Monday, January 26, 2009

Jews and the Vatican

20 years ago, Richard Williamson, a British bishop in the Catholic Church, was excommunicated along with three others because they were consecrated without papal consent. The rehabilitation of these bishops would normally be a simple part of Vatican procedure by Pope Benedict XVI, except for one small problem. The problem is Williamson is on record stating that at most, 200,000-300,000 Jews died in Auschwitz, and that these Jews were not gassed by the Nazis. Williamson is in a word, a Holocaust denier.

The plan of many Holocaust deniers basically involves attacking the facts of the most well documented event in world history. By arguing the numbers and means of the Holocaust are incorrect, they are trying to prove that it is a historical fallacy made up by the Jews. They do this with the hopes of delegitimizing the establishment of the State of Israel, which they erroneously believe was only founded because the world felt guilty about the Holocaust.

What is so scary about this is the number of people who believe these Holocaust deniers. What is also so scary is how many eye witnesses to these atrocities are dying off. I mention this in part because this past week, I officiated at the funeral of Rachel Engelman, beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, and Holocaust survivor. Rachel's story is similar to many who survived the wellspring of anger generated out of Germany and Eastern Europe towards the Jews. This anger in many ways is rooted in the very teachings of the Catholic Church by the way, as is illustrated in the book Constantine's Sword. Rachel survived by hiding under a stair case in a factory in Budapest for two years. Rachel survived by ignoring orders from German soldiers, and by ripping the yellow star off of her clothes. Rachel survived when so many others did not.

By agreeing to rehabilitate Williamson into the Church, Pope Benedict is spitting on Rachel's grave and the graves of all of the other victims of this senseless violence and hate. As a man who speaks of reconciliation and peace one would hope Pope Benedict would re-think his decision. For words mean little when actions speak volumes.

If there is a silver lining, it is the possibility that German authorities are investigating Williamson to see if he broke German law by denying the Holocaust. One could only wish the Vatican would do the same.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Holy

Lately on my blog, I have been pretty much exclusively focused on the events unfolding in Gaza. As a rabbi, a Jew, and a strong supporter of Israel, it is hard not to be thinking about Israel especially when she faces such great challenges.

That being said, I had the opportunity last night to take a breather and smile a little because instead of watching CNN, I spent the evening enjoying PBS’s new documentary ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ hosted by Billy Crystal. 'Make 'Em Laugh' looks at the history of comedy in American pop culture. Last night's episode focused on the evolution of both stand-up comedy and situation comedies.

I expected to see a narrative history of the development of comedy, with the hope that many Jewish comedians would be mentioned. With the latter, I was not disappointed, as Jews have played a vital role in American comedy since their vaudeville days. With the former though, I was a bit surprised as the narrative seemed to almost jump around from time periods and topics through an associative train of thought. Being the fan of history that I am, I initially had some trouble following how they went directly from the Simpsons to I Love Lucy.

But thinking about it more, I came to realize the series is almost Talmudic in its approach to examining comedy. One train of thought simply leads to another through intricate connections, which is how you can go from the Dick Van Dyke show directly to Seinfeld or visa versa.

In this sense, all forms of comedy are intertwined, with comedians, writers, and actors all being heavily influenced by one another. Judaism is very much the same. We are certainly an evolving tradition, but we do not create in a vacuum. What we do, say, eat, practice, and live as Jews should be understood in the evolution of Jewish tradition and interpretation. In this way, we are a very organic and vibrant tradition just like American comedy.

