INFAMY

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941— a date which will live in infamy— the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” So spoke the 32nd president of this country to a joint session of Congress 78 years ago.

Meaning no disrespect to FDR, it can be argued that there was nothing infamous about the pre-meditated attack on Pearl Harbor whatsoever. What the Japanese carried out was an act of war, not an act of infamy.

“Have you no sense of decency?” would have been an excellent question to have posed to our Patriarch Jacob. When directed by Rebecca to go to the flock to fetch two choice young goats, so that she might prepare them according to Isaac’s tastes, thereby enabling her favorite son to usurp the blessing intended for Esau, Jacob offers up a most feeble response. Jacob is concerned that their ruse be discovered! Surely, one would have expected Jacob to protest that such a shenanigan was patently wrong. But Jacob failed to do so. When a  patriarch of our people is unable to see that he was about to engage moral turpitude, that is a day that will live in infamy.  

Yet, it only took one generation for yet another day to live in infamy. And no, it wasn’t Jacob’s ten sons casting Joseph into a pit only to sell him to a caravan of traders bound for Egypt. While such behavior was totally criminal and inexcusable on the part of the brethren, it was never the less understandable. The infamy came about while Joseph was left to languish in the pit. The infamy came about when the brothers sat down to eat bread. While in no way illegal, their decision to dine as though no altercation had ever taken place was unacceptable as well as inexcusable. Other brothers would have been too enraged and upset to eat. Other brothers would have lost their appetite and blamed Joseph for making them sick to their stomachs. But Jacob’s ten sons were not other brothers. Jacob’s sons lacked emotions. That’s why their eating of bread was a dastardly act. That’s why their eating of bread ought to have been a meal that will live on in infamy!

Among important biblical figures who have been given short shrift for far too long is the Prophet Natan. Sent by HaShem to give King David a dressing-down for his ignoble behavior with the wife of Uriah the Hittite (arguably of star general status), the Prophet Natan misses the point. However eloquent his analogy was (there are so many damsels to dally with who are at your beck and call, why start up with the wife of one of your most loyal military men) the Prophet Natan was remiss in not pointing out King David’s most egregious shortcoming. However necessary it was to convey to King David that adultery (Bat Sheva was a married woman) is amoral, the Prophet Natan was derelict in taking the King to task for his ultimate failure. However inexpiable it was on King David’s part to send Uriah out on a suicide mission so that King David could marry the woman, pregnant with his child, the Prophet Natan failed to shed light on King David’s unforgivable sin vis a vis the Jewish people. And that is how totally reprehensible it was for King David not to show the slightest bit of remorse when receiving the inevitable news from a messenger that Uriah had died in battle. It was King David’s unconcerned reaction to a death for which he was ultimately responsible, that made for a day that will live in infamy.

“Heroes often fail,” reminds us of the songwriter and recording artist Gordon Lightfoot. It would be unrealistic for the masses to expect heroes not to fall from the pedestals to which they have been elevated. After all,  they are human and are therefore prone to mistakes and misjudgments. When those very same humans do fail, yet neglect to show contrition and remorse, then that is a day that will live in infamy.

THE IGNORING OF THE JEWS

Like so many others, I make a point of looking at the obituaries in the morning newspaper. Last week, the passing of David S. Wyman caught my attention, in that thirty-four years ago he wrote a best seller,  “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945”. Had the opportunity presented itself for me to meet Mr. Wyman, the conversation that would have ensued would have been filled with irony.

I find Mr. Wyman to be a remarkable individual as well as a paragon of his faith (Methodist). I also find Mr. Wyman to be unbelievably idealistic and extremely naïve.  Mr. Wyman made the charge that while Nazis were exterminating Jews, American Christians forgot about the Good Samaritan. Before Mr. Wyman chose to inveigh against his fellow Christians, he might have first railed against American Jews, who for the most part adopted a “sha shtill” attitude that was so typical of them at that time. Far be it for me to pass any judgement, but if one’s own do not speak up for their own who are in peril, then it is sheer chutzpah to expect others to speak up for one’s own in peril. Jews in this country did not speak up for Jews who were being annihilated. And in no way should this be considered an indictment against them.

Speaking of speaking up, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that on October 6, 1943, two days before Yom Kippur, more than 400 Orthodox rabbis organized by the secular Bergson group and accompanied by marshals from another secular Jewish organization, the Jewish War Veterans of America, marched solemnly from Union Station to the Capitol building and then on to the White House to plead for government action on behalf of the Jews being murdered by Hitler. The President, allegedly on the advice of Rabbi Stephen Wise (an ardent Zionist, no less) and others, slipped out from a side door of the White House, so that no meeting between the rabbis and the President ever took place.  However admirable and praiseworthy the rabbinic march on the White House may have been, one would do well to wonder what took the rabbis so long. The war along with the genocide against the Jews had been in operation for a full four years. Such inactivity as well as “too little too late” on the part of the Jewish community for whatever reason, does not seem to stick in David Wyman’s craw.

I have come neither to bury nor to praise F.D.R., but it’s totally unfair as far as I’m concerned to expect F.D.R. or any other American president to be concerned with Jewish concerns. Running for re-lection in 1940, F.D.R. never campaigned on a promise to save European Jews. America entered W.W.II. with F.D.R. as its Commander in Chief, because this country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, not because trains were delivering Jews to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. As much as it grates on our Jewish nerves to hear this, F.D.R.’s priority was to win the war, not save the Jews of Europe. Was such an attitude heartless or lacking in morals and ethics? Keeping America safe from its enemies was the president’s responsibility, not ethics and morals. And sad to say, from a military and logistical standpoint, targets other than train tracks leading to Nazi Death factories were the main targets of U.S. armed forces.
Had I been able to meet with David S. Wyman within these past few years, I would have asked him about the Rohingya people being victimized and treated inhumanely by the Burmese. Should we be holding the leadership of this country – both the past President as well as the current President – responsible for standing idly by and turning a blind eye, as humans continue to act inhumanely towards another group? Does this mean that American Christians (and Jews) are once again guilty of overlooking the Good Samaritan?

Rather than castigate and admonish, perhaps David Wyman should have found solace and encouragement for the few who did  risk their lives for others and in doing so gave new meaning to the term “mentsch” (humane being) and maybe even “tsaddik” (righteous person). Those rare and phenomenal individuals have to be enough for me not to give up on my fellow human being. David Wyman chose to indict his fellow Christians of this country for abandoning the Jews. Unfortunately, David Wyman chose the wrong word. One can only abandon that which was once his. It is virtually impossible for the Christian World to have abandoned Jews, in that a good argument can be made that Christians never provided care for Jews and understandably so. A far better title for David Wyman’s 1984 book would have been: The Ignoring of the Jews.