Archive for category Jewish

From 70 to 2018

Sunday is the 9th of Av* on the Jewish Calendar. If Yom Kippur is universally recognized as the holiest day of the year, the 9th of Av, is unquestionably the saddest. It is the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Jews around the world will mourn by fasting, reading the Book of Lamentations, and engaging in communal self-examination.

Self-examination for what, exactly? The Rabbis say that the Second Temple was destroyed as punishment for sinat chinam, among Jews, usually translated as “baseless hatred.”

But is any hatred truly baseless? Doesn’t even irrational hatred have some basis? Does anyone really hate someone else for no reason at all? Individuals have grudges, groups have rivalries, parties have different visions for the future. Sure, some of these may get out of hand, but are they ever totally baseless?

Rabbi David Fohrman discusses this at some length in his writing. In discussing the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis tell a story about what got the ball rolling. It’s the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa, and in it lies both the answer to our question, and a lesson for Americans today.
The story begins with a party. A wealthy man – he remains unnamed, perhaps a personal punishment – is throwing a party, and he sends his servant with an invitation to his friend, Kamsa. The servant, by mistake, brings the invitation to his enemy, a man named Bar Kamsa.

When the host sees Bar Kamsa at the party, he orders him to leave. Bar Kamsa, embarrassed at the mistake, asks to be allowed to save face. He’ll pay for his food. The host turns him down. He’ll pay for half the party. No, says the host, you must leave. Bar Kamsa will pay for the whole party, just don’t humiliate him in front all these people. No, insists the host, and forcibly escorts Bar Kamsa to the door.

What really stings Bar Kamsa, is that a number of prominent rabbis at the party saw the whole thing and who did nothing. Fine, the host was his enemy, thinks Bar Kamsa, I get that. He was being a jerk, but did I really expect anything better?

But the rabbis, it’s their job to encourage people to act with decency and respect, and they just sat there and did nothing. The longer Bar Kamsa thinks of this, the angrier he gets, until he finally decides to take revenge. He tells the Romans that the rabbis are plotting rebellion, manipulates events to make it look that way, and the whole thing snowballs into an actual revolt and the burning of the Temple. Bar Kamsa’s hatred has sown the seeds of Israel’s national destruction.

Fohrman notes that when we’ve been wronged, we react on two separate scales. One is how right we are, the other is how intensely we feel it. Was Bar Kamsa right? Of course he was. He humiliated in front of the cream of Jerusalem society, and the conscience of that society passively let it happen.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, how angry was he? Looks like 11. How angry should he have been? A four, maybe a five? After all, it’s just a party. By next week, everyone will have forgotten about it. Instead he decided to turn it into an international incident that ended up destroying the remnants of Jewish sovereignty for the next 1900 years.

Bar Kamsa, the host, and even to some extent the rabbis, had stopped seeing other people as whole human beings, and instead saw them as symbols. The host saw Bar Kamsa not as a person who was trying to redeem an uncomfortable situation, but as “enemy.” Bar Kamsa saw the rabbis as people who may not even have fully understood what was going on, but purely as instruments of his humiliation. The rabbis, for their part, didn’t see the host and Bar Kamsa as people acting out a personal drama in public, but as litigants in a dispute they couldn’t rule on. It’s much easier to get uncontrollably angry at a symbol than at an actual person.

Which brings us to today. Our social media personas can’t possibly reflect our full selves, and we react to others’ personas as though they were pure, true, authentic, and complete. For most of us, even for public figures, politics is a fragment of our lives. But we increasingly reduce each other to avatars of political movements, judging and punishing each other on that basis.

We react rather than taking time to think. We post with the fierce urgency of now, rather than the calm reflection of later. We use words designed for anger, and then find ourselves made angry not only by our own words, but by those of others.  We go to 11 on the outrage meter and stay there, on everything, and we quickly make our disagreements about each other rather than about the thing we disagree on.

