Simon Wiesenthal Center SMACKS Child Separation Policy Critics for Invoking Holocaust Comparison

Screenshot from Twitter.

The issue of separating children from their parents at the border has sparked an intense, emotional debate throughout the country over the past few days, even causing some to compare the policy to Nazi Germany. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has had enough of those comparisons.

Among those who have made the Nazi comparison include former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden and former CNN host Soledad O’Brien:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also seemed to invoke the comparison on June 19, telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “This is the United States of America. It isn’t Nazi Germany, and there’s a difference. And we don’t take children from their parents until now and I think it’s such a sad day.”

Additionally, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough ranted on June 15 that the children at the border “are being marched away to showers,” adding that “the Nazis had said that they were taking people to the showers and then they never came back.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper condemned such comparisons in a June 19 statement, saying that while the child separation policy is “unacceptable,” comparisons to the Holocaust are “sickening.”

“All they achieve is to demean the memory of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and confuse young people who know little or nothing about history,” Hier and Cooper said. “Our border guards and Homeland Security personnel are the opposite of Nazis. Critics should stop slandering them. We live in the world’s greatest democracy. Our elected officials have the tools to fix what’s broken and our national debate shouldn’t be tainted by Holocaust revisionism and misappropriation.”

On June 20, President Trump announced that he would be signing an executive order to end the policy. His action is expected to be challenged in the courts, as it contradicts a 9th Circuit Court decision. The administration is hoping that Congress can change the law.

Hamas to Incite Gazans to Dress As Concentration Camp Victims for Border Riots

Screenshot from Twitter.

With another batch of riots set to occur at the Israel-Gaza border on June 8, Hamas plans on inciting Gazans to dress up as concentration camp victims.

Israel’s Channel 2 news is reporting that the protesters will be dressed in black-and-white striped uniforms in order to replicate what Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper condemned the “macabre ploy” in a statement.

“By dressing up kids as Nazi victims, proves the only god this terrorist organization [Hamas] worships is Moloch, the pagan god of child sacrifice, for whom children’s lives are worthless,” Hier and Cooper said. “When will NGOs and U.N. agencies devoted to protecting children finally raise their voices in protests against Hamas’ barbaric tactics, including the use of civilians, children nonetheless, as human shields and cannon fodder for their endless terrorist campaigns? When will the nations like Japan, who supplied beautiful kites for Palestinian children, protest the use of these kites to set fires in Israeli nature preserves and fields?”

The June 8 riots are expected to be particularly violent, as at least 1,500 flaming kites are reportedly being prepared and Hamas is inciting Gazans to breach the border fence. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have already begun warning Gazans to stay away from the border fence and is preparing to strike Hamas targets in Gaza.

Abbas Apologizes for Holocaust Remarks

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses during a news conference with Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon (not pictured) at the Lester B. Pearson building in Ottawa May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

After facing widespread condemnation for his recent comments, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas issued an apology for blaming the Holocaust on the Jews.

Abbas said in a May 4 statement, “If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC [Palestinian National Council], especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them.”

“I would like to assure to everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic claims.”

Abbas added that the PA has a “long held condemnation of the Holocaust as the most heinous crime in history” as well as “anti-Semitism in all its forms.” He concluded his statement with a call for a two-state solution.

However, Abbas’ apology has not been warmly received.

“Abbas is a wretched Holocaust denier, who wrote a doctorate of Holocaust denial and later also published a book on Holocaust denial,” Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted. “That is how he should be treated. His apologies are not accepted.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also excoriated Abbas in a tweet.

“‘If people were offended is not an apology,” the AJC tweeted. “A real apology can include ending Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists who murder Jews.”

On May 2, Abbas said, “The Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion, but against their social function, which relates to usury (unscrupulous money lending) and banking and such.” The blowback against Abbas has been severe to the point where even The New York Times called on him to step down after he made his anti-Semitic remarks.

NYT Calls On Abbas to Resign

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 1, 2018. Picture taken May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo

The New York Times called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to step down from his position in a May 2 editorial in light of his recent Holocaust comments.

The remarks in question came on Monday, when Abbas blamed the Jews for the Holocaust.

“The Jewish question that was widespread throughout Europe was not against their religion, but against their social function, which relates to usury (unscrupulous money lending) and banking and such,” Abbas blustered.

The Times editorial board excoriated Abbas for “feeding reprehensible anti-Semitic myths and conspiracy theories” and losing “all credibility as a trustworthy partner.” They also criticized Abbas record, from his Holocaust denial dissertation and his failure at governance.

“Mr. Abbas, who oversees a governing system plagued by corruption and dysfunction, has lost support among the Palestinian people,” the Times editors wrote. “He has weakened government institutions that are essential for a future state and refused to call new elections, thus overstaying his term by many years and preventing younger leaders from emerging. He has also failed to unify the Palestinians in the West Bank, where his Fatah faction dominates, with those in the even more desperate circumstances of the Gaza Strip, where Hamas holds sway.”

Even with this abysmal record, the Times called Abbas’ Holocaust remarks “a new low.”

“By succumbing to such dark, corrosive instincts he showed that it is time for him to leave office,” the Times editors stated.

The editorial concluded, “Palestinians need a leader with energy, integrity and vision, one who might have a better chance of achieving Palestinian independence and enabling both peoples to live in peace.”

Interestingly, the Times published an op-ed by Abbas in 2011 titled “The Long Overdue Palestinian State,” suggesting that these recent remarks could be a turning point against Abbas in the international court of opinion if even The New York Times is souring on Abbas. The Palestinians have certainly lost confidence in Abbas as well, as a December poll found that 70% of Palestinians think that Abbas should step down.

And yet, Abbas is reportedly going to double on “even harsher” and “more extreme” rhetoric.

‘Midrashic Impulse’ Meets the Holocaust

Theodor Adorno famously insisted that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” and Primo Levi introduced his readers to a fellow inmate at Auschwitz who had scratched a similar warning into his tin plate: “Do not seek to understand.” Both of these phrases serve as a stern caution to anyone who writes about the Holocaust.

Both Adorno and Levi are invoked in the pages of “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma” by Monica Osborne (Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield). Osborne’s brilliant and important book may carry a sober and scholarly title, but it is both lively and daring. She is willing to enter into an argument with Adorno and Levi, and she suggests that it is possible to understand the inner meanings of the Holocaust, not through history but through art and literature. Remarkably, the key to her argument is the ancient rabbinical technique of biblical exegesis known as midrash.

“[W]e are caught in the twilight between Adorno’s decree and the moral imperative of memory,” Osborne writes. Midrash, as she explains, is “an esthetic loophole that allows artists to avoid running afoul of Adorno’s representational proscription” while, at the same time, serving as “a witness to the trauma of the Holocaust.”

Osborne, a scholar of Jewish studies at Pepperdine University and a contributor to the Jewish Journal, sets out to answer a challenging and daunting proposition: “In an era in which no collective tragedy has been treated as often and as thoroughly as the Holocaust, we continue to generate art and scholarship that explores the darkness of these years,” she writes. “We simply cannot seem to get enough of the Holocaust, and despite the knowledge that there is no answer to the resounding question of ‘why?’ we persist in pursuing one through endless artistic and intellectual explorations.”

The method that she uses to penetrate these mysteries of history is the tool of interpretation known as midrash, the same approach that the ancient rabbis and sages used “to respond to the gaps, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and even what we might call wounds in the biblical text.” Osborne points out that the original practitioners of midrash sought to “deepen” and “fill out” the biblical narrative, and she characterizes the work of contemporary authors — Cynthia Ozick (“Heir to a Glimmering World”), E.L. Doctorow (“City of God”), Ann Michaels (“Fugitive Pieces”) and Dara Horn (“In the Image”), among many others, both Jewish and non-Jewish — as exemplars of novelists and short story writers who have applied the same midrashic techniques to the Holocaust.

Monica Osborne makes a careful distinction between representational and nonrepresentational approaches to writing about the Holocaust.

Osborne makes a careful distinction between representational and nonrepresentational approaches to writing about the Holocaust or, for that matter, any other “collective trauma.” She points out that Ozick’s “Heir to a Glimmering World” embraces “tentativeness and caution” when describing the life of a Holocaust survivor, as an example, because it’s an approach that Osborne calls a “paradoxical impulse both to write about the Holocaust and not to write about the Holocaust.”

Adorno’s caution hangs like a threatening storm cloud over Osborne’s book. One way to understand Adorno’s decree is that one should write about the Holocaust only as history and not as poetry, thus heeding Simon Dubnow’s equally famous call to his fellow victims of Nazi mass murder to “write and record.” Osborne herself acknowledges that “a mythologization of history is dangerous,” and especially when it comes to “collective tragedies and atrocities.” She values hard facts, and she warns against “the dangers of representation” by insisting that any author’s aspiration to write “a complete and authentic story of the Holocaust” is “an illusion.”

To her credit, Osborne notes that the Holocaust is hardly only the catastrophe that defies description or understanding. She invokes the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the events of 9/11, and she wonders out loud about what is happening in Syria today. “Will the numerous gruesome images of destroyed Syrian towns and mutilated children’s bodies give us the false assumption that we understand the depth of brutality and loss endured by people about whom we know very little?” she wonders.

Similarly, Osborne points out that “the midrashic impulse” is not confined to Jewish texts or Jewish authors. “I prefer to think of midrash as the most organic way of thinking and of storytelling, and as a mode of thinking that, though not concretely identified anywhere other than in the Jewish tradition, emerges, if subtly and in a manner that is more mystical than philosophical, within cultures and communities that maintain no apparent link to the world of Judaism.”

By way of example, she points out how midrashic thinking “shows up in American Indian culture,” a fact that she does not find surprising. “Notably, the written and oral work of both cultures often grows out of a traumatic past, which always leaves in its wake wounds and silences that must be encountered and read,” she explains. “Indeed we must learn how to bear witness to the trappings of the said in order to bear witness to the transcendence of the saying.”

Osborne is fully aware of her own audacity. “Midrash and contemporary American literature — it seems the unlikeliest of pairs,” she concedes in passing. And yet she makes a convincing case that we can only begin to glimpse the moral enormity of the Holocaust if we look at it obliquely. That is the real power and utility of midrash — “a way of reading, understanding, and responding to the world and its darknesses,” as she puts it.

Indeed, “The Midrashic Impulse” will send the reader back to the original texts just as the earliest efforts at midrash send us back to the Bible. Thanks to Osborne, our second reading will be illuminated by her powerful and radiant insight.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Letters to the Editor: Natalie Portman, Teen Mental Health, and Millennials and the Holocaust

Natalie Portman’s Israel Decision

Is Natalie Portman wrong about not visiting Israel to pick up the Genesis Prize? Right? Justified? Anti-Israel? Playing into the hands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions group? Influential people are lining up on both sides. But strategically, it’s the wrong conversation. There is a bigger, more critical and worrisome story beneath the surface of the Portman controversy that supporters of Israel and believers in Zionism have to wrap their heads around.

Powerful people like her, the people they influence and too many of the next generation are distancing themselves from the current Israeli establishment. We can vociferously argue the drawbacks and merits of everyone’s beliefs, but the fact is we are in danger of losing these people. And we cannot lose them. The ramifications are too great.

If Israel were a product and we were the marketers who saw a growing trend among important segments of the market, that consumers no longer were buying as they once did, we would be doing everything we could to understand why and what needed to be done to shore up our marketplace.

Instead, we just argue, write, voice outrage, support and offer many opinions. All the while, as the marketplace continues to hemorrhage.

Is our job as Israel-lovers to just to keep talking, writing and having conversation? Or is it to understand our marketplace and take action?

Gary Wexler via email

Portman’s refusal to accept her Genesis Prize in Israel makes me very sad. I used to adore her, and now I can’t watch her. Leftist conflict with Israel isn’t new, but do liberals really think they can just turn their backs on Israel and remain Jews, and that their children and grandchildren will still be Jewish? When the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, those who stayed behind, the first Diaspora, showed great deference and support in rebuilding the Jewish state despite serious controversy. And ever since, Diaspora Jews have cherished the Holy Land.

The miracle of Jewish survival has occurred in part because we don’t just believe in God, we have a deal with God, a covenant, based on our allegiance to the Promised Land. This connection has inspired Jewish hopes and pride, and kept our people together for 4,000 years. Now, as Jews by the thousands make aliyah to escape persecution, and Iran threatens Israel with a three-front war, “progressives” here and in Europe relentlessly slander Israel.

Rueben Gordon via email

Teen Mental Health Help in L.A.

Regarding your story “Making Teen Mental Health a Priority,” (April 27) help for teens with mental health issues is in our own backyard.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services (DHMSH) transforms lives by providing quality mental health care and substance abuse treatment from 11 sites and in nearly 100 schools. The agency helps almost 100,000 adults and children throughout Southern California each year. Its suicide prevention center — the first in the nation to provide 24/7 crisis counseling — receives more than 80,000 calls on its crisis line annually and provides support groups for people who have lost loved ones to suicide or have attempted it.

My late mother-in-law, Beatrice Stern, closest of friends with Didi Hirsch and a former DHMSH board member, took a leading role in sparking positive conversations about mental illness by establishing the DHMSH Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards. What began as a small fundraising luncheon has grown into a large dinner, which last week honored musician Rick Springfield, actor Oliver Platt, pro football player Joe Barksdale and the Born This Way Foundation for their work toward erasing the stigma of mental illness.

Marilyn Stern, Westwood

Liberal Democrats, by Definition

I come from a long line liberal Jewish Democrats. When I married my husband, (who is Jewish), I married out of the “faith” because he is a Republican. I read to him Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column “I Am a Liberal. Are You?” (April 20) to verify his stance on each point she highlighted. He agreed with every line. Turns out Republicans can be liberals, too.

Jan Burns via email

Emotional Links to Israel

Thank you, David Suissa, for reminding me of why I swell with pride when hearing of Israel’s great accomplishments, and why my heart aches when I hear of Israel’s sorrows (“A ‘Better’ Word for Israel,” April 20). Having been born and raised in the United States, and having lived my entire life here, I needed that reminder of why. What an eloquent column that shines the light on two big words: fair and unfair.

Pamela Galanti, Chatsworth

Cartoonist Is Off Base

In light of President Donald Trump’s success at staring down nuclear missiles from North Korea, producing amazingly low unemployment numbers (especially among the poor and most vulnerable), the growth of the stock market and Gross National Product, decimating ISIS, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, raising workers’ pay and bonuses through tax cuts, and confirming federal judges, the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” cartoon by Steve Greenberg in your April 27 issue was particularly disgusting.

Warren Scheinin via email

The Amazing Metuka Benjamin

Metuka Benjamin could have achieved super success as a leader in politics, business or any leadership role she could have chosen (“Milken Schools President Is Moving On,” April 27). Consumed by her intense love of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, in particular, she applied her skills, talents and magnetic personality to the building of Jewish schools and the relationship with the State of Israel, not just in words and emotions, but with action. She envisioned and built one of the largest Jewish schools in the U.S., complete with a “living bridge” to Israel as a laboratory of Jewish and Zionist identity for Los Angeles students.
For people serious about the relationship between Israel and our 18- to 26-year-olds, Benjamin is just beginning, again. You may want to follow her next move. Stay tuned.

Howard Gelberd via email

Millennials and the Holocaust

The recent Claims Conference study that revealed millennials’ lack of knowledge about the Holocaust is, as Stephen Smith pointed out, due to “an uneven educational environment” (“Mandate to End Holocaust Ignorance,” April 20). The question is: What to do about it? While eight states have Holocaust Study “mandates” that vary in nature — and approximately half of the states have Holocaust teaching “recommendations” — should all states, via federal legislation, particularly, require Holocaust instruction?

One facet of the foregoing is the all-too-often failure to provide financing for Holocaust curriculum implementation. Without dollars for teacher in-servicing, materials and associated educational costs, just how “even” can Holocaust instruction become?

California is a perfect example of an unfunded, via taxes (1986 forward), but funded, via contributions (post 2002, for several years) mandate. Fortunately, for millions of California students, organizations such as Stephen Smith’s USC Shoah Foundation provide rich, ongoing, accessible Holocaust study resources. Still, a national “mandate” without means (i.e., teacher training and related funding costs) should make us cautious about what we wish for.

Bill Younglove, Lakewood

The Middle East Powder Keg

Iran having a base of military operations in Syria must never be allowed (“Collision Course,” April 27). This not only puts Israel at risk, but world peace, as well.

Add Russia’s involvement in the area and you have a recipe for a catastrophe.

George Vreeland Hill via email

Filmmaker Explores Shoah’s Aftermath

From left, Erika Jacoby, Jon Kean, Eva Beckmann and Renee Firestone at a November 2016 screening at the American Jewish University. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Writer-director Jon Kean documented the harrowing experiences of six female Holocaust survivors in his 2007 documentary, “Swimming in Auschwitz.” A decade later, his sequel “After Auschwitz” focuses on the aftermath of liberation, emigration and ultimately, how the same six women rebuilt their lives in Los Angeles.

“I’d never thought of liberation as being a sad day, that’s how naïve I was,” Kean told the Journal. “Liberation was awful for these women. That’s what drove me to make this film. I wanted to see the world through survivors’ eyes. When you’ve seen such tragedy and trauma you’d be forgiven if you gave up. But it’s the exact opposite with these women.”

After interviewing his subjects for the second time, Kean had 30 hours of emotional testimony to condense into 80 minutes. “I knew them so well that we could get to the core of things so quickly. They trusted me,” he said.

The finished product tells “an emotional story that covers history, sociology, psychology and Los Angeles in the 20th century — how Angelenos welcomed these survivors and either made life easier for them or more difficult,” he said.

Kean partnered with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust to raise funds for the film, promote it and get it screened for young people who might not be familiar with the story. “They know the Holocaust happened but don’t know the facts,” he said. “I’m putting together a curriculum guide with the museum for the next school year. That’s where we can really affect people.”

Growing up in Philadelphia in a family with “a very strong Jewish identity but not as strong religiously,” Kean, 50, became interested in the Holocaust early on.

“In another five years, the eyewitnesses to the greatest horror of mankind will be gone.” — Jon Kean

“The father of one of my best friends was an Auschwitz survivor, and I remember him coming to our Hebrew school and talking with us. The ‘Holocaust’ miniseries came out when I was 11, and it was so powerful to me. I was transfixed by it,” he said. “My bar mitzvah speech was about Simon Wiesenthal and hunting for Nazi war criminals. I got to meet Simon 10 years ago in Vienna.”

Kean earned a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania but joined a friend in an acting class on a whim, moved to Hollywood, and landed roles on TV shows, including “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Clueless.” Moving behind the camera, he co-wrote and co-directed the 1999 comedy “Kill the Man,” but failed to get subsequent scripts produced. “I wanted to do something that was more meaningful,” he said.

Kean is considering Rwandan genocide survivors as his next subject. “There is an urgency right now,” he said. “It’s not just people forgetting the Holocaust, it’s people forgetting what’s happening right now.”

That urgency exists on another level, with the Shoah generation disappearing. Three of “After Auschwitz’s” six subjects have died.

“In another five years, the eyewitnesses to the greatest horror of mankind will be gone,” Kean said, noting that Renee Firestone, 94, “travels all over the United States and speaks almost every day because she knows she has to do it now. Erika Jacoby [age 90] does the same.”

Kean said he knows “there are a lot of people who won’t see the film because of the word ‘Auschwitz.’ But to me this is a post-Holocaust story, a story about overcoming trauma. Everybody can relate to that.”

“After Auschwitz” opens May 4 at the Laemmle Music Hall and Laemmle Town Center 5 theaters. Some screenings will feature a Q-and-A session.

Sale of Nazi-Era Pass Recalls Hero Wallenberg

A life-saving document for two Hungarian Jews, signed by the late Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, has been sold for $13,750, according to a spokesman for Nate D. Sanders Auction of Los Angeles.

The sale brings renewed attention to one of the most elaborate and effective acts by a Christian, backed by his government, to foil the Nazi death machine.

The so-called “protective pass” conferred Swedish citizenship on Jewish siblings Emilne Tanzer and Iren Forgo. The passes spared them the fate of more than 300,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the SS, mainly at Auschwitz.

Specifically, the passes exempted the Jewish bearers from wearing the yellow Jewish star patch,by declaring that they were Swedish citizens awaiting reparation to their homeland.

Though the passes had no actual legal standing, the ruse worked well enough to be accepted by German and Hungarian officials most of the time.

Wallenberg disappeared in early 1945, and it is generally believed that he was arrested when Russian troops wrested Budapest from the German army, and that he died in a Russian labor camp.

In line with its policy, Sanders Auction did not identify the seller or buyer of the historical document.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen for the Jews of Budapest.

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wallenberg was born in Stockholm in 1912, studied in the United States, and in June 1944 was recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary. Given status as a diplomat by the Swedish delegation, Wallenberg’s assignment was to assist and rescue as many Hungarian Jews as he could.

Although completely inexperienced in diplomacy and clandestine operations, Wallenberg led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust.

In addition to issuing “protective passes,” Wallenberg used American and Swedish funds to establish hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen. In addition, he designated more than 30 “safe” houses that together formed the core of the “international” ghetto in Budapest, which was reserved for Jews and their families holding certificates of protection from a neutral country.

Spurred by Wallenberg’s example, diplomats from other neutral countries joined in the rescue effort. Swiss Consul General Carl Lutz issued certificates of emigration to some potential emigrants to Palestine.

Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, established safe houses, including one for Jewish children.

Wallenberg’s decision to put his own life at risk to help save Jews was summed up by a friend many years ago who reportedly told Wallenberg that he should worry about his own safety. Wallenberg reportedly responded, “For me, there’s no choice. I’ve taken on this assignment, and I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing inside myself I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”

Abbas Blames the Jews for the Holocaust

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during the Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to become unhinged as evident by the fact that he blamed the Jews for the Holocaust in an April 30 speech.

According to the Times of Israel, Abbas’ incoherently long-winded speech blamed the Jews’ “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters” for triggering the Holocaust. He also claimed that Adolf Hitler was responsible for sending Jews to Israel by allowing Jews who immigrated there to bring their assets into the area.

In other words, Abbas used a longtime anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews to blame them for the slaughter of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

When he wasn’t engaging in his Holocaust revisionism, Abbas rambled about other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including the claim that Ashkenazi Jews have no historical lineage to the original habitants of Israel and that Israel was “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism.”

Abbas also reiterated his refusal to accept any deals from the United States after President Trump’s Jerusalem move and suggested that the PA could take “take tough steps in the near future in our relationship with our neighbors (Israel) and the Americans.”

Naturally, Abbas praised the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border.

“Thank God, they (Hamas) finally agreed and this is effective,” Abbas said, implying that the riots have been peaceful although they have been anything but.

The anti-Semitic rhetoric in Abbas’ speech certainly fits his background, which includes him writing a book that engages in Holocaust denialism.

Agunot Share Their Stories of Pain, Freedom and Redemption

For three years, Los Angeles resident Patricia Sultan, waited to receive a Jewish divorce from her husband, known as a get. Since obtaining a civil divorce from her home in Belgium, the rabbinical court (beit din), which is responsible for dissolving Jewish marriages, told Sultan that it would need her divorce papers to be translated from French to English, that it would be a complicated process, and she would have to wait until she heard back from the court for her divorce to be finalized.

“They never called back,” Sultan said in a phone interview with the Journal. “I had very confusing information and I didn’t understand how it would work.”

Without a get, women married in Orthodox Jewish ceremonies are unable to remarry within the Jewish faith. They become known as agunot — literally  “chained” women, tied to their husbands who refuse to sign the get.

Husbands may refuse to give their wives gets for many reasons, including extorting them for money, or as a way to exercise control over them. It is an issue that has plagued rabbinical courts for centuries.

Sultan kept calling rabbis and synagogues, hoping for answers. But none came. Then, just before Passover this year, Sultan found Esther Macner and her nonprofit organization Get Jewish Divorce Justice, based in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. She called Macner on a Friday, and by the following Tuesday her ex-husband had signed the get and paid half the fees. Sultan didn’t even have to see her husband in person.

Macner told the Journal that Sultan and her ex-husband thought they needed to resolve financial matters before she could receive her get, which was not true. They also were misinformed that they needed their civil divorce decree translated from French to English.

“I feel like I’m getting myself back together,” Sultan said. “I’m not tied to this man anymore. It’s a relief.”

