MLK DAY ISN’T JEWISH

Decades ago, Jewish leaders, especially rabbis, were very much actively involved in the civil rights movement in this country. Aside from the social justice reason commanded by the Torah, Jewish spiritual leaders of yesteryear were quick to see parallels between the Jewish experience and the Black experience. However noble their effort to draw similarities between the two groups, Jewish leaders, religious or otherwise were blatantly wrong.

Addressing the annual meeting of the American Jewish Congress in 1958, Dr. King remarked: “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe.” I couldn’t agree more. I have no idea how many Yiddishisms were adopted by American Blacks, but Goldeneh Medineh wasn’t one of them. “ Moving on up” (to the East Side) by J’anet Dubois served as the theme song for the television sit-com The Jeffersons that debuted four and a half decades ago. The real moving on up, however, began 140 years ago as our Eastern European ancestors moved on up to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It may have been a cold-water flat with a shared bathroom at the end of the hallway, but it was a far cry from fetching a pail of water from the well and making one’s way to the outhouse in the shtetl. The only discrimination encountered in the overcrowded, unsanitary, and even dissipated world of the self-imposed ghetto of Jewish immigrants were not being hired at a “sweat shop” by another Jew for refusing to work on Shabbat.

To be sure, Jews did suffer from discrimination in this country. There was a tacit understanding among Christians – a gentleman’s agreement – that Jews were not welcome to live in certain neighborhoods throughout the United States. There were restricted country clubs, quotas in medical schools, and doors closed to Jews in corporate America. Jewish power responded far differently than black power. Amongst Jews, there were seldom any protests, peaceful or violent. Instead, Jews circumvented quotas. Jews built their own neighborhoods or “gilded ghettos”, Jews built their own country clubs. Any Jew could not get into medical school, would often “settle” getting into dental school. And if Jews were unwelcome by the Big Three automakers in this country, they became most successful, owning dealerships selling automobiles manufactured by those very same corporations who refused to hire them. True, Jews were known to go out on strike demanding better wages or better working conditions, but seldom if ever was there ever any looting or rioting. It wasn’t until the ‘60’s that Jews became involved in protests, against the war in Viet Nam or for freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union. And those protests were not because they were being treated less than equal because they were Jews.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw himself as the Moses of his people. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” said King Luther King Jr., a day before he was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Our Moses predated Reverend King by over three thousand years. Facing 600,000 newly liberated slaves, our Moses soon laid down the law by transmitting to them a Torah from HaShem. And in that Torah, there was a long list of do’s and don’ts otherwise known as the 613 commandments. The understanding was that a successful future was commensurate with the willingness of the newly freed slaves to incorporate those mitzvot into their daily lives.

MLK Day isn’t Jewish because no one individual campaigned for our people’s equal rights. In 1963, MLK led a march on Washington of 250,000 people. It was a tremendous achievement. The closest we Jews ever came to matching that, was twenty years prior when 400 rabbis traveled to this nation’s capital having been led to believe that they would be meeting with the president. It was an abject failure. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because we have been known to handle discrimination on an individual basis. MLK Day isn’t Jewish because we too were gifted with a leader who had been to the mountaintop, and soon after made it clear what was expected of us. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because it was never designed to be Jewish. It is a day for Black Americans. May his message live on as his legacy is honored.

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.

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.