Increasingly, we think there is no escape, feel backed into a corner, raising the stakes of our politics. Each side believes that the other, given power, will use that power to take away our livelihoods and ruin our social lives merely for holding the “wrong” opinions. Each side believes that the other represents a metaphorical authoritarian gun pointed at our heads. Elected officials openly compare policy to the Holocaust, and call for the public harassment of political opponents – and it won’t end with high-level officials.

Since the election, the bulk of the hysteria has come from the Democrats and the Left. This is because they lost. However, given the reason that many voted for Trump, exemplified by Michael Anton’s famously persuasive Flight 93 Election article, I am reluctant to conclude that Republicans would have behaved much better had they lost. The Russians on whom so much attention is focused were careful to leave plenty of conspiratorial breadcrumbs on both sides of the street.

The Left is more responsible for the relentless politicization of every square inch of our public, private, and personal lives. But that doesn’t absolve anyone of trying to arrest this slide. Because we have a very clear message on the consequences of not arresting it.

And I have no idea how to put that back together.

*It’s actually the 10th of Av, but the fast and commemoration are put off for a day because the 9th falls on the Jewish Sabbath.

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Politics and the Pope

It would be unfair to say that this morning’s Papal speech to Congress has been the subject of immediate politicization, since that started even before the speech was given.

Lachlan Markay noted on Facebook how embarrassing it was to have pretty much everyone in Washington picking and choosing favored parts of the speech.  Michael Walsh (alias David Kahane) implored non-Catholics to just shut up about the Pope, since he’s not an American politician.

Markay is right, that the attempt to claim the Pope for one’s own side is a trivializing exercise, mostly to the politicians involved.  And Walsh is right that non-Catholics probably don’t understand Catholic doctrine very well.

That said, it’s pretty much an impossible situation for our political culture.

The Pope is a religious figure, which we tend to see as a non-political figure, who doesn’t fit neatly into American political categories.  At the same time, he’s giving speeches where he opines on manifestly political topics, in an inherently political town, including one to an inherently political body.  Not discussing these issues in a political context would be absurd.  And indeed, why does the Pope speak on these subjects if not to influence the real world debate?  Of course, that’s what he wants, and his means of doing do is to influence the moral framework through which Catholics see these issues.

To those who don’t like mixing politics and religion, though, the Papal visit a good reminder that almost all political arguments are inherently moral ones.  Virtually every question in the public arena today is cast as a moral matter – from health care, to the environment, to welfare, to foreign policy, is a moral question.  One of the reasons that conservatives tend to lose these debates is because we’re terrible at pointing out that our side has at least as good a moral argument as the allegedly caring Left.  (It’s actually a far superior moral argument, but for purposes of this post, we’ll settle for there being two sides to the coin.)

That doesn’t mean the government has to get involved in everything, or that it should be a sectarian tool. But even libertarians make moral arguments about policy – they just claim that it’s more moral to leave the government out of most things.  The case is a bit of a bank shot, but it’s got solid fundamentals – if capitalism raises people out of poverty, and if moral societies are more robust when mediating institutions are strong on their own, then a smaller government usually is more moral.

Where libertarians tend to lose out is when the judgment that the government shouldn’t be making moral calls leads them to complain about any moral judgments at all, and I’ve seen this happen – a lot.  Both Thomas Merton and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik would agree that no man is an island, that societies exist in the real world, and that they only work when they can internally enforce moral norms.

There is also some slight difference between starting from Catholic doctrine and arriving at political conclusions, and working backwards to find support for your politics in religious thought.  The reporting on this Pope’s comments has been so truly awful that I really can’t tell how much of it is the press trying to co-opt the Pope for its lefty agenda, and how much really is organic.  Much of the criticism of Pope Francis comes from people who assume he’s doing the latter.

It’s the same problem as when rabbis talk about politics from the pulpit, making the Reform rabbinate the marketing arm of the Democratic Party.  Tradtional Judaism, which is to say, actual Jewish thought grounded in sources and Jewish law, is anything but socialist and redistributionist, anything but passive in the face of existential threats.

The fact that it, too, doesn’t fit neatly into contemporary party politics doesn’t meant that it doesn’t have something to say about contemporary controversies, or provide a framework that can inform the Jewish point of view on those subjects.  It’s why the work being done by the Tikvah Fund, which works in the other, proper direction, is so admirable.

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Today’s Private-Public Purim

More than history, the Jews have memory.

In his marvelous little book, Zakhor (“Memory”), Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes that Jewish historiography ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, revived only with the Continental Enlightenment and its reach into the communities of France and Germany.

Jewish memory, by contrast continues on, making sense of current events by analogy with Biblical ones.  It’s a method not entirely alien to American history itself.  The New England settlers saw themselves as latter-day Israelites, guided by God across a forbidding body of water, fleeing a corrupt Egypt to establish His kingdom on Earth in a new land.  Franklin proposed that the Great Seal of the United States feature the Israelite crossing the Red Sea.  Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet (I have not read it, so I can make no recommendation one way or the other) chronicles the role of Moses in American thought, American memory.

But if America could draw on a new founding to make Moses its central prophet, the Jews, in exile, usually turned to a different Biblical story, the Book of Esther.  Scattered, everywhere a minority, at the mercy of temporal powers who were usually not friendly, the Jews frequently found reason to compare their situation to the Jews in the Babylonian exile, rescued from extinction by Divine Providence hidden in natural events, hopeful of soon returning home.

It was not unusual for local communities, and even families, to celebrate such rescues by declaring local “Purims,” often recording the events in local chronicles by paralleling the very words of the Book of Esther.

Even though there is now a Jewish Commonwealth for the first time since 70 AD, the current Purim Parallel practically writes itself.  Genocidal theocratic Persian seeks nuclear bomb for destruction of Jewish people, twists current world power’s leader to its own ends to obtain such. The comparison was given an added push by the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress – on Tuesday, the day before the Fast of Esther, commemorating Esther’s own fast before she approached the King to plead her case.  Most of the commentaries I’ve seen put Netanyahu in the role of Esther, braving the dangers of speaking truth to power (in the old Lefty phrase) in order to save his people.

I don’t think that’s quite right.

Netanyahu’s role here much more close parallels that of Mordecai, imploring Esther to do the right thing and risk her own position and comfort to save her people.  Netanyahu deftly explained why the approaching deal is a bad idea, why it’s a threat to Israel, but also – more importantly, given the audience – a threat to the United States.  He appealed to the common civilization and shared values between Israel and the United States.

But thought Bibi can persuade, he cannot directly influence.  He has no vote in the US, he must act through others, igniting a serious debate where there had been none, inviting others to bring to bear direct political pressure.

Which means that you and I, friends, are Esther.

It is incumbent upon us to act, to persuade Congress to oppose the agreement when it is reached, to retain or increase sanctions, to prevent the administration from giving power, legitimacy, and trade to our enemies as Americans and Jews.

It is our role to step out of our comfortable positions in a wealthy, friendly, welcoming society and use what influence and power we have to prevent any agreement that even contemplates an Iranian bomb from being anything more than a dead letter.

Given this, the actual words of Mordecai’s plea are even more ominous for an American Jewish community used to security but facing new demographic and ideological threats:

Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish.  And who knows if you became Queen for such a time as this?

There is actually a dispute as to how to translate Mordecai’s last sentence.  Some translate it as, “And who knows if you will remain Queen a year from now?” meaning that Esther might lose her position as Queen.  Others translate it as, “And who knows if this isn’t the reason you became Queen?”

The two translations aren’t necessarily at odds: the calendar date for the actual massacre was a year off from Esther’s approach to the King.  Mordecai could have been arguing that if Esther didn’t fulfill her purpose in being Queen, God could easily enough arrange for her fall from power and its protections.

There is, or should be, a growing unease among Jews in the United States, this exceptional home for us with its exceptional relationship to us.  Too many Jews have traded in their Jewish identity for a Democratic Party one, replacing eternal transcendent values for temporary, political issues of the day.  A small minority, the 10% who are Orthodox, are having the great majority of the children, and with even Modern Orthodoxy teetering a little unsurely, the future of Judaism in the States looks potentially smaller, poorer, and more inward-looking.

The President, in his desire to reach a deal with Iran’s mullahs, has put Jewish Americans, but especially Jewish Democrats, in a position of having to choose between identities many had come to see as identical.  There are any number of powerful and influential Jewish Democrats, and who knows that they didn’t achieve these positions for such a time as this?

Rabbi David Fohrman points out something I hadn’t noticed before.  Two tribes – Judah and Benjamin (plus some Levites, but leave them aside, they’re not a full tribe here) – are actually in exile in Babylon.  Those are the only two tribes left in the southern Kingdom of Judah after the northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered a couple of centuries earlier.

Mordecai was from Benjamin.  Esther was from Benjamin.  But the decree was phrased as “Yehudim,” Judahites.  Haman didn’t care about tribal differences, but Mordecai would have caught the wording.  Benjamin and Judah had often had a somewhat tense relationship.  Would Esther think that the decree didn’t mean Benjamin, that she and others from her tribe could ride this out?

Mordecai’s demand means this, too: we’re all in this together, Benjamin and Judah.  Don’t think this doesn’t mean you.  It does.

Similarly Netanyahu is telling American Jews: don’t think this doesn’t mean you.  The Islamists, the anti-semites, the BDS-ers and the campus radicals have it in for all of us.  You may be secular, you may be comfortable, you may be wealthy, you may even be intermarried or atheist, it doesn’t matter.  They mean you, too.

And to non-Jewish Americans, Netanyahu is saying the same thing: the Islamists are coming for you, too.  This is a civilizational war we’re fighting, and we’re part of the same team.  Some of you may think you can buy safety by cutting a deal that puts Israel at risk, but you can’t.  And you’re putting your country and your children and your future in danger if you try.

Will the American Jews extend themselves on behalf of the Israeli Jews, or will we huddle together, trying to ride out the storm?

There are some, Alan Dershowitz, AIPAC, Larry Mizel & Norm Brownstein, who have risen to the occasion.  Since 2005, I’ve been on the email list for Jewish NOLA, and its president, Michael Weil, sent out an email this afternoon very supportive of Netanyahu’s speech and its message.

Too many, however, including our own JCRC here in Denver, the ADL, and other organizations charged specifically with advocating for Israel, have taken the safe route.  Happy to opine on just about any partisan political social or economic issue, they have fallen silent, ostensibly afraid to make Israel “partisan.”  In doing so, of course, they are acquiescing the an administration that has chosen to politicize Israel to try to isolate it, because it stands in the way of its Middle East Grand Strategy.  They have, perversely, allowed Israel to become the one topic they won’t discuss.

That’s not good enough.

There is one final parallel.  The Purim story doesn’t end with the King revoking his decree and saving the Jews.  In some interpretations, the King is prevented by Persian law from revoking a decree, in others he’s too proud to admit a mistake.  Regardless of the reason, the King instead issues another decree – a change in policy, if you will – permitting the Jews the defend themselves.  It’s a striking thing, a King risking the internal stability of his empire by permitting a subject people to take self-defense into their own hands on a national scale.  But he does it, confident that he’s not unleashing chaos, but rather encouraging justice.

Too often, we have valued stability in the Middle East above all else (indeed, stability is given as the reason for welcoming a nuclear-tipped Iran into a role a regional hegemon).  It would take a brave president indeed, or at least a confident and secure one, to welcome an Israeli effort to defend itself against an Iranian bomb.  It may mean waiting until the next president, who, while not repudiating whatever agreement this one reaches, winks and nods at such an effort.

 A sobering thought indeed, for American Jewry, ironically linked to a holiday associated with revelry and celebration.

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The South, The Jews, and Christmas

From Eli Evans’s The Provincials, his half-memoir/half-history portrait of the Southern Jewish experience:

The most dismal moment came during the sixth-grade assembly at the annual presentation of the Christmas pageant, when the choir would recite all the verses of Matthew while the rest of us acted out the drama.  The teacher assigned me, the only Jewish boy in the class, the honor of playing Joseph, the number-one boy’s role, but I knew right away I couldn’t go through with something that close-in to the manger.  I worried for days what to do, not telling my parents because they might pull me out of the play altogether, and call too much attention to me.  Finally, I dredged up the courage to talk to the teacher, and carefully explained that I didn’t think this was such a good role for me and, though I was honored to have been chosen, I would be just as happy as a shepherd boy or as the Star of the East.  No, she thought, they were somewhat religious roles too, and she would try to think of something more secular and less objectionable.  I ended up, typecast no doubt, as the tax collector, the heartless representative of King Herod, pounding the table, demanding oppressive taxes from poor pregnant Mary and dutiful Joseph, thus forcing them to leave town for this historic rendezvous.

I played the role with verve, in Arab headdress made from a bath towel.  At the performance, under brilliant direction, I was so excessive that I got the biggest laughs of the day.

My own school experience, while not as Christmas-immersive as Evans’s, included being excused (with little if any commotion) from singing Christmas carols in 4th grade music class, and having to figure out during the Cub Scout Christmas event that it was ok to march around with the other kids and just smile during “Come, All Ye Faithful,” since nobody was going to notice, anyway.

Obviously, over time, I’ve made my peace with Christmas, choosing the enjoy the secular arm that it’s developed (to the dismay of grinches like Mr. Keillor) and the mutual religious respect (from a distance) that has been the ongoing societal miracle of my lifetime.

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Anti-Semitism Becomes Respectable in D.C.

Evelyn Gordon, at Commentary:

Answer: Never, as proven by Exhibit B–the administration’s silence in the face of an anti-Semitic slur against some even closer allies that same week. I’m referring, of course, to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s outrageous assertion that lawmakers are siding with Israel against Obama on Iran not “from any careful consideration of the facts,” but “from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”

Not only is this another classic example of the anti-Semitic “Jews control the world” trope, but many of the lawmakers whom Friedman accused of blindly obeying Jewish dictates rather than thinking for themselves are President Obama’s fellow Democrats, who have loyally shepherded his domestic agenda through Congress. Yet even so, the administration couldn’t be bothered to utter a word in their defense.

When an administration doesn’t see fit to condemn anti-Semitic slurs even against its closest allies–its negotiating partner abroad and congressional Democrats at home–you know anti-Semitism has attained the height of respectability. My only question is when all the American Jews who voted for this administration are going to wake up and start objecting.

This isn’t exactly the Coolidge Administration.  Obama, Holder, and their underlings have no problem popping off on just about any subject they care about, so their silence here isn’t accidental – it’s carefully calculated to marginalize Israel, and if that means marginalizing Jews or readmitting anti-Semitism to polite company, it’s just eggs and omelets.  Not like the President spent decades attending the sermons of an obviously anti-Semitic preacher, or anything.

It’s a commonplace to remember that William F. Buckley led the charge to rid conservatism and the Republican party of its anti-Semitic and paranoid elements, perceiving not only that they weren’t helping the cause, but that they were morally wrong.  It’s long past time for some Democrat or visionary on the Left to do the same thing.  The problem is, it’s hard to do this with a Progressive President in power, and when doing so would evidently offend so many other important client groups.

And unfortunately, we won’t hear much from Jewish Democrats about this.  Too many of them have already decided they’re more Democrat than Jewish.

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Purim as an Argument Against Gun Control

I’m always reluctant to re-read religious texts with a political slant.  The Left has, for the most part, sought to replace religion with politics with the sort of baleful results we saw in 20th Century Europe and Russia.  Even today, the American Jewish left uses such Jewish concepts as “Tikkun Olam” to justify pretty much the entire leftist political agenda, and JCPA General Assembly resolutions to that effect almost always find some Torah text to torture into testifying on their behalf.  So to the extent that I’m edging across a self-imposed line here, the people it’s most likely to unnerve are the very liberals who’ve gotten used to thinking of the Torah as their personal political property.

But to the extent that Judaism has a political holiday, Purim is it.  The internal power and factional politics of the Persian Empire, the Jews’ place in a multi-ethnic society, Megillat Esther is steeped in politics, and thus, human nature.

So for those who think that voluntarily disarming Jews is a good idea, consider the manner in which Ahasuerus’s decree of doom is reversed.  Not by repeal, which the text tells us is beyond the King’s legal authority.  Instead, it’s negated this way (8:11):

…that the king had given to the Jews who are in every city, [the right] to assemble and to protect themselves, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish the entire host of every people and province that oppress them…

We don’t need to carry the argument to the reducto ad absurdum of the Holocaust or the Holocaust-that-wasn’t in the Megillah to make this point.  Even in the US, from time to time, anti-Semitic riots do happen.

The President of the United States has invited the instigator of two such riots to the White House to advise him on economics, and granted him a television interview.  Both the Crown Heights riots and the Freddy’s Fashion Mart riots were anti-Semitic and Sharpton’s handiwork.

The ADL was founded as the result of one such riot that turned into the lynching of a Jewish man – in spite of the efforts of the authorities to prevent it.

And Seraphic Secrets’s hair-raising description of being defenseless during the Rodney King riots in LA, when the police abandoned the field, should drive home the point that riots need not be anti-Semitic in nature to be deadly.

In a country where we have that right by law – the same as all other citizens, and without any special royal dispensation necessary – why would we voluntarily cheapen Jewish blood again by disarming ourselves?

So tomorrow night and Sunday, when we’re celebrating our victory over our enemies, let’s also spare a thought for the fact that, unless we choose to give it up, here in the US, we have as a matter of course the very same rights that gave us that victory.

Happy Purim!


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Mixed Feelings About UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the  UN’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It’s commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, and is generally pointed to, even by UN critics, as one of the few things that the UN gets right.  For its admirers, the day pretty much absolves the UN of all sins.

I confess to having mixed emotions about it.

First, there’s the tendency towards universality that pervades everything Jewish-related that the UN does.  The Holocaust has a specific, unique meaning to Jews that it doesn’t have to anyone else.  This is a result of the special place that Jews held in Nazi ideology, and therefore the uniquely catastrophic results that the Holocaust had on the Jewish population and civilization of Europe.  This point has been made before, but the need to draw universal lessons from a uniquely Jewish experience has the effect of lessening, rather than deepening, the lessons that we actually draw from it.  It’s much easier, much more banal, to oppose “hate” in the abstract, than it is to look at the much more concrete way that a specific person or people is seen.

That universality has been the Trojan Horse by which, ironically, anti-Semitism has been given a new lease on life, when the Holocaust was supposed to have rendered it inert for all time.  As British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has repeatedly pointed out, anti-Semitism is a virus, that mutates into whatever form the current zeitgeist finds most acceptable.  Currently, racism is the one thing that can’t be tolerated.  Therefore, it is convenient to condemn Israel – and Jews – for supposed racism vis-a-vis the Palestinians.  Rebutting those charges is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and well-nigh impossible in the eyes of those who make them in the first place.  But the charge of racism, accompanied by the de rigeur comparisons of 2013 Israelis to 1943 Germans, is what has allowed anti-Semitism to regain respectability within the Left.  It will provide the cover for the very same diplomats shedding crocodile tears over the dead Jews of 70 years ago to condemn the living Jews of today for resisting a repeat of history.

In fact, there already is a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, Yom HaShoah, and it celebrates life, vitality, resistance, and renewal, rather than the passive liberation and victim-status that the world prefers for its Jews.  Two days were considered – first the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 14 Nissan.  That was rejected because of its proximity to Passover.  Instead, Yom HaShoah is commemorated a week before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.  Either one of those would be just fine for a UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, but either would make more difficult the UN’s current mission of demonizing and dispossessing the Jews of their national homeland.

If a Day of Liberation of the Camps were strictly necessary, perhaps the  anniversary of the liberation of one of the camps by Eisenhower, who actually commissioned films to be made in order to perpetuate the awful memory of what happened.  Instead, we get the liberation of Auschwitz, the Symbol of Symbols of the Holocaust, but one which was also liberated by the Red Army, which turned out to be in many ways, not much better than the Wehrmacht, and was servant to an ideology in every way the equal of Hitler’s.

Perhaps more ironically, there is a way to redeem this date specifically with respect to Jews.  In 1945, as in 2013, it falls on Parshat Beshallach, the week where Jews read of the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies.  Carrying the story a little further, we also read of the Amalekites attacking the Jews in their new sanctuary, with the intent of annihilating them, and the Jews’ success in fighting them off.

Don’t count on too many people pointing out those parallels.

UPDATE: As if to make the point, here’s a front-page cartoon from this morning’s Sunday Times of London:

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Denver Democrats to Host Anti-Semitic Speaker at “Unity Dinner”

Colorado Democrats, and even Denver Democrats, like to portray themselves as being more centrist, less likely to be run by their wing nuts. Certainly, there’s been little if any evidence of an anti-Israel bias in the state’s Congressional delegation over the years.  Unfortunately, their choice of speaker for Saturday night’s State House District 7 “Unity Dinner” calls that claim into question.

The speaker is California Congressman Maxine Waters, who, only three months ago, was peddling Jewish conspiracy claptrap to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a hard-leftist organization:

AIPAC has a lot of power, a lot of influence.  They raise a lot of money, and they raise this money not just for re-elections, but also to see that the people who will support their agenda are in key places in all of the committees. and all of the leadership of Congress.  So they do exercise tremendous power, and I think that the more money you take from AIPAC, the more you get tied down to their policies.  I do not accept contributions from AIPAC.

Well, that’s mighty independent of her, given that AIPAC doesn’t make campaign contributions, spending its money on lobbying.  Make no mistake, there are plenty of pro-Israel PACs, an they are often informed by AIPAC as to the positions of Congressmen on specific bills or appropriations.  But AIPAC doesn’t even issue legislative ratings.  So if Rep. Waters wants to stay clear of undue Jewish influence, it’ll take more than dodging non-offered contributions from a non-existent PAC.  (The PAC in AIPAC stands for “Public Affairs Committee.”)

What’s disturbing is that the Denver Democrats would choose someone like this to speak at a Unity Dinner.  The last couple of years, they’ve had more or less traditional liberals speak at their Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner: Cory Booker, Deval Patrick.

And, typically, the choice has evoked no response from the establishment Jewish institutions here in Colorado, dominated as they are by those who identify Jewishness with membership in the Democrat party.

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Who’s Your Abu?

Comes this report from Palestinian Media Watch, that a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus is claiming that Moses led the Muslims out of Egypt.  (No jokes about how if this is true, he’s the last Egyptian to have successfully led his people across Sinai.)

“We must make clear to the world that David in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to David in the Quran, Solomon in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to Solomon in the Quran, and neither is Saul or Joshua son of Nun [of the Bible].  We have a great leader, Saul, [in the Quran] who defeated the nation of giants and killed Goliath. This is a great Muslim victory. The Muslims of the Children of Israel went out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and unfortunately, many researchers deny the Exodus of those oppressed people who were liberated by a great leader, like Moses the Muslim, the believing leader, the great Muslim, who was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine.  This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine from the nation of giants led by Goliath. This is our logic and this is our culture.”

