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.