This is a guest post by Eliana Fishman, who lives, works, and prays in Washington DC. (See the response by Raphael Magarik here.)
What is the American Jewish story, and how do we tell it?
The question of whether or not to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut has become a symbol of the division between religious Zionists and religious anti-Zionists. Religious Zionists, in particular followers of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut with a blessing, while religious anti-Zionists do not say Hallel at all. On Yom Ha’atzmaut liturgical choice represents political orientation. This binary leaves American Jewish congregations in a bind. Is Yom Ha’atzmaut a day when American Jews can pray together? How can a community committed to a multitude of opinions around Zionism also share liturgy?
I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Not because I am an anti-Zionist (I’m not), not because I have lefty politics (I do), and not because I’m not a daily davener (I am). I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut because I am an American Jew. Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut is not about Zionism, and it’s not about joy over the establishment of a Jewish state. Hallel is about narrative.
One of the earliest references to Hallel’s recitation is in Masechet Pesachim 117a. The Talmud explains that Hallel is not about simple joy, but about the narrative of redemption. A baraita specifies six cases where the entirety of the Jewish people (or what Chazal considered to be adequate representation of the entirety of the Jewish people) faced life-threatening adversity (e.g. at the Red Sea, when Joshua faced the Canaanites, when Deborah and Barak faced Sisera, etc). In each situation God redeems the entirety of the Jewish people, and a prophet established Hallel. The seventh instance that the baraita brings is either a summary, or a distinct case. The unnamed chachamim state that in each and every era that the Jewish people experience danger, Israel’s prophets establish the recitation of Hallel, and, when the people are redeemed, Israel says Hallel because of their redemption.
In each of these cases Hallel is recited first for extreme danger, and then for redemption. There is never any sense of “redemption is about to occur”, or “redemption is continuous”. Additionally, according to this baraita, Hallel is only recited when the entirety of the Jewish people are redeemed.
Did the establishment of the State of Israel redeem the entire Jewish people, or did it redeem only Jews in the land of Israel? Were American Jews redeemed on May 14, 1948? In order to answer that question we have to explore what redemption may or may not have occurred with the establishment of the State of Israel. I have three possible responses to that question—the Holocaust answer, the Arab army answer, and the continual answer. More »
Everyone calls it Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Day, but the official Hebrew name translates as Memorial Day for Martyrs and Heroes. A cursory glance at my Facebook feed makes clear what we all know: Jews are very good at remembering our martyrs. There are yellow stars, yahrtseyt (memorial) candles, photos of concentration camp prisoners, and a gut wrenching riff on the Pesach haggadah stating that each of us is obligated to feel as if we ourselves had been unable to leave Germany.
My own post was no different. I have martyrs enough in my own family, including the great-grandmother for whom I am named. But what I had not known until perestroika and glasnost allowed me to become acquainted with my cousins in Moscow, is that I also have a hero in my family.
Jewish Red Army hero explaining what his many medals mean
Vidya, my mother’s first cousin, was a liberator of Auschwitz. That was one of countless heroic acts that he undertook with his Red Army tank battalion. I have become close with him over the past two decades, and in the process I have come to understand that hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews—women and men—risked their lives in order to defeat the Germans. It is one of the great ironies of our era that many of these Red Army veterans, like Vidya, now live in Germany. On some of my frequent visits to Munich, I have had the privilege of accompanying him to the Jewish community center, where these veterans gather for coffee and conversation.
I am in awe of these people, who were truly forced from the frying pan into the fire. After recovering from his third serious wound, which punctured his lung, Vidya had no real home to which to return. His father had been sent to a gulag and his mother—the only one of my grandmother’s siblings to survive the war—followed her husband there. Vidya was one of thousands of Red Army veterans who learned that their loved ones had either been killed by the Nazis or been imprisoned by Stalin’s increasingly brutal regime. Far too often, both were the case.
