KRISTALLNACHT, A WINDOW TO OUR EXISTENCE

Kristallnacht (the night of shattered glass) ought to take on greater significance this year. Not just because this Friday and Shabbos  mark the 80th anniversary of what Adolph Hitler hoped to be “the beginning of the end” for Jews of Europe, but it brings with it a powerful message to each and every one of us, especially the “oy vey” Jews who, as a result of a lone lunatic in Pennsylvania, are all of a sudden beginning to question their physical safety at synagogue services.

Numbers aside (close to 100 Jews were murdered, while windows were shattered and buildings, including synagogues were set ablaze), Kristallnacht serves as a stark reminder that not only did the German government not protect the Jews, but it was Nazi officials themselves, who ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned. Unless  blazes threatened Aryan-owned property, firefighters were forbidden to extinguish any flames. Yet, here in this country, immediately following the disaster in Pittsburgh, community-wide programs were held, including one here in Dallas, where the Chief of Police spoke, and a letter of support was read from the Mayor. A cogent argument can be made that random acts of mayhem and carnage notwithstanding, Jews living in the United States of America ought to feel more secure than Jews living in any other country, outside of Israel.

The flames of Kristallnacht shed light on yet another catastrophe that was very much evident in Germany. Whether out of zeitgeist or fear, many non-Jewish Germans either stood idly by, as the wanton destruction took place or cheered the frenzied mobs on, as those mobs wreaked havoc on synagogues as well as stores and homes owned by Jews. While I can only speak for Dallas, the outpouring of support and solidarity from non-Jewish friend and stranger alike, has been most heartening. For far too long throughout our history, when confronted by the deadly deed and venom of the anti-Semite, we Jews knew only too well, that we had no one to turn to but ourselves. Yet, within these last two weeks, it was the outside world who turned to us! I, for one, cannot help but feel that it is so very unfortunate, that we Jews do not show greater appreciation to this outpouring of solidarity.

Close to three decades ago, Reuven Bulka, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Canada, published a book about misconceptions of Jewish life. One misconception concerns the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding. According to Rabbi Bulka, there is no connection between the breaking of the glass under the chuppah and the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, the breaking of the glass finds its origin in the Talmud, where a rabbi, an invited guest at a wedding, deliberately threw his glass at the wall, thereby shattering that glass, in an effort to temper the level of joy that had gotten out of hand. I should like to add yet another reason for the breaking of the glass under the chuppah.

Eighty years ago, in Germany, the breaking of glass signified destruction of a past, hatred of others and lives in turmoil. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents the exact opposite. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents building a future, love of each other, and a life of harmony.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, a rabbinic sage who lived at the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (135 C.E.) reminds us that 80 is synonymous with strength. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a country where the government protects Jews. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a society where non-Jews are genuinely concerned about us and Israel. Let’s draw strength, knowing  that we are part of a tradition where, provided it is done under the chuppah, the shattering of glass is among the most beautiful sounds we ever hear.

ODIOUS COMPARISONS

As a rabbi, I have maintained that neither the pulpit nor written communication is the place for political commentary or viewpoint. Consequently, I take great issue with clergy – rabbis, priests, ministers – who use their position to espouse political views. With separating children from parents at the border having been resolved last week, I continue to remain resolved to withhold political comment. I do take strong exception however to odious comparisons, particularly when journalists have the chutzpah to invoke the Holocaust or  exercise poor judgment in quoting those who do.

The Holocaust is suis generis. It defies comparison. I’m not aware of any American authorities who broke into the living quarters of these families only to forcibly remove children from parents. Children, unless they were identical twins to be subjected to Mengele’s medical experiments were of no value whatsoever to the Nazis. For the Nazis, it would have been far more expedient to shoot (Jewish) children on the spot rather than waste the time, effort and resources of transporting them to death camps and marching them into gas chambers. I would therefore urge those who compare American authorities to Nazis to think twice before doing so.

