Latest update: June 5th, 2012
One of Rabbi Kahane’s most powerful essays, “What Makes Bernie Run?” was published in The Jewish Press in 1976. Unfortunately, its scathing message is as true today as it was back then, almost 35 years ago.
We have written about programs like Birthright in the past. Sure it’s a great thing to send young Jews to Israel for an inspirational visit. If even one Jew ends up marrying a Jewish mate because of it, and coming on aliyah, then all of the millions of dollars are worth it. But, after these kids return to their college campuses and their enticing shiksa classmates, their experience in Israel will all too often turn into a fading memory with snapshots they can show to the shiksas they marry. If he is still charged up from his visit, maybe Bernie will insist that Brigette undergo some worthless conversion. Maybe he’ll get her to light Sabbath candles and tell their kids that they’re Jews. And when they grow up, maybe Bernie’s gentile’s children will pass themselves off as the real thing and get some poor Jewish sucker to marry them. What a mess it will be! There will even be “Jewish” weddings where both the bride and groom are gentiles. Soon in America, you won’t be able to know if the person you are marrying is really a Jew, or if he or she innocently believes they’re Jewish because that’s what their parents told them, and the rabbis and temples and Jewish establishment all went along with the charade. And now that the Attorney General in Israel has cleared the way to pay reform “rabbis,” thus recognizing their services to their communities, this terrible danger may spread to the Holy Land where intermarriage has been less than one percent up till now.
Rabbi Kahane envisioned it all. Here is his article. It’s long, but it’s an incredible, dynamite piece of writing that tells the truth in the brilliant, straight-to-the-jugular way which characterizes the Rabbi’s writings. He published 22 books and authored well over 1,000 articles before being assassinated in 1990. With the brave backing of The Jewish Press, he wrote scores of essays for the newspaper using a variety of pen names. But until last year, the overwhelming majority of his articles were only available in the archives of The Jewish Press building. Now, after a heroic ten-year effort by David Fine, a seven-volume set containing many of these articles has been published. Called Beyond Words: Selected Writings, 1960-1990, the collection spans 3,500 pages with most of the best articles that Rabbi Kahane ever wrote.
Beyond Words also includes several indexes in Volume 7 that enable the reader to find articles by subject, by title, and even by the references in the article to specific quotations from the Torah and the Talmud. To order in Israel, call 02-582-3540.
WHAT MAKES BERNIE RUN?
Rabbi Meir Kahane
(Federal prison, Manhattan, Lag Ba’Omer, April 29, 1975)
Once there was a television program, which centered about the theme of intermarriage. The heroes of the piece were named Bernie and Brigitte. The American Jewish Establishment put great pressure on the particular network that televised the series and the program was ultimately dropped. Bernie and Brigitte were no longer. They had been canceled…
How relatively simple it was to cancel Bernie and Brigitte on television and how much more difficult to struggle against the curse and cancer of intermarriage and assimilation that exists in real American Jewish life. How simple to picket a television series to death and how hard to stamp out the disease that afflicts us daily in the real-life existence that is the lot of American Jewry. lf we no longer find Bernie and Brigitte strolling hand in hand across our television screens we need only look at our campuses, at our streets at our neighborhoods, Bernie is alive and well.
What makes Bernie run? What makes Bernie run after Brigitte? What makes Bernie run away from Judaism and cut the chain of generations? What makes Bernie run away from the Judaism that his great-grandfather clutched at the risk of loss of happiness material wealth and so often very life? What makes Bernie run? This is the question that drives the American Jewish Establishment to frantically set up committees, study groups, surveys and commissions. This is the question that drives them to study the problem again and again and then again. This is the question to which they allocate so much time and so much communal money. This is the question that is at the top of their puzzled order of priorities, over which they scratch their collective well-groomed heads: What makes Bernie run?
The puzzled shepherds of the American Jewish communities can close down their study groups and their commissions and their committees: they can put an end to the learned and expensive surveys. They can stop spending Jewish communal funds. What makes Bernie run away from Judaism? Who created that Bernie who turns from Judaism in disgust or in indifference? Who created the Bernie who pants after a shiksa or who marches for Jesus or Trotsky or Arafat or for nothing Jewish? Who created a Bernie who finds Judaism as unimportant as the color of his hair?
