THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Whether your feelings are those trust or distrust, adulation or vilification, you must admit that politically, Israel and the United States have never been more in each other’s favor. Previous American presidents were quick to assure Israel by telling them, “we have your back,” it goes unsaid, that with the current administration in Washington, the majority of Israelis cannot help but feel that “America has their heart.” One would therefore think that this year’s AIPAC conference that met Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, should have been a piece of kugel. Think again. Yes, AIPAC can rightfully point to success story after success story, as it did at its recent gathering here in Dallas. It’s difficult not to shep naches, when you watch any number of elected American officials at various sites in Israel, proclaiming their support for Israel.  Fifty years ago, our President remarked: “We sure as hell can’t turn our backs on little Israel.” Here we are, fifty years later, watching many of our elected officials standing in line to smother Israel with hugs and kisses. I don’t feel that I would be overstating it if I said that as of now, political relations between Washington and Jerusalem are “as good as it gets.”

This past Sunday night, Shirah and I attended a wedding in Little Rock. We won the lottery when it came to the reception. We were seated with three other fabulous couples that I would have given anything, to bring back to Dallas, so they could join Tiferet. Among the topics we discussed, was that unwavering support on the part of American Jews was no longer a sure thing. The upcoming generation of American Jews, neither understands, appreciates nor realizes the importance of Israel, the way our generation does. For many of them, Israel is all too often seen as a country of Jews, rather than a Jewish country. For many of them, public criticism of Israel is their right. Broadcasting the foibles and flaws of Israel, is their way of showing their love and concern. They truly believe, that they were put on the face of this earth to “save Israel from itself.”

Should one ask them whether they would criticize their spouse in public, the way they criticize Israel in public; should someone ask them whether they are aware of countries in the world guilty of real atrocities, such as rape, murder, and mayhem taking place within their borders, and why they don’t speak out about such reprehensible behavior; should anyone ask them whether they have visited any Palestinian cities and have volunteered their time to help the very same people for which they take up the cudgel, more likely than not, they will dismiss you as a “racist,” much the same, as my generation typically called anyone who disagreed with them, a “fascist,” both meaningless terms, employed when meaningful response evades them. Aipac leadership is much aware of this;  Aipac leadership is very much concerned about this. Much to their dismay, whenever Aipac leadership looks at the upcoming generation of American Jews, Aipac leadership sees a “bad moon rising.”

Aipac leadership, together with most Jewish leadership in this country, is still reeling from the midterm election that recently took place. A recent article in the New York Times reports that “a group of freshman Democrats in the House, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashid Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has emerged as forthright critics of Israel and the United States’ policy tilt toward the Israeli government.” For the first time in a long time, tweets are circulating, that are both openly anti-Israel as well as anti-Semitic. Friends of Israel, they aren’t!

Time was, when it was politically incorrect to castigate Jews. That went out with Father Charles Edward Coughlin and his radio rants, along with the Dearborn Independent reprinting the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion. Times however are changing. Now anti-Semitism, whether explicit or robed in Anti-Israel charges, is once again kosher, glatt kosher. And that’s ugly.

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. Despite its strong military advantage, despite the strong bonds that currently exist between American and Israeli, given the bad and the ugly that now have to be contended with, I cannot help but feel that Israel needs our strong support, now more than ever.

THE MOST SERIOUS ISSUE

Thirty-seven years ago, practically to the day, President Carter, seeking re-election to this nation’s highest office,  made the following comment during Presidential Debate #2 with Ronald Reagan: “I asked my daughter Amy (then 13 years old) what the most important issue (confronting the United States) was?”

I hadn’t thought about the “Amy question” for the longest time. Last week, the “Amy question” resurfaced when a leading Jewish newspaper in this country queried 18 rabbis what they thought was the most serious issue confronting American Jews. As might be expected, 18 different answers were proffered… And then some.
At the risk of adopting a “sour grapes attitude” in that I wasn’t among the 18 (come to think of it, I would have declined comment, had I been asked), I should like to share my answer with you, my faithful readers: The most serious issue confronting American Jews is American Jews.

I offer three reasons:

A good many American Jews spend a good many hours reading a good many reports on the state of American Jewry. As a result, there are those who work themselves into a tizzy and run around spouting jeremiads that the (Jewish) sky is falling. Pish-Tosh! The sky is not falling and the earth is not shaking under our feet. Times are a changing, and a new American Jew is emerging. Yet American Jewry is no worse off than it was, say, half a century ago. As a matter of fact, in some respects, American Jewry is far healthier than it has ever been. I do not recall major American cities having as many kosher restaurants as is currently the case. Nor do I recall so many Sukkahs being constructed for the festival. The variety of food bearing kashrut symbols is simply staggering. The number of Jewish Day Schools is “naches to the nth degree.”  Sure, assimilation is spinning out of control and yes, endogamy is not what many of us would like it to be, but there are many aspects about American Judaism that even our grandparents would never have believed.

I used to think that “I’m proud to be a Jew” was a meaningless statement. I now believe that “I’m proud to be a Jew” is a dangerous statement. Unless one is a Jew by choice, being a Jew is purely an accident of birth. It requires absolutely nothing of the Jewish individual, not even a declaration of faith. What I have yet to hear is for someone to exclaim, “I’m proud of my Jewish accomplishments” or “I’m proud of the time and energy I’ve put into becoming a better versed, as well as better educated, Jew.” We live in the age of workouts and personal trainers. Shouldn’t there be Jewish workouts and trainers as well? Recently, I served as a personal “trainer” to someone who wanted to learn to lead prayer services.  In less time than one could imagine, that person achieved his goal. In doing so, he has every right to exclaim, “I’m proud of my learning how to lead synagogue services.”

It began with the slogan “a shul with a pool.” The thinking was to let the Jewish community be all things to all Jews. As praiseworthy as it was intended to be, while such thinking has strengthened the Jewish community, it has, by the same token, taken its toll on individual Jews. By spending considerable time, as well as a great deal of effort, in taking advantage of so much that the Jewish community has to offer, little if any time and even less energy is left for prayer services, education classes, and instructional programs. I’m not aware of Jewish handball or Jewish basketball, but I am very much aware of serving HaShem. Communal prayer has always been and continues to be at the top of that list. Jewish education has always been a sine qua non for our people. Individual participation has always been the most important thing.

Anti-Semitism, terrorism and all other “isms” are real and genuine concerns. None of them – individually or collectively – will destroy the Jewish people or the Jewish religion.
What I want…what’s most important to me, is a guarantee that Judaism, synagogue Judaism, prayer Judaism, home Judaism, and street Judaism will remain strong and vibrant. Such a guarantee is not as farfetched as you might think, despite all other serious issues confronting American Jews today.

DENYING THE DENIERS

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever as to how many Holocaust Deniers sully humanity with their ludicrous claim that the Holocaust never existed. I do know, however, that there is one notorious Holocaust denier less, with the recent death of Ernst Zundel. In addition to spreading lies and misinformation, Zundel’s “claim to fame” was that he was deported from Canada and then the United States. Back in his native Germany, Zundel spent five years in prison for the crime of “Folkverhetzung” or incitement of the masses. I, for one, see a certain sense of poetic justice when a Holocaust denier is in turn denied citizenship – not once, but twice, and then denied freedom. But rather than waste my time on Ernst Zundel, I feel that it is important for us to understand what makes Holocaust deniers tick. Accordingly, I offer three reasons:

Holocaust deniers have a pride and love for their “Vaterland” that is second to none. Because of such extreme pride and love, Holocaust deniers simply cannot allow for an everlasting stain to sully the history of Germany. Unlike others who protest, “I was just following orders,” Holocaust deniers claim that there never were any orders, because the Holocaust never existed. Forgive me for saying so, but if Holocaust deniers knew the term “lashon harah,” which can be understood as besmirching a reputation, Holocaust deniers would maintain that Jews worldwide are guilty of “lashon harah” for besmirching the sterling reputation of a country (Germany) that is simply beyond reproach in any and every way.

They love attention. By knowing how to push all the “right” buttons, Holocaust deniers are in all their glory. It matters little, if any, to Holocaust deniers if they achieve fame or infamy, just as long as they get media coverage and Jewish dander up. Holocaust deniers instinctively know that there are two subjects that are bound to set Jews off – Israel and the Holocaust. Both (the Holocaust outranks Israel) go directly to the emotions. Never accuse Israel of violating human rights of Palestinians; never accuse Jews of fabricating the Holocaust. The very same people who would ignore any lunatic, who claims the French Revolution never happened, refuse to ignore any lunatic who claims the Holocaust never happened. Instead, we Jews give that lunatic every bit of our attention and then some, even though we feel our blood pressure rising by the minute.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, the Holocaust has become the raison d’etre for a good many American Jews. Rather than inculcate Jews with “thou shalt not grant Hitler a posthumous victory,” the Jewish philosopher Emile Fackenheim should have left as his legacy “the Holocaust must not become the sum total of our Jewish existence.” As a rabbi, I can’t tell you the amount of times students have equated Hebrew School experience with learning about the Holocaust. Heaven forbid that Adolph should replace The Baal Shem Tov or The Chofetz Chaim or Sarah bas Tovim or Gluckel of Hamlen! Yet, because of our inability to realize that our national nightmare was but six years of our 4000 year-old history, this is exactly what has taken place!

Holocaust deniers are an extension of “Der Fuehrer.” “Der Fuehrer” came awfully close to eradicating Jews. Holocaust deniers are coming dangerously close to eradicating Jewish education in that Holocaust education seems to have come dangerously close to usurping Jewish education. The Holocaust must never be forgotten!  By the same token, we Jews dare not forget that the Holocaust must never obliterate the rest of our history and heritage.

Living at a time when saying nasty things (unless they are against Israel) is a deadly sin, let the rest of society and our lawmakers deal with Holocaust deniers. Let descendants of World War II veterans take up the cudgel. As far as we Jews are concerned, let us ignore Holocaust deniers. Seeing that they cannot evoke any reaction, much less anger on our part, Holocaust deniers will eventually slink away with their tails between their legs.