PORITZ

I think that it’s fair say that a significant segment of the Jewish population  here in these United States as well as in Israel and elsewhere, reacted with a despondent “say it ain’t so”  when we were informed that Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United States tendered her resignation last week. I also think it’s fair to say that more than a few articles have already been written praising the former South Carolina Governor to the hilt, as she unfailingly and staunchly supported and defended Israel.
In keeping with my philosophy that rabbis should remain apolitical, I choose to neither to praise nor to bury Nikki Haley. Rather it is the Jewish community here and throughout the world that I have in my crosshairs.

The Yiddish word “Poritz” denotes Polish (or Russian) aristocracy who were landowners. In the mid-seventeenth century there were a goodly number of these landowners living in Eastern Poland, who, much to the consternation of the local peasant population, owned tracts of land just over the border in Western Ukraine. Typically, the land housed a “tzerkveh”  or a Ukrainian Orthodox Church as well as a pub. Typically, the Poritz leased this tract of land to a Jew, placing him in the unenviable position of a middle man between the poverty-ridden Ukrainian peasant and the wealthy Polish landlord.

The acclaimed Yiddish novelist Sholem Asch in his book “Kiddush HaShem” depicts a gathering of “Arendarren” or Jewish land lessees, where the discussion soon centers itself around the Poritz. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for a competition to unfold among the Arendarren, with each attempting to out-boast the other as to who had the better Poritz and why.

I cannot help but feel that subconsciously, many Jews in these United States, especially those in leadership positions look upon the United States Ambassador to the United Nations as a modern day Poritz. As such, Nikki Haley was regarded as a most benevolent Poritz.

Just as the physical wellbeing of the “arendar” as well as those Jews who in time settled around the Polish owned land was largely dependent on the attitude and nature of the Poritz, so too is the political wellbeing of Israel largely dependent on the attitude and nature of the American Ambassador to the United Nations (as well as the administration that the Ambassador represents).

The very fact that the United States has a seat on the U.N. Security Counsel serves to underscore the position played by the Poritz . Should it happen that the American Ambassador even abstains when the Security Council holds a vote to censure Israel for the unforgivable crime of defending itself against terrorism, American Jewish leadership  immediately prepares to sit Shiva. Soon after Nikki Haley assumed her position at the United States, American leadership put all orders for Shiva platters on indefinite hold.

Obviously, I have no way of knowing, but I cannot help but surmise, that at present, a good many American Jewish leaders are finding it hard to sleep and, in some cases, even holding their breath until an announcement comes out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, informing us of Nikki Haley’s successor. I also cannot help but surmise, that behind the scenes, messages are being sent, hints are being dropped and ears are being whispered into by these very same breath-holders in an attempt to persuade our Commander in Chief to take a good look at and consider individuals that would rise to the same Poritz position as did Nikki Haley. When all is said and done, what we have here is a different country, a different culture, a brave new world, but the same old Poritz.

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.

DEBIL*

 

A few days ago, I thought of the fictional television character Archie Bunker and the way he would verbally abuse his son in law Michael Stivic who was of Polish descent. If Archie wasn’t calling Michaelm Stivic “meat head”, then he was referring to him as a “dumb Polack”. Unwittingly, Poland’s education minster Anna Zalewska recently provided Archie Bunker with an “I told you so”. In an interview she gave on TVN, Polish national television, Poland’s education minister was asked by journalist Monika Olejnik about the prospects of including into the curriculum the Jedwabne massacre of 1941 when Poles locked more than 300 Jews in a barn and then set the barn ablaze and the Kielc pogrom of July 1946 where 42 innocent Jews were killed because Poles made no effort to investigate certain suspicions and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. Anna Zalewska responded by saying: Jedwabne is a historical fact that has led to many misunderstandings and very biased opinions”. When Monika Olejnik countered “Poles burned Jews alive in a barn” Ms. Zalewska retorted “that’s your opinion”.
Instead of trying to worm her way out of two events that left a black stain on Poland’s history and risk being labeled an anti-Semite, education minister would have done well to employ any one of the following three approaches:
1) Like other countries, Poland has a past that it is quite ashamed of. But we Poles are trying to make amends. That’s why each year, thousands of Jewish high school students spend a few days in Poland en route to Israel as part of March of the Living, where they visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and spend time in Warsaw. The people of today’s Poland wish to convey the message that we have nothing to hide.
2) Jedwabne and Kielce are a stain on our collective past. You have every right to shake your fist at us for slaughtering innocent Jews. But when you do shake your fist at us in raging anger, perhaps you can extend both arms as well in loving gratitude, as you open your fists and give us a hug for those of us who risked their lives hiding Jews from Nazis or at the very least by providing hungry and starving Jews with food before the Poles, fearing for their own lives, sent those Jews on their way.
3) Just as Poland has a past that we are so very ashamed of, Poland also has a past that we are so very proud of. Poland produced rabbinic greats such as Rabbi Moses Isserles, whose Ashkenazic contribution to the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law counterbalanced the Sfardic practices of Rabbi Joseph Karo. Poland is the birthplace of the renowned Yiddish authors such as Sholem Asch and I.L. Peretz of Bontshe Shveig (Bontshe the Silent) fame.  Why, the Yiddish language is filled with Polish words such as shmatte (rag), katchka (duck), and Kravitz (a Jewish family name which is Polish for Tailor)!
“Physician, heal thyself” is a teaching that finds its roots in the Christian Bible (Luke IV: 23). It’s quite obvious that Poland’s education minister is ignorant of such a teaching… As well as so much more.

*Debil rhymes with De Ville. Debil is Polish for moron. It is used in everyday Hebrew thanks to Polish Jews introducing it to the language of Israel upon making Aliyah.