Why, the answer is obvious: The very same Establishment groups who are busily creating the committees, commissions, study groups and surveys to find out the answer to these questions. Who made Bernie run away from Judaism? The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the B’nai Brith, the federations on every level and in every locality, the temple rabbis and Bernie’s most intimate Establishment figures- his parents.
All of these are the criminals. All of these had a hand in murdering Bernie as a Jew. All of these robbed him of his heritage, of the beauties of his inheritance. All of these make Bernie run. The Jewish Establishment groups – The AJCommittee, the Congress, the B’nai Brith, the federations, ALL the spokesmen for the American Jewish community – the ruling clique, uniformly marched down the American road with a melting pot under their arms, beating it over and over again and shouting forth the Eleventh Commandment to the American Jew: Thou shalt melt!
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt amalgamate, thou shalt be an American as all others. They beat the drums for interfaith, exchanging pulpits with ministers enthusiastically, in a frantic effort to prove to Christian and Jew alike that there is essentially no difference between them. They were partially successful – the Christians were not convinced but the Jews were.
Thou shalt melt, thou shalt integrate, thou shalt Americanize thyself and so they raised high the banner of the public school and fought, with a zeal no one knew that they possessed, the one weapon that might have given Bernie knowledge, and a sense of pride and roots. In fear and with hostility, they declared a holy war against the Jewish Day School, the parochial school, and the yeshiva. They piously rationalized their struggle on the sacred grounds of separation of church and state but the real reason for their war (and they took the lead among all Americans in fighting the slightest aid to parochial schools) was their fear and consequent hatred of the parochialism and separatism of the yeshiva. The yeshiva threatened them with too much Jewishness! What would the gentile say if Jews were too Jewish, If they looked and behaved too differently, if their profile was not properly low? How did one mix easily with gentiles in the non-kosher country clubs they were so eager to join; how did one assimilate if Jews did not learn to drop the embarrassing customs, habits and old ritual baggage?
The public school! This was the way to equality, to uniformity, to mixing and assimilating. And so, they urged their flock to send Bernie to the public school (and the flock, as eager to mix as the shepherds, needed little urging). Bernie went to public school.
And today as the shepherds run frenziedly about surveying Bernie and asking him, where did you meet Brigitte? He calmly answers: “Why, in the public school in the public school; in the public school to which you sent me!”
Who made Bernie what he is? Who made Bernie run? The Establishment groups, and leaders who took a Judaism of particularism, of separatism, of uniqueness, of DIFFERENCE, and who- in their fears, insecurities and ignorance- created an American brand that leveled all uniqueness, ‘proved’ that Jews and Christians were no different, and eliminated every logical and moral reason to be different. They created Bernie: they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from Judaism? Who else made Bernie what he is and is not? The massive, gaudy mausoleums that dot the landscape of every Jewish suburb. The temples. The temples whose senior rabbi is the caterer. The temples that perform human sacrifice rites each Sabbath morning and they call them, The Bar Mitzvah.
The Bar Mitzvah, that is not the beginning of a Jew but his end, his spiritual death. The Bar Mitzvah- that culmination of an empty, vapid, childish, shallow Jewish “education,” taught by men and women whose ignorance and lack of Jewish content makes them superb vehicles for the “education” they pass on. The Bar Mitzvah, that obscene cult of ostentatiousness, the ultimate in Jewish status seeking, the competitive drive to bankrupt that pathetic and hapless “father of the Bar Mitzvah.” The Bar Mitzvah where the young lamb babbles the words he neither understands nor cares to, to the accompanying nachas, pride, of beaming women and men who would not know a correct word from a mistake, whose ignorance is sublime and whose disgusting display of conspicuous vulgarity sends God fleeing from the mausoleum in wrath…
The Bar Mitzvah whose necessary “religious” interlude long ago was subordinated to the piece-de-resistance of the entire immorality play – the “reception.” The sickening waste of money and degrading of Judaism, where materialism runs amok in the guise of religion, where drunks and half-dressed women dance and give praise to the Lord, with African dance, American tunes, and universal abomination. The Bar Mitzvah where the assimilationists, ignoramuses and despoilers of Judaism, beam with patronizing pleasure as the decrepit grandmother- Bubby- is resurrected from her nursing home or Miami Beach condominium and trotted out to light a candle to the applause of the go-go girls and dirty comedians waiting to do their act.
The temple, where man thinks up God rather than admit that He made him. The temples, where the Jew can create any kind of religion that he cares to and call it Judaism. The temple, where things too difficult are junked and where from the Board of Directors shall come forth Torah and the voice of the Lord from the approving Sisterhood membership. The temple, run by men whose ignorance of Judaism is exceeded only by their arrogant insistence on saluting it. The temple, where Bernie visits “God” and meets “Judaism” and flees from it in horror. The temples: they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run from Judaism? The temple rabbis. The kept theologians who knowingly preside over fraud and grotesque jokes. The well-paid functionaries whose salaries are payments to hold their silence and to declare light, darkness and darkness, light: to give their stamp of kashrut on the impure meat that their temples serve up as “Judaism.” The bribe takers whose eyes are blinded and consciences dulled by kavod, the honor of sitting on the pulpit before the eyes of the congregants, and by the comfortable salary augmented by the offerings of thankful beneficiaries of weddings, funerals and unveilings. The false prophets who hold their silence as Judaism is twisted, perverted, turned into a humorless joke and who, knowing their own corruptness and fraud of soul, rush to justify the fraud by ‘rabbinical’ or lingo that pronounce them “good.” The temple rabbis who take a Judaism of Divinity and truth and go about Reconstructing it and Reforming it and making a mockery of Conserving it.
The temple rabbis who took the age-old axiom of Revelation, real Revelation, upon which is built the Divinity of Torah and junked it. The temple rabbis who made Judaism the product of ”wise men” (and if so, are there not wise Christians and Buddhists and atheists) and thus removed any sacredness and necessary reason for observance. The temple rabbis, so many of whom do not believe in God, who took the real and awesome Jewish God of history who made man and Created all and who rewards and punishes, and exchanged Him for a “god” who is “the spirit within man,” indistinguishable from indigestion…They are the models of Jewish “religious” leadership we give unto Bernie, these empty vessels whose greatest fortune is that their congregants know even less, about Judaism than they do.
These are your rabbis, Oh Bernie, and then we wonder why he refuses to enter the temple over which they preside. Only they themselves know what frauds they are; only they, in their hearts, know what a life of lies they lead: only they, in the inner recesses of their being, know the self- hate and contempt they feel for themselves each day that they have to perform acts of faith they no longer believe in and teach a religion that long ago they secretly began to doubt. The temple rabbis; they created Bernie, they made Bernie run.
And who else made Bernie run away from the embrace of Judaism into Brigitte’s waiting arms? The parents, the good Jewish parents. The loving Jewish mother who took off her golden nose rings and made a Golden Calf, which she worships avidly. The Golden Calf called “success” and “money” and “making it” and “my son-the-doctor.” The Golden Calf of material success before which she burns incense and for which she threw the God of Jewish values into the trash cans of medieval obscurantism. The Jewish father whose values are those of the garment center and the racetrack and bagels and lox on Sunday morning before taking the family out to the Chinese restaurant on Sunday after-noon. The Jewish father who tries to think like a gentile, act like a gentile, dress like a gentile, drink like a gentile, and curse like a gentile and then demand that Bernie marry a “nice Jewish girl.”
The Jewish parents whose credo is upward and upward in wealth and status and who created a comfortable Judaism that would accommodate their needs. Who moved to the suburbs and created a suburban Judaism, and a suburban God, ethical and cultured and nice- a vaguely Jewish Santa Claus. Who turned down the Orthodox synagogue of their parents, grandparents and generations beyond because it was too Jewish and too out of step with modern times and too difficult and too outmoded and not compatible with the new pagan-Jewish lifestyle they were creating. Who turned either to the Reform that gave both status (how familiar their Christian friends would find it if ever they stopped by) as well as license (one could be almost anything and do the same in that incredible anarchy known as Reform or -better still- to that new and upcoming movement known as “Conservatism.”