Sultan is one of five women who shared their agunot stories at an event organized by Macner on April 15 in Pico-Robertson. The event, which has been running for four years, aims to celebrate the women who have received their gets and support those who are still waiting.

“Getting the get is an earth-shattering experience for any agunah,” Macner said. “It is a rebirth of her life, and many of the women are isolated. It deserves a communal celebration.”

At the event, several of the women spoke of how their husbands were mentally ill or abusive. They spoke in front of other women who are trying to get a get or were “freed” with the help of Macner. Some waited nearly 15 years, while for others it took around five. The women ranged in age, said Tehillim (Psalms) for those still waiting, and talked about their particular circumstances, as well as how they survived their ordeals.

One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said she was married to a domestic abuser for more than a decade. From the outside, she lived the perfect life, but inside her home, she was in turmoil. When she asked for a divorce, her husband and his wealthy family came at her with lawyers, and said they would bribe a beit din for a heter meah rabbanim (permission from 100 rabbis) to say she was crazy.

“I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive.” — Esther Macner

For three years, she fought him in court. In the spring of 2017, she attended Macner’s annual agunot event and finally received her get at the end of 2017, after putting legal pressure on her husband and winning one court case after another against him.

“You have to believe in HaShem [God], because there is nothing else that will get you through it,” she said. “[When I got my get], I had this chill throughout my body.”

Macner, an Orthodox Jew, started Get Jewish Divorce Justice six years ago. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., she is a former assistant district attorney in New York City. There, she specialized in domestic violence and family law.

Macner said she started her organization because she is passionate about helping agunot. “I’m a child of Holocaust survivors and I thought it was my mission to protect the oppressed from the oppressive. It’s painful to me, because I love Orthodox Judaism. It’s my identity. And this is a blemish.”

When agunot call Macner, she gets in touch with the rabbinic court she works with to see if there are solutions or legal loopholes. She calls the husbands to pressure them to provide gets, and she also counsels the agunot and writes affidavits to be used in court.

In some cases, the marriages weren’t valid to begin with. There may not have been two kosher witnesses, which covers everything from not Sabbath or kashrut observant, to not being close family members or having fraudulent activity in their backgrounds. In addition, the husband may have had a psychiatric disorder that he didn’t reveal prior to the wedding, which would render the marriage contract invalid.

Another woman who spoke at the event discovered her ex-husband’s mother had lied about her conversion, and he wasn’t Jewish, thereby invalidating the marriage. She said that before she discovered this information, the process of trying to receive the get was tearing her up.

Macner said get issues can be resolved if couples sign Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements state that if the couple is no longer living together as husband and wife and one of them calls the beit din to receive a get, the spouse who is not cooperating would have to pay a daily sum of money. He or she would be responsible for support, irrespective of state legal requirements.

Another way to obtain a get, Macner said, is to find legal loopholes and not give up if the husband isn’t cooperating. “Rabbinic courts should send out a summons and be much more aggressive in pressuring a guy to give a get,” she said. “They should not simply be closing the doors and saying, ‘Well, if he won’t cooperate, what can we do?’ ”

“I only got my get because my husband knew he would end up in jail if he didn’t give it to me,” one woman said. “The fact that in our religion it needs to come to this, it makes it feel so archaic. The rabbis need to get together, and this has to stop.”

Third Generation of The Holocaust, a former soldier in the IDF

I am a third generation of the Holocaust, and a former soldier in the IDF.

I was born in a small town in the center of a well-developed country. My most vivid memories from my childhood are music, laughter and quality family-time. My worst experience as a child was when I crashed my bike at the age of five, getting scratches on my knees. My parents gave me everything I wanted and needed, and my night’s sleep was tight and calm.

Since a very early age, my fellow classmates and I were taught that all of this was made possible thanks to our grandparents. At first by our parents, then by our Kindergarten teachers, our teachers, our commanders in the army and now – our professors at the University. When my grandparents were my age, they did not have a comfortable life or a calm night’s sleep. They woke up every day to the scenery of sand, mud and swamps and often to the sound of gunfire. They fought hard, every day, with the dream in their heart that their children and children’s children would have a normal life and safe happy, safe childhood.

My mother’s parents were native Israelis, because their families were smart enough to escape to the swampy state-to-be from Poland, before it was too late. Not all of their relatives were that alert, and were brutally murdered by the Nazi killing machine.

My father’s parents came from Iraq in the 1950’s, and lived in a transit camp until there was a place for them to live in at the newly established State of Israel. Many of my friends’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors, some of them are still unable to talk about those dark times. Together, natives, survivors and patriots from east and west, joined forces for us, their descendants.

Now, as they become older, it is our time to step to center-stage and do our part, as the third generation of the Holocaust. We are the last generation to hear about “those days,” where the country was built after the nightmares of the Holocaust, from first hand. We are the last generation to speak to the heroes who built this country and the heroes who survived the worst, and our life- mission of commemorating and educating will soon begin.  If I heard a testimony from a Holocaust survivor every year from first to 12th grade, and could ask my grandparents questions every day, my children would not have that privilege. They will have to rely on the stories, documentaries, and recorded testimonies. 

It is our mission to keep the memory alive, and in this time of the year it becomes clearer than ever. This special week of the year reminds us all the story of Israel, which is often being described here with the sentence: From Holocaust to Revival (free translation from Hebrew- משואה לתקומה).

With the memory of the Holocaust, we carry constant personal and public grief of the people we lost while fighting to keep our home in Israel – soldiers and civilians, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who died protecting our country, or during a normal day that ended in a tragic terror attack.

This story of Israel, which is still being written, is told every year, during one week in April or May (The Hebrew months Nissan and Iyar). On the 27th of Nissan, we mention the national Holocaust Day; on the 4th of Iyar we mention the national Memorial Day; on the 5th of Iyar we mention our Independence Day. Those three dates tell the story of Israel, in order: we survived the Holocaust to build the state of Israel. From having nothing, we got to have everything, but sadly, this “everything” had its toll, when we lost many in our never-ending battle for our home.

During these days of remembrance, schools change their itinerary and people are allowed to skip work. Ceremonies are held in every public facility, and a grand nation – wide ceremony takes place in Jerusalem and is aired on national television. During these three days, stores are closed, and the entire nation is committed to the essence of the special day. During these days, for a brief moment, everyone stops everything and bow their heads down in grief as a siren is heard throughout the country. During those three days, the television and radio broadcasts are altered, and are dedicated to tell the story, for everyone to know.

With time, the reasons to fully commit to those days could become vaguer and it would be our responsibility to remember and cherish them, making sure our children would not forget them either. In times of Holocaust denial, growing anti-Semitism, growing indifference and threats from our neighboring countries, those reasons must burn in our guts and be our guiding light.

I am a third generation of the Holocaust and a former IDF soldier. Israel was given to me on a silver platter, with the promise to remember those who handed it to me, 70 years ago, and every single day since.

I promise to always remember and never forget. I promise to remember and remind my past, so that my children would be able to create the future.

For more updates about the day-to-day life in Israel, you can follow Israelife on Facebook here.

Sol Liber, Uprising Resistance Fighter

Sol Liber, one of the last known members of the Jewish resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, died on March 21. He was 94. His legacy will live on through his three children, eight grandchildren and the testimony of his harrowing experiences at three concentration camps. His interview was number 50 of 50,000 at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation.

“My father was very focused, primarily on family, work, and the Jewish people,” Liber’s son, Sheldon, said at the funeral on March 23. “He was a great teacher that shared lessons about all three [of these things] with great emphasis on personal integrity, honesty, loyalty and taking the initiative to help others.”

Liber was born in the town of Grojec, Poland, 40 kilometers south of Warsaw. He was thrust into the trauma of World War II at the age of 15 when he was drafted to fight for the Polish Army against the invading Germans. After Poland’s quick surrender, he returned home, but was soon chased out. He eventually landed with his father, mother and four siblings in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Desperate, yet resourceful, Liber would sneak beyond the walls to barter goods for food for his family. When word came the Germans intended to empty the Ghetto and disperse those who survived to death camps, Liber was led blindfolded to meet the head of the secret Resistance, Mordechai Anielewicz. He was enlisted to help smuggle children through the sewers to groups shepherding them to safety. When the Germans mounted their final attack, Liber was assigned to battle them.

“If you have the will to live, you will try anything.” – Sol Liber

After the German army prevailed, Liber and two surviving sisters were shipped on a tightly packed train to Treblinka. Once they arrived, Liber was pulled aside with 500 other men, and watched his two sisters head for the gas chambers.

He was put back on a train and sent to Majdanek. After surviving that inhumane torture camp, Liber was shipped to Buchenwald, where he spent each day in an underground munitions factory. Finally liberated by the Russians in 1945, he returned briefly to his village before making his way to Eggenfelden, a displaced-persons camp.

“My dad was both a simple and complicated man,” his son Rodney said at the funeral. “His school education was cut short at fifth grade when he was placed with a tailor to learn the trade, one he told me several times he never liked. His education on the mean streets of the world however was vast, and he wore that early experience everywhere he went and in everything he did.

“He escaped death many times, if not every day in his late teens and early 20s. He told me of at least a dozen close calls but I’m sure there were many more. He was tough and he instilled at least some of that toughness in me, which I hope has served and will continue to serve me well.”

Liber made his way to Marseilles, France, to start training to fight in Palestine, but was convinced by his cousin that it was not his fight. “You did not survive the atrocities and see your family perish to now put yourself in jeopardy. You must live on!” the cousin said. With that, he traveled to Paris, lived with his cousin and helped support the family by working as a tailor.

Liber later made the journey to Quebec to see his only surviving family member, his brother Jack, in Winnipeg. Eight months later he traveled to Montreal, where he met his future wife Bella and had two children, before moving to Los Angeles.

Years later, when asked how he survived, Liber simply said, “If you have the will to live, you will try anything.”

At his funeral, his eight grandchildren paid their respects, too. “As adults, knowing more now about his history, about the many lives he led long before our time, about the unspeakable ordeals he endured … we are filled with many emotions; pride, reverence, awe, humility,” they said. “We all want so much to honor Grandpa Sol, to repay him for all he gave us, to live up to the standard he set and to continue his legacy.”

Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Millennials Don’t Know What Auschwitz Is

Photo from Pixabay.

A poll released on April 12 shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials don’t actually know what Auschwitz is.

The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that 66% of millennials couldn’t identify Auschwitz; among all adults that number was 41%.

In fact, 49% of millennials couldn’t identify a single concentration camp or ghetto; that number was 45% among all U.S. adults. Forty-one percent of millennials also thought that two million Jews or less died in the Holocaust and 22% didn’t even know or weren’t sure what the Holocaust was. Among adults, those numbers were 31% and 11%, respectively.

Making matters worse was the fact that the poll found that 70% of all U.S. adults felt that less and less people care about the Holocaust and 58% thought that something like the Holocaust could happen again in the future.

The aforementioned numbers could be due to the fact that 80% of U.S. adults have never been to a Holocaust museum and 66% don’t know a Holocaust survivor.

However, there was some good news in the poll: 93% of U.S. adults said that all schools should teach their students about the Holocaust and 80% think it’s “important” that people know about the Holocaust to ensure that it never happens again.

Still, the whole point of #NeverAgain is to ensure that people don’t forget about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study shows that there are “significant gaps in knowledge” in the country. This is at a time when anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. increased by 60% in 2017 and anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe increased.

However, a recent study found that anti-Semitic attacks globally declined by 9% in 2017.

Read the full results of the poll here.

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents

Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland

Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

5 Articles on Holocaust Remembrance and Anti-Semitism

A torch can be seen during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Here is a list of recent articles I wrote recently on Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism. This list first appeared on the Jewish Journal’s daily Roundtable – a daily newsletter I highly recommend (sign up here)

  1. Last year, I asked if we will still remember the Holocaust in 2000 years.

As we remember the Holocaust, we are obliged to think about these highly practical matters. We must think about them as we are the first generation of Jews that will soon have to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day without any survivors around to tell us their stories. We are the first generation of Jews that will soon be sharing the burden of having to shape a Remembrance Day for the ages. Tisha B’Av survived for 2000 years, and is still with us. Can we guarantee such staying power for Holocaust Remembrance Day?

