CHUTZPAH, ISN’T IT?

This Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Named for Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, the Declaration stated in part: “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Can you imagine such magnanimity? The British government viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, when Palestine was not even under British control! It wasn’t until December 9th of that year, five weeks after the Balfour Declaration was signed, that British forces led by General Sir Edmund Allenby wrested Jerusalem from Turkish control. In fact, it wasn’t until practically a year later, on October 31, 1918, when all of Palestine came under British control. I’m sure that at that time, His Majesty’s Government viewed any number of territorial changes with favour. Who knows? Perhaps His Majesty’s Government also viewed the retaking of the expanded Thirteen Colonies with favour as well. Why, I think that Lord Balfour was simply divine – at least in his own mind. Having perused the Torah any number of times, I’ve come across HaShem promising the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants, but I’ve never come across Lord Balfour promising the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants.

But it was more than a national home for the Jewish people that His Majesty’s Government viewed with favour. His Majesty’s Government viewed fairness with favour. His Majesty’s Government knew that it had to show fairness to both the Arabs and the Jews already firmly ensconced in Palestine. And so it did. His Majesty’s Government showed fairness to the Jews and even more fairness to the Arabs. His Majesty’s government simply knew that unfairness to Jews would lead to hurt, anger and feelings of being disenfranchised; unfairness to Arabs led would lead to slit throats. Just as His Majesty’s Government viewed the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people with favour, so too did the British view un-slit throats with favour. And that’s why immigration to Palestine of Jews looking to escape Hitler was curtailed and cut down to a trickle by the British, as was immigration to Palestine of the bedraggled, war torn Jews who somehow managed to defy the odds and survive Hitler.

If His Majesty’s Government viewed fairness with favour, it also viewed justice with favour – its concept of justice. And that’s why His Majesty’s Government views how it was done dirty by the very same Jews it sought to “civilize.” The savage bombing of the King David Hotel by the Igun Tzvai LeUmi will never be forgotten, nor will the kidnapping and hanging of Sergeant Clifford Martin and Sergeant Mervyn Paice (the Irgun Tzvai LeUmi threatened to hang the two kidnapped Sergeants if the British carried out the execution of Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar and Yaakov Weiss.) Apparently justice, full and complete justice, has yet to be carried out. Otherwise why has no State Visit to Israel ever taken place by any British Prime Minister? “When the time is right” remains the official response issued by 10 Downing Street.

His Majesty’s Government cedes land that is not its own, His Majesty’s Government views fairness with favor, especially when dealing with Israel’s Arab population, His Majesty’s Government has yet to put aside decade’s old recriminations against Israel, despite its own besmirched, sullied reputation between the years 1917 through 1948. Chutzpah, isn’t it?

SCHWEINEHUND*

Kfar Kitvin is an 87 year old Moshav, a stone’s throw from Netanya, a thriving city on the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv and Haifa. To the best of my knowledge, until last week, Kfar Vitkin had made the news only once. Back in July 1948, the Atalena, an Irgun ship filled with ammunition, docked at Kfar Vitkin for a very brief time, until it had to pull up anchor. The ship then headed for Tel Aviv, where it was summarily destroyed by the nascent Israeli army. Kfar Vitkin evokes bitter memories of David Ben Gurion butting heads with Menachem Begin – Jew against Jew.

Recently, Kfar Vitkin was in the news again. It appears to be yet another story of Jew against Jew, given the paucity of neo-Nazis in the area, as well as in all Israel. A week ago Saturday, Omri Kessler woke up only to discover that overnight, the family dog had been sprayed with a swastika. If any Jew wishes to send a message of great displeasure to his co-religionist neighbor, then he ought to be careful how he wades into the domain of the Third Reich.

