CLIMATE CHANGE

Say what you want about Climate Change. It is a topic I have yet to address, nor do I anticipate doing so, in the foreseeable future. There is one Climate Change however, that ought to greatly concern us as Jews. And that is the Climate Change toward Israel. It may very well have begun on college campuses, particularly in the Humanities, where the minds of impressionable naïve students have been filled with vitriol against Israel. Rather than stick to a curriculum of Philosophy, Sociology or Psychology, students receive an education in how to revile Israel. As a result, the country that was once referred to as the Jewish State is now being called the Apartheid State or the Fascist State. Recently, I was asked to respond to the following question, posed by a presumably well-meaning, but woefully misdirected individual:

Is the treatment of Israeli soldiers toward Palestinians any different than the treatment of Nazi soldiers towards Jews?

When it comes to absurd comments, never go on the defensive. Ever! Doing so implies that there is something to defend. Instead, bear in mind the following quote attributable to both George Washington and (lehavdil*) Mao Zedong, that a “good offense is the best defense”.  Should you therefore, ever find yourself being placed in the position of spokesperson for the entire Jewish State, rather than attempt to answer an inane question, such as “how come there are no names to the Concentration Camps that Palestinians are forced into by Israelis”, make sure that it is the quisling who starts sizzling. Answer that question by asking: “Could you please tell me where you get your information? What do you know about these Concentration Camps to ask such a question? Have you checked with Peace Now, a Jewish organization formed to monitor Israel’s abuse of Palestinians? Why don’t you do so and obtain a list of Concentration Camps, so that I can deal with your question, intelligently”?

Misinformed finger-pointers typically get their information – giving them the benefit of the doubt that they actually are informed – from the media. The media tends to be neither factual nor accurate, in that being factual and accurate, rarely, if ever, holds one’s interest. The misinformed ought, therefore, to be asked if they are able to comment on the silent majority of Palestinians, gainfully employed by Israelis and enjoying a far better lifestyle than their counterparts living under Jordanian rule. Of even greater importance, it is our duty to chastise the misinformed, to get them to explain why they have failed to take up the cudgel of human rights for the plight of the suffering of others. Currently, I am mentoring a chaplaincy student from Nigeria. I have in my office a copy of his “Full Life Account”. He writes: “When I was a few months old, 18 armed men came to our house. It was a brutal scene. They stole our money and abused us. One of them walked up to my mom and demanded she give him the baby. Other gang members managed to divert his attention. A close friend of my mom’s was not so lucky. She had given birth to a baby girl around the same time I was born. The thugs murdered her infant daughter instead”. One would do well to ask the Israel accuser, why he/she has yet to champion the causes of people in this world who are truly oppressed?  Where were you when Tutsi were being raped tortured and murdered by the Hutus? Were you as concerned about Sudanese when they had to flee for their lives to Syria? Have you expressed outrage at the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar? Now that Palestinians are stabbing Israelis, now that Palestinians are throwing fire-bombs into Israel, now you suddenly become concerned about human rights?

When it comes to absurd comments or questions, one is best to ignore them. Two weeks ago, when Dallas plunged into a deep freeze, well-meaning, but unthinking congregants turned to me with the following ludicrous remark: “You should be used to this, you are from Canada”! For the record, being from Canada means nothing: Vancouverites experience far more temperate winters than Dallasites. Waking up to 26-degree weather is unimaginable to Vancouver residents. For the record, it’s been close to half a century, since I lived in Canada. “Being used to it” after a 50-year absence is quite a stretch. For the record, there are things that some people never get used to. I am sure that there are Dallas residents who detest and deplore the climate from mid-June until mid-September. It is, therefore, best to ignore thoughtless remarks.

If Climate Change is of concern to us, we would do well to be alert to the fact, that the climate toward Israel seems to be undergoing change as well. As such, when well-meaning, misinformed and dangerously selective individuals turn up the heat on Israel, we would be well advised to keep our cool.

  • Lehavdil is a Hebrew term that means “perish the comparison”


UNLIKE THE HOLOCAUST

“It was like images out of the Holocaust,” exclaimed Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein last weekend in Poway, California  as he found himself a victim of another atrocity aimed at Jews. Far be it from me to take issue with Rabbi Goldstein’s comments, but for the vast majority of us, it is most proper, especially this very week when we observe Yom HaShoah and remember the Holocaust, to realize that to make such a comparison does a great disservice to the six million.

Unlike the Holocaust, no attack on a synagogue, church, or mosque in this country is government executed and government sanctioned. The Chancellor of Germany did not come out and say “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,”  much less place a phone call to any wounded rabbi. The Third Reich was far too busy rounding up rabbis – the Nazis were very democratic, refusing to distinguish one Jew from another – and  shipping them to concentration camps where most would meet their deaths either quickly or slowly.

Unlike the Holocaust, the New York Times did not bury the story of last week’s synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, or the shooting at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, on page 23 of its newspaper. Both incidents were front page news. What takes place at a synagogue – good or bad – is treated no differently than what takes place at a church or mosque. It’s of major concern to Americans and therefore it garners front page news in newspapers throughout the nation. Whereas the Third Reich maintained the attitude of “we do not distinguish between Jews, we treat them all the same viz. like vermin,” the media in this country maintains the attitude  “we do not distinguish between religions, we treat them all the same viz. with dignity and respect.”