How many Jewish refugees from Brooklyn and the Bronx arrived in their new status symbols in Massapequa find themselves surrounded by strange natives known generally as “goyim” with large tribal groups called “Protestants?” How many of the Jews, in panic, fearing that Bernie would come home with a Mary rather than a Shirley banded together to build a quick temple of “Jewish Center” to save their precious ones? How many of them who did not know a Jewish concept from a Catholic catechism decided to call it ‘Conservative’ because Orthodox is ‘too old-fashioned’ and Reform is ‘like a church?’ And how amazed was the minuscule, unimportant Conservative movement to be suddenly besieged with requests for ‘Conservative rabbis’ that did not exist? And how many Conservative temples were suddenly hiring Orthodox rabbis who prostituted themselves to the Long Island god of gold? And how true it is that it was not the Conservative movement (sic) that built all the new temples that suddenly made them so prominent but the ordinary, ignorant Jews who bought a temple just as they bought any other commodity they needed and who set the terms of the deal. Bernie’s Parents bought their temple and their rabbi and proceeded to create Judaism and God in their own image. The garment center knew exactly how to cut a suit to fit…
Judaism, but not too much, If Bernie was sent to that vast cultural wasteland known as the “religious” or “Hebrew” school which he so despised, it was not so much that he become religious as so that he might acquire ‘culture.’ (At least enough to let him babble the proper words on the great day of Bar Mitzvah initiation rites.) lf he came home and mentioned something about Sabbath observance or a ban on ham and bacon, his parents smiled and told him that “we are not sending you there for that” or “you do not have to listen to everything the teacher says.” They played games with Bernie and thought that they could deceive him never realizing in their own stupidity, that no one can ultimately deceive a child. They created a fraud and thought that they could foist it on their Bernie. They created a Judaism that was created in their own image- a Cohenism or a Goldbergism or a Schwartzism and tried to pretend that it was Judaism. They defrauded themselves because it so suited them and thought that Bernie would grow up to be as fraudulent, hypocritical, materialistic and disgusting as they. But he did not. That which makes Sammy run does not necessarily affect Bernie.
They thought that Judaism was a faucet that could be turned on and off at will. They wanted to give up the uncomfortable and the inconvenient things but still keep the ‘important’ things, like marrying a Shirley. Bernie was honest. He took the whole thing and junked it. He turned on the faucet all the way and Judaism spilled out in to it. He married Brigitte to the wailing of his parents who shrieked to one and all: Where did we go wrong??
Where did they go wrong??
Where did they go right??
When one thinks about it, the gall and the arrogance of Bernie’s murderers are stupefying. All of them- sleek Jewish Establishment organizations and their portly leaders; the million-dollar temple-mausoleums; the temple rabbi-functionaries; the pitiful and hapless parents. All those whose yardstick was “what will the gentile say” and who proceeded to tailor their ‘Judaism’ to fit not the Jew but the gentile; all those spiritual schizophrenics who did not know whether they were Jews or not, fish or fowl, meat or milk; all these now point their grubby accusing fingers at Bernie and shout indignantly:
“Why are you such a bad Jew? Why are you a traitor to your people? Why can’t you marry a nice Jewish girl, Iike your mother? Why do you want to marry Brigitte the shiksa?”
The hypocrisy is nauseating and amusing at the same time, but Bernie listens and finds nothing humorous in it. “Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not? She is good looking, polite and doesn’t nag. Why do I want to marry Brigitte? Why not?
What is a nice Jewish girl like my mother? One who desecrates the Sabbath like my mother? So does Brigitte. One who eats non-kosher food like dear Mom? So does Brigitte. One who comes to synagogue three times a year to parade about it in our version of Eastern parade? Brigitte has the real thing.”
Of course, what Bernie is really saying — NO, CRYlNG OUT — is: “Tell me someone. Why should I be a Jew? Why is it so important to be a Jew? What difference does it make? Why not knock down the barriers between religions, nations and groups once and for all? What is there to Judaism that is so unique and special that I should adhere to it faithfully and marry within my faith? Why be a Jew!!!