Schweinhund! Swastikas are the sole domain of Nazis, neo-Nazis, and other pure-blooded Aryans. On a good day, moronic anti-Semites, as well as school age children who are at par with moronic anti-Semites in that they have no idea whatsoever as to the meaning of the swastika, might also have the blessings of the Third Reich to deface objects with swastikas. But for a Jew to paint a swastika on an object, whether animate or inanimate, is totally verboten.  Gott in Himmel! This is what happens when society becomes overly tolerant. It’s bad enough Jews sullied Germany in the 1930s with their mere presence. Now these Jews must sully the swastika that has has been sacrosanct to Nazis by painting it on a dog. How dare those Jews!

Speaking of dogs, doesn’t this miscreant who defaced the Kessler dog have any reverence for the life of an animal? The only thing that could be worse than spray-painting poor Schnuckiputzi (cutie pie) would be if the Kessler hound was a Doberman or a German Sheppard. Nazis sure did love their Dobermans and German Shepherds! In fact, as far as Nazis were concerned, any mutt off the street had far more worth than even the noblest Jew. I recall watching a short documentary of Nazis herding Jewish children into a mobile killing unit, only to interrupt the “final solution” so that a Nazi soldier could retrieve a German Sheppard that, together with other trained canines, was nipping at the legs of the children and in the process had mistakenly followed the children into the van. It was simply unconscionable for a Nazi soldier to let a poor dog meet the same fate as the wretched Jew children. Anyone who would dare deface a dog is deserving of being called Schweinehund!

“Don’t get mad, get even” is a quote attributed to the late Robert (Bobby) Kennedy. “Schweinehundt!” Adolph would have responded. “You Americans and you Israelis! You Fiji Islanders and you Liberians! You don’t know what mad is. If you want to see madness, then you must watch the way, I (Hitler) am depicted in the 2004 movie ‘Downfall’! Why my anger tantrum is so effective that it has spawned a number of parodies. Nothing gets people to quake in their boots more than being the target of the rants of an infuriated madman.  Only a dummkopf would spritz a swastika on a dog, not realizing that a spittle-flecked tirade of a madman, impossible to placate, would be far more effective.”

Can you just imagine if the aggrieved Kfar Vitkinite responsible for the swastika would have appeared at the doorstep of the Kessler residence and exploded into a harangue of a Nazi madman, all the while holding the pooch by the scruff of the neck? Omri Kessler would have immediately decided that it wasn’t worth it to leave the dog unchained. If there were other Kfar Vitkinites who felt the same way about the dog, the “madman” would have instantly become a hero.

How can Jews possibly decry swastikas when they use the same shape to get a message across? How can Jews possibly spray paint a dog with a swastika when they are totally ignorant of the canine’s political beliefs? How can Jews respond in such a ridiculous fashion when unbridled anger, while even more ridiculous, has proven to be far more effective?

*Schweinehund is a German infinitely potent expletive for calling someone a piece of garbage.

DENIERS AND DEFACERS

As one of literally a handful of rabbis who met with Professor Deborah Lipstadt last Friday morning, I should have been more attentive. While Ms. Lipstadt was explaining the difference between soft core Holocaust Denial and hard core Holocaust Denial, I couldn’t help but realize that Holocaust deniers and those who spray-paint Heil Hitler and swastikas on buildings are really two sides of the same coin. Both groups want to infuriate Jews by touching upon a most sensitive and volatile subject. Every time Jews respond (typically through contacting the police and reaching out to the media), the deniers and defacers are granted a victory. Accordingly, whether Ms. Lipstadt agrees or not, Jews must totally ignore both the deniers as well as the defacers. It’s high time that a completely different modus operandi be embraced.

Wiedergutmachung is the German term for reparations. Literally translated as making good again, Wiedergutmachung came to serve as the German word for reparations in 1953. It was an attempt on the part of the German government to reach out to Jews worldwide who somehow managed to show contempt to Hitler by surviving the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of Jews led by Menachem Begin staged a massive protest at the time. They were adamantly opposed to “blood money.” I would like to believe that I would have been one of those protesters – for a different reason, however. True Wiedergutmachung must not be limited to any financial arrangement. In retrospect, the nascent Israeli government should have extracted a pledge from German people throughout the world to confront deniers and defacers throughout the world.

“We love Israel” is the contemporary mantra taken up by countless Christians – Evangelicals and others. Personally, I embrace the Evangelicals and others and love them in return, regardless of the real and ultimate reason for their love. Christian lovers of Israel must bear in mind, however, that Israel was established as a homeland and a haven for the Jews while the chimneys at Auschwitz were still warm from turning our people into smoke. True love for the Jewish people is a sine qua non for true love for Israel. The two are inseparable. If Evangelical and other Christians truly love Israel, then they must take up the cudgel against deniers and defacers. Recent events in Whitefish, Montana serve as a case in point. Once again, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head when White Nationalist Whitefish resident Richard Spencer planned an armed march through the town of just over 6,000. Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, Senator Jon Tester and Senator Steve Dalnes immediately denounced Spencer and his planned march. Evangelical Christians, along with others who profess strong love for Israel, should have descended upon White Fish delivering the following message: Either Spencer, leaves taking with him his vitriolic poison, or we stay and proceed to infuse mega doses of Christian love into Whitefish.

Americans are up in arms over refugees seeking to cross into this country. As a result, there are marches and demonstrations from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Regardless of how one feels about the topic, one would do well to ask the marchers and demonstrators, where is their concern for humanity when Holocaust deniers and defacers rear their ugly heads and carry out their despicable acts? Isn’t protesting acts of Holocaust denial, as well as demanding that justice be meted out for the defacing property with Nazi slogans, equally as necessary as the current cause in which they have involved themselves?

Germans and Evangelicals, as well as other Christians and concerned Americans: In addition to the status quo of Wiedergutmachung, love for Israel and marching and demonstrating for refugees, I ask that you speak out against the deniers and defacers. You might very well be surprised at what you are able to achieve.

Cheap Jew

A resident of a shtetl east of Terrell came up to me as I was standing at a display in the Perot Science Museum last week (my grandchildren were visiting). What developed into a most interesting conversation for both of us began with his approaching me and initiating the it in the following manner: “I have a question I would like to ask you and I don’t know how to phrase it. I hope that you don’t take any offense.” After I encouraged him to ask me whatever he had on his mind and assured him that no offense whatsoever would be taken, he proceeded to inquire about the uncut strands of hair that my two older grandsons wear in front of their ears. Five minutes later, we were still talking, as I handed him my card and offered to drive out to his church and speak about Judaism and or Israel.

Despite wearing a kippah on my head at all times, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who has been approached by a non-Jew. Chances are that a goodly number of us have been approached by a total stranger who asked: “Are you Jewish?”
Please don’t take offense at such a question. I beg you!

Unless a non-Jew accosts us or even approaches us with “Why are Jews so cheap?” or “Why do Jews have all the money?” let not our hearts be troubled.  “Why are so many Jews, doctors, lawyers or accountants” ought not to be interpreted as being anti-Semitic. This is a legitimate question which deserves a legitimate answer. I highly doubt that any disrespect is meant by asking such a question. And a legitimate answer is that our European ancestors were forbidden to own land (farms) and work the land. Instead of concentrating on our brawn or manual dexterity, as Jews, we concentrated on our brain and our mental acuity. Incidentally, David Klein – whom I have known since I was fifteen – is a plumber in Oak Park, Michigan.

By virtue of our being Jews, we are all ambassadors to the outside world. It’s a position we never asked for or in all likelihood never wanted. But that’s life. As such, getting our noses out of joint when we perceive that there is some anti-Semitic undertone to a comment or question coming from a non-Jew can only make us look bad. Somebody asked us a question. Chances are that nothing was meant by it. And even if the question or comment reeked of anti-Semitism, we can only lose by lowering ourselves to the standards of the one who asked the question or made the comment. If we really want to make a statement, then let’s do so by ignoring the question or comment. No one likes to be ignored.

