web analytics
March 27, 2015 / 7 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Monitor »

Remembering The Apathy


Media-Monitor-logo

The death in August 2001 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, downplayed or ignored the sheer extent of Jewish apathy and opposition to Bergson’s work – a subject addressed with passion and eloquence by historian Rafael Medoff last week and this week in The Jewish Press.

Glossed over in the coverage of Kook’s passing was the confluence of factors that precluded a more vigorous response from American Jewry to events in Europe, particularly the petty jealousies of Jewish leaders like Reform rabbi Stephen Wise – whose thin 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 both Medoff, in The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust (1986), and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, in Were We Our Brothers’ Keepers? (1985), did a fine job of it in their compelling books.

Lookstein was especially strong on Orthodox indifference. Among the astonishing things we learn from him is that “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 three issues included the opening of a yeshiva in Cape Town; the Temple of Religion exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair; and an appeal to synagogues to join in the celebration, at a special World’s Fair dinner, of the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration.

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 continued to manifest itself deep into the war years. In 1943, Lookstein pointed out, 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, there was, of course, 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 acclaimed 1994 documentary “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference,” the late Conservative rabbi Arthur Hertzberg told the story of the sermon his father, a rabbi in Baltimore, gave on Yom Kippur 1940.

“He got up in the synagogue,” Hertzberg recalled, “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.”

The veneration of Roosevelt seemingly knew no bounds, as can be glimpsed in this appalling, but not at all atypical, 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 Agudat Harabanim.

Such was the cult of FDR, at whose altar American Jews of every denominational stripe and level of religious observance happily prostrated themselves while men like Peter Bergson worked night and day to, in the words of the title of a Bergson biography, “shake heaven and earth.”

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
Republican Sen. Kirk at Senate debate on pro-sanctions amendment.
Senate Warns Obama by 100-0 Vote for Pro-Sanctions Amendment
Latest Indepth Stories
Islamic Relief Worldwide Logo

In November 2014, Islamic Relief Worldwide was classified as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates.

Safran-032715

Too rarely appreciated for its symbolic weight; it can represent freedom and independence.

Erica Pelman is a spiritually-driven woman. She is founder and director of “In Shifra’s Arms” (ISA), an organization that offers aid to pregnant Jewish women of all religious backgrounds practically, financially and emotionally. Its arms are open to any pregnant woman in need whether single, divorced, separated, or from a financially-strapped family. “Presently, we are […]

Gerstenfeld-032715

Many so-called “humanitarian NGOs” frequently abuse Israel by applying false moral equivalencies

Israeli history now has its version of “Dewey Defeats Truman” with headlines from 2 anti-Bibi papers

In God’s plan why was it necessary that Moses be raised by Pharaoh, away from his own family&people?

In their zechus may we all come to appreciate that life is a fleeting gift and resolve to spend every precious moment of it as if it were the last.

In any event, Mr. Netanyahu after the election sought to soften his statement on Palestinian statehood and apologized for what he conceded were remarks that “offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community.”

A worthy idea any way you look at it.

There is something quite distinctive about the biblical approach to time.

The Waqf kept control of the Temple Mount due to Dayan’s “magnanimity in victory” after 6 Day war

The event promotes “1 state” solution (end of Israel as a Jewish State), BDS, lawfare against Israel

I rescued you?! You’re doing me a favor letting me help you!

“Tzedakah tatzil mi-mavet: Charity saves from death”; No death & a tax break? Where do I sign up?

More Articles from Jason Maoz
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.

Comptroller DiNapoli celebrates Sukkot with Crown Heights Jewish community leaders at the sukkah of Rabbi Chanina Sperlin of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.

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.

The Clintonan “engagement” liberals remember with such fondness did nothing but embolden Arafat and Hamas and Hizbullah as they witnessed Israel’s only real ally elevate process ahead of policy.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/remembering-the-apathy/2007/06/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: