REPARATIONS

As one who continues to venerate Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, even though it has been over a quarter of a century since he departed this world, I especially admire the stance he took as leader of the opposition, less than four years after the establishment of Israel. Leading a group of 15,000, Mr. Begin spoke out against Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and the Israeli government, as it entered into negotiations with the German government over reparations.

I may very well be a lone voice in the wilderness, but as far as I’m concerned, the term reparations is far too vague. I cannot help but feel that it was the duty of the Israeli government to point out to the German government, that there not one, but two injustices that must be addressed. The German government must answer for the Nazis confiscating Jewish homes along with precious and valuable  paintings, objects d’art and furnishings. The German government must answer for Jews being forced out of their positions and deprived of their livelihood. For all this, monetary calculations and estimations can be made. For all this, reparations can be offered, provided that those who managed to survive were prepared to receive money tainted by German hands. The German government must also answer for the murder and annihilation of six million Jews. Regarding murder, there are no monetary calculations and estimations. Because no value can be placed on human life, reparations must sadly remain totally academic.
Although I am far from fluent in German, I am very much aware that “wiedergutmachung” or “making good again” is the German equivalent for “reparation.” However, I am also concerned that the German term “reinwaschen” or “washing clean” is conceptually dangerously close to “wiedergutmachung.” Because reparations have been made, those of our people accepting reparations, run the risk of absolving the Nazis for their heinous behavior. By accepting reparations, they have effectively wiped the slate clean. As noble as “let bygones be bygones” sounds, it runs the risk of evading responsibility. Accepting reparations affords the German people absolution and complete closure of a time, that in all likelihood, most Germans would be only too happy to sweep under the rug of history.

Webster’s Dictionary offers three different definitions for “reparations.” Among those three, one finds “reparations” to mean the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. While it is entirely possible and certainly understandable that the aggrieved will demand money, I would hope that the aggrieved could realize that when all is said and done, money is the lowest form of reparation. One would be hard pressed to explain the connection between penitence and payment. True reparation ought to include taking responsibility through sincere contrition and honest commitment. It’s beyond me why, when entering negotiations with the Konrad Adenauer’s post war Germany, the nascent Israeli government did not explain that their greatest need was to build a country. And while financial reparation can be so very enticing in the short term, true reparation could produce so much more.  Can you just imagine if Israel had demanded a proto “Peace Corps” where thousands of Germans would  have signed up to travel to the fledgling Jewish State to volunteer for say, a period of six years (the length of World War II) building roads, working the land, helping out in hospitals and orphanages (which they helped create through their genocidal “cleansing.”  I for one cannot help but feel, that there would have been catharsis of true contrition on the part of the Germans, as well as a catharsis of raging anger justifiably borne by a good many Jews.

Last week, activists and lawmakers gathered for a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the topic of reparations — whether the United States government should provide compensation to the descendants of slaves. In keeping with the sentiments I expressed, I hope that much thought and foresight goes into the process, so that the outcome will be beneficial to all.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE MENACHEM BEGIN?

Menachem Begin has always been and in all likelihood will remain my hero. I miss him more than one can imagine. In response to the resolution passed by UNESCO last Thursday which charged Israel with a long list of violations regarding Haram al-Sharif and al- Aqsa Mosque and  purposely omits the sacred connection that exists between  the site of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem and  Jews, I can hear Menachem Begin standing up and proclaiming: “The people of Israel have existed 3,700 years without defamatory resolutions passed by UNESCO and will continue to exist far beyond 3,700 years with or without defamatory resolutions passed by UNESCO.” After delivering the proclamation in a fashion typical of an orator of his caliber, in all likelihood Mr. Begin would have turned to his trusted aide Yehuda Avner and exclaimed in Yiddish: “Hairst a Myseh (have you ever heard of such Chutzpah)!”
Menachem Begin would have also considered the source. Drafted by seven Arab countries, Mr. Begin would have understood that the resolution was purely to bolster the Palestinians and was in all likelihood authored by Palestinians. For only Palestinians could author a resolution containing such a ludicrous claim, given that less than twenty four hours earlier, hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the world attended Yom Kippur services, where a reenactment of the one day a year service by the Kohen going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. Being an anti-Semite is one thing; being a stupid anti-Semite is quite something else. If the Palestinians want to insist that Jews have no connection to the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, then they would be well advised to make their claim in January or February, but not on the heels of Yom Kippur.
Menachem Begin would not have been surprised that the resolution passed twenty-four to six, with twenty-six abstentions. If anything, he would have been mildly surprised that Britain, Germany, Estonia and Lithuania were among those who voted against the resolution. Given his formative years in pre-war Poland where anti-Semitism all too often reared its ugly head, he saw the need for an independent Jewish country precisely because Jews could not nor should not count on others for support or friendship. It was a young Menachem Begin who led a massive demonstration in the early years of Israel, damning the government for negotiating with Germany on the matter of reparations or “blood money” as he called it. His attitude was, as Jews in a Jewish State, we will focus our energies on that what is moral and proper; we will not waste our time worrying about the censure of the rest of the world nor will we concern ourselves to seek its approval.
Menachem Begin in all likelihood would have grabbed his tallis and tefillen and shown up at the Kotel for Shacharis. No stranger to the Shacharis service – or any prayer service for that matter, Mr. Begin would have offered a lengthy explanation to the news media how Jerusalem and the holy Temple were integral parts of Judaism and that no Muslim should even think of making statements that would impugn the historic and religious connection between the holy Temple and Jews. Why, Mr. Begin might even have added, that as a gentleman he refrains from making any negative or incendiary remarks about Moslems and Mecca. Hopefully what he did not follow up with, would have been heard loud and clear by the Palestinians.
When all is said and done however, Menachem Begin would have stood before the Knesset and excoriated Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority for instigating the resolution. After telling members of Knesset that given the life he lived and the suffering he endured, he fears no one and that he is prepared to speak out and give anyone a piece of his mind, especially a Palestinian leader who incites hatred.  Mr. Begin would then have concluded his tirade by borrowing from a Yiddish maxim which could be best translated as follows: And if Mahmoud Abbas gets his nose out of joint from what I have to say to him, then let him walk around the rest of his life with a disjointed nose.