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.

BLACKLISTING AND WHITEWASHING

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy, infamously known for exposing Communists – either real or perceived – who had infiltrated the Federal government, especially the State Department, would have been proud. He could now justify that he wasn’t the only one who blacklisted individuals by compiling lists. Based on an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News earlier this week, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has recently compiled a list of overseas (American) rabbis, whose authority they refuse to recognize when it comes to certifying the Jewishness of someone who wants to get married in Israel. Thanks to the efforts of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, another blacklist has been born.

Don’t get me wrong! Every rabbi has the right to accept or reject the authority of any other rabbi (hopefully for bona fide reasons). To create a list which effectively publicly besmirches a rabbi’s reputation however, is unacceptable. Had the blacklist been comprised of names of any and all Conservative and Reform Rabbis, the vast majority of American Jews would have dismissed the list as being par for the course, considering who is behind it, and would have relegated it to a matter of “boys will be boys.” But this list includes a number of Orthodox Rabbis as well, particularly those who espouse “a more open and inclusive Orthodoxy.”

I’m sure many will think that I’m overacting when I point out that the list reared its ugly head suspiciously close to the backlash of the brouhaha; created when Prime Minister Netanyahu had to cave into the pressures and demands of his Orthodox coalition and renege on an agreement that would have afforded a “mechitza-free” davening area at the Kotel or Western Wall in Jerusalem. Meetings between American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials were suddenly canceled, as American Jews reacted angrily to the chicanery and began to rethink how their donations to Federation and other Jewish umbrella organizations ought to be earmarked.

Timing is everything. One would do well to speculate whether in their haste, those responsible for publishing names failed to realize that the list would surface painfully close to the beginning of the three-week period preceding the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – a destruction that came about because of gratuitous acrimony among Jews. On the other hand, others might argue that those responsible for the surfacing of the blacklist knew exactly what they were doing! Either way, sinat chinam – baseless hatred – reduced the Temple to a pile of rubble, ultimately resulting in two thousand years of homelessness for our people.  And this becomes more real and poignant because of the blacklist surfacing when it does.

Personally, I have no idea whether are not I am also on the blacklist. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. I am much too concerned about a different list. It’s a list (not for publication purposes) that is compiled by HaShem. In a little over two months, HaShem will be scrutinizing that list. I’m not worried that I am blacklisted; I am concerned – it is my hope and prayer that I, along with my reputation, will be whitewashed. When it comes to lists, the heavenly list is the only one that ultimately counts. It would greatly benefit others to realize this as well.

 

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE MENACHEM BEGIN?

Menachem Begin has always been and in all likelihood will remain my hero. I miss him more than one can imagine. In response to the resolution passed by UNESCO last Thursday which charged Israel with a long list of violations regarding Haram al-Sharif and al- Aqsa Mosque and  purposely omits the sacred connection that exists between  the site of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem and  Jews, I can hear Menachem Begin standing up and proclaiming: “The people of Israel have existed 3,700 years without defamatory resolutions passed by UNESCO and will continue to exist far beyond 3,700 years with or without defamatory resolutions passed by UNESCO.” After delivering the proclamation in a fashion typical of an orator of his caliber, in all likelihood Mr. Begin would have turned to his trusted aide Yehuda Avner and exclaimed in Yiddish: “Hairst a Myseh (have you ever heard of such Chutzpah)!”
Menachem Begin would have also considered the source. Drafted by seven Arab countries, Mr. Begin would have understood that the resolution was purely to bolster the Palestinians and was in all likelihood authored by Palestinians. For only Palestinians could author a resolution containing such a ludicrous claim, given that less than twenty four hours earlier, hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the world attended Yom Kippur services, where a reenactment of the one day a year service by the Kohen going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. Being an anti-Semite is one thing; being a stupid anti-Semite is quite something else. If the Palestinians want to insist that Jews have no connection to the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, then they would be well advised to make their claim in January or February, but not on the heels of Yom Kippur.
Menachem Begin would not have been surprised that the resolution passed twenty-four to six, with twenty-six abstentions. If anything, he would have been mildly surprised that Britain, Germany, Estonia and Lithuania were among those who voted against the resolution. Given his formative years in pre-war Poland where anti-Semitism all too often reared its ugly head, he saw the need for an independent Jewish country precisely because Jews could not nor should not count on others for support or friendship. It was a young Menachem Begin who led a massive demonstration in the early years of Israel, damning the government for negotiating with Germany on the matter of reparations or “blood money” as he called it. His attitude was, as Jews in a Jewish State, we will focus our energies on that what is moral and proper; we will not waste our time worrying about the censure of the rest of the world nor will we concern ourselves to seek its approval.
Menachem Begin in all likelihood would have grabbed his tallis and tefillen and shown up at the Kotel for Shacharis. No stranger to the Shacharis service – or any prayer service for that matter, Mr. Begin would have offered a lengthy explanation to the news media how Jerusalem and the holy Temple were integral parts of Judaism and that no Muslim should even think of making statements that would impugn the historic and religious connection between the holy Temple and Jews. Why, Mr. Begin might even have added, that as a gentleman he refrains from making any negative or incendiary remarks about Moslems and Mecca. Hopefully what he did not follow up with, would have been heard loud and clear by the Palestinians.
When all is said and done however, Menachem Begin would have stood before the Knesset and excoriated Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority for instigating the resolution. After telling members of Knesset that given the life he lived and the suffering he endured, he fears no one and that he is prepared to speak out and give anyone a piece of his mind, especially a Palestinian leader who incites hatred.  Mr. Begin would then have concluded his tirade by borrowing from a Yiddish maxim which could be best translated as follows: And if Mahmoud Abbas gets his nose out of joint from what I have to say to him, then let him walk around the rest of his life with a disjointed nose.