Anti-Semites rarely sound off at Jews. Anti-Semites typically sound off at other anti-Semites. That way, their views are validated. At best, anti-Semites mutter under their breath. Such was the case some twenty years ago, when I took the train into Manhattan to attend the annual Salute to Israel parade. The train was packed with scores of others traveling into New York for the very same purpose. As we walked out onto Seventh Avenue, a middle aged man walked toward us. It was clear that he knew who we were and where we were headed.  He so much as said so, as he muttered “f*****g Jews” while passing us on the sidewalk. It’s highly doubtful that he would have extended that very same “greeting” to our faces.

According to recent studies, 9% of Americans harbor anti-Semitic views. Stated differently, 91% of Americans harbor no such views. As a Jew, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get much better than that. As for that 9%, few if any of them have any desire to engage us in conversation. Anti-Semites have little, if anything, to say to us. Let’s not ruin it by being overly sensitive to the other 91% who mean no harm and no disrespect.

BOMB SCARES

No one likes bomb scares – especially Jews who are at their local JCC. A phone call is placed by either a lunatic or Jew hater … or both, to a local JCC, alerting it that a bomb has been planted. The entire Jewish community remains on red alert long after the premises have been declared to be bomb free. For Jews, bomb scares and anti-Semitism are inextricably intertwined.

As serious as bomb scares are, there are other bombs waiting to go off in our very midst, to which the vast majority of American Jews seems to be inured. How ironic! Yet that very same Jewish community that has been shaken to its core because of a bomb scare ought to be alerted to bomb scares of a totally different nature that threaten our existence as Jews.

Jewish communities throughout the nation have consistently refused to acknowledge that our very Judaism is at risk. This too is a bomb scare. Close to four decades ago, Morris Arthur, later to be known as Moshe Yess, was very much aware of the bomb scare which confronts American Jews. Accordingly, he included the following lyrics in his song My Zaidy: “I don’t know why it came to be – it happened slowly over many years, we just stopped being Jewish like my Zaidy was. And no one cared enough to shed a tear.”  Moshe Yess was far too kind. He should have said: “And no one cared enough!” Period! American Judaism does not need tears. American Judaism needs a wake-up call, a red alert. The best of sermons dealing with this bomb scare have fallen on deaf ears; the most revealing of sociological studies concerning this bomb scare leave no impact whatsoever. The vast majority of American Jews appear to be totally apathetic to any and all alarms of the bomb scare concerning our Judaism, while those who do sit up and take notice seem to adopt a “What can we do?” attitude and consequently do nothing while the bomb scare of Judaism disappearing remains a most serious threat.

American Jews who profess to care a great deal about Israel from a political standpoint have every right to be smug. We are living at a time of a pro-Israel Congress. Yet when it comes to Israel, Congress is also a bomb scare in the making. To believe that Congress will always remain staunch in its unwavering support toward Israel is both delusional and dangerous. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s members of Congress. Today’s students are being brainwashed by college professors who consider it a mitzvah of the highest order to inject politics into their curriculum and infect the minds of impressionable students. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many professors, so that students are ultimately “convinced” of the draconian steps that Israel adopts against the poor Palestinians. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many  professors, so that today’s college students are taught to view Israel as an apartheid state run by a supremacist government. “Inject and infect” is the motto of a good many  professors, so that Congress of tomorrow will no longer remain Israel’s “amen corner” in Washington.

Golda Meir once said that “One must not try to erase history merely because it does not fit the present.” However, history has a life expectancy of its own and in time fades into the past, only to be supplanted by events far more “attention grabbing.” We are living at a time when for so many of us, the Holocaust is the sum total of our Jewish history. Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, there will come a time when our focus on the Holocaust will have run its course, as difficult as this may be for so many of us to accept.  And neither Holocaust museums nor Holocaust curricula will be able to combat this change. Meaning no disrespect whatsoever, our interest in the Holocaust is a bomb scare. And sad to say, our leaders, both religious and lay, do not appear to be working on any contingencies to deal with that scare.

