Monday, May 5, 2008

True Martyrs

What is a "martyr"? Plainly stated, it's a person who dies for G-d. Judaism does not ask for martyrs. We're generally told (except for three specific instances) to live for G-d and keep the commandments and not to die for G-d. But sometimes we're not given a choice, and the choice is made for us.

The Holocaust was an awesome event. Six million Jews were murdered. One and a half million of them were children - the next generation gone. We were singled out and destroyed.

These martyrs - who were they? They were ordinary people, who in normal times were mothers and fathers, businesspeople, lawyers, students and children. Not unlike us today.

These martyrs did extraordinary things even living within the hellholes called the Camps. Mothers performed brit milah/circumcisions on their sons knowing that at least their baby would die as a Jew. Shabbat candles lit. Shofars blown. Assimilated Jews saying the Shema on their way into the showers - professing in the one and only G-d. Those being carried to the cremetorium singing their own Kaddish, praising G-d.

These are martyrs. These are people to aspire to be.

We are the living. But what are we living for? For ourselves? For immediate gratification? The physical or the spiritual?

Do we take advantage of everything at our fingertips? Kosher food? Shabbat? The Jewish holidays? Do we appreciate any of it? We have it all. Our martyrs only dreamed of it.

As we approach Shavuot, the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we need to look back at Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and see not only destruction - but also life. These people lived for something bigger than themselves. They saw the big picture.

The Nazis were bent on destroying the Jewish People. But they can move to the back of the line. There were others as well interested in the same goal. As we say in the Passover Haggada, "in every generation" there are those who came to destroy us. However, G-d in His mercy didn't let that happen. We are an Eternal People when we hang onto Eternity.

To paraphrase Mark Twain. The Jews have seen the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, and the Nazis all rise to great heights. We have also seen them all crumble into the dustbins of history. Who are we? We are the Jews. We have Eternity. We have the Torah.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Never Again - The Empty Mantra

Here we are, commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day a week before celebrating Israel's 60th birthday. This is the day where we bring out the Holocaust survivors to listen to their stories of survival and victimhood. This is the day we sit around wondering what went wrong in Europe and mumbling to ourselves "Never Again".

"Never Again"? What shouldn't happen AGAIN?

That there shouldn't be anti-semitism in Europe?

That the world should love the Jews and find somewhere for us to go to live in safety?

It would be funny if there weren't lives at stake. Anti-semitism isn't dead. In fact it's alive and kicking in Europe. Jews are still scared to be outwardly identifiable as Jews. Talking to an English friend she was surprised to find that it isn't normal to be yelled at on the way to synagogue.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has published a report on anti-semitism in Europe. Here's a shocker: Anti-semitism isn't dead in Europe. Jews are being attacked. Do we hear a peep from anyone Jewish or not? No. Should we be surprised? No.

Israel is the country that the world gave us as payment for our destruction. The same world that couldn't manage to find a place for the Jews awaiting the fires of Aushwitz. The same United Nations whose Human Rights Council last month voted 40 out of 47 to elect

Jean Ziegler, the co-founder of the "Muammar Khaddafi Human Rights Prize", as an expert advisor representing the Western world. And for its new Palestine expert, the council chose Richard Falk, who, like Ziegler, accuses the U.S. of being responsible for many of the world's ills and describes Israel in Nazi terminology.

Yes, today it is a safer world for Jews. But wait. There are plenty of people who say that if Israel would have existed during World War II, that the Holocaust would never have happened. Such optimists. I too am an optimist, but I temper that by being a realist.

A couple summers ago Israel engaged in a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon after the kidnappings of her soldiers. Israel ended the war with absolutely nothing to show for her efforts. Our soldiers are still being held. Hezbollah is currently re-arming itself with the "see no evil" attitude of the UN blue helmeted soldiers nearby.

Israel gave away the Gaza strip with the assumption that somebody cared. Instead, rockets are landing in Ashkelon. (Never mind Sderot, they're old news but still receiving rockets.) And since Iran is such a good friend to the Arabs living there - it is a matter of time before those rockets land in Tel Aviv.

Israel is weak. Jews are weak. Why? Jews are afraid to show strength. We'd rather be victims than "aggressors". We're uncomfortable with power. We apologize every time we defend ourselves against people who hate us.

"Never Again" is an empty mantra mumbled by people who feel the need to do something but are impotent. We need to stop apologizing for offenses real and imagined. We need to stand up and say "I am Jewish!" and not apologize quickly afterward for being proud.

The Holocaust was not singular event in Jewish history. Our history is replete with horror. We are targets because we are Jewish. We focus on the Holocaust because it is the most recent destruction in our history of 4000 years.

The question is not "Why did this happen to me?" That is a voice of a victim. We must no longer be Jews with a ghetto mentality. How can I make the gestapo love me? What can I do to make the world love me? How can I assimilate myself into the culture around me enough so that I don't look too Jewish?

We Jews are the makers of history. We have seen it all, done it all. The question that must be asked is "Why am I afraid to say that I am Jewish?" The follow up question for all Jews then becomes "What does it mean to be Jewish?"

We are G-d's People. G-d gave us the Torah as a guidebook and the Land of Israel as a place to live as Jews. No apologies are ever needed.

Take a look at "Never Again."