INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

Practically 75 years ago to the day, a glimmer of light came into this world that would have ramifications decades later. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – Birkenau, arguably the most infamous of all Concentration/Extermination Camps of the Third Reich. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation, a special session was held at the United Nations which culminated in designating January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Gevald! I was raised on Yom HaShoah. Each year on the 27th of Nissan, Yom HaShoah commemorations were held in Jewish communities throughout the world. When I learned of International Holocaust Memorial Day, I was indignant, to say the least. How dare the United Nations and then the 42nd president of the United States proclaims another date to memorialize Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man! By what right and under whose authority could they do such a thing? Yom HaShoah is a collective yahrzeit for the Jewish people. I don’t recall any Jewish leader suggesting that another date be chosen so that the yahrzeit of the six million be shared.

When a cooler head prevailed, I realized that while intending to pay homage to the same dark chapter in the history of mankind, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah couldn’t have been more different.

International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates a twentieth-century version of the Exodus from Egypt. It was the Soviet Union ironically, that led the pack of allied armies, playing the role of the biblical Moses, while those miraculously still alive in a hellhole in southern Poland, the very descendants of the Israelite slaves freed from the diabolical Pharaoh were the first of their people to be redeemed from unspeakable enslavement and unfathomable treatment. Military prowess aside, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the first step of allied armies being able to reassure the victims, “Don’t worry. We’re here to save you. We’re here to free you. We’re here for you to reaffirm your faith (whatever faith you may have left) that the forces of good have ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil.”

Not so, Yom HaShoah. Although chosen to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where a handful of Jews armed chiefly with chutzpah, managed to stave off the Third Reich for weeks, Yom HaShoah commemorates a twentieth-century version of the biblical Lot and a handful of others managing to survive the destruction of his society. Even though the Sodomites were in no way blameless or faultless like the Jews of Eastern Europe, there are still parallels to be made. The pillars of fire and the stench of death of Sodom and Gomorrah served as prototypes for the pillars of fire and the stench of death of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Both Lot, as well as the survivors of Nazism, set about building a new future for themselves. Both were cautioned of the dangers of looking back. Looking back was only helpful in that it ensured that those who succumbed not be forgotten, as well as it served as a reminder that we do not forget.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for the outside world to justifiably remind itself of its success is thwarting evil and rescuing the few that remained; Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish world to remind itself, that the remnant that survived will serve as living proof that it refuses to wallow in self-pity and victimhood and that Jews must never inflict upon others what others inflicted upon them.

We commemorate an event that took place seventy-five years ago that gave the free world reason to be optimistic and those still alive at Auschwitz – Birkenau reason to dare to hope, that humanity did not go up in the chimneys of the Nazi crematoria after all. For me personally, International Holocaust Memorial Day is beyond my expectations. As for Yom HaShoah, I would have expected nothing less.
  
 


KRISTALLNACHT, A WINDOW TO OUR EXISTENCE

Kristallnacht (the night of shattered glass) ought to take on greater significance this year. Not just because this Friday and Shabbos  mark the 80th anniversary of what Adolph Hitler hoped to be “the beginning of the end” for Jews of Europe, but it brings with it a powerful message to each and every one of us, especially the “oy vey” Jews who, as a result of a lone lunatic in Pennsylvania, are all of a sudden beginning to question their physical safety at synagogue services.

Numbers aside (close to 100 Jews were murdered, while windows were shattered and buildings, including synagogues were set ablaze), Kristallnacht serves as a stark reminder that not only did the German government not protect the Jews, but it was Nazi officials themselves, who ordered German police officers and firemen to do nothing as the riots raged and buildings burned. Unless  blazes threatened Aryan-owned property, firefighters were forbidden to extinguish any flames. Yet, here in this country, immediately following the disaster in Pittsburgh, community-wide programs were held, including one here in Dallas, where the Chief of Police spoke, and a letter of support was read from the Mayor. A cogent argument can be made that random acts of mayhem and carnage notwithstanding, Jews living in the United States of America ought to feel more secure than Jews living in any other country, outside of Israel.

The flames of Kristallnacht shed light on yet another catastrophe that was very much evident in Germany. Whether out of zeitgeist or fear, many non-Jewish Germans either stood idly by, as the wanton destruction took place or cheered the frenzied mobs on, as those mobs wreaked havoc on synagogues as well as stores and homes owned by Jews. While I can only speak for Dallas, the outpouring of support and solidarity from non-Jewish friend and stranger alike, has been most heartening. For far too long throughout our history, when confronted by the deadly deed and venom of the anti-Semite, we Jews knew only too well, that we had no one to turn to but ourselves. Yet, within these last two weeks, it was the outside world who turned to us! I, for one, cannot help but feel that it is so very unfortunate, that we Jews do not show greater appreciation to this outpouring of solidarity.