The Palestinians have a national obsession with delegitimizing not only Israel, but Jews and Judaism, in their effort to uproot Zionism, but you can’t help but laugh at this one.  After all, they’ve tried being descended from Canannites and Jebusites in their efforts to ante-date Jewish claims.  Back in his pre-Camp David days, Anwar Sadat wanted to avenge the killing of Palestinians like Goliath at the hands of shepherds like David.  So it was only a matter of time before one of them decided that Louis Farrakhan had the right idea and that the Jews were actually Palestinians, or the Palestinians were actually Jews, or something.  The Palestinian narrative has been so incoherent for so long, it’s surprising it took them until now to come out with this one.  (I suppose this ancestral confusion was transplanted to my 2008 primary opponent, who was variously born in Jordan, Saudi, Jerusalem, and recently claimed in a interview to be a child of the Levant, which must have come as quite a shock to him.)

Ultimately, of course, none of this matters.  If the Palestinians would leave the Israelis alone long enough to celebrate the Exodus peacefully, the Israelis would by and large be willing to leave the Palestinians alone to their genealogy.  But as long as “this is their logic (sic) and this is their culture,” there’s not much hope for that, I’m afraid.

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Passover 5771

So as Passover 5761 is here, a few thoughts, some old some new.

Passover commemorates, in effect, the birth of the Jewish people as a nation, as opposed to simply being a collection of tribes, or individuals descended from Jacob.  The Haggadah is in a very real sense, the story that we as Jews, tell ourselves about ourselves.  The Seder admonishes us to relive the Exodus as though it actually happened to us.  And for anyone who becomes Jewish, it becomes their story, as well.

I know I’ve mentioned before that there’s a story in the Haggadah about five rabbis discussing the Exodus.  All five rabbis are either converts, descended from converts, or in one case, a Levi (according to Jewish tradition, the members of the tribe of Levi weren’t forced into labor).  So none of them actually had ancestors who were enslaved, yet all were allowed and encouraged to adopt, that story as their own.

I like to compare this to what we, as Americans do, every time a new round of immigrants is sworn in as citizens.  Our story is now their story.  The Declaration and the Constitution are my inheritance, even though my ancestors were stuck in eastern Europe and Russia at the time.  It’s one of the reasons that I find Dennis Prager’s notion of an Independence Day Seder to be brilliant.  (I’ve been asked to help design the program for one such seder this year; I’ll work on it with relish, but seriously, wish me luck.)

Michael Medved’s article about the “Preposterous Politics of Passover” in the current Commentary, seems to make a similar connection between freedom and the value of tradition and ritual:

Ironically, the Jewish festival that most explicitly emphasizes freedom and liberation simultaneously highlights the inescapable bonds of tradition—especially with a surprising 77 percent of American Jews reporting that they observe the holiday of Passover, according to the National Jewish Population Survey of 2003, more than any other form of religious participation.

It’s an article worth reading, a warning against the hijacking of sacred tradition for transient politics.  I do have one objection, though.  Medved mentions, but glosses over, “Christian” Seders, which I have to say, I do object to.  It’s one thing to attend (or recreate) a Jewish ceremony for the purposes of better understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity, it’s something else entirely to appropriate a Jewish tradition, make the Jews disappear, and recast the symbolism as Christian.  There’s Easter.  There’s Passover.  They are different and separate things, that embody different notions of man’s relationship to God and to the world.

That said, Medved makes a tour of the modern Haggadah.  We always make it a point of getting at least one new Haggadah each year.  We always get one with a traditional text, but with a commentary we don’t have yet.  A couple of years ago, we got a compilation of Rav Soloveitchik’s commentaries on the Haggadah.  This year, it was Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Probably the wittiest Haggadah we have is the IDF Haggadah.  On the night before the holiday starts, we’re obliged to do a “search for chametz,” or leavened bread.  The Haggadah’s illustrative photograph is of an IDF unit examining a smuggling tunnel in Gaza.

(Written Monday evening, before the actual start of Passover, for those of you who are wondering.)

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