IF NOT NOW

If Not Now is an American Jewish progressive activist group opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The If Not Now movement consists of young Jewish Americans who demonstrate against politicians, US Government policies, and Jewish institutions perceived to support the “apartheid” behavior of Israel toward the Palestinians, primarily through direct action and media appearances.

If Not Now was founded four years ago to protest American Jewish institutional support for Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge, where following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Israel set out to destroy the tunnels Hamas built in Gaza with the sole aim of infiltrating into Israel. If Not Now’s first action was to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York City.

Regardless of my feelings toward If Not Now, the group has every right to exist and promulgate their views. So too, for that matter, does Lehava, a group from the other end of the political spectrum have every right to exist, however odious its views. For the record, Lehava sees Christians as “blood-sucking vampires” and maintains that “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land.” Recently Camp Ramah found itself in an imbroglio when it included If Not Now in its camp curriculum. Facing enormous pressure to remove If Not Now from its programming, Camp Ramah recanted.

Lest they commit another egregious and unacceptable faux pas in the future, Camp Ramah’s leadership would do well to ask itself whether Jewish parents send their children to summer camp for the purpose of gaining an understanding of Palestinian suffering rarely, if ever, addressed by the American Jewish establishment. I may be totally off base, but it seems to me that in addition to being with friends and not having to worry about dietary laws, a good many Jewish parents send their kids to summer camp for swimming, boating, bonfires, and color wars. When all is said and done, parents send their children to summer camp to escape boredom that usually descends upon teenagers and pre-teens by the end of the first week of summer vacation.

Providing a forum for the wrongs and atrocities (I’m being facetious) committed against the Palestinians by the Israelis opens up a Pandora’s Box. If it’s kosher to include discussion/study about Palestinian victims, shouldn’t it be equally kosher to include discussion/study about German victims of the Holocaust? In the German city of Dresden, well over 20,000 Germans were killed within a 24 hour period in February 1945, as close to 4000 tons of high explosive bombs and other incendiary devices were dropped over its skies by the RCAF and the United States Army Airforce. Surely, many of the victims were innocent Germans. Perhaps at the next Yom HaShoah commemoration, Kaddish should be recited in memory of the innocent Germans who lost their lives in WWII. Better yet, with Tisha B’Av being observed in the very midst of camp season, isn’t it time that in addition to mourning the destruction and loss of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, that we also mourn the deaths of innocent Jews, as well as the deaths of innocent Babylonians (First Temple) and the deaths of innocent Romans (Second Temple), in that there was a high likelihood that casualties were borne by innocents on both sides? Why must the memories of innocent Germans of WWII, innocent Babylonians and innocent Romans of first and second Temple period be obliterated, as we champion the poor Palestinians?

Eight weeks of summer camp is an extremely short period of time to infuse Jewish teaching into the minds of children and adolescents. With a plethora of subjects available to its educators, ranging from ancient Midrash to Jewish American Biographies, one would think that the staff of Jewish summer camps has a challenge of cramming so much into such a limited time. If political viewpoints are of such critical importance to the curriculum of a summer camp, better the campers should learn about the political differences that raged among Jewish leaders as Jerusalem was besieged by the enemy.

Once upon a time, Camp Ramah was the single most successful story of the Conservative Movement. In eight weeks of summer, its counselors imbued more Judaism in their campers than the vast majority of Conservative rabbis imbued in their congregants week after week, year after year. Perhaps controversy and politics should be avoided at all costs; perhaps practice and ritual should be incremented at all costs. The results may very well be priceless.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE

Walking distance from the Hudson River on West 61st street adjacent to the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan is a High School that ranks in the top third of High Schools in New York City. It prides itself with one of the highest English proficiency scores in the city.  Earlier this month, this school made news for an entirely different reason. Students at that elite High School were asked to pause from their studies to pay tribute to victims of violence in Gaza, when scores of Palestinians (males typically between the ages of 17-27) lost their lives while protesting against Israel. The name of that educational facility is the Beacon School.

I can’t speak for other Jewish leaders, but I’m done talking. I have better things to do than to argue the position of Israel. Besides, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that facts and truths are meaningless to those who are intent on “feeling the pain, anguish and humiliation” of fellow human beings – provided of course those fellow human beings are Palestinians. Instead of talking, I would like to pose three questions to the powers that be at that institution for higher education as well as similar schools that are foolish enough to venture into an area they seem to know nothing about, only to exacerbate their ignorance by making a political statement.

