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.”

SWASTIKA STORIES

You would think that we Jews would be used to it by now. As long as Jews walk the face of this earth, there will be those who abhor us. Yet, we seem to possess this innate need to focus in on Anti-Semitism. It’s as though we aren’t happy unless we are upset by incidents of Jew hatred. It came as no surprise therefore that a Jewish website began the New Year by reporting the Top Ten Worst Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel incidents of 2016.

Perhaps it’s time that those in the media begin reporting stories where the non-Jewish world goes out of its way to be there for us. That way, we can go through the day without being brainwashed by what we read, what we hear and what we watch that everybody hates us.

A few months back, Israel sustained substantial damage because of raging fires that were out of control. The Moriah congregation in the Ahuza neighborhood of Haifa fell victim to those fires, with its entire second floor and its roof going up in smoke…literally. Those in charge were fortunate to secure the services of a construction person who offered his services pro bono. As far as materials and supplies, the congregation was on its own. When the construction person went to get a quote for wood from Walid abu-Ahmed and Ziad Yunis his suppliers, the two Arab gentlemen took it upon themselves to donate enough wood to replace the ten tables that had been destroyed in the fire. “Jews and Arabs live together in Haifa and there is no discrimination. We must continue this coexistence and promote peace,” explained Walid abu-Ahmed.

Soon after I arrived in New York, my great-aunt was moved (against her will) from her Bronx apartment into her son and daughter in law’s home in Suburban N.J. In addition to having been cut off from her friends, my great-aunt was pretty much cut off from the world in that both her son and daughter-in –law worked full time. Unlike the Bronx, the Kosher Butcher, the grocery store and the pharmacy are not down the block in suburban N.J. But a newly retired Italian (Catholic) couple was down the block. And that couple always made sure to see if Mrs. Weinstein (my great- aunt) wanted to come to the super market with them. And that couple would call Mrs. Weinstein and make a special trip to take her to the kosher butcher so that he could get what she needed as far as chicken and ground meat and flanken (look that one up). Apparently, non-Jews going out of their way to help Jews is not news-worthy; non-Jews spray painting anti-Semitic graffiti is newsworthy.

Many years ago I received a 2 a.m. phone call on a Sunday morning from a nurse at a hospital where I served as the volunteer Jewish chaplain. An elderly Jewish man had just died and the services of a chaplain were requested. Truth be told, I was not a happy camper. But I got dressed and drove over to the hospital. When I entered the hospital room, here is what I saw: The patient lying on the bed, his wife totally distraught and Mary and Chris, neighbors of the elderly Jewish couple trying to provide comfort. Mary and Chris were newlyweds in their early to mid-twenties. Mary and Chris brought the wife to the hospital and sat with her until she was ready to leave. Mary and Chris then took the distraught wife back home but would not let her stay alone. Mary called me Sunday afternoon to ask me for guidance with regard to Shiva. Mary also wanted to know what foods would be both appropriate as well as kosher.

Anti-Semites are a fact of life. So too is the fact that there are everyday Christians and Moslems as well as all other non-Jews who go out of their way for Jews. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some friends in the media who just might like printing stories about the latter? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some friends in the media who do stories on non-Jewish contributions to local Federations, UJA and Israel? Who knows? It could very well plant a smile in our souls to replace that pain in our hearts that they are responsible for, thanks to their “swastika stories.”