It is an agonizing cry from the souls of tens of thousands of young Jews who assimilate, integrate and disappear into the outer space beyond Judaism. It is THE cry, THE question. It is asked by young men and women who have seen the emptiness and the vapidness of the Judaism they grew up with. It is asked by young Jews who have seen the ugliness and the vulgarity of their empty temples and the fraud and bankruptcy of their temple rabbis. It is asked by young people whose ‘Judaism’ gives nothing, absolutely nothing, in terms of ideals, self-sacrifice and meaning. It comes from those who equate the ‘Judaism’ they know with ostentatious wealth, fat and contented leaders paying lip service to God and ‘religion’ and the reality of that religion in the form of rabbis who do not believe in the Divinity of Torah or (increasingly) in God and in lay people whose ignorance of anything Jewish is compensated for by Hadassah and UJA checks.
Those who murdered Bernie took a Judaism of their ancestors that was strong and powerful enough to withstand inquisitions and Crusades and pogroms and Kishinevs and Auschwitzes, big and small. It was a Judaism that lived because its adherents were ready to die for it. It was a Judaism of the zeyde who believed in God and proved it by observing His commandments. It was a Judaism that came from God and not from man. It was a Judaism whose rabbis and leaders knew Torah, not the latest best-selling book list and who did as they said, setting a supreme example for the Bernies of old who knew why Judaism was different, who never for a moment thought of Brigitte.
The murderers took this and threw it away, exchanging it for ‘American Judaism,’ a grotesque mixture of Myron Cohen jokes, Miami Beach, UJA checks, Hadassah membership, Jewish food and Moshe Dayan eye-patches. It was a ‘Judaism’ that was stripped of all non-essentials so as to lighten the burden on the long-distance Jewish swimmer through the American waters of assimilation, equality and brotherhood. It was a “Judaism” whose adherents beamed as their leaders got it down to “ethics.” Ethics! As if that was the beginning and end of Judaism. As if Christians and Shintoists could not be ethical, too. As if Brigitte was necessarily less ethical than Shirley. Ethics- intoned the well-paid rabbi from his magnificently furnished pulpit. Ethics- that is Judaism. lf that’s all there is, then Bernie knows that Judaism has lost any exclusive hold on him. Everyone, today, is ethical. George Meany is ethical and Nelson Rockeffeller is ethical and Rev. Moon is ethical and Prince Sihanouk is ethical and the late King Faisel was ethical, as are his un-countable sons. Is that all there is to Judaism? lf that is all there is, then stop lecturing Bernie as he marches into the sun with his ethical shiksa. Bernie wants to know what is exclusive about Judaism, what is unique, what is special, what it has that others do not. Bernie wants to know this and those who murdered him have no answers for him. The head of the B’nai Brith has no answer for him. The temple caterer has no answer for him, nor the Board Chairman, nor the Sisterhood president. The temple rabbi has no answer for him. Mother and father surely have no answer for him. All of these have no answers for him because all of these have no answers for themselves.
Judaism lives or dies on the unique fact that God Revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave the Jew a truth that no one else has. Judaism lives or dies on the fact that the Bible and the Talmud with their laws, commandments, statutes and ordinances were divinely revealed and that the only way to holiness and true goodness comes from the observance of Torah laws. This is what kept Bernie’s zeyde and bubby Jewish; nothing else. This is a reason for being Jewish. This is a reason for not marrying Brigitte. All the rest is fraud and buff. Poor Bernie, victim of the worst kind of robbery – the taking of his heritage and reason for being. lf only he would realize that the ‘Judaism’ that he saw his entire life was anything but that. lf only he realized that he was the victim of the worst kind of spiritual swindle. How fortunate he would be. How joyous and happy and how meaningful would his life become if he rediscovered the Judaism of his ancestors that was sold on the American continent for thirty pieces of dross. Jewish is beautiful if you do not play games with it- or with yourself. lf only Bernie understood. How fortunate he would be. He could then turn in his Brigitte for a reason for being.
A reason for being Jewish.
Rabbi Meir KahaneTzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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