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December 29, 2014 / 7 Tevet, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘American Jewry’

Ed Koch, FDR, and the Holocaust

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Mayor Koch last night took on the ghost of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” an item in the New York Daily News in 1988 began, which probably surprised no one, since Ed Koch had spent a lifetime taking on everybody who deserved to be taken on, whether they were alive or dead. Indeed, his willingness to vigorously battle for what he believed and let the chips fall where they may was precisely what endeared Koch to so many people across the political spectrum.

As a historian who has written about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, what intrigued me about that 1988 speech was the unique way in which the New York City mayor framed his criticism of FDR: “I will never forgive him for closing the doors to Jews who could have left Germany. Never will I forgive him. If you believe in purgatory – and I don’t even know what it is – that’s where he is, for that sin.”

In the years to follow, as Mayor Koch and I became friends and then coauthors, I had the opportunity to speak with him about that “purgatory” remark. And when a reporter from Italian National Television who was scheduled to interview Koch on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz asked me what topics I thought he should raise, I suggested bringing up the purgatory issue.

“I think it’s a Catholic expression,” Koch told him. “I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish. I don’t think Jews have purgatory. I’m not really sure, I’m not religious myself, although I believe in God. But ‘purgatory’ [means] that you have an opportunity to deal with your sinful life and ultimately get to Heaven…you have to spend a time in purgatory, winning the right to enter Heaven.”

President Roosevelt “did many, many good things,” Koch emphasized, recalling FDR’s role in “saving the United States from the Depression” and leading America against Hitler in World War II. But FDR “also had an opportunity to save Jews before World War II,” and his failure to do is what landed him in purgatory, Koch explained. He cited Roosevelt’s decision to turn away the refugee ship St. Louis; his refusal to instruct the State Department to permit Jewish immigration up to the maximum allowed by law (the quotas were woefully under-filled); and the sham Evian Conference of 1938, which the Roosevelt administration convened to give the impression of concern for the Jewish refugees, without actually doing anything to aid them.

For me, however, perhaps the most significant part of the interview was Koch’s analysis of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the public mood in those days, was it politically possible for FDR to have done much for the Jews? Scholars looking at this issue tend to rely on newspaper reports, public opinion polls about prejudice, and statistics about the size of anti-Semitic organizations. But an eyewitness account can be very revealing. And Koch, having grown up in hardscrabble neighborhoods in Newark and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, had much to say about the subject.

“Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America in those years, but that is no excuse for Roosevelt’s inaction, which was vile,” Koch asserted. “A leader has to lead. He has to try to change minds.”

What about claims that helping the Jews would have undermined Roosevelt’s ability to convince the public to fight Hitler? “I don’t accept that,” Koch said. “I believe that the American public could have accepted saving Jews.” He wasn’t a sociologist. He just knew what he had experienced among the people he met in the neighborhoods where he lived and worked. Some were bigots. But most weren’t.

Koch wasn’t just speculating when he expressed his faith in the basic decency of most Americans. In April 1944 – while the Holocaust still raged, and before the deportations of Hungarian Jews began – the White House quietly commissioned a Gallup Poll on the subject. It asked the public about offering “temporary protection” to Jews fleeing Hitler. The supposedly anti-Semitic American public supported the idea by a margin of seventy percent to twenty-three percent. Despite that overwhelming public sentiment, President Roosevelt agreed to create just one refugee camp – in upstate New York, where some nine hundred eighty-two refugees were brought in the summer of 1944.

Is Consent for Metzitza B’Peh Really about Banning Circumcision?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

The welfare of Klal Yisroel will be upheld. This is how I see the new regulation requiring informed consent before performing Metzitza B’Peh (MbP).

For those not up to speed about this ritual procedure – it involves suctioning off the blood by mouth from a circumcision wound. The Gemarah, in its description of the very important Mitzvah of Bris Milah, explains the procedure for that in relative detail.

As has always been the case throughout Jewish history, the rabbis understood that the Torah always put the health of the individual above just about all else. So they mandated what was a safety feature of the bris – the suctioning of the blood (metzitza) off the wound so that it would not become a source of infection. In fact that is clearly how metzitza is stated in the Gemarah. As a safety precaution.