The Dallas Morning News did itself a great disservice last week when it reprinted an article that appeared a day or two earlier in the New York Times. The journalist had the temerity (I’m being kind) to make reference to illegals in this country as “unauthorized” immigrants. Excuse me? Unauthorized immigrants? Would the same journalist refer to someone who stole merchandise from a Convenience Store as an “unauthorized customer”? Is the word “illegal” so politically offensive these days that it must be sanitized? The only illegal activity that could be pinned on Jews in Germany, Poland, Romania and all other countries overrun by Adolph and his acolytes was the fact that they existed; the only unauthorized behavior that could be attributed to the above mentioned Jews is that they polluted the atmosphere by their very being, thereby denying the Aryans pure air for their pure lungs. As one who can point to illegal immigrants in my own family, I do not sanitize the word. If only six million Jews could have managed to illegally leave all countries overrun by Nazis and illegally enter countries that refused to lift a finger to help them when they faced extermination! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of either the children or the parents detained by U.S. authorities at our borders facing extermination by any government. So why the comparison?

I’m not aware of journalists living in Nazi Germany and other countries having made odious comparisons. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of journalists in this country during the years 1939-1945 or any other country in the free world making odious comparisons either. When it came to the Holocaust, most journalists were indistinguishable from ostriches. Thankfully, this country provides us with a free press. But freedom and objectivity, freedom and responsibility are not, nor have they ever been synonymous. Equally as troubling, journalists, regardless of their integrity, are at the mercy of their editors. If an editor wants to milk an event, the journalist is best advised to keep the stories coming and to be “creative” if necessary. Conversely, if the journalist wishes to cover an event from an angle not in sync with that the editor, such as the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala failing to protect its citizens, that article will not garner the same exposure as our border with Mexico, if that article is printed at all.

As a rabbi, I find the removal of children totally unconscionable, however well cared for the children will be. Voices ought to be raised in protest. Our government officials ought to be contacted en masse by concerned citizens. No different when a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane occurs, journalists ought to bring the plight to light in a responsible fashion and offer suggestions how the public might assist. As a rabbi I also find odious comparisons totally unacceptable. When one reads these odious comparisons, one loses perspective. Odious comparisons besmirch the memories of those who not only suffered at the hands of the Nazis but were murdered by the Nazis; odious comparisons distort the real picture of those who truly need to seek asylum.

SPRECHEN SIE DEUTSCH

David M. Friedman, President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, recently committed a faux pas with possible disastrous implications. While speaking about J Street, the American liberal Jewish group that claims to know what’s best for Israel, Mr. Friedman said that its supporters are worse than kapos (inmate Concentration Camp Jews who did the dirty work for the Nazis such as transporting dead Jews from the gas chambers into the crematorium).

Whether we like to admit it or not, the post -Holocaust generation of Jews, and in some cases non-Jews, has permitted Holocaust references to infect their speech. In the 1971 black comedy The Hospital, written by Paddy Chayefsky, Herb Bock, the irate Chief of Staff of a Manhattan Hospital, played by George C. Scott, explodes at a head nurse with the following: “The incompetence at this hospital is radiant! I mean, where do you train your nurses, Mrs. Christie, Dachau?” Shtisel, an Israeli weekly television series that exposes Black Hat Jerusalem Jews in a similar fashion to the way HBO exposed the Mafia with its hit series The Sopranos, has Ruchama Weiss, a teenager who is wise well beyond her years, scream “Nazi!” at a poster she made of her father Lipa, whom she more than suspects of having betrayed Judaism as well as her mother. Personally, I have it on good authority that there is a rabbi here in Dallas who mutters Gestapo every time he sees a speed trap set up by the police.

Such speech cheapens and demeans the Holocaust. Because of its inhumanity that had no limits, its evil that was without end and its diabolical design, the Holocaust is sui generis. There is no equal. By design, Holocaust terminology has an exclusivity about it that must not and dare not be shared. Shame on those who use Holocaust terminology for dramatic effect or to make comparisons! If it’s in the poorest and most reprehensible of tastes to ask: “What did he fill his car up with, Zyklon B (the poison used in the gas chamber in the Death Camps)?” while sitting behind a car that that is belching noxious fumes into the atmosphere, why is it acceptable to refer to a fellow Jew as being worse than a kapo? One would be hard pressed to justify “Nazi speak” as an attempt on our part not to forget the Holocaust.