Growing up in the 1970s, knowing that I had relatives in Moscow that I had not yet met, I attended every Save Soviet Jewry demonstration. I wore a prisoner of conscience necklace. Our family ”adopted” recent immigrants and helped them adjust to life in Chicago As a member of Hashomer Hatzair, I learned about the young heroes of the Warsaw and Vilna Ghettos, who fought back against the Nazis in any way possible. But due to Soviet policies, I never learned about the many Jewish heroes who fought in the Red Army, only to have their identities disappear at the end of the war.
In school we were taught that the Americans were the good liberators, and the Russians were the evil ones. Reality, as always, is far more complex. Thanks to the VETERAN ORAL HISTORY PROJECT of the Blavatnik Archive Foundation, which is systematically archiving the testimonies of Jewish Red Army veterans and creating books, DVDs, and impressive traveling exhibits of these materials, it is possible for us to get a glimpse of these heroic women and men.
If you do not have time to explore this material for Yom Hashoa, you can do it on the date that the Red Army veterans observe: May 9, or Victory in Europe Day. As Vidya always tells me, though, every year there are fewer and fewer veterans at the May 9 commemoration. So don’t wait.
Emmanuel Levinas, one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, dedicated the second of his two major works (he wrote many, many more than that) Otherwise than Being with the following:
To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the National Socialists, and of the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-semitism.
On the bottom of the same page, in Hebrew, he dedicates the book to the memory of his father and his mother, his brothers, his mother-in-law and his father-in-law, all of whom were killed by the Nazis. The dedication is sealed with the traditional Hebrew acronym for the statement: “Let their souls be bound in the binds of life.”
The next page has four epigraphs. Two quotes from Ezekiel, one quote from Rashi’s eleventh century commentary to Ezekiel and two quotes from Pascal, from the Pensées.
The second quote from Ezekiel is from Chapter 9:4-6:
Then he … said to him, “Pass through the city—through Jerusalem—and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst of it.” And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and slay without mercy or pity. Old men, young men and maidens, little children and women—strike them all dead! But touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary!”
The narrative context of this strange and powerful quote is the arrival of a scribe in a vision to Ezekiel. That scribe is ordered to go through the city and mark the people who are righteous. Accompanying the scribe are six angelic beings each carrying a weapon of destruction. These latter are the ones who are commanded to “Pass through the city after him, and slay without mercy or pity.” More »
“There she is… Ms. Holocaust Surviv- whoa.” The very sound of the phrase “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” grates the ears and sounds like part of some Sarah Silverman sketch. My own feelings about pageants is that they are ridiculous, sexist and generally degrade the participants. Still, this is one I might actually attend and that it had the opposite effect. The New York Times covers as does AP. 79 year old Hava Heskowitz won.
Hosted by Helping Hand, which aids survivors in Israel, the event drew hundreds of participants, a couple MK’s, a fair amount of criticism and a lot of press attention. Given what we know about survivors, and what we in our worst nightmares can’t even begin to imagine about their experiences, it would seem that a “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” Pageant would be the ultimate in bad taste, the punchline to a gallows humor joke.
In spite of this, there is something sweet about the story of “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” that carries a redeeming quality, the championing of the human spirit over evil. It seems to have been a celebration of these women in their 70′s and 80′s, and a positive one at that. No blazing lights and cameras broadcasting the affair, no lurid swimsuit segment, no Little Miss Sunshine moments.
Following is a guest post by Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, current resident of Malmo, Sweden.
In early March, when I was asked to write a column about Jewish life in Malmö, I began like this: Google “Jews in Malmö.” Most of the results will be about the rise in anti-Semitism, the hostility between Muslims and Jews, the anti-Semitic rants of the mayor, and the number of Jews who are fleeing Sweden’s third largest city.