So according to the Gemarah even though it does not invalidate the actual bris if metzizah is not done, it is nonetheless a Halachic requirement to do so.

The Gemarah does not describe the method of suction one must use. It just says “metzitza” – suction. Historically the most efficient method was to simply suction it off quickly by mouth. For thousands of years that is how every bris was done. Until the 19th century. At that time many of the greatest poskim of the era allowed alternative methods of suctioning after there were some deaths attributed to a possibly infected mohel.

But that did not stop the hardcore traditionalists from insisting that doing so by mouth was not only preferable but required! Those who argued saying that there were legitimate poskim who permitted non-oral suction methods were rebuffed with claims that these poskim never intended their kulos (leniencies) to be permanent.

They insist that MbP is an integral part of the bris. Here is the way the Forward put it in the name of one of the most prominent mohalim, Rabbi Avrohom Cohn who heads the American Board of Ritual Circumcision and who is in the forefront of fighting this new regulation:

[T]he ultra-Orthodox minority who do use metzitzah b’peh, including members of Cohn’s group, avow that this technique must be part of the circumcision ritual in order to fulfill divine commandments set out in the Torah and the Talmud. Personally I don’t know how they can make that claim. If there were ever circumcisions done without MbP, they would be invalid by this definition. Which would make those poskim guilty of being machti es haRabim (causing the public to sin). Besides – what would those poskim gain by omitting MbP? Why bother doing it at all?! If MbP is integral then there was no point to doing a bris! Furthermore they are casting aspersions on every circumcision that does not do MbP.

Nonetheless they feel that any interference with that practice violates their right to practice their religion as they see fit. Even New York city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygene (DOHMH) requirement to sign an informed consent form stating they have been made aware of the possible risk of infection to the child.

One may ask, “What is the big deal?” “Let them sign the forms and they can do what they want!” That’s how I feel about it. But they feel they cannot sign a document that would in effect be saying that Halacha as they understand it is dangerous to your health.

They claim is that there is no danger to a child that has MbP. That’s the way it has been done for millennia. And that there is no poof that the few babies that died were because of infections transferred by mouth from the mohel. And that even if it were proven in one or 2 cases – the statistical probability of it happening is negligible considering the tens of thousands of times each year MbP was done without incident.

The Department of Health obviously disagrees and points to studies that have show a strong likelihood of several babies being infected by a mohel with the herpes virus. From the Forward:

More recent DOHMH studies have revealed 12 area infants who have contracted herpes after circumcision. with two of the infants dying soon after.

And since herpes can be asymptomatic, the risks are real, small though they may be. Hence the regulation. Which carries financial penalties if not followed.

Atlanta is a Hard Place for Orthodox Jews to Leave

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Atlanta, GA, is a hard place for Orthodox Jews to leave: That was the message I got from my Shabbat hosts in Atlanta.  That is even though they are dreaming of making Aliyah to Israel and even own homes/apartments there.  Everything they need for a full, fulfilling, rewarding Torah Jewish life can be conveniently found in their Atlanta neighborhood.

From their stories, even the local Christians are friendly an supportive.  This pocket of America is very anti-Obama.  They told me that Obama is costing them money in added taxes. That is as employees and business owners.  I met a number of their friends and that was the message.Jews and Christians from what I understand are to the right of the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu.  They insist that your ordinary American does not see why Israel should cede any land to the Arabs.  It makes no sense to them at all.This jives 100% with the Christians I’ve met over the thirty plus years I’ve lived in Shiloh and hosted and led groups of religious Christians who have toured Shiloh’s holy spots.

If the State of Israel, Prime Minister on down would just announce, inflexibly that we declare sovereignty over all of Judea, Samaria, Jordan Valley, Golan etc, no negotiations, they would back us.  Your ordinary person in the States, according to them, accepts the 1967 Six Day War victory as the legal defeat of the Arab armies, Jordan, Egypt and Syria, which had tried to destroy the State of Israel.  We never fought a country called “Palestine,” since there never was one in the entire history of the world.  The so-called “Palestinian People” is a fiction invented/created to undermine and destroy the Jewish State of Israel.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

The Super Narishkeit Bowl

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Narishkeit means foolishness. It’s something that some people consider important, but which really isn’t important at all. Like the Super Bowl. Such a big deal is made of it! What for? What’s the big deal about watching 20 people running after a pigskin and tackling the poor shmoh who’s got the ball? Narishkeit. Bitul Torah. A total waste of time.

Once again, all I can say is: thank God I live in Israel! Here, if you didn’t click on CNN, you wouldn’t know it was Super Narishkeit Sunday at all. All the hoopla and nonsense surrounding the game simply doesn’t exist here. Who cares? What’s it have to do with the Jewish People. Zero. It’s a pastime of another country. Why should a Jew fill his head with such nonsense?

It’s the same thing with the World Series. In Israel, you wouldn’t know that there is such a thing if you didn’t walk into the dormitory of some yeshiva where American kids are studying. For them, it’s like the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, but Israelis couldn’t care less. Why should they?

Thank God I live in Israel where all of that nurishkeit doesn’t exist. It’s the same thing with Xmas. Here in Israel, if you didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in Bethlehem, you’d never know it was Xmas. The two month long tidal wave of Xmas jingles, Xmas stockings, Xmas store display, Santa Clauses, and Xmas trees, just doesn’t exist here. Why should it? This is the Jewish Land. The Holy Land. The nurishkeit of the gentiles doesn’t belong here in the Land of the Jews.

Sure, there’s imported Western trash here as well that secular Israelis love to imitate, but it gets swallowed up by the overall holiness of the Land. Just the fact that we don’t have the Super Bowl, the World Series, Xmas, and Groundhogs Day is proof.

The same thing goes with the Academy Awards. It doesn’t exist here. Yes, the morning after on the radio, there’s a mention of the winners at the end of the news, but there’s none of the preoccupation with the gods and goddesses of Hollywood, their see-through dresses and latest affairs. Who cares?

Thank God I live in Israel, the Land of the Jews, and not in a foreign land like America, where the Jews identify with everything foreign and think that things like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards are important, who keep Shabbos, but come Saturday night, unscrew their heads, store them away in the closet for next Shabbos, and put on gentile heads instead so they can go out to the movies and, come Sunday, watch the Game of the Week with its thrilling cheerleader close-ups.

Sure, when I lived in America, I watched the Super Bowl too. And the World Series. And the Academy Awards right to the end. But since I became religious and moved to Israel, I have absolutely zero interest in any of those things. Zero. I honestly can’t even tell you what teams are playing in the Super Bowl. I don’t know who’s won the World Series for the last 30 years, and in the same three decades, I haven’t seen more than five movies (when I gave lectures on screenwriting) and I don’t miss movies at all.

After all, who has time to sit in the dark and watch narishkeit? We have a country to build.

Observations on American Jewry

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I’ve been in Phoenix, Arizona for almost a week.  Although I’ve been here a number of times before, this is the first visit in which I’ve met up with the Jewish community.

Since I’ve been there before, I do know that there are some kosher restaurants, which not every Jewish community has.  That’s an indication of numbers and also of Jewish tourism.

I have friends who have lived in the Phoenix area, which includes Scottsdale and Tempe, and from them I’ve learned that there are a number of synagogues and the usual controversies and “feuds.”

Considering that my Phoenix friends are very connected to Israel, mostly living in Israel, I was surprised by how many people I met on Shabbat who have never been there.  The reasons are mainly financial.  Just to remind you, not all American Jews are wealthy.  I was in the Young Israel of phoenix, which is a very warm and welcoming community.

I had been asked to speak to the women’s class on Shabbat.  Since Shabbat was TU B’Shavat, the 35th anniversary of the return of Jews to Shiloh.  Shiloh, where I live, is now a nice sized active and warm community.  It’s located in the same spot where biblical Shiloh was.  Barely a mile from my house is the location where the Biblical Tabernacle was located for 369 years.

Since I traveled the day after Israeli elections, I’m not all that up to date with the news in Israel and was concerned that people would want information I couldn’t give.  But besides my host, who has an excellent knowledge of what’s happening in Israel, most people I met weren’t really interested.

In Israel, many of us mistakenly think that world Jewry and international politicians have nothing else on their minds but what’s happening in Israel.  The truth is the opposite, and if Israeli politicians, media, etc, would stop trying to please “the world,” then we’d be totally ignored.  There would be lots less pressure on Israel. Just like any other bully situation, the best defense is using strength against them.  All we have to do is tell all the international diplomats to mind their own business and we must stick to that line.  Don’t discuss the issues at all.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Draft Diaspora Jews into the IDF!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Is a Jewish kid in Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Beverly Hills less Jewish than my kids are? Is the Land of Israel less of a homeland for American Jews than it is for Israelis? Why should we, the Israelis, be the ones to fight the enemies of Israel, and not Diaspora Jews as well?

If you answer, “Because I’m an America citizen,” that doesn’t cut the cake. I’m an America citizen too, but I served in the IDF. The fact that a Jew is a United States citizen, or a German citizen, or a citizen of Zululand, is merely a technicality. So what if you have a U.S. passport? If you move to England, you can become a citizen of England, and from there, you can move to Switzerland and get a Swiss passport too. It’s all just an administrative technicality. A Jew is a Jew. That’s what the Nazis taught us. Whether a Jew was a German, or a Pole, or a Rumanian, or a Hungarian, they were all herded onto trains for the ovens.

Let me try to explain something, please. In this week’s Torah portion, as we receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, we are “like one man with one heart.” At Sinai, we didn’t only receive the Torah, we received a national Israelite soul that made us, and our descendants forever after us, a part of the Israelite Nation. The Jewish People aren’t like other people in the world. Yes, we all have eyes and ears and legs, but whereas other people possess individual souls, we possess the national, collective soul of Clal Yisrael, the Community of Israel, Knesset Yisrael.

Our Sages teach that this national soul is something unique to the Jewish People. Other nations are groupings of individuals who come together for some common interest and purpose, whether it be for self-defense, or economic strength, and the like. They are like individuals who buy stock in a company, in order to benefit from its revenues, but they aren’t the company itself. The Nation of Israel is different. Wherever we may be, we have the unique national soul of the Jewish People who stood at Mount Sinai, which makes a Jew, first and foremost, a Jew wherever he may wander. He may hold an American passport, but his soul is 100% strictly kosher – Hebrew National, to make a pun.

This national soul makes us Israelis wherever we may wander. We are members of the Nation of Israel – the Children of Israel. The word Jew doesn’t exist in the Torah. It’s a deviation of the exile, as in Mordechai the Jew, meaning someone who was exiled from the kingdom of Judah. In our essence, we are the Children of Israel, whether we live in Boston or LA.

True, this national soul doesn’t come to expression when we are alienated from our Land and exiled amongst the nations. Without our own Land, we exist as individuals, operating on a low-level individual soul, while our national soul is in the garage getting fixed. But with our return to our national Land, our giant national soul returns too. In effect, we become giant Jews, part of a powerful Jewish Nation, the reborn Nation of Israel, with a Jewish government, and Jewish economy, and Jewish army. Instead of tiny, lilliputian individual souls, we become national giants – Israelis, Divinely empowered with new found courage and strength.

The Jews of the Diaspora have this giant national soul too, but it’s defused, deactivated, in hibernation, like a vestigial organ, as long as they’re outside of the Land of Israel. But they are the Children of Israel nevertheless. Israel is their one and only true Land, and they have the duty to defend it just like the Israelis who live there.

The Opposition (or Lack thereof) to Hagel

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Three thoughts as the U.S. Senate gears up to consider on Jan. 31 the nomination of Chuck Hagel for the position of secretary of defense:

(1) It’s more than a bit curious that Barack Obama should nominate a politician of no distinction, with no significant bills to his name, no administrative accomplishments, and no known ideas, to the hugely important post of secretary of defense. It’s even more curious that Hagel is known for only two foreign policy/defense views: being soft on Iran and hostile to Israel. This certainly sends a strong signal to Israel.

(2) It’s been dismaying to note that, after an initial expression of skepticism, American Jewish institutions have taken a pass on the Hagel nomination. It would appear that, for them, access trumps other considerations.

(3) In contrast, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), released a statement expressing opposition to Hagel on account of his “unacceptable blindness to the greatest security threat of our day,” namely Iran and Hezbollah. In addition, CUFI announced that at least 400 Christian leaders will travel to Capitol Hill this week to lobby representatives of all 100 senators.

Comment: Odd that CUFI is out there swinging and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is silent.

Visit DanielPipes.com.

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