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.

JFK AND ISRAEL

Last week marked the centenary of J.F.K., the 35th president of the United States. Because of his life being cut short by an assassin, because we choose to remember his 1,037 days as president as a twentieth century Camelot, it behooves us to take a look at his life in relationship to Israel.

While so many American Jews of today’s generation have come to expect our President to involve himself in the Middle East, particularly by standing behind Israel as well as attempting to initiate some sort of peace plan, it ought to be kept in mind that similar efforts have been in place for well over half a century.

J.F.K. launched two (unsuccessful) initiatives aimed at brokering peace between Israel and its neighbors; this was before Arab claims over east Jerusalem, the West Bank and “refugees redux.” J.F. K. sent personal letters to the heads of all the Arab governments, offering the services of the United States as an “honest broker” to help them establish peaceful relations between themselves and the then-nascent Jewish State.  J.F.K. also dispatched emissaries to seek a solution to “one of the key obstacles to peace,” the refugee problem.

Jewish attachment to the “shmatte business” (literally rag business, but also covers the clothing trade and the textile industry) served Israel well. Back in the late 1950s, Israel began to construct a nuclear power plant in Dimona, a city south of Be’er Sheva. It was one of Israel’s “best kept” secrets, known to all including the American government. (Yes, Americans spy on Israel and vice versa.) When confronted by the (outgoing) Eisenhower administration, Israel explained that the site was a textile plant. The Kennedy administration was neither mollified nor amused. Instead, Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion was denied an invitation to the White House (J.F.K. met with Ben Gurion at the Waldorf Astoria) in May 1961.  The Kennedy administration was not prepared to turn a blind eye. In a personal letter dated May 18, 1963, J.F.K. issued the following ultimatum: “Either Israel allows American inspectors to visit the site, or Israel finds itself totally isolated politically.” Within a month, David Ben Gurion resigned from the position of leadership; within half a year, J.F.K. was felled by an assassin. To be sure, the United States would continue to pressure Israel, but with a new Prime Minister (Levi Eshkol) and a new president, “the times, they were a-changin’.”

Most American Jews believe that L.B.J. was the first president to sell arms to Israel. While L.B.J. was truly magnanimous in seeing to it that Prime Minister Eshkol was able to check off all items on the “shopping list” when he visited the United States in January 1968, it was J.F.K. who agreed to sell Israel Hawk surface-to-air missiles in August 1962. Dismissing advice from the State Department that the sale of Hawks might trigger an arms race in the Middle East, the President followed the recommendation of the Department of Defense, that selling the Hawk missiles to Israel would offset recent deliveries to Arab states by the Soviet Union.

The Hebrew word Yad is a homonym. In addition to the well-known meaning “hand,” yad also means memorial. (I will give them… yad vashem – a memorial and a name far greater than sons or daughters could give. Isaiah 56:5.) On July 4th 1966, Yad Kennedy, the Kennedy Memorial in the shape of a felled tree, was dedicated in memory of the slain president. My impression is that Yad Kennedy is typically not on the itinerary of most American tourists to Israel. But it should be – especially this year. I can think of no better way of recognizing the centenary of the birth of this nation’s 35th president.