I am concerned that sometimes people look at Judaism as a stagnant religion with little to offer them in their modern circumstance. They think of Judaism as a tradition either solely focused on the past or on the constant theme of suffering. The truth is Judaism really is a religion all about the future and the promises of better days to come. But unlike many sit-coms, which have become dull and predictable for the most part, Judaism still has a lot of humor and surprises left in her. All you need to do is become part of the ‘live-audience’ and join in the celebration.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Here We Go Again

Two rockets landed in Israel. One of them in a retirement home. Two Israelis were slightly injured, countless others terrified. Sounds like old news. In a way it is, and in a way it is not because these rockets were not fired from Gaza, but from Lebanon, landing in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya.
It now appears that one or two break-off factions of Hezbollah have joined in the fighting, though no one has taken official responsibility for these rockets as of yet. But it does open up the possibility of a two front war, though Israel has expressed it has no desire for this whatsoever. We should note Hezbollah's missiles are even more powerful, can travel farther than those under the control of Hamas, and are capable of inflicting even greater damage and terror.
The Lebanese government has also strongly condemned these attacks as it does not want another conflict with Israel like in 2006, which decimated much of Southern Lebanon. The rockets were most likely fired as a demonstration of solidarity with the ongoing battle in Gaza.
This of course gets to the heart of the problem. Israel is surrounded on several sides by differing extremist groups all with the same ideology of making life as miserable for Israelis as possible. Instead of demonstrations, what do extremists do? They fire rockets hoping to cause as much collateral damage as possible. How does one retaliate in a 'proportional' way to such hate? This is not Ghandi's India. This is not Mandela's South Africa. This is the reality of the Middle East.
The problem for Israel is that in world opinion many simply do not seem to understand, to quote Golda Meir, "We don't want wars, even when we win." Israel does not want this. Israel wants security. Israel wants quiet. Israel wants peace.
I am asked on occasion, what then is the solution? Unfortunately, as Golda Meir so prophetically proclaimed in her 1957 statement to the National Press Club in Washington, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us."
Until then, Israel will always have to be prepared for war, no matter how much she desires peace.

Related to this topic there is a fascinating analysis of the ongoing crises between Israel and Gaza explaining how it is so much more than a local conflict. The article is by Sally Buzbee, Chief of Middle East News for The Associated Press. Feel free to follow the link:

Monday, January 5, 2009

Roseanne Barr

As reported in the Jerusalem Post
In response to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, Roseanne Barr in a recent post on her blog, compared Israel to the Nazis as well as to the apartheid state of South Africa.
Ms. Barr is certainly entitled to her opinions about Israel’s actions in Gaza, but her comparisons are not only disturbing, but also downright indefensible. Nazis by definition were primarily Germans, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, who sought total domination of Europe and the extermination of an entire people. 11 million people died in Nazi death camps. This included six million Jews as well as millions of handicapped individuals, communists, members of opposition parties, gypsies, homosexuals, as well as countless others. Thus even to bring up the term Nazi when looking at the Middle East conflict is not only deliberately inflammatory, but incredibly bad use of analogy. Nazis engaged in genocide.
So, Ms. Barr, if you wish to mention the term 'Nazi', please use it in reference to Darfur or Rwanda, not to Israel. By doing so, you are only denigrating the struggle for security and peace and adding nothing new or helpful to the conversation. And worse than that, you are denigrating the memory of those 11 million who died at the hands of the Nazis simply because of who they were and for no other reason.
Israel is nothing like the Nazis. They are not seeking to slaughter millions of Palestinians. Israel gave up Gaza and has been targeting Hamas leadership, who by the way hides among civilians like cowards in schools, hospitals, and mosques.
Israel is also not like the apartheid state of South Africa. South Africans were viewed as inferior by the former British Empire and subjugated at every turn. Palestinians in many ways have only to look at themselves in the mirror to understand their plight, as any person who has studied history would understand.
True Israel has made many imperfect policy decisions, and will most likely continue to do so in the future. And we as a Jews and as concerned citizens of the world certainly have every right to question her decisions, but what we should not do in good conscience is call her either a “Nazi State” or an “Apartheid State,” because both of these statements are simply put: false, misleading, incorrect, and down right wrong.
My recommendation is to come up with a new analogy. How about: Israel is the only democracy in the middle east and is doing what it thinks is right to defend her citizens from unwarranted attacks by a group of terrorists who want nothing more than to drive all Israelis into the sea. Oh wait, that is what is actually going on and not analogous at all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gaza Continued

Here is a post I found interesting. It raises a question about the Palestinian situation and their choice of weapons of terror over feeding their population