  1. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I remembered that in Israel remembering the Holocaust is a daily feature of life:

From January to May, Israel marks not one but three Holocaust Memorial days. There was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked this week, and there is the religious Memorial Day, marked, along with other Jewish tragedies, on the Asarah be-Tevet fast, and then there is the actual, official Memorial Day, a week after Passover. Yet in most cases, the Holocaust occupies us not because of special duty — a day that calls for a pause. In most cases it is us, busying ourselves with it because nothing has more power to grab our attention. We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

  1. In the New York Times, I argued that Israel’s response to anti-Semitism is always colored by Israeli geopolitical interests:

Israel’s silence on the White House’s Holocaust statement tells us a few disturbing things about the Jewish state. The most important is that there is a limit to what Israel is willing to sacrifice in its denunciations of anti-Semitism. Take the example of Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis. For years, Israel refused to have contact with the party because of its anti-Semitic leanings. But as it grew in power — and came around to backing the Jewish state — Israel was becoming more receptive to accepting the Freedom Party’s courtship.

  1. I also questioned whether it’s a good idea for all Jewish students to visit Auschwitz:

There’s no doubt that these trips have merit. They certainly make Israeli students appreciate the scope and severity of the horrors of the Holocaust. These trips also force young Israelis see with their own eyes what can happen to a people when they are hated and defenseless — a lesson that is as important today as it ever was. So why end these trips? First, because they contribute to a misperception by many Jews that remembering the Holocaust is the main feature of Judaism. Second, because they perpetuate the myth that Israel itself is born only of the ashes of Europe.

  1. And recently I mourned the tendency of Jews to utilize anti-Semitism for their partisan political purposes:

Much more so than in the past, we point fingers at one another as we search for the mysterious factors that ignite anti-Semitism. We see anti-Semitism everywhere, we use anti-Semitism for thinly veiled political purposes, and we identify anti-Semitism among our ideological rivals while turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism within our own ideological camps.

Celebration, Commemoration and Disappointment

This year it has been an odd holiday season for many Jews. The joy of our celebrations has been marred by disappointment as we ponder the holidays’ themes and their implications for the world around us.

Our commemorations of suffering and slavery and then freedom ought and are meant to resonate in our activities in the real world.

As we celebrated Passover, we are instructed to feel as if we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt. [Deuteronomy 24:18, “Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from your slavery”]. The Passover Seder had us metaphorically re-experience the exodus—we consumed its symbols (the bitter herbs of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread eaten while fleeing) to make dramatic and personal the challenges and the implications of the journey from slavery to freedom.

The eight-day Passover festival has been supplemented by contemporary Jews with three more commemorations on the Jewish calendar, the first addition in more than a millennium.

Today we recollect the Holocaust, the annihilation of six million Jews with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). One week later Jews observe Israel’s Memorial Day and the sacrifice of its soldiers who defend the right of the Jewish people to be free. It is followed immediately by the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day – this year its 70th.

Most Yom HaShoa commemorations reference the indifference of the world to Jews and Jewish refugees. As the man who would become Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, said in 1937 (eleven years before the creation of the state) the world was then divided “into places where the Jews could not live and places where they cannot enter.”

In the context of celebration and commemoration, with four holidays whose themes intertwine around freedom, moral responsibility and action we witnessed the prime minister of Israel reneging on an agreement with the United Nations. A pact that would have provided refuge in Israel, Europe and Canada to thousands of Africans who have sought asylum in Israel from persecution and violence and who face the threat of death if they are forced to return to their homelands.

Israel is a sovereign state that has the right and obligation to take care of its own, thirty-nine thousand refugees in a nation the size of Israel is not without issues; but the arrangement with the UN and other nations including Canada, Germany and Italy was a viable and fair resolution to the crisis. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled the agreement within hours of endorsing it at the behest of right wing allies.

It is difficult to square our traditions and religious admonitions with the expulsion of desperate immigrants into a world where not only their freedom may be denied, but also their lives taken.

Some will commemorate the Holocaust today to largely teach that the “whole world is against us and only an empowered Jewish people that can defend itself will offer security and safety.” That is one lesson that can be drawn from the tragic events of seventy-five years ago; but surely not its only one.

The Holocaust is also a story that happened to a distinct people that has become a shared universal paradigm which speaks to human conscience. It ought to inspire active moral values, enlarge the domain of human responsibility, elicit compassion, and command respect for universal human rights and dignity. That was the core of the Jewish message transmitted by the survivors and by those millions of others who have become witnesses to their witness.

That message ought to be reflected in Israel, envisioned as a beacon to the world, a place that would not only give substance to Jewish nationalism and chauvinism but also to Jewish values. Values that reflect the Biblical injunctions on how to treat the stranger and the sojourner.  Having been history’s “wanderers” we should comprehend the real-world impact of ignoring the Bible’s noble commands.

Those values were diminished by the Prime Minister of Israel and those who pressured him to abrogate the agreement he had reached to resettle the thousands of African refugees.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu was not alone in diminishing history’s lessons and values. For on the very day that coincided with Easter and Passover the President railed against our strangers and sojourners. He demeaned foreign born children in our midst who have lived in America and are American in every sense of the term, save their citizenship papers.

Our holidays are marred by leadership who have ignored the lessons of history and the season and acted in ways as our tradition decried.

Dr. Michael Berenbaum, is the Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at American Jewish University. David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. ( a human relations agency in Los Angeles chaired by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Elie Wiesel a Dissident? 

Elie Wiesel.

When one thinks of the late Elie Wiesel, one envisions him as the embodiment of Jewish values and a central part of the Jewish community. In an essay in the Daily Beast in July 2016, Gil Troy, professor of history at Montreal’s McGill University, wrote,  “[His] faith in democracy and humanity, despite being scarred by totalitarianism and inhumanity, embodies America’s legendary optimism.”

However, at a recent talk at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Holocaust professor Michael Berenbaum said Wiesel was a dissident at heart, a man who actively challenged established doctrines, policies and institutions.

According to Berenbaum, Wiesel’s “dissident” status was revealed in five major areas:

The Holocaust
For Wiesel, the Holocaust was the central event of the modern Jewish experience. Said Berenbaum, “He was angry with American Jewry for not caring enough, not doing enough and not moving heaven and earth to save Jews during the Holocaust.” Berenbaum added that Wiesel said Jews have a responsibility to testify to what happens when there is no restraint on evil and idolatry triumphs.

The Nature of God
Wiesel asked: “How do we deal with a God who was absent during the Holocaust?” Berenbaum said although Wiesel wouldn’t state outright that God is dead, he saw man as God’s favorite toy. Berenbaum said, “Wiesel finally arrived at the conclusion: ‘We can’t depend on God to save us. We have to save ourselves.’ ”

“Elie Wiesel was angry with American Jewry for not caring enough, not doing enough and not moving heaven and earth to save Jews during the Holocaust.” — Michael Berenbaum

Soviet Jewry
In his book “The Jews of Silence,” Wiesel condemned world Jewry for not being willing to put everything on the line for Soviet Jews. Berenbaum said Wiesel was adamant that American Jewry had the power to act this time and they should, given that they had failed to act during the Holocaust.”

Bitburg Cemetery
When Wiesel met with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in April 1985, he said of the president’s proposed visit to Bitburg — a German military cemetery where some SS members were buried — “That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.” As a result of that meeting, “Reagan also visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and promised that America would “never forget” and went on to say, ‘Never again.’ ”

Challenging Jews to Fight Genocide
One of Wiesel’s central messages, according to Berenbaum, was that “in extreme situations when human lives and dignity are at stake, neutrality is a sin.” Wiesel condemned American Jewry as the Jews of Silence, and raged against Jewish passivity, indifference and complacency.

What was this dissident’s greatest gift to us?
Perhaps it was his insight into the nature of transformation. Said Berenbaum, Wiesel acknowledged, “You cannot transform the entire world, but you can transform your part of it, starting with transforming yourself. If you cannot cure the disease, you can still heal the person.”

Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and various sitcom staffs. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

B’nai Horin Celebrates 50 Years

Rabbi Stan Levy with longtime B’nai Horin member Evanne Levin.

The second night of Passover was particularly special this year for members of B’nai Horin (Children of Freedom), who gathered for a seder that celebrated their community’s 50th anniversary.

Held at the Olympic Collection in West Los Angeles, the March 31 event featured live music and a presentation that compared biblical and current events: Moses protesting to Pharaoh about the “police brutality against the Hebrews,” the 16 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops at a protest on the Gaza Strip border, and African American Stephon Clark shot eight times in the back by Sacramento police.

During the seder, B’nai Horin founder and civil rights attorney Rabbi Stan Levy said many of the issues addressed when the community first met in 1968 remain today. “Nothing much has changed,” he said.

The hagaddah he created this year focused on refugees. “Our ancestors were impoverished, persecuted Syrian refugees,” Levy said. “The word ‘Hebrew’ means ‘nomad.’ And the Torah has more laws protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees than any other system of law.”

B’nai Horin got its start when “a dozen attorneys, social workers and others involved in the civil rights movement gathered in the basement of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles to hold [that first] seder,” B’nai Horin’s co-Rabbi Laura Owens told the Journal. “They examined civil rights issues of the day through the lens of Passover.

Rabbi Stan Levy.

“The seder proved so impactful,” Owens said, “that those involved felt that it shouldn’t be a one-time thing. They started gathering for holidays and learning, sharing and growing, and invited others.”

Eventually, they decided to keep the energy and ideas flowing by forming a congregation consisting of like-minded individuals.

“The Torah has more laws protecting the rights of immigrants and refugees than any other system of law.” — Rabbi Stan Levy

And much like the Jews who wandered in the desert for 40 years following the Exodus, B’nai Horin has moved throughout Los Angeles, without a permanent physical space to call home.

During its first 25 years, services were held at The House of the Book at Brandeis-Bardin in Simi Valley.

“It was one of the original synagogues without walls,” Owens said. “The notion being that we are wandering Jews, we are nomads, we make our home where we can.”

It’s also why B’nai Horin doesn’t have a board of directors or mandatory dues. All contributions are on a “can do” basis. B’nai mitzvot have been held at the Riddick Youth Center in Rancho Park since the early 2000s, and Shabbat services have been held there for the last two years. Prior to that, Shabbat services were held in members’ homes, while High Holy Days services have been held in the sanctuary at American Jewish University and at other locations.

B’nai Horin, is a member of ALEPH (the Alliance of Jewish Renewal), and its services are somewhat eclectic, combining “the socially progressive values of egalitarianism, the joy of Hasidism, [and] the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the havurah,” according to its website. Or, as Owens explains it: “In many congregations, they do the Hebrew first, then the English. We like to do the English first, so that when they get to the prayer, they know what it is and what they’re going for.”

It’s difficult to pin down how many members B’nai Horin has, Owens said, because, “We don’t make anyone join; we’re more invitational and welcoming.”

At this year’s seder, one of its longtime members, 77-year-old Holocaust survivor Eva Nathanson, spoke movingly about surviving World War II.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, she was barely 4 years old when her parents tried to shield her from what was happening. Cutting out yellow “Juden” stars, she was told it was an “art project.” Her family being pushed into trucks bound for concentration camps was merely “playing hide and seek.”

Nathanson spent 2½ years hidden under a hole cut in a living room floor and was moved to multiple hiding places throughout the war. She was eventually discovered and taken to the Danube River with other Jews, where she witnessed people pleading for their lives, tied two-by-two, being shot and pushed into the river.  Miraculously, she survived but lost almost all of her family in the Holocaust.

Eva Nathanson. Photo from

She left Hungary in 1956 following the revolution and settled with what was left of her family in Los Angeles in 1957. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business psychology and an MBA in organizational management and human resource management. Today, she is a mother and grandmother and a cancer care worker at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Owens credited Rabbi Levy with the strength and depth of the B’Nai Horin community that has drawn Nathanson and other members.

“He excels at making Judaism deeply meaningful,” she said, “helping so many to view the teachings of the Torah as being directed personally to them.”

Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Is There Anything Left To Say About the Holocaust?

The most unspeakable crime of the 20th century — or any century, for that matter — actually inspired a lot of people to speak about it. It’s the great paradox of the Holocaust. The mere thought of the genocide of European Jewry both paralyzes and demands action. It summons the silence and the scream. The contradictions are endless but understandable. The Holocaust is ineffable, and yet everyone wants to hear about it. It is unimaginable, and yet that never stopped artists from reimagining it.

Either as a duty to the dead or in response to the lurid, voyeuristic fascination it evokes, finding new ways to remember the Holocaust always has been a moral imperative. But in the 73 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, these collective acts of giving voice to its memory make one wonder: With all that speaking about the unspeakable, is there anything left to say, or has everything already been said about the Holocaust?

The question is overdue. Holocaust memory has grown a little stale over the past several years and fatigue has set in. The number of Yom HaShoah commemorations has declined around the world. With each passing year they dwindle, not unlike the number of survivors.

Perhaps the savagery of the world simply has caught up with the Holocaust in a twisted competition for evil supremacy. We are tragically becoming inured to the atrocious, surrounded by so many contenders. The poisonous gas, Zyklon B, used in Auschwitz and other death camps, now has a successor in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s deployment of sarin and other chemical agents against his own people. Beheadings by butchers known as ISIS — filmed for the viewing pleasure, indoctrination and recruitment of its followers — are so brazenly shocking that even the Nazis would have trembled. After all, the Nazis used Zyklon B so as not to waste bullets on Jews and out of concern that camp guards might lose the nerve to carry out barbaric orders. Poisonous pellets dropped into gas chambers enabled Nazis to avoid much of the dirty work. ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Hamas never seem to have such problems. They are naturally good at and highly motivated to draw blood — Jewish, especially.

Other mass murders that followed — in Cambodia, Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo and Sudan — along with acts of global terrorism in Bali, Madrid, London, Mumbai, Nice, Paris, Berlin, Boston and, of course, New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and mass shootings in American schools and even on a Norwegian island, have undoubtedly caused an emotional distancing from the Holocaust.

One would think, however, that the Holocaust’s imprint is so strong, and its moral mystery so incomparable, its flame could never possibly die out.  Its impact on Western culture alone serves as an enduring monument to moral failure.

So many survivors have provided witness in one form or another. Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel (“Night”) and Primo Levi (“Survival in Auschwitz”) wrote memoirs, while thousands have recorded oral histories. Filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg (“Schindler’s List”) and Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”) arguably saved their best work for this macabre, intensely personal subject, although they improbably managed to include life-affirming endings. Novelists from William Styron (“Sophie’s Choice”) and Aharon Appelfeld (“Badenheim 1939”), to Markus Zusak (“The Book Thief”) and Art Spiegelman (graphic novel “Maus”) tinkered with the story without laying claim to it. There have been innumerable playwrights, as well. And of course, there was the iconic diary written by Anne Frank, whose precocious, smiling portrait is forever locked in our minds.

The only thing that could ever make the Holocaust disappear is the end of anti-Semitism itself.

And yet, the Holocaust is being forgotten and exploited. A surging wave of global anti-Semitism has surfaced with the added aim of pummeling and plundering the Holocaust. Who knows what will be left when this new period of anti-Semitic fervor comes to an end?

The timeline is fluid, and episodes all too frequent. Even Anne Frank is not spared. This past October, fans of the Italian soccer team Lazio, during a home match, distributed stickers with Anne Frank’s image dressed in the uniform of a rival Italian team. Several years ago, singer Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and signed the guest book with the words, “Anne Frank was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.”

We shouldn’t be that surprised, what with “Mein Kampf” back on sale in Germany. If things pick up, that book and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” will become required reading for a new generation of fascist fashionistas.

Other events around Europe are more disturbing, if not altogether heinous.

France, home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, is fast becoming a home a Jew is forced to flee. A few weeks ago, an elderly Holocaust survivor was savagely stabbed to death, her body then burned when her apartment was set on fire. A year earlier, a 66-year-old French-Jewish woman was thrown from her window to her death. Both incidents have been classified as anti-Semitic hate crimes. Also in France, a 15-year-old girl wearing a Jewish day-school uniform was slashed in the face; an 8-year-old boy wearing a yarmulke was beaten in the streets; and twin teen boys were nearly kidnapped, with one of them having his finger cut off.

These are only the recent anti-Semitic incidents in France. Years earlier, a young man, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped and tortured to death. Three students standing outside of their Jewish day school in Toulouse were murdered in an attack, during which one of the girls had her throat slit.

Each of these crimes was committed by Muslims on a continent already soaked with Jewish blood. Who would have guessed that the Middle East crisis would follow the Jews to Europe, where they were still trying to rebuild their lives, seven decades after Auschwitz? No wonder they have been leaving France for Israel and other safer havens at a rate of 7,000 each year. Hunting season for Holocaust survivors and other French Jews is apparently the new rage, or let’s call it outrage. And in some circles, it is treated as a joke. French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala had a stage routine in which he asked audience members whether they would like to see the return of the gas chambers for Jews. (His anti-Semitic remarks resulted in convictions for hate speech in Belgium and France, where courts gave him suspended jail sentences.)

During the Gaza War in 2014 and the subsequent backlash against Israel throughout Europe, 200 Jews were trapped in a French synagogue as a mob gathered outside chanting, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!” and “Hitler was right!” Similar scenes with smoke and firebombs, anti-Semitic graffiti, the vandalizing of businesses, rock-throwing teenagers, the burning of the Israeli flag and the spray-painting of swastikas on synagogues, were reported in such cities as Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome and London.

In Poland, a legislative measure making it a crime to assert that the country was complicit in the Holocaust recently passed both legislative houses and has been signed into law by the Polish president. While 2 out of 3 European Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, the fate of Polish Jewry was far worse — 9 out of 10. And yet, today a jail sentence awaits anyone who defames Poland by calling attention to the fact that its people either assisted the Nazis or cheered them on.

The most recent assessment of global anti-Semitism conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) determined that 35 percent of people have never heard of the Holocaust, even while anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe are spiking. Other surveys confirm these statistics. Nearly half of Jews in France and 25 percent of Jews in Germany feel imperiled and are considering emigrating from those countries.

The United Nations has become its own persecutor of Jews through its hypocritical and ceaseless denunciation of the Jewish state. Israel is held to a shameful double standard of moral perfection that is demanded of no other country, while nothing is asked of Israel’s enemies. Meanwhile, the Holocaust lurks in the background, not as a sanctified event but as a bludgeoning instrument against Israel.

Holocaust memory has grown a little stale these past several years and fatigue has set in. The number of Yom HaShoah commemorations has declined around the world. … Perhaps the savagery of the world has simply caught up with the Holocaust in a twisted competition for evil supremacy.

The condemnation of Israel usually accompanies some false moral equivalence between the genocide of the Jews and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The fact that the Palestinian population has doubled since the Jewish presence in Gaza and the West Bank — an inconvenient mathematical truth that makes associating the Holocaust with the plight of the Palestinians a contradiction in terms — demonstrates the world’s bad faith when it comes to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. After all, Jews can’t mourn an atrocity or be shown any sympathy if they are repeating it against another people. The Holocaust has gone from an object lesson to a secret weapon against Israel and world Jewry.

There’s no greater example of this absurdity than the recent United Nations Human Rights Council decision to finally take up the cause of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. And how best to do that? Blame Israel for its continued “occupation” of the Golan Heights. This draft resolution will play well in the cheap seats, where anti-Semitic lunatics hold the Mossad responsible for 9/11 and accuse the Israel Defense Forces of harvesting the organs of Palestinians.

The United States has its own problems with the resurgence of anti-Semitism and the desecration of the Holocaust. The ADL reported that anti-Semitic incidents surged nearly 60 percent in 2017. The lowlight might have been the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where protesters seemed especially eager to resurrect all sorts of Nazi nostalgia, from greeting each other with the Nazi salute to chanting “Sieg Heil!” Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy chanting “Jews will not replace us!”

President Donald Trump couldn’t bring himself to condemn Klansman David Duke during his campaign. After Charlottesville, he let it be known that there were “some very fine people” among the neo-Nazis, skinheads and Klansmen who gathered there.

Meanwhile, a Washington, D.C., city council member recently posted a video in which he blamed the Rothschild family for controlling the climate, causing natural disasters and making it snow in the nation’s capital. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, during one of his sermons in March, condemned “satanic Jews” for being “the mother and father of apartheid.” He went on to allege that Jews control the FBI and cause homosexuality within the African-American community through chemically altered marijuana. One of the organizers of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, who attended Farrakhan’s sermon, refused to condemn what he had to say about Jews.

Why are leaders suddenly having such difficulty repudiating anti-Semites? There was a time, not long ago, when such expressions of solidarity with Jews was both the decent and politically correct thing to do.

Even the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was not spared. The killer expressed anti-Semitic feelings on social media, and then, perhaps unknowingly but symbolic of something nonetheless, he fired shots into a Holocaust class, wounding four students.

Anti-Semitism is thriving on college campuses, with a new progressive variety disguised as a human rights campaign on behalf of Palestinians that quickly reveals its true intentions: a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that avowedly seeks to put an end to the Jewish state, drive Jews into the Mediterranean (what else did you think the chant “From the river to the sea” means?) or just leave them for the demographic dead in a one-state solution dominated by Arabs.

Universities have become infected with anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist hostility against Jews, all under the purifying banner of “intersectionality” and its anti-colonial crusade against “white privilege.” In this setting, Jews, bizarrely, fall into the category of white oppressors who never have experienced bigotry or prejudice, and where the Holocaust is openly dismissed as “white-on-white crime” — progressive slang that means oppression against whites is of no concern to social-justice warriors. Jews aren’t granted their own mass suffering. It’s far worse than Holocaust denial; it’s Holocaust erasure. In this narrative, Israel, tarred as an apartheid, colonialist state, loses its character as a haven in the aftermath of the Holocaust — because privileged Jews don’t deserve refuge from anything! The colonial tag on Israel never seems to credit Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, and Arab Israelis, as evidence of its multicolored, pluralistic society. In the mind of the academy, Israel is comprised only of land thieves from Brooklyn and Brentwood alone.

It’s easy to live in Los Angeles or New York City and feel insulated from all this Holocaust debunking and desecration. (Unless you happen to be an undergrad at UCLA or Columbia.) These boroughs over the Brooklyn Bridge and tony neighborhoods off Interstate 10 and the 405 — where there are plenty of seders, well-attended synagogues and a generally welcoming disposition toward Jews — are like La-La Lands of quaintly oblivious comfort when compared with far less sunny destinations where Jew-hatred and Jew-killing present a very different climate.

All around the world, even throughout the United States, the grand experiment of Holocaust memory appears to have failed. Museums and memorials, although still well attended, are perceived as depressing amusement rides with statistics about mass murder, artifacts from concentration camps, and an occasional cattle car just to complete the necessary “real-feel,” “you-are-there” experience. After departing from such places of ephemeral horror, visitors emerge into the light and settle upon where to have lunch. Their confrontation with Holocaust memory lasts as long as Chinese food traveling through a digestive tract.

And as for all those cultural representations, apparently they too were unable to take emotional, resilient hold of most people for whom crimes against humanity are less compelling than this week’s lineup on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Clearly, too few bought into all the slogans and burning candles. We had hoped piety could have lasted longer. After all, there are Holocaust survivors alive today — unless they happen to live in France,  where a Jew is less likely to find an underwriter for a life insurance policy than an undertaker. With survivors still among us, how could we have forgotten and forsaken their European nightmare so soon?

Elie Wiesel once told me that the survivors made a catastrophic mistake after the Holocaust. In his opinion, instead of tentatively telling their tales and subjecting their memories to the Shoah and Fortunoff foundations’ oral testimony projects, they should have said nothing. Kept quiet. Driven everyone mad with curiosity. The world would have demanded to know what went on in those camps, killing fields, death marches and forced starvations, and the survivors would have replied with utter silence. Instead the survivors, along with everyone else, said too much, and now there may be nothing left to say.

Or is there?

With anti-Semitism and contempt for the Holocaust ascending from alt-right rallies and the progressive left on college campuses, along with Islamist calls for “death to Jews” and “wiping Israel from the map,” this is not a good time to take our eyes off the Holocaust, to become more complacent about its remembrance, and to delude ourselves into magical thinking that having a Jewish son-in-law in the West Wing is some kind of panacea to the world’s oldest prejudice.

Jews are clearly at a new phase for Holocaust memory. From the destruction of the Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in the Pale of Settlement and murderous mayhem everywhere else, all capped by the Holocaust, welcome to its latest iteration: Call it Jew-hatred 4.0.

What did we think was going to happen? As long as there is anti-Semitism in the world, there will always be something to say about the Holocaust. They are symbiotic and co-dependent. The only thing that could ever make the Holocaust disappear is the end of anti-Semitism itself.

Good luck with that.

As Daniel Jonah Goldhagen observed in his book, “The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism,” the Holocaust did not put an end to anti-Semitism in Europe. It just ushered in a period of dormancy from which anti-Semitism is always ready to reappear in familiar and unexpected ways.

The Holocaust was always a moral mystery. Unfathomability always has been its greatest allure. The mystery was never meant to be solved. The crimes of the Nazis consigned everyone — Jew and non-Jew — to a perpetual state of obligation. “Never Again” didn’t just mean that Jewish genocide would never be permitted to reoccur. It also meant that the world would never be finished with the Holocaust; it would always continue to haunt. The burden to remember the Holocaust, to hold it in mind and body as both emblem and amulet, is infinite and never ending.

That’s what “never” really means, and that’s why there will always be something left to say.

Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and law professor, is the author of the post-Holocaust trilogy “The Golems of Gotham,” “Second Hand Smoke” and “Elijah Visible,” among other titles of fiction and nonfiction.

Between the Shoah and Mimouna

We make a statement by what we choose to feature on the cover. This week, we had to choose between two upcoming events — the Sephardic Mimouna party, which celebrates the end of Passover, and Yom HaShoah, which commemorates perhaps the worst atrocity in human history. It’s a choice between the ultimate light and the ultimate darkness.

We chose darkness.

Had Mimouna been our cover story, you would have seen a beautiful, joyful image on the cover, instead of the haunting one you see now. Mimouna represents the joy of breaking free, the freedom to live as you wish, the unbridled pursuit of happiness.

But while it’s not featured on the cover, you’ll still see plenty of Mimouna coverage. One of the articles is a reprint of a column I wrote many years ago titled, “The Magic of Mimouna.”

“The night of Mimouna was all about bringing good fortune into your life,” I wrote. “After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible. For the Jews of Morocco, Mimouna was the Jewish holiday that celebrated optimism.”

For the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, optimism was not an option; breaking free was not a possibility. There was nothing to see besides darkness.

Our memories dance between these two impulses — between the Mimouna part of our lives and the Holocaust part, between the craving for light and the unbearable weight of darkness. We yearn for Mimouna because we yearn for happiness, but we’re haunted by Shoah because our memories so easily surrender to the trauma of darkness.

The great irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight.

It is this darkness we wanted to explore in this issue. At the same time, we didn’t want to regurgitate what you already know. But how does one avoid that with the Holocaust, a subject about which everything has already been said a million times over?

We commissioned a Holocaust scholar and novelist, Thane Rosenbaum, to tackle that very question: What is there left to say?

“Holocaust memory has grown a little stale these past several years, and fatigue has set in,” he writes. “There are, in fact, fewer Yom HaShoah commemorations around the world.  With each passing year, they dwindle, not unlike the number of survivors themselves.”

He adds: “Perhaps the savagery of the world has simply caught up with the Holocaust in a twisted competition for evil supremacy.  We are tragically becoming inured to the atrocious, surrounded by so many contenders.”

For this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

Rosenbaum takes us on a tour of darkness to help us frame the role of memory:

“The Holocaust is being forgotten and exploited — both at the same time.  A surging wave of global anti-Semitism has surfaced with the added aim of pummeling and plundering the Holocaust.  Who knows what will be left when this new period of anti-Semitic fervor comes to an end?”

Despite the enormous industry of Holocaust memory, Rosenbaum concludes that we have fallen short:

“All around the world, even throughout the United States, the grand experiment of Holocaust memory appears to have failed.  Museums and memorials, although still well attended, are perceived as depressing amusement rides, with statistics about mass murder, artifacts from concentration camps, and an occasional cattle car just to complete the necessary ‘real-feel,’ ‘you are there’ experience.

“After departing from such places of ephemeral horror, visitors emerge into the light, and settle upon where to have lunch. Their confrontation with Holocaust memory lasting as long as Chinese food traveling through a digestive tract.”

Perhaps that’s why we chose to put Yom HaShoah on the cover — because for this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

As much as my heart yearns for a time when the joy of Mimouna will dominate our consciousness, the reality of evil keeps getting in the way. Confronting evil while also embracing joy may well be the paradox of the human condition.

On the night of Mimouna, I will taste a few moufletas (recipe inside) and surrender to optimism. But a few days later, I will attend a Yom HaShoah event to commemorate the very opposite of optimism, a moment in Jewish time when Jews were crushed by darkness.

The irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight. Maybe this is a gentle reminder that even darkness holds the promise of joy.

Episode 79 – The Lost Brother

Usually a Skype call begins with a clamor of several similar, almost identical, questions: “Can you hear me?”, “Can you hear me now?”. But not this one. This one started with a series of quiet smiles, followed by all eight? people on the call bursting into tears.

One end of this call is New Jersey, the kitchen table of the Katz family. The other end, a remote part of Russia called Sakhalin Island, near Japan.

In April of 2016, Jess Katz picked up again on a search she’d been conducting for most of her life, a search which she most likely expected to lead her to archived documents or in the best case scenario, a photo. She was continuing a cross-generational search for her grandfather’s long lost younger brother. Her grandfather never had the fortune of meeting his younger brother after the Holocaust ripped them apart. Unfortunately, neither did Jess. But her search was definitely not to no avail.

Jess Katz joins us today to share her inspiring story.

If you have any other relevant information and you wish to contact Jess, this is her email and Facebook.

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Report: Polish Anti-Semitism Widely Pervasive During Holocaust

Photo from Pixabay.

A largely unknown document reveals that anti-Semitism among Poles during World War II was on the same level as Nazi anti-Semitism.

According to the Jerusalem Post, a 1946 report from the State Department concluded that even before the war started, anti-Semitism was pervasive in Poland from “a continuation of activities by right-wing groups,” thus making them more receptive to Nazi ideology.

“In the jockeying for political preference in Poland after 1919, most of the major political parties – with the exception of leftist groups – followed an anti-Semitic line,” the report states. “Catholic Church leaders, from Cardinal Hlond down, preached antisemitism and favored an economic boycott of the Jews.”

During the war, anti-Semitism under the Polish Army caused Jewish soldiers to flee the Army and seek refuge in other Allied armies.

The anti-Semitism continued even after the collapse of the Third Reich, as Poles conducted waves of violence against Jews, resulting in Jews leaving the country for West Germany.

“There is not much that is essentially new or different in the current anti-Semitic agitation,” the document stated.

The report comes as Poland is under fire for passing a new law that punishes those who claim that Poland is in any way responsible for the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The report would seem to undermine proponents of the law who seek to absolve Poland of blame from the Holocaust.

Additionally, Poland has since sought to outlaw kosher meat slaughter and halted efforts to return property to Holocaust survivors.

Israel and Poland’s diplomatic relations have been icy since the passage of law, with Israel ardently criticizing the bill.

Memorial Days

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

It is sometimes quite amazing to see how the Holocaust, 70 years later, is still a daily subject of discussion in Israel. Not a day goes by without it being mentioned in the public sphere. Not a week goes by without it becoming a point of contention. If you think the Jewish people will ever begin to get over this tragedy, think again.

Or just listen to how Israelis discuss their daily affairs. It won’t be too long before you also realize that this trauma is far from being healed. It is constantly on our minds.

Some things force this constancy on us. For example, the fact that from January to May, Israel marks not one but three Holocaust Memorial days. There was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked this week, and there is the religious Memorial Day, marked, along with other Jewish tragedies, on the Asarah be-Tevet fast, and then there is the actual, official Memorial Day, a week after Passover.

Yet in most cases, the Holocaust occupies us not because of special duty — a day that calls for a pause. In most cases it is us, busying ourselves with it because nothing has more power to grab our attention. We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

We do not pause to remember the Holocaust; we remember it while on the move.

Consider the past two weeks. The fierce public debate over a government plan to expel thousands of illegal migrants from Africa (opponents to their expulsion insist on calling them asylum-seekers and presenting them as people whom Israel must absorb) quickly descended into Holocaust-themed arguments. The ultimate weapon was pulled out when Holocaust survivors began voicing their views on this matter — implying a moral authority that trumps government considerations in such matters of conscience.

And as this debate rages, a famous Israeli writer and artist, who wrote lyrics for Israeli classics, compared a Palestinian attacker of soldiers to Anne Frank — prompting a harsh response from Israel’s defense minister. The minister demanded that the Israel Defense Forces radio station cease from playing all songs written by this author, and was then reminded by the attorney general that he has no legal authority to enforce such a demand.

The artist, Yehonatan Geffen, later apologized for his foolishness, as did another, less prominent Israeli writer who was even more vulgar in his use of Holocaust imagery. This artist said — you need to pause before you read this — that he would gladly sit on the roof of a death camp to see the smoke coming out of its chimney, provided it is novelist Amos Oz who is put to death below him. He is so angry with Oz for using “Nazi” to describe the action of right-wing radicals that he felt an irresistible urge to make his point clear, before apologizing to whatever followers he might still have.

Then there is Poland. If the memory of the Holocaust divides Israelis when they have an internal political debate, it often unites them against external forces. Such is the case with the Polish Parliament, which now plots to pass legislation that makes reference to Polish involvement in executing the Holocaust unlawful.

Of course, the story of Poland and the Holocaust is complicated. The Poles were victims of the Nazis. The Poles were not the initiators of the mass murder of Jews, nor invited the construction of death camps in their midst. Still, evidence of Polish participation in the execution of Jews is vast and irrefutable. The attempt by Poland to silence the voices demanding acknowledgment of such participation, or the scholars who dig for more evidence of how, where and why it was done, was met with unified Israeli condemnation.

The Israeli government was adamant not to let this Polish law pass without response. Israeli opposition was sometimes even more robust in its demand for retribution (while also needling the government for having ties with right-wing European parties). In a heartbeat, the Holocaust ceased to be a tool of nasty division and has become a tool of guarded unification.

Lessons are few: It would be better for Israelis to count to 10 before they use the Holocaust to score cheap points in a conventional, if fierce, political debate. It would be better for them to ignore artists who cannot properly think before they speak. It would be better for Poland to come to grips with its past and stop trying to mask it.

Most of all, it would be better for us all to realize that we are still a traumatized people. The evidence is all around us — at times in the form of cynicism or stupidity, at times in the form of serious discussion. The only remedy is time. A very long time.

The Jewish Geography of — and in — Auschwitz

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After two nights in Krakow, we were returning to Warsaw to finish our study trip to Jewish Poland. I packed, pulling out clothes for Sunday’s site visit: comfortable shoes, pants instead of a dress, black clothing to convey an appropriate somberness for Auschwitz.

My deliberations seemed like unintentional mockery — disrespectful in the
light of history that we all know well. When Jews packed before “resettlement,” they had no idea where they were going, and many may have suspected that packing was just an exercise. I knew how the story ended, that later that day, I would see those suitcases and the belongings that filled them.

In conversation, a trip participant mentioned that his parents had been deported from Hungary around June 21 or 22 in 1945. Transports took about 10 days for the journey to Auschwitz, so they would have arrived on or around July 2. Our visit to Auschwitz was on July 2, 2017.

Seeing on social media where I was, one of my friends messaged me, “Look for my daughter — she is also at Auschwitz.” Although it’s an informational statement (and in 2017, 2.1 million people visited), adding “at Auschwitz” to any sentence brings a flush of nausea. This contemporary game of Jewish geography had a troubling, alternate reality echo: Had inmates been desperate to see familiar faces, or did not seeing familiar faces mean maintaining hope that some had survived?

We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are.

I had a solid Jewish education and already understood my responsibility to never forget. I’d read Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal and Yaffa Eliach. I wrote a book about the Hidden Children of the Holocaust. I’d been to Yad Vashem, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and half a dozen other Jewish museums in various cities. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Auschwitz, about the people who passed under that famous gate, the “Arbeit Macht Frei,” that sets an ache into the Jewish heart. Now that we were there, our guide explained that it was a replica; the real sign had been stolen in 2009 and cut into pieces to fit into the getaway car. The original is in storage, he said. I imagined it in a government warehouse with endless rows of identically sized boxes, while its understudy played its part.

