FRAU CHANCELLOR

Note to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

Frau Chancellor, I wish I had known in advance that you would be visiting Auschwitz last Friday. I would have asked if some members of Congress could accompany you. You see Frau Chancellor, these members of Congress have no concept of what a Concentration Camp, as well as an Extermination Camp (Birkenau, which is adjacent to Auschwitz), was all about. Otherwise, it is simply beyond me (as well as any other normal thinking individual) why these government officials make odious comparisons, essentially equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Perhaps if they saw Auschwitz up close, they would be forced to admit, that the only camps found under Arab control are Refugee Camps, which are in fact cities with the infrastructure of cities.  And should these members of Congress ignorantly point to the poverty and unemployment that prevail in these Refugee Camps, it could be patiently pointed out that Auschwitz was well beyond poverty and unemployment. What was very much apparent in Auschwitz, was the fetid smell of death as Jews were systematically starved and systematically exterminated.

Frau Chancellor. Hans Joachim Gustav Meyer was a Landsmann (sic) of yours. Bielefeld was his birthplace. Why, Hanjo as he was known, was even incarcerated in Auschwitz for a period of ten months, for having committed the crime of being a Jew. Yet, Hanjo managed to survive that Hell Hole. I would have wanted Hanjo to join you on last Friday’s trip so that he could revisit Auschwitz. Alas, Hanjo died five years ago. Surely, there must be other Jews who share the view of Hanjo Meyer. Surely there must be other Jews who are convinced that the way the Israeli military mistreats the Palestinians is similar to the way the Nazis mistreated the Jews. Standing with you as you toured Auschwitz, Hanjo’ Meyer’s protégées could have also viewed preserved artifacts, like piles of shoes (including prosthetic limbs) taken from Jews and human hair shaved off heads of Jews. Perhaps seeing these artifacts, so would have spurred those who see the Israeli military as Nazis to seek out piles of Palestinian shoes confiscated the Israeli military and human hair that Israelis shaved off Palestinian heads before they were “interred” in Khan Yunis or Rafah or any of the other six Refugee Camps within the Gaza Strip.

Frau Chancellor. No doubt you noticed “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the iron gates of Auschwitz, during your visit last Friday. Granted, you are a politician and not a linguist, but permit me to ask you, if it is correct German to say “Erziehung Macht Frei” that education makes (one) free? If so, perhaps, I could send such signs to the countless professors throughout the free world who are prisoners to propaganda and as a result, continue to infect impressionable minds of College and University students with poisonous misinformation, as they compare Zionism to Nazism. Instead of remaining true to the curriculum and imparting knowledge in disciplines such as Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology, these professors unscrupulously besmirch the reputation of the only democracy in the Middle East. Perhaps if these professors were better educated as far as Nazism and Zionism, perhaps if it were pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Nazism, because they have yet to visit what Nazism produced, namely Auschwitz, they would soon realize that when all is said and done, that Nazism is the moral opposite to Zionism. Granted, they would have to make a visit as well to see how Israelis treat Palestinians.  Perhaps if they were open-minded to such an education, they would conclude Nazism produced a stain on humanity, while Zionism is a source of pride to humanity.

Frau Chancellor, you are in my prayers for your recent visit to Auschwitz. As for certain members of Congress, as for Jews who make odious comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, as for College Professors who don’t know what they are talking about, I cannot help but feel that such individuals simply don’t have a prayer.

WALLS THAT ENTHRALL

Precious few in our society are aware that this Shabbat marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Jews, this event ought to resonate louder than with most other people, because, for the last two millennia, we have in many ways identified ourselves as “People of the Wall”.

It has been said that walls divide. For us as a people, walls are synonymous with unification. Nevertheless, in witnessing the building of the Berlin Wall close to six decades ago, many Jews responded in a way that was not even remotely politically oriented. Still scarred from a Berlin united under Hitler, many Jews felt that Berlin should be walled off into thousands of sectors, in that they knew only too well what a united Berlin produced. “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” (one people, one state, one Fuhrer). Hitler’s slogan still rang loud and clear in the ears of survivors, as well as others. Because of this, a united Berlin, as well as a united Germany was not a priority for many Jews on November 9, 1989.

Throughout our history, walls evoked other associations. Perhaps the first walls, that our biblical ancestors confronted were the walls of Jericho. Not long after the mantle of leadership was passed from Moshe to Yehoshua, the nascent Israelite army operating in the Promised Land, was confronted with the taking of the city of Jericho. Yehoshua proved to be a brilliant tactician. Dispatching two spies on a covert reconnaissance mission, contact was made, and support was assured by a sympathetic “saloon hostess” in that city. After the Israelite army marched around the walled city of Jericho, the Israelite army scored a brilliant victory in its first military campaign. Equally, if not even more important, with the fall of the wall, our ancestors were solidly united behind their new leader.

For the Jew, the word “ghetto” has a negative connotation and smacks of Europe. Regardless of its origins, the ghetto connotes a geographic area where Jews lived or were forced to live by the non-Jew. During the first half of the 1940s, ghetto evoked the penultimate stage prior to transport to final destinations such as Treblinka. Yet, there is a totally different ghetto in the annals of our people. That ghetto is often associated with the American Jewish experience, particularly in this country. To a large extent, many of these ghettos still exist. Some are referred to by deliberately mispronouncing the name of the neighborhood. For example, St. Louis Park, a heavily Jewishly populated suburb of Minneapolis, has been called “St. Jewish Park. Much less flattering, I once heard Pikesville, a heavily Jewishly populated suburb of Baltimore being derogatorily referred to as “Kikesville”. These ghettos are gilded ghettos. These ghettos are typically areas in cities with sizeable Jewish populations, where Jews settled by choice. Jews did so because they wished to live among their own. Living in gilded ghettos provided Jews with proximity to Kosher products, Kosher restaurants, Judaica shops, etc. Even though no physical walls are demarcating these gilded ghettos, the gilded ghettos of this country have to a large degree succeeded in insulating and protecting its dwellers from the outside world.

A little over a half-century ago, Jewish life around the world and in Israel in particular, was inexorably changed when the Kotel or Western Wall became part of the Jewish State for the first time in 2000 years. Unsurprisingly, the Wall in Jerusalem has had an effect on the Jewish people that is without equal. At the risk of borrowing a term from Christianity, I truly feel that it is the Kotel and not any Church, that is deserving of the term “Terra Sancta”. Aside from being the sole remnant of the Beit HaMikdash or holy Temple, the Kotel is holy because it is a wall that unites Jews aside from their commitment to or belief in Judaism. At the Kotel, a Jew is a Jew. Period.

Join me, if you will, in wishing Germany well, as it celebrates 30 years of reunification. Join me, I pray, in realizing that whether built or dismantled, real or imaginary, walls have served to unite our people behind a leader (Yehoshua), walls have served to unite our people as a religious entity and/or an ethnic group, walls have served to unite our people as a nation. Good walls make for a strong Judaism.

Ribbon Cutting

Once upon a time, I was fairly involved in the Dallas Holocaust Museum. With the change of leadership, my involvement with the Holocaust Museum also changed. And that was perfectly fine. I would even say propitious . Two major changes were about to occur with which I could not concur. The first change was that it would no longer solely serve as a museum of the Holocaust. It would morph into a Museum of Human rights, as well. Please understand. I will be the first to espouse human rights. I will, however, be the first to espouse that the Holocaust must stand alone – in that no catastrophe ought to be placed alongside the Holocaust. For example, I would, without any hesitation whatsoever, give my time, energy, and money to work with Ukrainians to put up a museum to commemorate the systematic starvation of close to 4 million of their people, between 1931 and 1934, by Joseph Stalin. But in no way, would I wish to have their heart wrenching story be part of a museum that depicts the annihilation of  6 million Jews by Hitler. Like the Jews, Ukrainians deserve their own space to tell their own story of man’s inhumanity to man. The second change was yesterday’s opening of their $74 million, 55,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, copper-wrapped masterpiece in Dallas’s West End. While I possess no powers to foresee the future, I cannot feel but feel that the current, ever so strong, interest in Holocaust Museums across the continent and throughout the world, is destined to run its course, whether it be within the next decade, or sooner. Accordingly, I would have earmarked those same funds for other pursuits, that would have carried a message to the 6 million, that while their physical existence went up in smoke, our memory of them will continue to burn brightly, as it lives on in our hearts and in our souls.

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut the apron strings. As Jews, we have every right – nay, we have the sacred duty to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. With exception of the Roma (Gypsies), anyone else who was murdered by the Nazis, perished because of either what they did or because of “collateral damage.” Jews (and Roma) perished because of who they were. Let us never forget, that our people, and no one else’s people were targeted by Hitler and his war machine. The Third Reich devised no other “rein” (clean/cleansing), other than “Judenrein!”

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not cut short. Soon after I arrived in Dallas, I was visited by President and CEO of the Holocaust Museum. It did not take long for me to realize that one of the premises behind the museum was to depict a time when an entire world stood idly by and did nothing. However true that may have been about world leaders, it was far from the truth about ordinary Christians who were responsible for extraordinary deeds of heroism. Hardly a week passes, without a Jewish website on the internet coming out with a story about a non-Jew who placed his life in peril, by providing a hiding place for a Jew. For those who argue that such select acts of humane behavior pale in comparison to the countless others who turned a blind eye, it must be pointed out, that without these acts of kindness, we might be remembering well over 6 million Jews, whose lives were snuffed out. If Yad VaShem, the World Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem recognizes the Righteous Gentile, shouldn’t individual Holocaust Museums do the same?

As I watched the dignitaries cut the ribbon to dedicate the new building on Tuesday, I fervently prayed that they did not take a cut and dried attitude. As one who has officiated at hundreds of funerals over the years, including those whose lives were cut short, there is no greater injustice one can do to the dead, than speak solely about how they died. True tribute to the deceased, is to pay tribute to how they lived. A truly touching Holocaust Museum, would be one where the lives as well as the deaths of the victims, are remembered.

We have a right to be possessive when it comes to the Holocaust. We have a task to remember the righteous gentile. We have a duty to learn about the lives of those whose memories are ensconced in the Holocaust Museum.