Is concern for victims of violence at the Beacon School limited to Palestinians “suffering” at the hands of Israelis? If not, shouldn’t students have been asked to pause from their studies to pay tribute to Palestinians who have been victimized by Christians? Back in April, two large-scale riots took place in Hamborn district of Duisburg, a small town some 50-minute ride from the north-western German city of Cologne. The Hamborn district of Duisburg is on the cross-hairs of Turkish and Lebanese gangster clans that are demarcating territory in the northern part of the city. Did the powers that be at the Beacon School, ask the students to respond to the mayhem that occurred back in April?

Does the Beacon School offer scholarships so that students can spend their summers at the Jalazun Refugee Camp (or other similar Refugee Camps), not far from Ramallah? As respectful as a moment of silence may be, surely it pales in comparison to a summer of assistance. That way, students at the Beacon School could speak about their experiences and gain firsthand knowledge of the plight of the Palestinians. Isn’t speaking out far more important than a moment of silence? It seems to me that moments of silence are quickly forgotten. Summers of assisting will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on these students for the rest of their lives! Doesn’t true and honest concern warrant the latter course of action?

Are there moments of silence for students at the Beacon School to observe when a family or families in any one of the five boroughs of the city succumb to an apartment fire caused by faulty wiring or a gas leak? If charity begins at home, shouldn’t sympathy also begin at home? In addition to moments of silence, are there also moments of letter writing by students at the Beacon School for family members who have survived the tragedy? Are there also moments of silence at the Beacon School for students to put together baskets of toys and plush animals for children who have become orphaned by such fires?

Once upon a time, I too was a High School student. I therefore feel that it is fair to say that quite often moments of silence in school fall on deaf ears. Selective moments of silence in school on the other hand, make loud and bold statements, where discerning students immediately see through the motives or lack thereof of educators and administrators, leading them to question and challenge genuineness and sincerity of teachers and school officials alike.

MEMO TO MAHMOUD

What’s the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you are playing with those “Poor Palestinians.” Never invoke the Holocaust in an attempt to cast Israelis in a bad light! Ever!

Imagine that! A Menachem Begin adulating rabbi, dispensing advice to a Palestinian thug who treats his own with nothing but contempt and disrespect. Abu Mazen! If you are so drawn to the Holocaust, better you should learn from the best! I’m infatuated with Menachen Begin. Chances are that you are infatuated with Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. Better you should commit the following Goebbels quote to memory: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Continue to lie to yourself, your people and the rest of the world about how oppressed the Palestinians are because of the Zionist imperialists. The fact that you no longer have any credibility with your own people, the fact that other Arab countries see you for the phony and crook that you really are, shows that you haven’t done good enough job of telling a lie that was first promulgated decades ago.

Mahmoud Abbas! The sharpest knife in the drawer, you aren’t. Don’t you realize that by invoking the Holocaust, you are leaving yourself as well as the populace you feign to care for extremely vulnerable? The legacy of the Holocaust is that when Jews suffer a terrible blow, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, move on and create productive lives and promising futures for themselves. Can the same be said for your people who continue to live in squalor? You and your people are an embarrassment to humanity! Rather than encourage your people to muster their human resources and build better lives for themselves, you and your people have wasted these past 70 years wallowing in self-pity. You want Holocaust comparisons Palestinian Authority President? I’ll give you Holocaust comparisons! Hitler set out to destroy a people. You and your predecessors have set out to destroy the integrity and self-worth of a people. Hitler extracted gold from the mouths of Jews; you extract food from the mouths of your own people. If I were you, I’d think twice before I make any Holocaust comparisons.

Father of Mazen, Yasser and Tareq! At the same time you were studying law at the University of Damascus, singer-songwriter Cal Perkins was telling young Americans: “You can do anything you want, but don’t step on my blue suede shoes.” As far as Israel is concerned, trash it any way you wish, but don’t you ever accuse Israel for the Holocaust or liken Israeli leadership to the Third Reich. When will you ever learn that we are living in the age where there is zero tolerance for anti-Semitic remarks? Repeat after me: Israel bashing? Kosher! Jew bashing? Treif! Refer to the Prime Minister of Israel as “Bibi the Butcher” and no one will even raise an eyebrow. Call Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “the Mad Russian” and there will be those who might even chuckle. But don’t even think that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust. That’s one place you don’t wish to tread!

Mahmoud Abbas! I can’t help but feel that you would greatly benefit from a class in firearm safety. Enrolling in and successfully graduating from such a course might just prevent you from shooting off your mouth as well as shooting yourself in the foot as you seem to be able to do with such great aplomb.