I had been prepared to feel every aspect of sadness in this space, but as I went from room to room, looking at the artifacts — shoes, hairbrushes, suitcases, uniforms — I felt the mildest version of sadness. Where were my tears? What was wrong with me? Was I too prepared? Or was it the damned replica gate, the fact that some of this experience had been constructed for tourists, that made me disconnect?

Then I saw the hair. Cut from the heads of the victims, the hair was horror, and the human loss it represented snapped me back into humanity. From that point on, I was emotionally tuned in.

One of the men on our trip wore his tallit throughout the visit, and I understood it was his way of proclaiming triumph: We, the Jews, are still here. I needed to find my own way to do that.

I pointed my phone’s camera toward the ground and walked; filming my feet, black sneakers on gravelly earth; not speaking, listening to the mostly quiet air, the sound of my feet as they hit the ground; feeling my breath as I walked and being both grateful and horrified.

I walked in their footsteps, in their memory, in an attempt to feel, understand and experience a new kind of Jewish geography — the mobius strip of communal memory, where location binds past to the present, and we all march into our unknown future.

Connecting with others who are here. Seeing the place. Feeling the gravity of the location beneath our feet. Inhaling the trauma of our history with every breath. Trying to process their loss and the triumph of our return. We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are. I am.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, a 10-year veteran of Twitter, is a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal and an editor at

German CEOs Embrace Holocaust Remembrance

From left: BMW CEO Harald Krüger, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, VW CEO Matthias Müller and Board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch

Flipping World War II history on its anti-Semitic head, the evidently brave chief executives of three German corporations that collaborated with the Nazis have extended something more substantive than a symbolic hand to the Jewish community.

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, these men have signed onto the World Jewish Congress’ second annual “We Remember” campaign, which means: Beyond a nod of endorsement that hardly anyone would notice or care about, they indelibly went on the record.

Each agreed to have his picture taken, individually, while holding the World Jewish Congress’ “We Remember” sign.

And their photos are circling the globe faster and more frequently than  celebrity gossip on the internet.

This is neck-straightening news, especially because of the latest cultural anti-Semitic mudstorm that again is splattering into the vulnerable faces of Germany’s 120,000 Jews.

Remember the names of the corporate chiefs:

• BMW CEO Harald Krüger

• Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser

• Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller and VW Board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch

Although 1.2 million people worldwide have participated in the social media campaign — posting individual photos — what these men have done appears to border on the heroic.

Will they pay a price?

Will they or their organizations be marked?

Germany’s ugliest past of Hitler’s regime 80 years ago is sneaking back into prominence.

Not so quietly, either.

This does not appear to be merely a hiccup.

Jew-haters are marching again, boldly and fearlessly.

“It is particularly meaningful to us that the CEOs of German companies that employed slave laborers during the Nazi era are taking their historic responsibility seriously.” — Ronald Lauder

German Chancellor Angela Merkel not only admitted to a worrisome expansion of German anti-Semitism in her International Holocaust Remembrance Day address on Jan. 27, she sternly warned about its perils and urged muscular vigilance.

Can there be any doubt that the most intriguing dimension of this story would be to know what is so far the unknowable:

What are the motivations of these industrial powerhouses?

Clues abound.

Here is the one statement that was made available by the World Jewish Congress. Below it, some possibilities will be explored.

Müller, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, said:

“Remembering the crimes of World War II and the Holocaust is an established part of Volkswagen’s corporate culture.

“Given our company’s history, we have a very special responsibility for society.

“We have been fulfilling this responsibility for the last 30 years through a vibrant culture of remembrance and special education projects.

“We are committed to speaking out against intolerance, anti-Semitism and racism, and for international understanding, tolerance and humanity.

“More than 630,000 people work for the Volkswagen Group — all over the world.

“Diversity is in our DNA. It has shaped us and made us successful.”

A fair-minded critic would judge that Müller deserves to be taken at his word.

A partisan critic, if he is to be seen seriously, should reach a matching conclusion.

That is precisely the reading of Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress:

“A powerful statement,” he said.

“We are deeply grateful for the time and effort people around the world have taken to commemorate the memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response, and by the desire of so many to share in spreading this critical message against hate.

“It is particularly meaningful to us that the CEOs of German companies that employed slave laborers during the Nazi era are taking their historic responsibility seriously. They are acknowledging the crimes of their predecessors.”

After examining more closely Müller’s words, here is a curious fact to place on the board and study for a moment:

• Müller was born in 1953

• Pötsch was born in 1951

• Kaeser was born in 1957

It gets better.

Krüger, the youngest of the crowd by far, was born in 1965, 20 years after despondent Hitler’s suicide, long after the worst monsters had been put away and the German government machine presumably had been tamed for the foreseeable future.

So all of them were born an apparent safe interval after the war.

While cerebrally the courageous men are not to be minimized, neither is the timing of the births of all of them.

Ranging in age from 52 to 66, they have reached admirable executive conclusions at the epitome of their careers, displaying the kind of brave public thinking by influential people that German watchers have been hoping for.

While it is not known what kinds of homes and family lives influenced them on their way to wing-spreading success, this much is indisputable:

The four of them have planted their feet, impressively folded their arms across their chests and declared to the world they are the Good Germans.

They are the Good Germans whom Holocaust survivors, Jews and other moral people have been hoping would emerge from the blood- and memory-soaked German fatherland for the past 73 years.

Remembering Why We Must Remember the Holocaust

Photo from Wikipedia

January 27th, the anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, is the day designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Observed at the UN headquarters and in countries throughout the world, it is not the only Holocaust memorial day. Some countries observe dates that relate directly to their own Holocaust history. Jews throughout the world observe the 27th of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar — just after Passover and in proximity to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 — as Yom HaShoah .

It’s a fitting time to ask: Why should the world remember the Holocaust, which began more than 75 years ago and enveloped almost all of Europe?

Because it happened, we must understand the evil — systematic evil, state-sponsored evil, industrialized killing, mass murders — that was the essence of the Holocaust. We must understand its emblematic invention, the death camp and the people who served in these camps. Their assignment: mass murder.

Some were sadists and criminals – people unlike us – but many more were ordinary men trying to do their best, to fulfill their obligations. Some were even professionals, lawyers and doctors, ministers and economists who used the skills they had learned to become more efficient killers. Some were enthusiastic, others more reluctant.  All became killers.

Because it happened, we must understand the circumstances of the victims, who had to make choiceless choices between the impossible and the horrific, and who faced conditions of such utter powerlessness that they could do little to determine their fates. Yet even though they were powerlessness, they were far from passive. Resistance took many forms, courage manifest itself in many ways; taking up arms was but a last stand.

And we must understand the indifference of neutrality. In the struggle between powerless victims and an overwhelmingly powerful killing machine, neutrality is anything but neutral. Indifference is a death sentence. The bystander is also an enabler.

We can learn so much about evil in studying the Holocaust that it leaves us numb, that despair overtakes us, that we sense our own helplessness. Indeed, the Holocaust was an atrocity, senseless and anguishing. But there were a few — a precious few — men, women and even children who opened their homes and their hearts and provided havens for the victims, a place to sleep, a crust of bread, a kind word, a hiding place. What makes such goodness possible? Why were some people immune to the infection of evil?  We call them Upstanders. These are the people whose deeds we may wish to emulate, who can serve as models for how we want to behave and what we want to become.

The Holocaust began slowly. Age-old prejudice led to discrimination, discrimination to persecution, persecution to incarceration, incarceration to annihilation. Mass murder, which culminated with the killing of six million Jews, did not begin with the Jews nor did it encompass only the Jews. The violations of one groups’ rights are seldom contained only to that group. Scholars have identified stages of the Holocaust; it is far easier to stop a genocide in its early stages of persecution and discrimination before dehumanization and mass murder ensue.

We must understand the fragility of democracy: however precarious, it is ever more precious. Yet it can be undermined when leaders show a little commitment to democratic rule; when political opponents become enemies, denied all legitimacy; when violence in tolerated and ultimately employed to quash dissent; when civil liberties and freedom of the press are restricted and when democratic institutions are weakened.

Sadly, the issues raised by the Holocaust are not consigned to our past. Genocide, a word invented to give voice to the fate of the Armenians in World War I and the Jews in World War II, a crime outlawed by the United Nations, has recurred since 1945, even today. Refugees fleeing oppression and near certain death are still unwanted in most places on the globe. Inter- religious hatred flourishes; so too, intra-religious conflict.

The study of the Holocaust is not easy, emotionally or intellectually.

To understand this event, we have to confront death, yet the study of these deaths is in the service of life. The study of this evil is intended to strengthen decency and goodness.

The Holocaust shatters faith — faith in God, secular faith in human decency and faith in the inevitability of progress and even in Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teaching that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. The Holocaust provides few answers, but raises many questions — questions that invite moral struggle against that evil.

The call from the victims — from the world of the dead — was to remember. Today we hear from those who were there and those who were not, the urgency of memory, its agony and anguish, the presence of meaning and its absence. To live in our age, one must face that absence as well as that haunting presence.

Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

‘Grandpoppy’ Shares His Holocaust Story in Short and Sweet HBO Documentary

Holocaust survivor Jack Feldman and his great-grandsons. Images courtesy of HBO Pictures

In just 20 minutes, the documentary “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” covers much of recent Jewish history, told through the loving relationship between Jack Feldman and Elliott, his great-grandson.

Although separated by some 80 years in age and vastly different experiences, the two bond as close buddies as the youngster prompts the Holocaust survivor to tell the story of his life.

Both are now New York state residents, with Elliott living with his parents in Chappaqua, about 30 miles north of New York City, and Feldman some five hours drive away in Rochester.

At Feldman’s home, and in long walks along the banks of the Canandaigua Lake, Elliott asks first about the number A17606 permanently etched into his great-grandfather’s arm.

Through a combination of vivid recollections, archival footage and superb animation by artist Jack Scher, the film reconstructs a happy childhood in the Polish city of Sosnowiec, whose 28,000 Jews made up nearly a quarter of the population. Feldman skips over some of the grimmer details of his life, but he recounts the city’s conquest by the German army, his imprisonment in a concentration camp at 14, separation from his parents (whom he never saw again), liberation by Soviet troops and eventual immigration to the United States.

The Journal talked to Feldman, Elliott and Amy Schatz, the director of the documentary, which will premiere at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 on HBO. The date marks the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945 and is now commemorated annually as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We need to make smart films for kids, which don’t talk down to them, even on difficult subjects.”  — Amy Schatz

Feldman survived Auschwitz (partly by trading his Sunday ration of a few cigarettes for food), came to America in 1949 and changed his first name from Srulek to Jack. A few years later, he opened Jack’s Fish Market in Rochester.

The business thrived, despite one quirk. As one African-American customer testifies in the film, “Jack knew what hunger was, so he gave free fish to a customer too poor to pay.”

Schatz, a veteran documentary filmmaker, was attracted to directing the project, in collaboration with executive producer Sheila Nevins, because, she said, there isn’t enough material on the Holocaust suitable for children and their families. That means, Schatz said, that when these children become adults “they won’t be able to pass on the survivors’ stories to future generations.”

Her goal was to transmit Feldman’s experience “gently and with clarity,” and pointed notably to the love between Elliott and his “grandpoppy,” the boy’s endless curiosity, and his patience in dealing with Feldman’s hearing problems.

Animation artist Jack Scher contributed illustrated scenes for the film.

Schatz shot the film in three days, working closely with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, which will include the film in its permanent collection, and drawing on the archives of the Steven Spielberg collection at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

From the reactions of her own children, ages 13 and 14, Schatz concluded that “we need to make smart films for kids, which don’t talk down to them, even on difficult subjects. At the same time, I found that the Holocaust survivors themselves were delighted to talk to the youngsters.”

Elliott, now a 12-year-old sixth-grader, was 7 when his great-grandfather first took him to a Holocaust memorial event.

“At first, I didn’t understand what had happened,” Elliott said, but after five years of additional conversations with his beloved mentor, the boy realizes what he has gained through the instruction.

What he has learned and knows now, Elliott said, “makes me more appreciative of what I have in my daily life and more proud of my heritage and religion.”