Close to three decades ago, Reuven Bulka, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Canada, published a book about misconceptions of Jewish life. One misconception concerns the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding. According to Rabbi Bulka, there is no connection between the breaking of the glass under the chuppah and the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, the breaking of the glass finds its origin in the Talmud, where a rabbi, an invited guest at a wedding, deliberately threw his glass at the wall, thereby shattering that glass, in an effort to temper the level of joy that had gotten out of hand. I should like to add yet another reason for the breaking of the glass under the chuppah.

Eighty years ago, in Germany, the breaking of glass signified destruction of a past, hatred of others and lives in turmoil. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents the exact opposite. Under the chuppah, the breaking of the glass represents building a future, love of each other, and a life of harmony.

Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, a rabbinic sage who lived at the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (135 C.E.) reminds us that 80 is synonymous with strength. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a country where the government protects Jews. Let’s draw strength, knowing that we live in a society where non-Jews are genuinely concerned about us and Israel. Let’s draw strength, knowing  that we are part of a tradition where, provided it is done under the chuppah, the shattering of glass is among the most beautiful sounds we ever hear.

ODIOUS COMPARISONS

As a rabbi, I have maintained that neither the pulpit nor written communication is the place for political commentary or viewpoint. Consequently, I take great issue with clergy – rabbis, priests, ministers – who use their position to espouse political views. With separating children from parents at the border having been resolved last week, I continue to remain resolved to withhold political comment. I do take strong exception however to odious comparisons, particularly when journalists have the chutzpah to invoke the Holocaust or  exercise poor judgment in quoting those who do.

The Holocaust is suis generis. It defies comparison. I’m not aware of any American authorities who broke into the living quarters of these families only to forcibly remove children from parents. Children, unless they were identical twins to be subjected to Mengele’s medical experiments were of no value whatsoever to the Nazis. For the Nazis, it would have been far more expedient to shoot (Jewish) children on the spot rather than waste the time, effort and resources of transporting them to death camps and marching them into gas chambers. I would therefore urge those who compare American authorities to Nazis to think twice before doing so.

The Dallas Morning News did itself a great disservice last week when it reprinted an article that appeared a day or two earlier in the New York Times. The journalist had the temerity (I’m being kind) to make reference to illegals in this country as “unauthorized” immigrants. Excuse me? Unauthorized immigrants? Would the same journalist refer to someone who stole merchandise from a Convenience Store as an “unauthorized customer”? Is the word “illegal” so politically offensive these days that it must be sanitized? The only illegal activity that could be pinned on Jews in Germany, Poland, Romania and all other countries overrun by Adolph and his acolytes was the fact that they existed; the only unauthorized behavior that could be attributed to the above mentioned Jews is that they polluted the atmosphere by their very being, thereby denying the Aryans pure air for their pure lungs. As one who can point to illegal immigrants in my own family, I do not sanitize the word. If only six million Jews could have managed to illegally leave all countries overrun by Nazis and illegally enter countries that refused to lift a finger to help them when they faced extermination! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am not aware of either the children or the parents detained by U.S. authorities at our borders facing extermination by any government. So why the comparison?

I’m not aware of journalists living in Nazi Germany and other countries having made odious comparisons. Come to think of it, I’m not aware of journalists in this country during the years 1939-1945 or any other country in the free world making odious comparisons either. When it came to the Holocaust, most journalists were indistinguishable from ostriches. Thankfully, this country provides us with a free press. But freedom and objectivity, freedom and responsibility are not, nor have they ever been synonymous. Equally as troubling, journalists, regardless of their integrity, are at the mercy of their editors. If an editor wants to milk an event, the journalist is best advised to keep the stories coming and to be “creative” if necessary. Conversely, if the journalist wishes to cover an event from an angle not in sync with that the editor, such as the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala failing to protect its citizens, that article will not garner the same exposure as our border with Mexico, if that article is printed at all.

As a rabbi, I find the removal of children totally unconscionable, however well cared for the children will be. Voices ought to be raised in protest. Our government officials ought to be contacted en masse by concerned citizens. No different when a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane occurs, journalists ought to bring the plight to light in a responsible fashion and offer suggestions how the public might assist. As a rabbi I also find odious comparisons totally unacceptable. When one reads these odious comparisons, one loses perspective. Odious comparisons besmirch the memories of those who not only suffered at the hands of the Nazis but were murdered by the Nazis; odious comparisons distort the real picture of those who truly need to seek asylum.