Although there were many of my parents’ generation who recoiled when hearing German being spoken, German is a most valuable language. Aside from Latin and French, the English language is comprised of thousands upon thousands of German words. Words such as craft, laugh, folk and friend are all of German or Germanic origin. Rather than latch onto Arbeit Macht Frei or Sieg Heil, why not enrich our vocabulary with words such as Schadenfreude (finding joy at the distress or hurt of another person) Angst (feeling of dread or anguish) or Gemutlich (pleasant)?

Justifiably, although not quite often enough for some, we Jews exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to six million of our people.” The next time we hear leaders or lay people, Jew or non-Jew, Israeli, American, or any other nationality for that matter, make flippant comparisons as well as take stabs at hyperbole or poor attempts at humor by resorting to words that are associated with Hitler and his war machine, perhaps we should exclaim: “Look what Hitler and his Nazis did to us!”

HI HITLER

As one who grew up in a city heavily populated by Ukrainians, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Kapusta (Ukrainian word for cabbage) eaters. Despite many exceptions on both sides, there were a good many Jews who saw the ancestors of the local Ukrainians as “pogromchiks” who would ride into a shtetl and revel in the rape and carnage of “Christ Killers”. Similarly, a good many Jews saw the parents and grandparents of the local Ukrainians as eagerly assisting the Nazis by doing all of the dirty work in the Concentration camps. Here too, the Ukrainian henchmen were avenging their savior’s death. Given that most Ukrainians in my hometown were descendants of peasant stock, we Jews referred to them as prosteh goyim (crude Gentiles) in Yiddish, while in English, we resorted to the local vernacular and called them Bohunks.
It was therefore with more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Pope Francis affixing his signature to a decree affirming the “venerable” status of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky. His Excellency’s claim to fame as far as I’m concerned, lies not in the fact that he served as the Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church for four decades, or that he served as the de facto political leader of western Ukraine, because of the government turmoil that existed; His Excellency’s claim to fame lies in the ambivalent view that Jews with knowledge of his participation in World War II, have of him. On the one hand, he is an angel from heaven, in that together with his brother Klementiy, he saved hundreds of Jews, among them, more than one hundred Jewish children from Nazi slaughter. It should be noted that not one Jewish child saved by Sheptytsky was lost to the Nazis or was lost to the Jewish people (through conversion). On the other hand, Sheptytsky is the devil incarnate for welcoming the Nazis, as they liberated Ukraine from Soviet rule. Because of the latter, Yad VaShem leadership refused to accord Archbishop Sheptytsky a plaque or signpost on the Avenue of the Righteous until 1995. Belated Righteous Gentile recognition notwithstanding, consider the following:
Andrey Sheptytsky’s welcoming the Nazis had nothing to do with the Jews. For him and millions of other Ukrainian nationals, the Soviets were the arbiters of man’s inhumanity against man. Soviet purge of religion aside, Uncle Joe Stalin systematically starved seven million Ukrainian peasants to death less than a decade earlier, in an effort to “nationalize” agriculture. The way Archbishop Sheptytski saw things; the Nazis were their enemy’s enemy and therefore friends of the Ukrainians. Never could the Archbishop fathom that the Nazis would be more inhumane than the Soviets. After all, what would be worse than stealing land from millions upon millions of peasants and then starving them to death?

