web analytics
May 30, 2015 / 12 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Monitor »

Remembering The Apathy


Media-Monitor-logo

The recent death in Israel of Hillel Kook, better known as Peter Bergson during his rescue efforts on behalf of European Jewry in the 1940’s, received a fair amount of notice in American newspapers with sizeable Jewish readerships.

Most of the obituaries, however, ignored the sheer extent of Jewish apathy and opposition to Bergson’s work. (Columns by the always reliable Eric Fettmann in the New York Post and Jonathan Tobin in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent were two sterling exceptions.)

Glossed over was the confluence of factors that precluded a more vigorous response from American Jewry, in particular the petty jealousies of Jewish leaders like the Reform rabbi Stephen Wise – whose scant knowledge of Judaism led one of his contemporaries to observe that “as a theologian, Wise is the blank page between the Old and New Testament” – and the reverence felt by American Jews for Franklin Roosevelt, whom Wise had the habit of referring to as “Boss.”

It’s not easy to convey the near-surrealistic mood of the American Jewish community in those years, but Rabbi Haskel Lookstein did a masterful job of it in his meticulously researched book Were We Our Brothers’ Keepers? Among the many astonishing things we learn from Lookstein, “The Orthodox Union, published monthly by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, had no reference whatsoever to the plight of German Jewry in the three issues following Kristallnacht.”

Subjects the Orthodox Union did manage to find space for in those issues included the opening of a yeshiva in Capetown; the Temple of Religion exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair; and an appeal to synagogues to join in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration at a special World’s Fair dinner. As Lookstein dryly noted, “For some reason – perhaps the assumption that readers would get the important news elsewhere – there was no room in the Orthodox Union for reflection on the mortal threat to German Jewry.”

(The Orthodox Union’s apathetic attitude toward events in Europe continued to manifest itself deep into the war years. Lookstein pointed out that in 1943, most of the magazine’s “gaily covered Purim issue was devoted to parochial subjects like activating the synagogue, revitalizing Orthodoxy, conducting a junior Sabbath service and the problem of Jewish youth.”)

Besides the indifference, of course, there was the looming figure of Roosevelt. “Jewish people are not supposed to worship graven images, but my mother used to kiss this little bust of Franklin Roosevelt that was on top of the big old radio,” the theatrical producer Arthur Cohen reminisced to Harvey and Myrna Frommer in their oral history Growing Up Jewish In America. “The women especially were nuts about him.”

In the 1994 documentary “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference,” the historian and Conservative rabbi Arthur Hertzberg recalled that his father, a rabbi in Baltimore, gave a sermon on Yom Kippur 1940: “He got up in the synagogue and he said, ‘Our brothers are being killed in Europe by the Nazis. If we had any Jewish dignity, we would, at the end of this fast, get into our cars and go from Baltimore to Washington. We would picket the White House and we would demand of the president that he use his influence on the Nazis, as the great neutral power, to stop the killings….’

“That night, within an hour after the end of the fast, my father got a note from the board of this little synagogue firing him for his disrespect for the president.”

That the worship of Roosevelt seemingly knew no bounds can be glimpsed in this appalling, but all too typical, statement from one of the Jewish leaders of that era:

“The greatest friend we have, who lights up the darkness of the world, is our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. His words are like balm for the broken Jewish hearts….Traditional Jewry will engrave, with the blood of our holy martyrs, the names of our president and his people in the annals of Jewish history for generations to come,” said Rabbi J. Konvitz, president of the Orthodox Agudat Harabanim.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Remembering The Apathy”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
What's happened to NYC's Celebrate Israel Parade?
Israel Rejects as ‘False’ UJA Federation’s Claims about Israel Parade ‘Inclusion’
Latest Indepth Stories
Keeping-Jerusalem

For a peace treaty with the PA, half the Israeli public would agree to divide the Jerusalem

As for the president’s new, softer tone vis-à-vis Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel, this is most likely being driven by the results of the recent Israeli election.

What especially appeals to us is his grand – some critics would say extravagant –view of what the borders of Israel should look like.

There was something else of great importance in play – something we would have liked to see him take into account before deciding to stand with the boycotters.

The establishment of Hebrew University was a cause much beloved to Einstein who in 1923, during what would be his only trip to Eretz Yisrael, delivered the university’s inaugural lecture on Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) and, discussing the theory of relativity, spoke the first few sentences of his address in Hebrew.

The Golden Square wanted Germany to destroy the British and Jewish presence in their country. The Third Reich craved what was beneath the ground – oil.

Ida Nudel’s account of how the Soviets persecuted and punished her was far worse than imagined.

Swim4Sadna is an annual event benefiting Sadna, an integrative special-ed community in Gush Etzion

Prof. Wistrich, was THE foremost historian of anti-Semitism; committed spokesman & advocate of Jewry

Jewish Voices for Peace’s 2015 Haggadah is a blatant anti-Israel screed crying, “L’chayim to BDS!”

On his shloshim, I want to discuss a term I’ve heard countless times about Rav Aharon: Gedol HaDor

After obsequious claims of devotion to Israel, Obama took to criticizing Israel on peace process

Mr. Obama, Israeli voters have democratically chosen to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea&Samaria

Netanyahu so disdains Shaked’s appointment he completely ignored her after the swearing-in ceremony

More Articles from Jason Maoz
Front-Page-051515

Some of the president’s defenders took to arguing that the overwhelming majority of German military personnel interred in Bitburg were regular Wehrmacht soldiers who died on the battlefield and likely were not involved in atrocities against civilians.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both outspokenly critical of Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress, were wowed by him in 2011.

Note also the response to the speech by the top Democrats in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both of whom have been outspoken in their criticism of Netanyahu’s upcoming visit.

The New York State comptroller manages the state’s $180.7 billion pension fund, audits the spending practices of all state agencies and local governments, oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System, reviews the New York State and City budgets, and approves billions in State contracts and spending.

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

When you grow up in a home where your parents went through what my parents went through, you realize that life has to be meaningful. You have to be there for other people.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

Wye would be seen to have set the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state

These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/media-monitor-131/2001/09/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: