Moving Op-Ed; Hysterical Column
I thoroughly enjoyed Gedaliah Gurfein’s moving and thought-provoking salute to the IDF (“A Call to Arms: The Blessing of an Israeli Army,” op-ed, Dec. 13). The article provided such a unique and refreshing perspective on this singularly controversial topic and should be required reading for all Jew, particularly Israelis.
In a totally different vein, I would like to thank The Jewish Press once again for Mordechai Schmutter’s hysterical column You’re Asking Me? which appears in The Magazine once a month and consistently leaves me laughing out loud. Please accept my sincere appreciation for the much-needed comic relief.
With warm greetings from the frigid Holy Land,
Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
The Vatican And The Artifacts
Reader Esther Feldman, in commenting on the meeting at the Vatican between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the pope, mentions “the Vatican’s refusal to return looted Jewish artifacts,” adding that “it is common knowledge that the Vatican has vast stores of these treasures in its possession” (Letters, Dec. 13).
It may indeed be “common knowledge,” Ms. Feldman, but it is far from established fact. Even a cursory glance at history indicates that what is accepted as common knowledge in one era is often exposed at some point or another as nothing more than rumors, half-truths, or outright lies.
The fact is there is no credible eyewitness account of “vast stores” of Jewish artifacts and treasures in the Vatican. And it is totally unwarranted to assume that because Jewish valuables were brought to Rome after the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, those valuables somehow ended up in Vatican hands.
Of course, there was no Vatican at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple and for centuries afterward. Christianity was outlawed by Rome and for more than 300 years countless Christians were persecuted and murdered by the Romans. It wasn’t until the end of the fourth century that the Church was even legalized.
And so while there certainly is a possibility that some of the looted artifacts from Jerusalem eventually turned up in one or another Vatican repository or archive, there is just as much of a likelihood that by the time the Church finally established itself in Rome, many or perhaps even all of the artifacts had been defaced or destroyed, disappeared into private hands, suffered the inevitable effects of time, etc.
What this administration has failed to realize is that its words and promises, even when reduced to paper, are meaningless in the eyes of Israel as well as the greater international community.
With the failure in Egypt to protect the government of Hosni Mubarak, the endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi as ruler in Egypt, the ignominious retreat from Syria and the signing of a one-sided pact with Iran, this administration has lost all credibility.
Why would Israel and its leaders believe a U. S. protective presence in the Jordan valley, an idea the administration reportedly has floated, would be effective, much less permanent? Certainly UN forces in Lebanon did not protect Israel from Hizbullah, nor did UN troops between Egypt and Israel prior to the 1967 war prevent Egyptian aggression, as the troops were hastily withdrawn at Nasser’s demand.
Israel has gone down this route before, with grave consequences.
Silver Spring, MD
Mandela’s Life And Legacy
Abraham Foxman’s tribute to Nelson Mandela was eye-opening, emphasizing that Mandela’s embrace of the Palestinian cause was more about pragmatism than a rejection of Israel and certainly not reflective of a dislike of Jews (“How Mandela Eased Doubts Among Jewish Leaders,” op-ed, Dec. 13).
Moreover, despite whatever disappointment we might have with Mandela’s views on Israel, to dismiss the greater story of his life would be unfortunate. He achieved true greatness through the spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and rapprochement he championed despite his former treatment.
There is a history, particularly in Africa, of long oppressed populations taking savage revenge on their former persecutors. When the apartheid regime in South Africa was replaced by majority rule, it appeared to be time for payback after all the hatred and misery that had been imposed for so long. Many whites, including much of the Jewish community, fled, fearing the worst. But it did not happen, largely due to Nelson Mandela’s message was that it was time to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones.
Given that Mandela’s death and the subsequent celebration of his life occurred while we were reading the story of Joseph and his brothers, the connection with the story jumps right out at you. A prominent man, convicted due to an unjust trial by the dominant culture and condemned to long years in a terrible prison, not only retains his integrity and self-worth but becomes an inspiration to all. Suddenly the impossible happens. From the depths of the dungeon, literally overnight, he rises to become the most powerful man in the land, exhibiting a positive attitude that captivates all who meet him.
Even more on point, when Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, they are speechless, frightened of this most powerful man they had subjected to slavery, imprisonment, and possibly worse – and who could now to do with them as he wished.
But Joseph showed himself to be above revenge, pettiness, and anger. He saw himself as an instrument of Hashem who had been brought to Egypt in order to bring incredible good to not only his own family but to the whole world. He was not about to waste his time, emotions, and energy on trying to fix the wrongs of the past, which could never be undone anyway. He focused on the future and bringing peace and harmony back into the family.
Although Mandela’s imperfect version of reconciliation fell far short of the total graciousness of Joseph, it was astounding nonetheless. Let his example guide us in overlooking the pain that too often separates us and prevents us from seeing the greater good even in those who may have hurt us. May we learn to live with our differences without losing our sense of brotherhood. May we go forward to a better tomorrow, not looking back but instead walking together to a happy ending
Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer
Forest Hills, NY
Reconciliation, Not Revenge
Re Abraham Foxman’s op-ed on Nelson Mandela:
We recently read the biblical portion about Joseph’s decision not to retaliate against his brothers. There was an uncanny similarity between Joseph’s decision to seek reconciliation rather than revenge and the decision by Nelson Mandela to do the same when he came to power over the people who had humiliated and imprisoned him when he was still advocating nonviolence. (It was only after he was imprisoned that he decided nonviolence would not lead to nondiscrimination in his country.)
I doubt many rabbis took the opportunity to make such a comparison, given that Mandela was long considered a terrorist and had been supported by the likes of Arafat and Khaddafi. When Mandela was asked about these associations, he said he had not supported their terrorism but they had supported him in his time of need and he felt obliged to express appreciation. (Appreciation, or hakarat hatov, is a cornerstone of Judaism.) After Mandela’s release from prison, he also expressed appreciation of Jews and Israelis, noting in particular that many Jews in South Africa had supported his cause.
When Mandela came to power, about 80 percent of the population was black (nearly 90 percent if you add the “coloreds” to the “Africans”). He did not advocate vengeance or violence against the ten percent of his countrymen who were white (or the two percent who were Jewish).
His eschewing revenge in this context was truly heroic – almost biblical – by the standards of history.
Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq.
Editor’s Note: The writer is the author of The Maverick Rabbi, about Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, who opposed discrimination before it became politically correct to do so.
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