Six weeks later, you can skip the Google search. The Jewish media have their eye on Malmö, thanks to the most recent spewing of idiotic, anti-Semitic rants by mayor Ilmar Reepalu. This time, he tried to claim that the Jewish community of Malmö had allowed itself to be infiltrated by the white supremacist Sweden Democrat party in order to attack Muslims. When confronted, Reepalu admitted that his accusation was baseless. Dominos have begun to fall since then. The leader of his Social Democrat party scolded the mayor, and word has it that Reeplu might even be open to hearing from Jewish citizens. It remains unclear whether there will be any real impact on Reeplalu’s mayorship.
Yet, although Malmö’s Jews do face anti-Semitism from some hateful, even violent neighbors as well as from the mayor, things have changed since 2010, when the Forward published an article titled, “For Jews, Swedish City is a Place to Move Away From.” In fact, last month I used that title as a foil, declaring Malmö to be a delightful place to move to. The Jewish community here is undergoing a true renaissance and, on this Yom Hashoah, many members look toward the future with hope.
Eddie Long, a Georgia based mega-church preacher, has been crowned king… Yup, you read right. Crowned king. King of what? Damned if I know. He was crowned king by “Rabbi” Ralph Messer, a self-indulged so-called Messianic Jew (but even the Messianic Jews have disavowed him, now that takes talent) led this obscene ritual at New Birth Missionary Baptist in Lithonia, GA. Videos abound on the web, I didn’t want to give one another view.
The “rabbi” who conducted this grandiose show claimed that the Torah scroll used to enwrap Long in during the ceremony was saved from Aushwitz-Birkenau; an unlikely factoid considering how difficult it would have been to hide a Torah scroll in those circumstances, but that does not prevent him from abusing the memory of those who perished in the Shoah, claiming that “the dust” may still be on the scroll. The whole thing just reeks of showmanship, grandiosity and the worst forms of appropriation.
Bill Nigut of the Anti-Defamation League took Messer, Long and the whole affair to task calling it a “fake Jewish ritual.” That is generous, IMHO. Others have chimed in with their own condemnations.
The following is a sermon I delivered to my congregation last week for Parashat Vay’ḥi on the travesties in Beit Shemesh and Mea She’arim — a little late, but still important.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines legacy as: a gift by will or something which is transmitted by or received from an ancestor. It is especially interesting to me that the word choice of the Mirriam-Webster dictionary is to use the language of transmission because the Hebrew word we use for tradition, מסורה, literally means ‘transmission.’ This idea, of something which is transmitted by an ancestor, is incredibly significant to the Jewish tradition. It is significant, mainly, because we take immense pride in our tradition and we take immense pride in the success we have had in passing down our traditions from generation to generation. This pride we take in transmitting our traditions is not new, quite the contrary, it goes back to our very foundation and to our very origins. Sure enough, when we received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai we were instructed, as we read daily in the words of the first paragraph of the Shema, וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ, וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם – and you shall teach these words to your children and you shall speak about them. Now, that is truly significant, but it goes even deeper into our origins than our covenant with God at Mount Sinai, rather it goes to our very first foundations, to Avraham Avinu, to Abraham our Forefather, of whom the Torah tells us לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה – such that Avraham commands his children and his household after him and they will guard the way of God. What we impart to our children, what we transmit to them, the legacy which we leave them, is a huge part of the Jewish tradition. More »
Remember the ‘Macaca’ incident that ended the Senatorial campaign and presidential aspirations of George Allen? You may recall that in the ensuing fallout he denied his Sephardic Jewish heritage, inherited from his Tunisian mother Etty Allan (nee Lumbroso).
Independent filmmaker Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon has released Generation Gap, an interesting short film about the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of his family, including his grandfather Wilhelm and father Julian. Watch the entire Generation Gap film below. Ungar-Sargon previously released the controversial feature-length documentary, Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision. His second feature-length documentary, A People Without a Land (more on it later), is post-production right now.
This morning Simon Greer, head of Jewish FundS for Justice, delivered 10,000 signatures and a giant pink slip to Fox News’ corporate headquarters in New York calling for Glenn Beck to be fired. Beck reneged on a pledge against twisting Holocaust history to his political ends, which was originally personally signed and sent to Greer after JFSJ brought fourteen representatives of Jewish organizations to meet with Beck’s superiours..
When Beck then ran a series called “The Puppet Master,” charging Jewish mega-philanthropist George Soros with complicity with killing other Jews during the Holocaust (despite the fact that he was a child at the time). The ADL’s Abe Foxman stepped in to condemn the language: “For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say, there’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, that’s horrific. It’s totally off limits and over the top.” (Then of course Foxman demurred and backtracked because Beck says nice things about Israel.) Of course, this was all an excuse to demonize Soros as one of the largest funders of progressive causes in America and around the world. Which is, obviously, Beck’s real target: social justice.
At today’s impromptu press conference outside the offices of News Corp., Greer and company brought the 10,000 names and unveiled Beck’s top ten most disturbing quotes of 2010 (below). Video of the press conference to come. More »
I am honestly not sure what to make of this. Should I consider this the genuine and generous gesture of a small people, themselves a minority, who have come to regret some role that they played in the past in the persecution of the Jews? If so, I can’t help but wonder exactly what they could have done to help – after all, they weren’t exactly a world power with lots of political sway during the Nazi era? What was it they were supposed to have done to help?
Or maybe my first reaction was right – we -the Jews- have gone completely nuts, to the extent that the entire relationship of the world to us is people finding ways to beg our forgiveness for the Holocaust, an important, but hardly defining (at least, I hope not. All the issues of the Holocaust were not new – we dealt with every one of them during the time of the destruction of the Temple – at least theologically speaking), moment in our history. Is this another chapter in the ongoing erasure of Judaism as a religion, to be replaced with the religion of Holocaustism?
What exactly does this all mean? Why did they take the extraordinary step of using modern transportation to fly a delegation to Israel; why now? And why did they decide to meet with “Western Wall Rabbi” Shmuel Rabinovitch?
I guess that, overall, I’m glad the Amish like us -they seem like nice people, and overall, I’d rather have them like us than not- but why does this strike me as somehow completely bizarre?
Shaul Magid thinks that it is and he says so in an insightful and sure to be provocative piece just published over at Zeek. Here’s the zinger:
I’d like to suggest that what is at issue for many American Jews is not the constitutionality of Park 51 or even the Islamophobia the 9/11 attacks may have engendered. It is, rather, that the Islamophobia resulting from 9/11 (an event that was not an attack on the Jews) fills a vacuum for a Jewish community that has defined itself through the meme of persecution, a vacuum left by the diminution of the Holocaust as the key to Jewish identity.
His argument is disturbing though persuasive (at least to me).
Read the whole piece here. Then come back and discuss.
You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that’s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can’t deal with it, you know? Someone’s killed 100,000 people, we’re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people!? You must get up very early in the morning!”
-Eddie Izzard, comedian
I got back from Europe on Monday. While in Budapest, I had the chance to visit Budapest’s Holocaust museum, the best I’ve ever been to. Everyone who visits Budapest visits the Great Synaoguge, the largest in the world when it was built, but few visit the Holocaust museum, which itself was built around an existing shul from the 1920s. Here’s why it’s a must-see and why it topped Yad Vashem and the one in DC for me.
Recently, while perusing back copies of the German newspaper Der Zeit, I came across a November 1990 interview with famed Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, which, nearly two decades later, remains as sublimely absurd as ever.
Taking this entirely out of context (because it is far more fun this way), here is an excerpt of the interview with a gem of a quote:
Gibt es Erfahrungen, die Sie noch machen wollen?
MESSNER: Ich bin noch nie abgestürzt. Also das fehlt mir. Ich bin 1980 auf dem Mount Everest in eine Spalte gefallen. Aber die war nur acht Meter tief. Ich wäre auch gern einmal eingesperrt. Mich würde interessieren, wie ich reagiere, wenn ich eine lange Zeit im Kerker verbringen müßte. Aber dazu müßte ich ein Verbrechen begehen. Ich könnte Sie zum Beispiel erschießen.
