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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘education’

The Shadow of the Gun

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Every day another one of the stories comes in. A teacher panicked by a plastic gun, an army man on a cupcake, a t-shirt, a pop tart chewed into the shape of a gun or a finger gun hits the panic button. Suspensions and lectures quickly follow as the latest threat to the gun-free zone, usually in the form of a little boy, is tackled to the ground and lectured to within an inch of his life.

Tellingly these incidents rarely take place in the inner city schools where teenage gang members walk through metal detectors at the start of the day. The safety officers in those schools, big weary men with eyes that look everywhere at once, don’t waste their time on toys. Not unless those toys are full-size, painted black and filed down to look like real guns.

It’s usually the schools where a shooting is wholly unlikely; where gun violence is not a daily reality, but an unlikely convergence of horror, that institutional vigilance hits an irrational peak as every school imagines that it could be the next Columbine or the next Sandy Hook.

The NRA’s initial proposal of armed school guards was met with an irrational chorus of protests. More guns aren’t the answer, was the cry. And the leading crier was the White House’s expert skeet shooter. In a country where law enforcement is heavily armed and gunmen are stopped by gunmen in uniforms, a strange Swedenization had set in. The problem was not the man, it was the gun. Get rid of the guns and you stop the killing. Schools across the country are banning not the gun, but the idea of the gun. It is a conceptual prohibition that is meant to push away the threat of gun violence by eliminating any mention of the G word. Gun-free zones mean places where guns cannot be mentioned, depicted or even symbolized as if the refusal to concede the existence of a firearm will eliminate the threat of it being used on the premises.

This isn’t a precautionary attitude, but a pacifist one. Gun horror is not a productive emotion, but learned helplessness disguised as moral superiority. Rather than teaching children to hate killers, schools are instead teaching them to hate guns. And reducing murders to instruments rather than morals, children are left with no sense of right and wrong, only an instinctive horror of violence.

Pacifists have always demonized armies rather than invaders. During WWI they obsessed over gas. During WWII, it was the bomber and the tank. During the Cold War they demonized nuclear weapons. In the War on Terror, they target the drone. By dealing with the object rather than the subject, they are able to avoid the question of moral responsibility. Rather than hold the Nazis, Communists or Islamists accountable for their actions, they extended a blanket condemnation over the weapons-wielders.

The American G.I. was just as bad as the S.S. man or the Kamikaze pilot or the Political Commissar. The only difference was in who had the bigger guns. And the one with the bigger guns, was also the most to blame.

That same attitude can be seen today when Israel is blamed for every battle with Islamic terrorists because it has the bigger guns. Rather than evaluating the nature of a conflict and the values of both sides, the pacifists score every war based on firepower.

While the left likes to indulge in stereotypes of gun-toting rednecks and bomb-brandishing generals, the only people who judge the worth of a man by his weapon are the pacifists, the gun-fearers and gun-hiders who mythologize weapons as black agents of evil.

To believe that there is no such thing as constructive violence is to reject free will. Without accepting the necessity of constructive violence, there is no good and evil, only armed men and unarmed men. Without constructive violence, two boys playing cops and robbers in the schoolyard are not acting out a childish morality play, they are becoming desensitized to murder, and without it a child with a pop tart chewed into the shape of a gun is on the way to being a school shooter.

If there is no such thing as constructive violence, then the police officer is not the solution to crime, he is part of the cycle of violence. And if that cycle of violence does not begin with a man choosing to use a gun for good or evil, then it must begin with the gun. The man becomes the object and the gun becomes the subject. American ICBMs become just as bad as Russian ballistic missiles. An Israeli soldier killing a suicide bomber is just as bad as the terrorist. There are no good guys with guns. To have a gun is to be the bad guy.

For decades the gun-control lobby has brandished assault rifles at press conferences and spent more time describing their killing power than their manufacturers have. The rifle has been upgraded to the assault rifle and now, in the latest Orwellian vernacular used by the White House and the entire media pyramid beneath it, weapons of war.

The dreaded assault rifle or weapon of war or killing machine of mass death actually kills rather few Americans. The average shooter doesn’t bring an AR-15 to a Chicago gangland dispute. Despite the number of these weapons in private hands, most of the killing takes place with handguns in the same parts of the country where large amounts of illegal drugs are sold, women trafficked and stores robbed.

Shootings in America are not caused by guns, they are caused by crime. Guns really do not walk off store shelves and go on killing sprees. That’s what criminals are for. But the trouble with that discussion is that it takes us into moral territory. Talking about guns is easy, talking about souls is not. If guns don’t kill people, then we have to ask the difficult question of what does kill people.

It’s a bigger question than just Adam Lanza pulling the trigger in a classroom full of children. It is a big question that encompasses the Nazi gas chambers and the Soviet gulags, the Rape of Nanking and September 11. It is a question as big as all of human history.

Pacifists once used to be able to address such questions, but they have become obsessed with the technology of violence, rather than the spiritual origin of violence. And the technology of violence is largely beside the point. Guns do not motivate people to kill. Nor do they represent that much of a quantum increase in death.

Some of history’s worst massacres happened long before firearms became useful for more than scaring off peasants. The heavily armed Americans of the 50s had lower per capita murder rates than medieval London. It isn’t the gun that makes the killer. It’s not the hand that kills, but the mind.

The gun-free society has little interest in individuals. Its technocratic philosopher-kings want big and comprehensive solutions. Their answer to gun violence is to feed a horror of guns. Their answer to obesity is to ban sodas. Their solutions invariably miss the point by treating people like objects and objects like people.

In the Middle Ages, rats were put on trial for eating crops. Today we put guns on trial for killing people. The left has tried to reduce people to economics, to class and then race, gender and sexual orientation. It has done its best to reduce people to the sum of their parts and then to tinker with those parts and it has failed badly. The best testimony of its profound spiritual failure is that the worst pockets of gun violence are in urban areas that have been under the influence of their sociologists, urban planners, psychologists, social justice activists, community organizers and political rope-pullers for generations. And what have those areas brought forth except malaise, despair, blight and murder?

Banning guns will do as much for those areas as banning drugs did. It is not the shadow of the gun that has fallen over Chicago, but an occlusion of the spirit. Social services have had generations to save the city and they have failed because the technocracy can reach the body, but it cannot reach the soul.

The gun-control activists drew the wrong lesson from Newtown as they drew the wrong lessons from WWII and September 11. The lesson is not that weapons are bad, the lesson is that people in the grip of evil ideas are capable of unimaginable horrors regardless of the tools at their disposal. A single man can kill a classroom full of children with a gun and a few men can kill thousands with a few box cutters. It isn’t the tool that matters. It’s the man.

Unwishing the gun brings us back to the sword. Unwishing the sword brings us back to the spear. Unwishing the spear brings us back to the stone club. And what then? When every weapon that ever existed or will exist is undone, all that remains is the deadliest weapon of all. The mind of man.

The gun, the sword, the spear and the club took countless lives and saved countless lives. Civilization has always balanced on a future made possible by little boys playing cops and robbers and playing with little green army men. They can either grow up to be the protectors of the future or the frightened men who will stand aside and do nothing when they hear the screams begin to come because they have been told that all violence is evil.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

A Time for Zero Tolerance and a Time for Tolerance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I have never been sexually abused. I therefore have no real way of identifying with the pain suffered by victims of abuse. All I can do is take the word of the victim about the pain they suffer. And of course observe the tragic consequences when the depression a victim falls into as a result of both the abuse the reaction to them by their community. Those consequences are sometimes so severe that they end up in suicide for the victim.

Recent events here in Chicago have once again resulted in a resurfacing of this issue. I am not going to name names. Full disclosure requires me to say that I know and admire some of the people involved. But I am not in a position to interview them. Nor am I in a position to judge them since I do not know all the details of the case. But based on what has surfaced so far in the public square I feel the need to speak out so as to be consistent in my approach to sex abuse.

Here is what I know so far.

An 18 year old female victim who is a student at a religious school here in Chicago posted on her Facebook page about the sex abuse she suffered. When officials at the school discovered this, they asked her in a very insensitive way to remove it as that violated the school’s code for use of social media. She was severely reprimanded for this violation and unless she removed the ‘offensive’ content from her Facebook page she faced a possible expulsion.

The outrage from some in the “victims’ advocates” community against officials of the school came fast and furious… defending the victim’s right to express her pain in any way she saw fit. They condemned the official response of the school. Some are even asking heads to roll. That is the way some see it – calling it a no tolerance policy. I call it ‘slash and burn’ policy.

I completely understand a no tolerance policy when it comes to sex abuse and fully support it. The question arises when such a policy is extended to secondary concerns – important though they may be.

Should there be a slash and burn policy in every case where an official errs in how they handle the pain of a victim? Should the welfare of a fine institution with exceptional leaders be destroyed because someone made a mistake? Should the career and good name of someone who has contributed so much – and many decades of service – be instantly destroyed because of a few poorly chosen words – hurtful though they may have been?

I don’t think that’s right.

Personally, I do not think the response was appropriate. There is little doubt that victim was hurt beyond anyone’s imagination by the abuse she received. And she was once again hurt here. Based on what is public knowledge about this case – this should not have been done. The response seemed cruel to me.

In defense of the institution, they have every right to set a policy for the use of social media and demand that it be followed. And I fully support a school’s right to carry out whatever consequences they spell out in their literature for violations of that policy.

On the other very legitimate hand, doing so in this case – especially the way in which it was done – was using very poor judgment in my view. A school’s right to carry out its policies does not mean they can’t use discretion when it is warranted. When it comes to victims of abuse, there is no better time to use that discretion. What was warranted here was compassion.

I do not fault the school for telling the victim that she should not have used social media to express her pain. This does not stifle her from expressing it. All it does is limit who will have access to it. No matter how much pain a victim suffers, it does not give them the right to use a shotgun approach to disseminating it to the world. There are other – far better ways to do that. Like speaking with parents; or counselors who are experienced in these issues; or a sympathetic teacher; of even a group of intimate friends.

Achdus with Chabad

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

I don’t know how they do it. But I am jealous of them. Chabad is perhaps the most successful group in Orthodoxy at raising money for their causes. Their sources are often not even the wealthy Jews of Orthodoxy. And their organizational skills are legendary. They are probably better than anyone at maximizing the “bang for the buck.”

This is the one thing that struck me about a recent article in the Forward:

Chabad operates 1,000 preschools worldwide, including 300 in Israel and 400 in the United States. In 2010, Chabad launched a special early childhood initiative called The Machne Israel David and Lara Slager Early Childhood Initiative. In the past two and half years, this fund helped in the creation of 45 new preschools (most in North America, and two each in Argentina, South Africa and Australia). There are plans to create another 100 over the next four years.

While it is true that their emphasis on reaching out to secular Jews of necessity requires them to disengage from areas of high Orthodox concentration and thereby have less contact with wealthy Orthodox philanthropists – that doesn’t mean they are going to be successful at raising funds from the secular and unaffiliated Jewish philanthropist.

But – necessity is the mother of invention I guess, and somehow they manage to appeal to those donors to fund their projects.

As I have said many times, no one can touch Chabad outreach in terms of sheer numbers. They have probably gotten more people to be observant, than all the other Kiruv groups put together. And it is projects like the above that enable them to do it.

This is why I am jealous of them. Not in any harmful ‘evil eye’ sense. I am jealous that the rest of Orthodoxy cannot match them. We have done rather well in recent years raising money among our own for various projects. But it is no secret that we are still very far from having the money we need just to support one institution – Jewish education.

I don’t have to convince any Orthodox parent – even the more affluent ones – about the pressures of tuition. That is a subject that has been well covered here before. Long story short, tuitions are so high that even families with incomes well into 6 figures are sometimes given scholarships. Especially if they have a big family. It is also no secret that tuition does not cover the typical school budgets. Nor do most of those budgets even pay their teachers what they deserve.

Not that Lubavitch doesn’t have similar problems. But that’s because the huge sums of money they raise for outreach purposes do not go towards their communities own educational needs. That money goes almost exclusively for outreach programs and schools.

Nonetheless, the fact that they are so successful at spreading out and spreading the word of God through His Torah is something to be admired.

I have not dealt with Chabad in quite some time. But those who been reading this blog for awhile know of my criticisms – not the least of which is their obsession to one degree or another with their Rebbe as Moshiach. Even though he died well over a decade ago. Although things have quieted down quite a bit on that front, I don’t think they have given up on that very troubling idea.

Among other criticisms I have of them is one that bears on the subject of this post. They are not really integrated with the rest of Orthodoxy. While there is definitely some cross fertilization between us, it is not because they actively seek it. To the extent that they do, they tend to do it only on their own terms. Or on an individual basis and not an organizational one.

The evidence for this is the fact that unlike the rest of Orthodoxy, their children – with rare exception – attend only their own Chabad schools. They have built an empire of separation. Which is an irony of sorts when you consider that their primary concern is outreach to fellow Jews. But the truth is that outreach is so important to them that consider integration with the rest of Orthodoxy to be of secondary or tertiary importance. At least that is what it seem like to me.

One reason they are so separated from the rest of Orthodoxy – is the way they do outreach. Every Jewish soul they reach is convinced to believe that Chabad equals Judaism. They never distinguish (at least not at first) between an exclusively Lubavitch Minhag and Halacha. They teach their own customs as though they were Halacha. So that in most cases, if someone becomes religious through them, they become a Lubavitcher. Their community grows through outreach while their members become just as separated from the rest of the Orthodox community as are Lubavitchers from birth.

And so it goes. Chabad continues to be wildly successful at outreach while having little to do with the rest of the Orthodox community unless they are in control. Like the annual Simchas Torah concert they host for Chicago on Chol HaMoed Sukkos. It is their event.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was in elementary school in Detroit at Yeshivath Beth Yehuda – a pioneer Torah U’Mesorah school – two of my very beloved teachers there were Lubavitcher Chasidim. And Lubavitchers sent their children to that school. We were integrated. I believe that the same thing was true all around the country through most of the sixties (with the possible exception of New York where separate schools may have already existed). Lubavitch was just one type of observant Jew among many types that attended the same schools.

As they grew in number here in Chicago – and feeling that mainstream day schools and high schools did not pay sufficient attention to Chabad in general and the Rebbe in particular they started setting up their own schools which focus heavily on Chabad and the Rebbe.

Fast forward to today and we have 2 girls high schools right across the street from each other. One Lubavitch and one Beis Ya’akov. And the girls have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I don’t see that as progress. I see it as contributing to the divide between us. Year after year; class after class.

And that bothers me. Chabad’s strengths would serve all of us well If we could become more integrated. It would take a lot of tolerance on both sides. And it would take a willful and purposeful approach to doing so. And a bit of compromise. Lubavitch would have to stop being so proprietary and the rest of Orthodoxy would have to become a little more tolerant. Their efficient fundraising and organizational skills would serve Judaism as a whole much better if we could integrate and use those skills for common purpose. And integration with the rest of Orthodoxy would expand Chabad’s outreach to even greater heights combining and sharing with other non Chabad outreach groups. Making them both more effective.

I’m not saying that this is all that doable. There are certainly many obstacles. Some of which may be insurmountable. But I wish it were. Wouldn’t it be great for example if those two girls’ schools would combine? I’d love to see it. But it will probably never happen.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Reality Check Needed in Israel

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

During my very recent visit to the United States, it was much too easy to be totally oblivious as to what was happening in Israel.  The bit of news I heard and read were just local news items.  The ignorance is overwhelmingly frightening for an Israeli political blogger like myself.  If people don’t know what’s happening in the news, then they also don’t really know the history, which is why it’s so easy for the extreme anti-Israel Leftists and Arabs have such an easy time convincing people that “the Jews took over a country called Palestine sic.”  That mantra is a lie, which even Israelis have began to believe.

That’s why we need a serious reality check.

Hat tip: Shy Guy
Almost ten percent 10% of the newly elected Knesset Members walked on on the Israeli National Anthem.

The inaugural ceremony for the 19th Knesset ended with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, HaTikva, during which 11 Arab MKs stood up and left the procession, refusing to be present while the national anthem was sung.

This phenomena is a security problem.  I consider them traitors!  Could you imagine what would happen to American Congressmen, or even State Assemblymen if they would dare to walk out on the National Anthem?!?  It wouldn’t be tolerated, not at all!  If those Arabs can’t accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel as the Jewish National Home and Dream, then they have no right to hold office.

It’s no secret that the Arab education here in Israel also undermines the State of Israel.  Ruthie Blum wrote about it in Israel Hayom.

As soon as the findings of a three-year study on Palestinian and Israeli textbooks were released on Monday, it became clear why the powers that be in Ramallah were as pleased as punch. In one fell swoop, decades’ worth of proof that Palestinian children are taught to deny the existence of the State of Israel and to commit jihad against the Jews was erased…
One example of the latter is that Israeli textbooks depict Palestinians “negatively” by linking them to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (How this particular piece of history could be portrayed otherwise without rewriting it is beyond me.)

And the PMW-Palestinian Media Watch frequently posts updates which prove how the PA promote and praise Arab terrorists:

Twice last week official Palestinian Authority TV broadcast a music video honoring several terrorist murderers, including Ibrahim Hamed who is serving 54 life sentences for planning many suicide bombings in Jerusalem, killing dozens and Abbas Al-Sayid who is serving 35 life sentences for planning the suicide bombing at the Jewish Passover Seder in Netanya in 2002, in which 30 Israelis were killed. The terrorists who were honored killed more than 100 civilians.

I truly hope that the incoming Israeli Government won’t be afraid to look truth in the eye and take the right steps to insure Israel’s future, our safety and security.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

Palestinians’ Nazi-Style Youth Movement Prepares for Jihad

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren have been receiving military training in the Gaza Strip to prepare them for jihad against Israel.

According to Mohamed Siam, a senior official with the Hamas-run ministry, some 9,000 high school children have already joined 36 camps throughout the Gaza Strip and are being taught how to use various types of weapons and handle explosives.

Hamas says that the purpose of the camps is to prepare Palestinian children, both militarily and psychologically, for the “liberation of Palestine, from the Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea,” in other words, all of Israel.

How can anyone talk about the two-state solution when thousands of Palestinian children are being trained to use weapons and explosives to replace Israel with an Islamic state? Does Mahmoud Abbas really believe that these schoolchildren will ever accept his strategy of peace with Israel? These are questions the West needs to ask itself before once again pressing for a two-state solution.

The training is being held under the supervision of the Hamas government’s Ministry of Education, and the training camps have been named Al-Futuwwa [meaning, spiritual chivalry].

According to Wikipedia, Al-Futuwwa was the name of the Hitler-Jugend [Hitler Youth] style of pan-Arab fascistic and nationalistic youth movement that existed in Iraq in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1938, the Al-Futuwwa youth organization sent a delegate to the Nuremberg Nazi party rally, and in turn hosted the Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach. In 1941, the fascistic pan-Arab Al-Muthanna Club and its Al-Futuwwa movement participated in theFarhud attack on Baghdad’s Jewish community.

Last week, during a graduation ceremony for thousands of school children, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared that his movement was planning to establish a military academy for training and educating seventh and ninth graders. The goal, he said, is to prepare Palestinian children for jihad against the “Zionist entity.”

Addressing the cadets, Haniyeh declared: “You are the future leaders. You will march your people toward freedom and dignity. The Al-Futuwwa will end in victory and the liberation of all Palestine, “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

Not surprisingly, parents in the Gaza Strip have not protested against this form of child abuse. Many parents, in fact, seem to like the idea that their children are being trained how to handle explosives and various types of weapons.

More disturbing is that only a few of the dozens of Western-funded human rights organizations that operate in the Gaza Strip have raised their voices against Hamas’s abuse of children. Even the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which was created to work for children’s rights, their survival, development and protection, has yet to condemn Hamas for recruiting school children to its military apparatus.

Many of Hamas’s children will undoubtedly be sent to the battlefront during the next round of fighting with Israel. Some will also be dispatched on suicide missions against the “Zionist enemy,” while others will be provided with assault rifles and rockets to be used against Israeli targets.

By poisoning the hearts and minds of schoolchildren, Hamas is raising an entire generation of Palestinians on glorification of suicide bombers, jihad and terrorism.

And this is happening at a time when some governments and leaders in the West are talking about the need to revive the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel — and at a time when the Palestinian Authority is making efforts to achieve unity with Hamas.

These are questions that Abbas needs to ask himself as he continues to seek unity with Hamas; and that the West might do well to ask itself, too.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

The Real Yair Lapid

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Yair Lapid is already predicting he will be Israel’s next prime minister.  Unfortunately, he never finished high school, or completed his baguryot (high-school matriculation exams) or went to college. However, as a media personality he got into Bar Ilan’s accelerated doctorate program — which is supposed to only be for those who finished an undergraduate degree with honors… he was eventually thrown out of the program for not meeting the admission requirements.  Granted there are many autodidacts who lack academic accreditation and attain success in business or academics or education; Lapid isn’t one of them.

Lapid is pretentious yet grossly ignorant at the same time.  While he may come across as a dynamic media personality, when he puts pen to paper, his lack of intelligence shines through.  Let’s take an article he penned about Israel, “Israel Democracy Institute says 81 percent of the public wants a constitution; not me.”   

Lapid explains why the U.S. Constitution is work of art — “because it was penned by a single author [sic], John Adams[sic], as opposed to a committee [sic]”  – which is the way Israel is attempting to create one.

Israel’s proposed constitution by consensus is an erudite text, maybe overly so. It lacks the emotional depth of the U.S. constitution, not to mention the moral courage of the “Founding Fathers” to deal with controversial issues. It could be that the different way in which the two constitutions were written influenced their content.

One very inspired man, John Adams, wrote the U.S. constitution. The Israeli proposal by consensus, with all due respect to Meir Shamgar, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was written by a committee.

It would have helped had Lapid had the time, energy or acumen to at least read the Wikipedia article on the U.S. Constitution to know that it was written by committee, not one man, and certainly not John Adams who wasn’t even on the committee or in the U.S. at the time, he was in London.

If you think that’s embarrassing, its only the tip of iceberg. Here’s a short video (in Hebrew) with a whole slew of intellectual gaffs by Lapid which appears to show a pattern of attempts to drop names and facts which aren’t that factual or connected.

Since entering politics a year ago, Yair Lapid tries to portray himself  in the political center, however he has always been far to the left.  Before entering into politics, he spoke his true colors to Germany’s Der Spiegel:

Yair Lapid: The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East Jerusalem. The only unanswered question is how many more people will have to die along the way. And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our extremists, the settlers. When you look at the history of wars, they ultimately revolve around one claim: “My god is better than yours.”

It’s clear that Lapid is intent on splitting Jerusalem, something Dov Lipman adamantly denies.  He hates settlers and is intent on ensuring we all know who the “extremists” are.  Lipman has gone on record saying that he’s in favor of keeping settlement blocs — as an FYI, this means Hebron will be of Israeli control (and it also makes you an extremist to expect the Cave of the Patriarchs will remain under Israeli control).

While Dov Lipman claims that the “real” Jewish Home is his own “Yesh Atid” party, Yair Lapid’s Jewish Home is a Reform Temple in Tel-Aviv. I have no issue with Lapid’s connection to the Reform movement in Israel, or even providing them with funding which they deserve. I am concerned that the lowest common denominator of Judaism in Israel will be changed (religious status quo of halachic Jewishness), which will fracture the Jewish people in Israel, prevent marriages, and will result in far more disunity than unity.

Another example of his moral fiber, Lapid used his personal YNET column to childishly insult and viciously lambast an awarded, outstanding IDF soldierand used illegally obtained private and classified IDF information against the soldier.  When sued in court, Lapid lost.  Not exactly the moral and ethical beacon for Israel.

Confronting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

There was a shift in the paradigm of my life after my experience at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest concentration and extermination camps operating during the Holocaust.

The cold, hard facts of the Holocaust are well known, but it is only once you hear a survivor tell you their personal story that it truly strikes you how they now appreciate their lives in a way that not many of us do today; some attribute their survival to God, some to faith, to love, to family, to luck.

We are the most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from the survivors of the Holocaust and be able to ask them questions. That is a huge privilege. A privilege which I was able to take part with the ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ program with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

We had been warned by our team leaders that there was no right or wrong way to feel about the experience, but prior to the trip to Poland in November 2012, some may have had some prior idea as to how they would react – for me, it was numbing, absolutely numbing. Expectations were of misery and sadness; the lessons taught were vital for us as “Holocaust Ambassadors,” but also to absorb and reflect upon as human beings.

In both Auschwitz and Birkenau, the atmosphere was very sombre and we all said little as we walked through the camps, supposedly out of respect, or out of sadness, or shock; there was an almost alien sense of peace, as if the silence that had settled over the camps was still somehow alive, as if the sounds heard all those years ago were still echoing within the brick walls. I’ve never experienced an environment so heavy with sorrow, and it frightened me – it’s almost a warning to us as the new generation about to inherit responsibility of the earth, as it could be seen as a display of the consequences of power being given to the wrong hands.

Such was the melancholy atmosphere. The cold was extraordinary; by the time we had reached the Birkenau camp, the sun had almost set and the bitter cold was starting to seep in through our clothing. We tightened our coats and took the long, mournful walk alongside the train tracks leading into the camp. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the place; rows and rows of identical empty warehouses. The camp was monstrous and almost mechanical; it had no signs of life, of civilization, just building after empty building. It was difficult to imagine how many men had crossed paths here, young, old, wealthy, poor, doctors, lawyers, laborers, all being given the saddest of all fates.

One of the most startling moments, for me, was one of the very first things we came across; the now iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” wire sign, which directly translates to “labor makes you free,” referring to the physical labor that the sufferers in the camp were to believe would liberate them. But for the majority of prisoners in the camps, their only liberation was death, many of them dying brutally. One could only imagine the faces of the prisoners who saw this sign and understood their likely fates, or the many young children who could not even imagine what lay ahead.

We learned that very young children were almost always sentenced to death, along with their mothers, to prevent the new generation of Jews from surviving, which was awful to hear; I could not imagine a future so awful in which that could happen, or a man so soulless, who might have even has his own children, that he would give or execute such an order. This impression of this total lack of empathy or compassion on the Nazis’ part was horrifying, because it is hard to understand the circumstances in which this would be considered acceptable. Even now, it is obvious to see that we have moved forward in terms of acceptance of other faiths and races and we must preserve this tolerance in our society, but also promote it all over the world.

It is too late for the victims of the Holocaust, and one of the slightly uplifting things about the visit was the Oshpitztin visit, a graveyard for Jews, which clearly demonstrated to me that there was some respect for the Jews, and I was happy that someone had deemed them worthy to be given the blessing of a gravestone, of a resting place where their loved ones could come to mourn them. As we all know, there were far more victims of the Holocaust that could not be given the privilege of a burial, or a grave, but it gave me hope that even in a situation where so many acted so wrongly, there will be others who will do what is right.

What Is Sexual Abuse?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I have to admit that the sex abuse issue is one of the most difficult issues for me to deal with in all of Judaism. Like many others, I used to think this kind of thing is unthinkable in the world of Orthodox Jewry. When in the past I heard rumors about people like that, I simply did not believe them. I have of course since come to believe that not only does it happen in the Orthodox world , it seems to happen about as frequently as it does in the rest of the world.

What is sexual abuse? And what is it not? Is all physical contact between two people wrong? Are there gradations of abuse? Do all people react the same way when they are abused Should we treat different forms of abuse the same way?

There are many things one must consider before making judgments about any given situation. In my view some types of abuse is worse than others.

There are also collateral damage issues, like who gets hurt in the process of seeking justice for the victim… or those rare cases (and they do exist although they are all but ignored these days) where innocent people get accused and are tainted for life even when accusations are proven false.

This is not about whether all reasonable suspicions of abuse should be reported to the police. They should. And in my view they need not be vetted by rabbis. But I think it is still fair to look at the whole picture.

What is justice in cases of abuse?

Although justice might include financial compensation to victims by abusers and their enablers, it is very possible that good institutions long after any abuse took place – and long after the abusers, faculty, administration, and board of directors have left to be replaced by an entirely new generation of same – could be ruined by overly generous punitive damages awarded by a jury or judge. The Agudah claim that old lawsuits brought against such institutions is unfair in those cases is a legitimate concern . The new people there may not even be aware that abuse ever took place there by a one time employee decades ago.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t be sued. Perhaps they should as the Markey Bill would have allowed. But the facts remain the same. What is fair to one person may be unfair to another. And the collateral damage could be huge. That is why I had a difficult time deciding to favor that bill – ultimately siding with justice for the victim. But it was not an easy decision for me.

And then there are issues about judging behavior of the past by today’s standards. Is it fair to judge what was a common practice of yesterday by the standards of our day?

One might answer that it is. After all someone was hurt and mistreated by those practices – innocent though they may have been see in that day. That everyone was not wise about it then doesn’t matter to the victim. He was hurt and deserves to have justice.

Here too innocent people suffer collateral damage only because they were guided by the conventional wisdom of their day. What today is seen as a cover-up was in those days considered to be standard operating procedure.

And how do we judge the reactions of differing communities? Should we judge one community by a higher standard than another?

And what about differing acts? Is all inappropriate contact the same?

I once asked this of a psychologist who treats sexually abused children. He answered my question with a question. I asked him if a Rebbe would innocently playfully pat a fully clothed child on rear end – sort of the way a football coach might be seen doing from time to time to his players – is that considered sex abuse? His answer was the following: If someone came up to me and offered me money to pat my fully clothed child on the rear, would I take it and allow him to do it?

Well, put that way, of course not. The offer to pay me would show that his entire purpose was to get sexual gratification for it. But if a teacher did it in the same playful way that a football coach might – without any sexual intent, it would not bother me at all. Nor do I think a child would suffer traumatically from it in that way. But this educated professional did not make any distinction.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/what-is-sexual-abuse/2013/01/14/

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