Lagophthalmos is a condition where one’s eyelids are unable to be shut. As a result, there are those who actually sleep with their eyes open. “Jewish lagophthalmos” is a requirement as well a necessity for us as a people. As Jews, we need to keep our eyes …and ears open at all times, not only to ensure that our future is safe and secure, but -equally important – to be alert to bomb scares that require our immediate attention as well as our top priority.

JUST BEYOND THE BORDER

I very much doubt that any of you reading this article will be surprised to learn that an Israeli grassroots initiative is underway to raise 600,000 Israeli Shekel or $150,000 dollars  in order to purchase emergency aid including food, medication and supplies for refugee Syrian children. Within the first forty- eight hours after launching the campaign, over a quarter of a million shekel or over $60,000 dollars was raised from over 1,600 donors.
As much as digging deep into our pockets whenever disaster strikes seems to be part of our Jewish DNA, perhaps some introspection is in order to find out why we behave the way we do:
Without even realizing it, Jews proudly espouse the adage that life is not fair – in the very best sense. Whereas most others resort to this adage in order to lament, Jews subconsciously celebrate the fact that life is not fair. Jews instinctively realize that had the tables been turned and Israel found itself with thousands of refugee children as a result of civil war, our Arab neighbors would be dancing in the streets and firing rifles in the air to celebrate. Jewish reaction to the suffering of children and other human beings – including enemy children and other human beings is to figure out how much aid is needed and what is the best way to provide that aid. When disaster strikes an enemy, Arabs celebrate; Jews calibrate. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a fabulous phrase in the Torah that most Jews are completely unaware of. Yet, for us Jews, it is second nature. Hagar and Ishmael are driven way by Abraham. Ishmael is about to expire from thirst. There are those who question Divine intervention at that point, in that there is no question in their mind that today’s world would be so much simpler had Ishmael been left to die in the wilderness. But rather than simply tell us that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries, the Torah reports that HaShem heard Ishmael’s cries where he (Ishmael) was at the time. Ishmael was saved irrespective of the type of person he would grow into as an adult; Ishmael was saved because he was a child on the brink of death. Money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil war irrespective of the fact that quite possibly some of the recipients of this emergency aid may one day become terrorists or at the very “least” enemies of Israel; money is being raised for victims of Syria’s civil was because they are children who are suffering.
It is the Book of Proverbs (Sefer Mishlei) that teaches us not to rejoice at the downfall of one’s enemy. Most see this as a most obvious teaching. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs falls short. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs should have also taught us not to cry at the downfall of one’s enemy. Sympathy or even empathy is totally useless when others are in need, especially when they are in harm’s way and are crying out for help. As beautiful as shedding a tear may be and as heartwarming as an embrace may be, hold back the tear and save the hug until after medical aid is administered, those in harm’s way are given nourishment, wounds are tended to, bathing takes place, clean clothes are provided and the victims are safe and secure from harm including the scorching heat of summer and the dreadful cold of winter. What so many seem to fail to understand is that in a crises situation, motion trumps emotion.
My yarmulke goes off to those responsible for this initiative. At present, they refer to their campaign as JUST BEYOND THE BORDER. My fervent hope and prayer is not that more Israelis and Jews throughout the world come on board and participate and donate – of that I haven’t the slightest doubt. My hope and prayer is that Syrian communities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe go just beyond the border and begin to help their own people as well.

CRAZY HORSE AND CRAZY ABOUT JEWS

It was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz setting forth together with his wife Moussie and their two toddler children from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the bastion of Lubavitch Hassidim to serve as the sole rabbi of the great state of South Dakota, where he will minister to its Jewish population of 1,200 (a figure which I can’t help but feel is greatly inflated). Even though I am not aware that the miniscule Jewish communities of Aberdeen, Rapid City or Sioux Falls expressed a need for a rabbi much less requested a rabbi, I would like to believe that that Rabbi Alperowitz will be warmly welcomed. I applaud his spirit of being willing to go where no rabbi has recently gone.

Because he is the sole rabbi for miles and miles, Rabbi Alperowitz will in all likelihood be called upon to officiate at funerals (some three and a half decades ago, yours truly made the ninety mile journey from Sioux City, Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to officiate at the funeral of Ben Light) just as Rabbi Alperowitz will in all likelihood look in on Jews who, in some cases might not even be part of the above mentioned communities. Most important of all, Rabbi Alperowitz will disseminate Yiddishkeit. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that a”Jusaism” vacuum exists, and I ask Hashem’s blessings on Rabbi Alperowitz for filling that vacuum. In doing so, Rabbi Alperowitz adopts the attitude “If I don’t fill that vacuum, then who will?”

The mezuzah is perhaps the most ubiquitous sign when it comes to Jewish homes. Hopefully, Jewish homes throughout South Dakotas have mezuzahs affixed to their doorposts. But when all is said and done, Mezuzahs are passive. Mezuzahs wait for you to “reach out” to them. Without question, Rabbi Alperowitz possesses an attitude of “we can’t wait”.  Rabbi Alperowitz will be the one reaching out to South Dakota’s Jews, whether they wish to be reached out to or not. It’s quite plausible, that given Rabbi Alperowitz’s training, he won’t take “no” for an answer. Undaunted by a “ I’m really not interested” or “no thank you”, Rabbi Alperowitz will be persistent and call upon South Dakota Jews again and again in his quest to show Jews from Aberdeen, Rapid City, Sioux Falls as well as any lone Jews spread throughout the State what they’ve been missing by not lighting Shabbat candles or putting on tefillen.

I have no idea where in South Dakota the Alperowitzes will settle. But I do know that the handful of Jews in that community will be in for a treat. In no time at all, the Jews of that community will be invited by Rabbi Alperowitz to his home for a Friday night, Shabbat meal. For some, the experience will evoke distant memories of a grandparent’s Shabbat table in communities such as Yankton; for others it will be a totally new experience. In all likelihood, being a guest at the Alperowitz home for Shabbat dinner will not in any way be an epiphany of sorts. It will however be an experienced that will be long remembered by the guest.

I pray that Rabbi Alperowitz be successful beyond his dreams. I also pray that his cohorts become so inspired by his accomplishments that they pull of stakes and head for remote parts of this country where their services are needed more than they can possibly imagine, even if the Jews in those locations couldn’t possibly imagine why in the world any rabbi would do so.

MAH NISHTANAH

It’s high time that a Mah Nishtanah be applied to Veteran’s Day. With American involvement in World War I having begun just under a century ago (April 1, 1917), it’s high time that we American Jews approach Veteran’s Day having learned about the involvement of at least one of our people who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery as a soldier.
A native of Buffalo, Ben Kaufman was raised in Brooklyn where he rooted for the Dodgers. His attendance at Syracuse University was interrupted when America entered the war.
Toward the beginning of October 1918, Sergeant Ben Kaufman and his men came under heavy fire from a German machine gun while serving in an advance detail in the Argonne. Almost immediately, two of Ben Kaufman’s men were wounded. In order to provide assistance, Sergeant Kaufman realized that he had to first silence the enemy machine gun fire. Before he could use his own weapon, Sergeant Kaufman’s arm was shattered by an enemy bullet.  With his (right) arm hanging limp, Sergeant Kaufman began to advance on the enemy by lobbing grenades with his left hand. Through determination, perseverance and mazel, sergeant Kaufman managed to reach the enemy position where singlehandedly, he captured a surviving German soldier. Upon returning to American lines with his prisoner, Sergeant Kaufman managed to reveal the exact location of the enemy thereby enabling the Americans to move forward. It was after providing this information that Sergeant Kaufman fainted from loss of blood. In addition to the aforementioned Medal of Honor, Sergeant Kaufman received awards from bravery from nine foreign countries. After the war, Sergeant Kaufman became actively involved in the Jewish war Veterans serving as the national commander from 1941-1942. Ben Kaufman settled in Trenton N.J. where the Ben Kaufman Post 156 was established in his honor.
Mah Nishtanah. Meaning no disrespect to the Holocaust, we American Jews must be educated that our history did not begin on November 9, 1938 (Kristallnacht) nor did it end on May 8, 1945 (VE Day). Meaning no disrespect to the State of Israel, we American Jews must be taught that our history predates May 14, 1948 (the birth of the modern State of Israel). Isn’t it time that our children be taught about American Jewish war heroes?
Mah Nishtanah. If we can be proud that Sandy Koufax refused to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, then shouldn’t we be aware that there are dozens, if not hundreds of other American Jews who are most deserving of our pride as well? Sandy Koufax is admired by Jews for what he did not do; there are so many others who deserve to be admired for what they did do!
Mah Nishtanah. Should it ever happen that we are confronted either personally or through the media that the U.S. military has disproportionately a small amount of Jews, it would be to our advantage to show that in the past, American Jews never shied away from the war effort. In fact, during World War II, there was a disproportionately large amount of Jews in the U.S. military. Stories about Ben Kaufman and others help prove the point.
This Friday is Veteran’s Day. Take a moment to recall the true meaning of Veteran’s Day. Realize that as a people, Veteran’s day has special meaning to us Jews. At the very least about, take it upon yourself to learn about one other Jew in the U.S. Military between now and next November. What could be better than applying Mah Nishtanah to Veteran’s Day?

DEFYING MORE THAN NAZIS

Since its inception, Vad Vashem, the world Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, has designated an Avenue of the Righteous, where recognition and praise is given to thousands of non-Jews who put their own lives at risk, protecting and saving Jewish lives, as they defied Hitler. Only five Americans are among the thousands of righteous non-Jews. Waitstill Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife Martha are two of the five. PBS will air a documentary focusing on the heroic deeds of Waitstill and Martha Sharp next Tuesday evening, September 20th at 8:00 P.M. local time.
Yet, Defying the Nazis, the title of the documentary, belies the 20 months that Waitstill and Martha put themselves in harm’s way and risked their lives for total strangers. Waitstill and Martha Sharp did much more than defy the Nazis.
They defied complacency. Seventeen other leaders had been approached by Reverend Evrett Baker, vice president of the American Unitarian Association to help, but declined. Who could blame them? To leave a safe and secure haven to risk their lives for total strangers was asking too much. They saw their mission in life as helping Unitarians here in the United States. Waitstill and Martha Sharp saw things differently however. They saw the rhetorical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper” that Cain so smugly placed before his creator as a challenge. And they stepped up to that challenge. No one would have faulted them, had they turned their backs on that challenge as others had. But Waitstill and Martha Sharp were too busy focusing on the peril of strangers than the complacency of colleagues. Like others who dare to be different, Waitstill and Martha Sharp did not regard themselves as special.
They defied anonymity. The idea of isolationism was very real at the time. Given the fact that Americans were protected by the Atlantic, more than a few in this country questioned the wisdom of getting involved in a war that was not theirs. Waitstill and Martha Sharp saw things differently. They saw that inhumanity anywhere was a threat to inhumanity everywhere. Much like Moses seeing an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, Waitstill and Martha Sharp looked around and saw that no one prepared to do anything. Moses stepped in; so too did Waitstill and Martha Sharp.
They defied Franklin D. Roosevelt! President Roosevelt did everything in his power not to make WWII into a Jewish war. “Defeat the enemy first” was his motto. Once the enemy is defeated, we can turn our efforts towards the suffering and annihilation of the Jews. Waitstill and Martha Sharp saw things differently. Let the President focus on defeating Nazism. Our focus will be saving Jews. And save Jews they did – even though Waitstill and Martha experienced heart stopping encounters with Nazi police where they came dangerously close to being arrested. Add to this the strain on their marriage as well as the toll it took on their children who were entrusted to the care of Church members in Massachusetts and one is perhaps better equipped to understand why there are so precious few in this world who risked their lives the way Waitstill and Martha did.
Depending on the quality of the documentary as well as the way it is received by the public, P.B.S. may wish to air it again next April, as Jews throughout the world commemorate Yom HaShoah.

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.