Haben Sie einen Revolver?
Außerdem wäre Ihre mutwillig herbeigeführte Verhaftung eine Erfahrung, die nicht viel zählt.
MESSNER: Das ist wahr. Es ist etwas anderes, ob ich freiwillig oder ungewollt leide. Ich habe mir meine Leiden immer selbst ausgesucht. Ich bin nie in einem KZ gewesen. Das wäre noch eine Wunscherfahrung. Ich möchte wissen, wie lange ich durchhalten und wie selbstsüchtig oder brutal ich mich den Mithäftlingen gegenüber verhalten würde.
In other words, Messner expresses his morbid curiosity and interest in experiencing the horrors of a concentration camp: as the ultimate test of physical endurance and moral fortitude. This reality television show practically writes itself…
Oh wait. Larry David has already taken care of that.
C'mon, the Polish Carpathians are at least as beautiful as the Judean Hills!
The recent Forward article entitled “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President” seems to be answering the elephant-sized question that many have been silently asking themselves: Why are so many Jewish organizations (including March of the Living) and The State of Israel voicing such an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy for Poles in a time of their most terrible loss? Could it be an indication that Jewish communities and organizations are finally looking at the Poles as more than the ambivalent caretakers of their most sacred graveyard? Is it simply a sign that the established Jewish community can reach out their hands even to those they perceive as perpetrators of a most grave crime?
Kaczynski’s politics were not more popular among Poland’s Jewish community of 8,000 than among Poles at large. But the Jews had real reason to mourn a leader who had shown sympathy and support both to them and to the State of Israel, from the day when, soon after winning the 2005 presidential election, he compared himself to Ariel Sharon.
Indeed, there are analogies between the political philosophies of the two. Both were conservative leaders with strong nationalist feelings and were at the helm of countries they considered threatened by neighbors. (Kaczynski took a dim view not only of the past, but also of the present policies of Germany and Russia.) Both were impatient with what they considered liberal indifference to their respective national traditions and values. And both strongly believed in the fundamental role of the state as the nation’s most valuable institution. Both tended to look at what they believed history’s judgment would be, rather than at public opinion polls.
Kaczynski was far from being the only conservative European politician in power today. Yet it would be difficult to imagine any other European leader comparing himself to Sharon; the public-opinion fallout would be devastating. But Kaczynski had no such qualms. To him, the Israeli prime minister was an inspiration, and Israel a friendly state. Much of Polish public opinion tended to agree with him. No criticism followed his Sharon remarks.
That’s right, a top Polish politician was into THE BULLDOZER. In this intricate web of official condolence calls and mixed feelings, Gebert articulates too well that the contemporary Polish-Jewish relationship can be understood through the perceived political affinities between two right-wing nationalists who became intensely unpopular during their lifetimes. It goes to show that as Jewish cultural revival continues throughout the Polish lands, the elite descendants of Polish Jewry living in America and Israel largely see their relationship to Poland through a Zionist, not Ashkenazi, lens. This seems to imply that, at least on an official level, the development of Polish-Jewish reconciliation has largely been achieved through the work of politicians, not through the work of grassroots activists who spend so much time investing in a future for Jewish culture and memory in Poland. I never would have thought that March of the Living, an organization that has been repeatedly criticized for portraying Poland as a bloody, smoldering launching pad for the Zionist future, would require a moment of silence for victims of the crash as it toured its participants through Auschwitz. Do our leaders really feel sympathy for the Poles, or are we just trying to maintain alliances in a Europe increasingly critical of Israeli policy? A mixture of both?