Eddie Jacobs: Bringing the Holocaust Home to a New Generation

Eddie Jacobs is the co-founder, with scholar and author Michael Berenbaum, of Berenbaum Jacobs Associates, which seeks to transform the “traditional” Holocaust museum — such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles — by broadening its relevancy for present and future generations. In this interview, Jacobs, a one-time rising actor on Broadway, explains how this concept is being applied to new museums being built in Cincinnati, Dallas and the Balkan nation of Macedonia.

Jewish Journal: Is there a need for transforming “traditional” Holocaust museums? If so, why?

Eddie Jacobs: The museums you mention are groundbreaking historical museums that transformed the way in which the public views the subject matter of the Holocaust as well as how historical museums may present difficult and complex narratives. To a great extent, the new generation of museums is a result of the success of those mentioned. Ever-expanding interest in the subject, unexpected attendance rates, and visitor and educator encouragement have forced these — and new institutions — to expand their subject portfolio into broader realms.

JJ: If so, how do you visualize this transformation?

EJ: From a programmatic standpoint, it means a broader menu of subjects. Where once just the Holocaust story was told, we now see forays into other atrocities and genocides, human rights, tolerance and civic responsibility. Further, new technologies have been developed allowing expansion of the exhibition palette. Virtual-reality survivor testimony is now being incorporated where students can ask questions of a three-dimensional holographic projection of an actual Holocaust survivor. Virtual “tours” of concentration and death camps have been methodically and realistically constructed. As technology progresses, the challenges facing the educator and museum designer to find a balance between genuine reality and virtual reality become ever more complex.

“New technologies have been developed allowing expansion of the exhibition palette.”

JJ: How do you make the memory of the Holocaust meaningful to generations born after the actual Holocaust?

EJ: The first thing that we must do is to legitimize that question. We always begin our museum experiences with an orientation space meant to introduce our visitors to the journey ahead. At the very top of the agenda is to ask that fundamental question: “Why should I care about this event?” “How does it touch me today?” “I know that it was awful, and it’s very sad, but what relevance does it have in my life and reality?” We answer these questions by saying that the purpose of the exhibition they are about to see will allow each of them to draw their own answers and conclusions to those very legitimate and important questions.

JJ: What are some of your major projects at this time?

EJ: In March, the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia is opening in Skopje on the 75th anniversary of the near total destruction of that community. There, we have the opportunity to tell the story of a Jewish community in existence since Roman times, their special relationship to Alexander the Great and his inclusion in the Talmud, the Golden Age of Spain and subsequent expulsion, Ladino culture, and then the particular Holocaust narrative that befell that community. In January of next year, we will be opening the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. The first part of the museum is a unique Holocaust narrative which transitions into a groundbreaking exhibition on human behavior and how we all can create a better world. In Dallas, 18 months from now, the Dallas Holocaust and Humanity Museum will open, featuring a singular Holocaust narrative which seamlessly transitions into a human rights exhibition, and culminates in an innovative exhibition called “American Ideals, Reality and Repair.”

There are other projects in the works, but these represent some of the upcoming highlights.

JJ: Among Hollywood filmmakers, you occasionally hear the phrase “Holocaust fatigue” to indicate that the general moviegoer — not necessarily Jewish — may be getting tired of the subject. What is your view?

EJ:  My view is, of course, biased. That said, check out the attendance levels at the ceaseless flow of Holocaust-related movies, books, art shows, dance works, theatrical presentations, museums etc. As stated above, the methodology that we have created in transmitting these stories strikes universal chords. Hence their popularity despite the difficult subject matter. There is also a statement of profound humanity. For in all that darkness, the sparks of kindness and compassion we discover continue to inspire us. And the example of the survivors, in their resilience and grace, elevates us.

Aharon Appelfeld’s Path to the Hebrew Language

Photo from Wikipedia.

“From the moment I arrived in Israel, I hated the people who forced me to speak Hebrew,” wrote Aharon Appelfeld in his memoir, “The Story of a Life.” Appelfeld’s mother tongue was German. “The effort to preserve my mother tongue amid surroundings that imposed another language upon me proved futile,” he said. “My mother and her language were one and the same. Now, as that language has faded within me, it was as if my mother (killed early in World War II) were dying a second time.”

As I contemplated composing a literary tribute to the great author Aharon Appelfeld, who passed away on Jan. 4 at the age of 85 (born Feb. 2, 1932), there were many angles I could take. His traumatic experiences as a child during the Holocaust, his coming of age into a newly born Jewish state, his journey toward becoming a writer, even his deep love for Jerusalem’s cafes (to which he devoted an entire book), all could serve as captivating themes.

But what fascinates me most about Appelfeld is that he wrote in Hebrew. Every time I read an Appelfeld novel in the original, I recall that for him, Hebrew was not “the original” until his teenage years. As a “refugee from World War II” (that’s what he called “Holocaust survivors”) and as a new immigrant in the emerging State of Israel in 1946, Appelfeld struggled to learn Hebrew. He read the current modern Hebrew literature of his day. But his struggles were more than linguistic. “Every page was a hurdle for me,” he said. “And yet I read voraciously, as if trying to familiarize myself with the strange country into which I had been thrown.” As much as he tried, Appelfeld could not connect to the characters of this new Hebrew literature, “soldiers or officers or farmers in the open fields.”

Conflicts between his German mother tongue and Hebrew are best understood through Erwin, the protagonist of his novel “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping.” Like Appelfeld, Erwin is a “refugee from World War II” who immigrates to Palestine. Once there, Erwin is inducted into the classic Zionist lifestyle, tending the land on a kibbutz and performing guard duty. In an exchange of fire with snipers, Erwin is injured. During his recovery, Erwin spends hours reconstructing his past in his mind, all the while setting out to teach himself proper Hebrew. Eventually, he decides to become a writer.

In his 43 Hebrew books, Appelfeld sent a message that Hebrew is an ancient language that cannot be divorced from its past.

Erwin’s decision to write in Hebrew — a lens on Appelfeld’s decision — represented a plot twist in Zionism’s narrative. While Zionism prided itself on reviving the Hebrew language as part of its “negation of the Diaspora,” both Erwin and Appelfeld chose Hebrew as the language through which they would spend their lives exclusively devoted to recounting their experiences in the Diaspora.

Appelfeld’s literary journey would blossom when he learned that most modern Hebrew writers were bilingual. “This was a sensational discovery for me,” he said. “It meant that the ‘here’ and the ‘there’ were not cut off from each other, as the slogans proclaimed.” Appelfeld began to read writers such as Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Bialik and Agnon, all prolific in both Hebrew and Yiddish. “Their Hebrew was connected to places with which I was familiar, to landscapes I remembered, and to forgotten melodies that came to me from my grandparents’ prayers,” he said.

In his 43 Hebrew books, Appelfeld sent a message to Zionism, to his peers, and to his readers that Hebrew is an ancient language that cannot be divorced from its past. Quite an impressive feat for someone who once hated those who forced him to speak Hebrew.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center.

Saxony’s Lost Genius: Found

Emanuel Goldberg in his workshop. Photo: Technische Sammlungen Dresden/Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst/Weltformat, Nachlass Emanuel Goldberg - Schenkung Familie Gichon, Israel

“I got accepted to the Leipzig University,” Eshchar Gichon, 25, enthusiastically announced at the start of the interview at a Berlin café.

His acceptance into Leipzig University—in this case its veterinary school—is particularly significant for Gichon. It’s part of the closing of a family circle that has just begun.

Leipzig University is the alma mater of Gichon’s great-grandfather, Emanuel Goldberg, who was one of the city’s most prominent professors, a pioneer in the field of optics, photography and information technology as head of the photographic department of the Royal Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookcraft (Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts). But after the war, his legacy was written out of Saxon history, in Leipzig and later in Dresden, where he served as the founding director of Zeiss-Ikon, a leading camera manufacturer under his leadership. Had he stayed, he might have become the “Steve Jobs” or “Bill Gates” of Germany.

“We grew up on stories on him being the director of Zeiss Ikon and all the regular facts about how he was basically a genius,” Gichon said. Gichon moved to Berlin two years ago to study, redeeming benefits of German citizenship due him by virtue of his German lineage. He didn’t expect to be involved in a renaissance of his great-grandfather’s legacy.

Goldberg’s ideas, gadgets, equipment, and inventions were recently on display at “Emanuel Goldberg: The Architect of Knowledge,” an exhibition that opened last March at the Technische Sammlungen Dresden, the site of the former Zeiss-Ikon headquarters. His inventions include a “search engine” (his “statistical machine”–a Google forerunner), and a portable video camera (his “Kinamo”–a FlipCam forerunner).

The process of rediscovery was triggered by Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine, a 2006 biography written by Berkeley professor, Michael Buckland.

“It’s hard now to explain how thoroughly Goldberg had disappeared,” Buckland said via e-mail. “From being internationally famous to being almost totally erased outside of Israel. I found doing detective work on Goldberg fascinating in many different ways: he had a most interesting and adventurous life; he did clever things; there is much human interest in his story. Not only was the accepted history of information retrieval seriously incomplete without him, but there was an ethical consideration. He deserved to be remembered, not forgotten.”

Goldberg’s was the classic success-story of a self-made man. Born in Czarist Russia in 1881, Jewish quotas at Russian universities prompted him to leave and study and eventually teach in Leipzig. In 1917, he moved to Dresden, the camera capital of Germany, to eventually found Zeiss Ikon.

In 1933, Nazi stormtroopers marched into the Zeiss Ikon offices armed with pistols and abducted him. Zeiss Ikon negotiated his release and demoted him to the company’s Paris branch. In 1936, the company “bought him out” by having him sign a “non-competition” agreement barring him from competitive activity. His successor was a Nazi, and Zeiss Ikon gradually declined since.

Goldberg rejected an offer to work in the United States alongside Kenneth Mees, the respected founder of the famous Kodak Research Laboratory, to instead move to Palestine in 1937, applying his R&D skills to developing military tools—like compasses and binoculars–to assist the British against the Nazis and later, the Haganah. Goldberg died in Israel in 1970, an Israel Prize Laureate recognized for his contributions in founding ElOp, the optics branch of Elbit, Israel’s publicly traded electronics defense company.

It was only until the 250th anniversary celebrations of Leipzig’s Academy of Fine Arts that Goldberg’s story got retold in the city. As part of a school contest, students were challenged to do research projects on the school’s past professors. Student René Patzwaldt chose Goldberg and contacted his progeny in Israel.

“He did this by sending my grandmother a message on Facebook,” Gichon recalled. “My grandmother had a Facebook account, and he sent a message. We saw the message three months after he sent it. My cousin checked the account and saw the message, and that’s when everything started. We invited him to Israel, he interviewed my grandmother, my grandmother showed him some artifacts of Emanuel Goldberg, and he wrote the project. His project won the competition.”

The Academy of Fine Arts joined forces with Berlin’s Technical University to assemble the exhibition with the Technische Sammlungen Dresden. According to the museum’s director, Roland Schwarz, the exhibition constituted the first time that Zeiss contributed financially to the museum. The exhibition marks a major turning point for Dresden. In 1995, when Buckland first visited the museum for research, the senior staff hadn’t even heard of him.

“If he would’ve continued, we would’ve said the inventor of the computer was Emanuel Goldberg,” said Schwarz from the exhibition grounds.

The exhibition closed in late September, and Schwarz is not sure if it will travel in the near future. Israeli museums he contacted did not express interest. Goldberg’s children (including Gichon’s grandmother, Chava) passed away less than two years before the exhibition opening.

Eshchar Gichon, Emanuel Goldberg’s great grandson

“Luckily, the family decided to transfer the estate of Emanual Goldberg to the museum collection,” Schwarz said. These include his beloved metal lathe that he took to Paris and later to his workshop in Tel Aviv. The 5th floor of the museum will be named after Goldberg, and a section about him will be included in the permanent exhibition.

From the exhibition floor, the house Goldberg designed and built could be seen from the window, near the city’s cable car, and the human story of success and tragedy interests Gichon more than his intellectual achievements. He visited the house on the invitation of its owner and together they are working to install a “stolper steiner” commemorating him.

“We always said, if he would’ve stayed, he probably would’ve been world-famous,” Gichon said. “He would’ve risen high up in the company, and my uncles always said he would’ve won a Nobel Prize.”

This article was originally published in German in the Juedische Rundschau. Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist based in Berlin. Her latest novel, Underskin, is a modern German-Israeli love story whose male protagonist is from Dresden.