However true it may be that hindsight is 20/20, hindsight greatly distorts one’s view as well. When Adolph first came to power, there were more than a few Jews in Germany who were fawning all over him. I have heard first hand, that our very own co-religionists were lovingly referring to him as Der shoner Adolph. Put differently, long before he devised the “final solution”, Adolph was seen as “the solution”! Before we excoriate others for rolling out the red carpet to the greatest enemy our people were ever cursed with, we would do well to beat our chests with an enormous chatati (I have sinned) in that there were those of us who also rolled out that very same red carpet!
Speaking of “final solution”, we would do well to realize that the “final solution” was a product of the Wannsee Conference which took place well over two years after the Nazis invaded Poland. Back in 1939, there were still those who were naïve enough to believe or to hope against hope that Hitler could be mollified, whether through the acquisition of Sudetenland or maybe even Poland.
Andrey Shepytsky was a priest, not a politician. One of the features of the vast majority of clergy is that they believe not only in a Supreme Being, but in their fellow human being as well, however naïve and foolish and even dangerous at times that may be. In September 1939, the Archbishop of western Ukraine simply couldn’t fathom that humans could undertake such diabolical, dastardly plans and come awfully close to succeeding.
As one, who by my own admission is no ardent supporter of Pope Francis, I extend to him a big Yasher Koach for his latest action concerning Andrey Sheptytsky. Such recognition, as far as I’m concerned, is long past due. This Wednesday marks the 150 anniversary of Andrey Sheptytsky’s birth. No doubt the descendants of those saved by Andrey Sheptytsky will thank HaShem for putting him on the face of this earth.

JUDGEMENT AT LUNEBURG

I have no idea how many of you have been following the trial of 94 year old Oskar Groning, who was sentenced last week at a courthouse in Luneburg, Germany to four years in prison for his role as an accomplice in World War II Germany. I have no idea how many of you reacted to a 94 year old spending 4 years in prison, despite the fact that the state prosecutor had asked for 3 ½ years, jail time. Finally, I have no idea how many of you realize that Oskar Groning may not be doing any jail time at all, if his lawyers decide to appeal the case. Appeals can easily stretch into months and 94 year old people don’t always have months left in their lives. It’s entirely possible that Oskar Groning will die before any and all appeals are exhausted.
What really caught my attention about the entire case had nothing whatsoever to do with the defendant. What really caught my attention about the entire case were the remarks made by Franz Kompisch, the judge who presided over the case. Upon handing down sentence, the judge said… “to join the S.S. and take a safe desk job at Auschwitz was your decision… You had the freedom to think… yet you asked to join the S.S.”
For the life of me, I wish I knew the German equivalent of Kol HaKavod! Because Kol HaKavod is exactly what I would like to say to Judge Kompisch. Come to think of it, a big Yasher Koach would be very much in order as well for the Judge. In making those remarks, the Judge shed light on the following three areas:
You have the freedom to take responsibility! For decades now, we have been hearing the standard “I was just following orders”. Gott in Himmel! Such lame excuses have done nothing but insult the intelligence and arouse the anger for those of us who still have the ability to think for ourselves. Siegfried! Fritz! Reinhart! Were you “just following orders” when you joined the Nazi Party or became part of the S.S. or enrolled in Hitler Youth or do you take full responsibility for you actions?
You have the freedom to listen to a moral conscience, that is, if you have one, or work to develop a moral conscience, if you are lacking one. Those Germans who do not resort to the tried and true “I was just following orders” rely on another excuse that they can fall back on: “If I refused to fulfill my duty, there was any number of others that would have taken my place”.
No argument! There was no shortage of Germans willing and in some cases even eager to help make Germany and the rest of Europe, Judenrein. You had the freedom however, to decide whether your hands would remain clean, or be full of blood. Unfortunately, not nearly enough Germans chose the former.
You have the freedom to turn a blind eye each time you look at your face in the mirror. Remember however, that very same Gott in Himmel, mentioned earlier, does not turn a blind eye. He sees all. And because Gott in Himmel sees all, and because you chose to have selective vision which leads to temporary blindness each time you look into the mirror, Gott in Himmel becomes irate and says to you: You make me sick! Get out of my sight!
News reports say that judge Kompisch delivered a sweeping 75 minute speech. As far as I’m concerned, he said it all in just a couple of sentences.