Unlike the Holocaust, non-Jews in this country show solidarity. At Shabbat services one week after the Pittsburgh catastrophe, we at Tiferet had visitors. Unlike other non-Jews who attend our services, either out of curiosity or out of an interest to embrace Judaism, those who joined us at Shabbat services on November 3rd of last year, did so purely out of solidarity. It was their way of saying “we feel terrible about what took place. We lack the necessary words to provide comfort and consolation. We would therefore like to visit with you, so that we can pray together.” Eight decades ago, non-Jews showed  no such solidarity. True to its designation, the silent majority said nothing. Hitler’s war was against the Jews, not the Lutherans. To quote a saying I learned after arriving in Dallas, “the Christian world did not have a dog in that fight.” The precious few who were abhorred by what was taking place, were afraid to speak out, lest they endanger their own lives. Today, days after the catastrophe at Chabad, the silent majority continues to remain silent. The ones who are afraid to speak out however, are not the precious few. They are the repugnant few, who regret that the assailant was not more successful in his vendetta against Jews. They know that American society will not tolerate individuals who harbor such views and cling to such feelings.

I have no idea what Jewish leaders – both religious, as well as lay – will be saying to those who come together to commemorate the Holocaust, this Thursday evening. Personally, I’ll be offering up a prayer. I will be thanking HaShem that I live in a country where the elected political leadership expresses solidarity when a crime is committed against Jews, where the media gives what took place full coverage and where non-Jews stand together with Jews, attesting to the fact that we are one nation under G-d.

ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY

The first Yiddish language socialist newspaper in New York, Di Arbetter Tzeitung (the Workers Newspaper,) enjoyed a life span of a mere seven years. In the Spring of 1897, it was succeeded by a daily known as The Forverts (the name was borrowed from Vorwarts a publication of the German Social Democratic Party). The aim of the Forverts was to provide a daily newspaper to appeal to the newly arrived Jewish masses that had settled predominantly in New York, their politics, as well as their lifestyle.

One Hundred and Twenty years later, the Yiddish publication is still being published, albeit twice a month instead of daily. It has anglicized its name to Forward and the circulation is less than 6,000 and falling. It would be interesting to see how many Yiddish Forvertz are mailed to Dallas… (I know of only one.)

There’s a certain irony to the Yiddish Forvertz. To be sure there are still Jews in this country, in Israel, and elsewhere whose lingua franca is Yiddish. With all but a precious few exceptions, contemporary Yiddish speakers are found in the Orthodox communities of Borough Park (Brooklyn), Crown Heights (Brooklyn), and Monsey (Rockland County N.Y.), who, if they do read a Yiddish newspaper, it is highly doubtful if it would be the Yiddish Forvertz. The Yiddish Forvertz places great emphasis on Yiddish culture, Yiddish grammar, and Yiddish orthography; the Orthodox community places great emphasis on their vernacular – grammar, spelling, and syntax be damned. The Yiddish Forvertz is concerned lest a Yiddish word is too “Deitshmerish” (Germanic) and at times, goes to great lengths to replace it. The Yiddish speaking Orthodox are concerned that they preserve Hebrew from becoming the lingua franca.

From its very onset, the Yiddish Forverts labeled itself as “progressive” when it came to politics. To be fair, the Yiddish Forvertz was pro-Israel even before statehood was proclaimed, but it is no secret that over the decades, those who published the Yiddish Forvertz longed for an Israel that understandably reflected their view of society. The Yiddish speaking Orthodox communities of today are far from monolithic when it comes to politics in this country, as well as their attitude toward Israel. Unsurprisingly, Orthodox communities tend to vote in blocs and will quite often cast their vote following the recommendation of the Rebbe (if the group is Hassidic) or Rabbi (if the group is non-Hassidic). There are Orthodox groups that strongly support Israel and have branches in Israel where they live in their own communities. Then there are other Orthodox groups that are vehemently opposed to the mere existence of a Jewish government in power in Israel, in that only with the advent of Moshiach (the Messiah), should Jews be part of a government overseeing the Holy Land. Some fifteen years ago, I encountered a member from an Orthodox community who refrained from offering up a prayer for the State of Israel at Shabbat services, because that community felt that a Jewish State ought to be governed by observant “Torah true” Jews.

Last but not least, the Yiddish Forvertz will publish articles that no “self-respecting” Orthodox publication would ever go near. Some time ago, the Yiddish Forvertz did an article about a Jewish woman who was raised and educated in a highly observant Orthodox community. This woman had abandoned her past and was now entertaining men at a Gentleman’s Club (see Merriam Webster for the definition lest anyone misconstrue), where some of her clients were from similarly observant communities. Such Jewish women do not exist as far as the Orthodox communities, as well as the Yiddish publications their constituents read, are concerned, nor do such clubs. (If such women are acknowledged at all, it is in hushed tones, whispered into the ear of the listener.) As for the Orthodox men frequenting such clubs, that’s a smear tactic on the part of a malicious press.

Alas, the very Jews the 120-year-old Yiddish publication sought to appeal to –those who were native Yiddish speakers, with politically progressive views, who sought to Americanize themselves in so many ways are pretty much extinct. Many of the less than 6,000 who do read the Yiddish Forvertz, learned their Yiddish in college and as our people in this country were once known to have intoned: “On such Yiddish, you shouldn’t depend for a conversation.”