch” (humane being) and maybe even “tsaddik” (righteous person). Those rare and phenomenal individuals have to be enough for me not to give up on my fellow human being. David Wyman chose to indict his fellow Christians of this country for abandoning the Jews. Unfortunately, David Wyman chose the wrong word. One can only abandon that which was once his. It is virtually impossible for the Christian World to have abandoned Jews, in that a good argument can be made that Christians never provided care for Jews and understandably so. A far better title for David Wyman’s 1984 book would have been: The Ignoring of the Jews.

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.