His (Kaczynski’s) Jewish sympathies earned him the scorn of antisemitic extremists, who accused him of being Jewish himself (his “true” name supposedly was Kalkstein); somehow, his brother escaped being thus tainted. Rydzyk brutally attacked the Polish president during a lecture in 2007, accusing him of giving in to Jews, both by allocating land for the museum and supposedly ignoring the alleged threat of Jewish reparation demands. In contrast with his brother, Lech Kaczynski never granted the fundamentalist station an interview. But he had to pay the price for tolerating Jarosław’s alliances. At the funeral last year of Marek Edelman, deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a hero to the president, Kaczynski stood in silence and alone: The family refused him the right to speak, as Edelman had bitterly criticized the twin brothers’ policies…
…Alive, Kaczynski was a divisive and increasingly unpopular figure because of his authoritarian views, with approval ratings recently as low as 32%. But his tragic death has transformed him into a national icon, with all of Poland united in mourning. Polish Jews shared that pain with all other Polish citizens: A memorial service held in Warsaw’s only synagogue was packed full the day after the plane crash.
From today’s Nutjob Anti-Semites With Scary Amounts of Power files, Salon reports,
Last week, retired Bishop Giacomo Babini of the Italian town of Grosseto told the Catholic Pontifex website that the Catholic pedophile scandal is being orchestrated by the “eternal enemies of Catholicism, namely the freemasons and the Jews, whose mutual entanglements are not always easy to see through… I think that it is primarily a Zionist attack, in view of its power and refinement. They do not want the church, they are its natural enemies. Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God-killers.”
You might think that the 81-year-old Babini had already said more than enough for one day, but once some people “pop,” they just can’t stop. “The Holocaust was a shame for all of humanity,” the good bishop told the world, “but now we have to look at it without rhetoric and with open eyes. Don’t believe that Hitler was merely crazy. The truth is that the Nazis’ criminal fury was provoked by the Jews’ economic embezzlement, by which they choked the German economy.” He concluded that the Jews’ “guilt is graver than what Christ predicted would happen to them, saying ‘do not cry for me, but for your own children.’”
Yom HaShoah is upon us. I’m in Israel, where at 10 am everyone stops and a siren softly screams. It rocked me. This day, and the Holocaust in general, elicits so many different personal reactions inside me; it makes me feel crazy. These are some of the feelings I experienced today during Yom HaShoah:
Righteous indignation – We Jews bear witness to the worst kind of oppression and evil; today we must fight all forms of oppression around the world. Confusion – How did the world stand by and let this happen? Depression – The world has stood by and let lots of other terrible stuff happen. Tribalism – I need to fight to protect my people. Universalism – Ethnicities, races, religions – these social constructions are tools of oppression. Abolish them! Doubt in humanity – Given the opportunity, many of us would be Nazis. Doubt in God – where you at God?! Faith in God – We survived the fiery furnace – we are truly the chosen people. Religious motivation - I have to do mitzvot/learn Torah in honor of those whose lives were cut short. Discomfort – These stories make me sad and uncomfortable. Why am I putting myself through this again? Cynicism – Why do we let the Holocaust narrative dominate so much of Jewish life? Do we exploit it? Purpose – I must remember. Rage – Let’s go fight some skinheads.
I’m posting this for two reasons. First is, I think I’m not alone in having many different, conflicting reactions to the Shoah. In my experience, most Jewish communal space given to the Shoah today gravitates towards framing in simpler, less nuanced ways. As a community, we validate some of our internal experiences but leave out others from the conversation. How can we as a community deal with the Holocaust in a way that holds all of our conflicting feelings and reactions about it? Is it still too raw?
Second is, I’m curious to hear how other folks experience the Holocaust today. Do you resonate with some of the feelings I put up? Do you totally disagree? Am I being flippant? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
And Kiddush Clubs. If the interwebs are to be believed, a major issue facing the orthodox world today is Kiddush Clubs, an insidious type of gathering that causes otherwise decent Jewish men to flee during the sermon and drink scotch together all clandestine-like.
And now, thanks to the Purimtastic efforts of the Kiddush Club of Mount Sinai, these two phenomena have come together: