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Friday, November 28, 2003

This Week's Portion: Toledot (Genesis 25:19 -- 28:9)

[Isaac] asked, "Are you really my son Esau?" And when [Jacob] said, "I am," he said, "Serve me and let me eat of my son's game that I may give you my innermost blessing."

So he served him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come close and kiss me, my son"; and he went up and kissed him.

And he smelled his clothes and he blessed him, saying, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of the fields that the Lord has blessed.

"May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow to you; be master over your brothers, and let your mother's sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, Blessed they who bless you." (Genesis 27:24-29).

Shlomo Riskin explains the portion with an annecdote in "Looking for Love:"

What would impel the "wholehearted" Jacob, the studious dweller in tents, to pose as his brother -- even if it was his mother who made the suggestion? . . .

I believe a fascinating answer may be found within the complexity of the parent-child, father-son relationship which is so profoundly depicted between the lives and embedded within the parchment folds of the book of Genesis. . . .

Jacob felt unloved, rejected, by his father -- who did love his brother Esau. Jacob desperately yearned for this love -- and there was even a way for him to acquire it. . . .

Here is a story to help elucidate the unfulfilled need which caused an emptiness in Jacob's heart, the aching angst with which only a child who feels unloved and rejected by the favored parent can ever identify.

My wife and I have a respected and beloved friend, a survivor of the Holocaust, a beautiful and intelligent woman . . . . During one of our many conversations in which she would reminisce about her childhood, she revealed that one of the happiest recollections of her life was the day in which she was forcibly removed from her family and taken to an extermination camp!

Responding to our shocked expressions, she described a family situation in which her older sister was the favored, frum (religious) daughter, and she was the rejected, rebellious one.

If there was one pat of butter and one pat of margarine, her sister would get the butter and she would get the margarine; "after all," her mother would explain, "Miriam is exhausted from davening with such concentration; you skipped a few corners with the prayer book in your hand, so you can do with less."

What was even more difficult to bear was her mother's complaint whenever she was angered by her younger daughter's conduct, "You probably aren't my own biological daughter! Your sister was born at home, whereas you were born in a clinic. The doctors probably exchanged my real daughter with you . . . "

Obviously, this was not a usual refrain, but only engendered by our friend's occasional rebellion. But as a Yiddish proverb goes: "A slap departs, a word still smarts" (A patsch dergeht, A vort bashteht).

In 1942 the Nazis came to her hometown of Bendine and rounded up the children. Only she and her parents were at home.

Her father tried to steady his trembling hands by writing a kvittel (petition) to the Gerrer Rebbe; her mother threw herself at the feet of the Nazi beasts, begging them to take her and spare her child.

Our friend said she felt absolutely no fear, even when they loaded her onto the cattle car; she could feel only joy -- joy in the knowledge that her mother truly loved her after all, joy in the confirmation that she was indeed her parents' own and beloved daughter, joy in the discovery that she was at last accepted and not rejected.

Rachel Ain, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, emphasizes the eventual reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, and puts it in a larger context:

Jacob stands before his father Isaac in disguise and takes a blessing that rightfully belongs to Esau.

Upon hearing this, Esau cries out to Isaac, "Have you only one blessing, father?" (Genesis 27:37) How could Isaac, the father of both sons, in fact choose only one son to bless? How could there in fact, be only one blessing? . . .

As student at JTS, we each have the opportunity to take classes at a non-denominational Protestant seminary, the Union Theological Seminary, which is directly across the street from JTS. I took a class with Professor Mary Boys called "Studies in Christian-Jewish relations." . . . [I]n her book Has God Only One Blessing? [she] forces Christians to reevaluate themselves in light of Judaism. . . .

Reconciliation after conflict is not easy. The reconciliation narrative between Esau and Jacob later in Genesis is fraught with tension. But as we know they do reconcile.

May each of us be blessed with the understanding that we can live in and thrive in our own tradition, while recognizing the multiple blessings that those around us receive.

In doing so, we will engage in interfaith dialogue which is so crucial to our hope for peace in a world torn by strife and misunderstanding.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Some Thanksgiving Quotes

Samuel Adams wrote the first national Thanksgiving Proclamation, issued by the revolutionary Continental Congress on November 1, 1777.

It is one sentence of 360 words that reads in part :

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received . . . together with penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God . . . mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance . . . it is therefore recommended . . . to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor . . .

John Winthrop, later to become Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, while sailing to America in 1630:

. . . if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it.
“Therefore let us choose life,
that we and our seed may live,
by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him,
for He is our life and our prosperity.”

Ronald Reagan:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. . . .

After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Thanks to Mark Alexander).

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Geneva Accord: The Modality of Peace

Ariel Sharon -- interviewed on Monday by -- was asked his opinion about Europe's support for the Geneva Accord:

We already saw the Oslo Accord in the past. The Geneva Accord is the same merchandise except with a different package.

The Oslo Accord is one of the heaviest disasters Israel ever faced.

It resulted from lack of responsibility and seriousness which brought upon us the harshest strikes ever, allowing thousands of armed terrorists and murderers into the country, not to mention the Nobel Prize recipient.

The Geneva Accord sounds nice -- in the first Article, the parties agree it "ushers in a new era based on peace." But I'm not sure I follow all the details.

Here is the provision (Article 2/9) dealing with "security cooperation" between the parties:

The Parties shall establish robust modalities for security cooperation, and engage in a comprehensive and uninterrupted effort to end terrorism and violence directed against each others [sic] persons, property, institutions or territory.

This effort shall continue at all times, and shall be insulated from any possible crises and other aspects of the Parties' relations.

What is a "modality?"

It's great to know the modality will be "robust" -- that sounds good -- but exactly what is it? We all remember the Mitchell modality, the Tenet modality, the Zinni modality, and alot of other modalities -- and of course Oslo itself, the grandaddy of modalities.

And then there is the "comprehensive" and "uninterrupted" effort to end terrorism. Effort?

"Robust," "comprehensive," "uninterrupted" -- the adjectives are terrific. But they seem intended to mask the emptiness of nouns they modify. Stripped of the adjectives, the parties have agreed upon a "modality" and an "effort."

And what if the "modalities" (they must be contemplating more than one) don't work? What if there is a crisis between the parties even after this agreement is signed?

Well, not to worry. The "effort" will "continue at all times" and will be "insulated" from any possible crises. Huh?

I'm not sure whether it's comforting or ominous that the parties have already contemplated the possibility of "crises" even after this "new era" of peace is "ushered in." But their solution -- the "modalities" and "effort" will be "insulated" -- does not inspire confidence.

And what if -- despite all these careful arrangements -- the parties have a dispute about the "modalities" or the "effort?"

Well, not to worry. They thought about that. Here's what Article 16 ("Dispute Settlement Mechanism") provides:

1. Disputes . . . shall be resolved by negotiations within a bilateral framework to be convened by the High Steering Committee.

2. If a dispute is not settled promptly by the above, either Party may submit it to mediation and conciliation . . . . .

3. Disputes which cannot be settled by bilateral negotiation and/or the [mediation] mechanism shall be settled by a mechanism of conciliation to be agreed upon by the Parties.

4. Disputes which have not been resolved by the above may be submitted by either Party to an arbitration panel. . . . .

If only the Kellogg-Briand Pact had included a modality -- and had provided that any disputes would be resolved by negotiations, and then (if that didn't work) by mediation and conciliation, and then (if that didn't work) by a "mechanism of conciliation to be agreed upon by the parties," and (if that didn't work) by arbitration -- and then (if that didn't work) by a coin flip. And then if that didn't work . . .

It's called the "Geneva Accord." But a more accurate name would be "Land for Insulated Modalities."

Monday, November 24, 2003

Is It Real or Is It Friedman?

See how far you get into this before realizing it is a parody of Thomas Friedman's recent columns on the Middle East.

The Way We Pray Now

Rabbi David Wolpe ("In God We Trust -- Kind of") reviews Alan Wolfe's new book, "The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith."

It has been some 50 years since Philip Rieff declared "the triumph of the therapeutic," and Wolfe's book is the chronicle of how the therapeutic -- which is a sort of washed-out Emersonianism -- has taken over the pews. Twelve-step programs, group support and uplifting, digestible messages predominate.

To say that today's preaching is undemanding is not the same as saying that today's parishioners are not serious. . . . [A]nyone who has attended an evangelical church knows that the believers don't take their faith lightly. Salvation is serious, though as Wolfe reports, Americans are more likely to believe in heaven than in hell.

. . . people approach their faith with many of the same expectations they have when buying a car: it should be comfortable, functional, acceptable to others, and get me where I want to go.

Jewish life shows the same dynamic, as one would expect. While lamenting the lack of authority in the pulpit, congregants regularly seek not strict pronouncements, but inspiration and a sense of communal solidarity. . . .

In high schools across America, students still read Edwards's terrifying sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Some of them believe it. But not many.

Imagine heading for the Oneg Shabbat after listening to Edwards' sermon, which took as its text a sentence from Deuteronomy 32:35 ("Their foot shall slide in due time") and which ended as follows:

And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out.

And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning. . . .

[N]ow awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation.

Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."

Friday, November 21, 2003

This Week's Torah Portion: Chaye Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

“Abraham was old, well along in days, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all (ba-kol)." (Gen 24:1).

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes on "Blessed With All:"

This is surely a lovely tribute, to receive God’s blessing in every area of your life, but it raises problems for a careful reader.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed Abraham leaving his father’s house, smuggling his wife (and nearly losing her and his own life to two different lustful kings), participating in the animosity of his wife Sarah and her servant Hagar, expelling Hagar and his son Ishmael, suffering the feuds between his own servants and the servants of his nephew Lot, waging war with a victorious coalition of kings to save his nephew, arguing with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and being ordered to kill his beloved son, Isaac.

That’s an awful lot of struggling, loss, and suffering for a man who is described as "blessed in all." . . .

Instead of seeing Abraham’s blessings only in the abundance in his life, in the good things he owned, can’t we learn to see blessing in the fullness of his life, the sheer “all-ness” of it.

Life doesn’t come in sweetness and light. It erupts with an irrepressible mixture of joy and sorrow, achievement and defeat, vitality and illness, connection and isolation. To focus only on part of that mix would be to produce a caricature of the fullness of life . . .

All living beings suffer. But remaining open to see the blessings amid the suffering is the key inner work that allows us to be with God and each other even in our pain. The Midrash Tanhuma notes that “the Holy Blessing One only elevates a person after testing and trying him first.”. .

To see blessing ba-kol, in everything, is the task of a lifetime, and the opportunity of every moment.

Rabbi David Wolpe recently demonstrated the same point:

At the end of his life, the Torah says Abraham "V'Hashem Baruch Et Avarham Bakol" -- God blessed Abraham with everything.

Many commentators find that curious: after all, Abraham had a very difficult life, with his family and with his mission in the world.

. . . [But] in a life, if you are lucky, you get blessed with everything. As one Hasidic rabbi, Rabbi Aharon of Apt, put it, darkness is the throne upon which light must rest. . . .

And as I have said to many in times of darkness, there are blessings in the darkness as well.

One of those blessings is to watch someone overcome fear, and grief, and darkness itself, and be reminded by that of the intense joy that may yet come thereafter.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards makes a similar observation in her beautiful D'Var Torah on the part of the portion dealing with Abraham and Isaac's grief over the loss of Sarah:

Nor is Abraham the only one to experience grief over Sarah’s death.

Sarah’s son, Isaac, is 37 when his mother dies. We hear nothing of his immediate response to her death, but three years later, in the beautiful scene of Isaac and Rebekah’s first meeting, we glimpse Isaac’s grief over his mother: "Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her, and thus found comfort after his mother" (Genesis 24:63-67).

It’s the first time love between a man and a woman is mentioned in the Torah. It took three years after Sarah’s death for Isaac to find comfort, to find love, to feel love.

Life will go on, grief will lessen; joy, even love, will return to most of us at some point after we lose dear ones. . . . While we wait for joy to return, for pain to ease, we would do well to remember and to take some lessons from the ways Abraham mourned, and from the length of Isaac’s grief.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Now for the Hard Part

The Jerusalem Post editorializes ("Farewell, GA Delegates") about the massive General Assembly that concluded yesterday in Jerusalem:

Against expectations, you came.

In the run-up to the General Assembly, we heard voices whispering: "Just watch: At the last minute, they'll forfeit their deposits and cancel." So it was with a mixture of surprise and delight that we watched as hotel lobbies crowded with 4,200 delegates . . . .

[S]olidarity does not mean blind allegiance to whatever decision the [Israeli] government takes. But it does mean a certain deference to our judgments, if only because we are better acquainted with the facts of our case. And if you must criticize, do so with humility, reluctance, and respect, because we are the ones who will live with the consequences, not you.

So what is it that Israel wants of you? As we write, Israel is fighting a two-front war.

To our east, a virulent strain of Islam seeks our physical annihilation. To our West, there is a swelling chorus of voices seeking to reinterpret Zionism as an historical anachronism, a racist state, and a doomed enterprise.

At least the IDF is well equipped to fight the former battle. But as we've learned over the past three years, we are less adept at fighting the latter.

This is where Diaspora Jews must make a stand – on university campuses, in op-ed pages, and everywhere else where Israel's cause is fiercely contested. No Jew can rest easy for Israel simply because we are militarily strong, or because we have the technological edge on our enemies, or because our economy outpaces that of our enemies.

No state whose very legitimacy is in doubt has ever survived in the long run. Lose this fight, and eventually Israel will be lost, too.

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week -- and a delegate to the General Assembly -- writes from Jerusalem:

An emotional high of the conference was a solidarity march from the convention center late Monday afternoon to Zion Square. Along the two-mile route, an estimated 5,000 GA delegates marched with Israeli flags and banners proclaiming their home states.

Shopkeepers in Machane Yehuda, the famous open-air food market, gave away fruits and vegetables and applauded the marchers, who in turn applauded the Israelis. It was a rare and precious moment when Israelis and diaspora Jews expressed appreciation, one for the other.

That evening, the stores and restaurants along Ben Yehuda Mall, often empty as the result of numerous bombings in the last two years, were full of visitors happy to help the Israeli economy.

It, too, was a lovely scene, but whether the comfort level the visitors felt here will rub off on others back home remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

This Too is Happening

Delegates to the United Jewish Communities General
Assembly parade through downtown Jerusalem.
(Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski).

More than 4,000 delegates from across North America (364 from Boston, the largest delegation) traveled to Jerusalem for the 72nd General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities. Fourteen hotels in Jerusalem were fully booked.

In one of the largest and most dramatic public displays of solidarity, more than 5,000 participants and Jerusalemites marched over a mile through the capital late Monday afternoon.

Marchers were greeted with cheers and tears from local residents, a brilliant light display on buildings and bridges along the 1.5 mile route, and loudspeakers blaring upbeat Israeli music songs about Yachad, or togetherness. . . .

The march wound its way through the Mahne Yehuda section of Jerusalem, and participants were treated to unique sights, sounds and smells on a crisp and clear Jerusalem evening. Marchers ducked into shops to buy refreshments and souvenirs. Residents lined the streets and waved, clapped and cheered them on.

“It’s beautiful,” said Tirtza Esthersohn, who watched with her husband and two sons, 2 ½ years old and 8 months old. “We never dreamed of so many people. We are very touched. It means a lot and we want to thank everyone for coming.”

Ariel Sharon, at the opening session, read a letter from "a young Jewish boy who lived in Israel last year, during a period in which the terror attacks were extremely severe."

"There is a word in Hebrew without a solid translation in English -- davka.

In essence, davka means doing, or thinking, something both in spite of and because of a given situation.

I realized after the end of my Jerusalem period, that davka, this year I am having the single most important and valuable experience of my life.

I can [honestly] say that being in Israel this year, davka -- with all the misfortune that has been visited upon Israel -- has been without doubt . . . an utterly life changing experience . . . ."

Here is a listing of 38 UJC missions to Israel over the next year -- everything from family missions to business executive missions, young professional missions, singles missions, and more. Next year in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Surveying the Results of Evil in Istanbul

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom lays a wreath at the scene of the Neve Shalom Synagogue bombing (AP Photo).

Christopher Hitchens writes in "Understanding the Istanbul Synagogue Bombings" that he visited the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul more than a decade ago:

Not long before my visit, a group of killers had thrown gasoline through the doors in mid-service, ignited it with a grenade or two, and then followed up with gunfire. This was more energetic than anything attempted on Kristallnacht. . . .

Last Saturday, the Neve Shalom community in Istanbul was hit again, this time along with another Jewish temple, by a truck bomb. There was a bar mitzvah in progress at the time, so the attackers could be assured of a fair generational cross-section of targets. . . .

I have not yet read any article explaining how the frustrations of the oppressed Muslims of the world are alleviated by this deed, or how the wickedness of American foreign policy has brought these chickens home to roost, or how such slaughters are symptoms of "despair." Perhaps somebody is at work on such an article and hasn't quite finished it yet. . . .

The worshippers at the Neve Shalom were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: They were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews. Their Turkish neighbors were casually murdered as "collateral damage."

This is in the nature and essence of the foe that we face.

At Little Green Footballs, WaS posts emails from Tina, a Jewish friend who lives in Istanbul:

It is really hard to explain our sorrow and the situation we are in. . . .

We all -- I mean all Jewish community -- feel so bad right now. Saturday, the biggest synagogue that is Neve Salom in Beyoglu and the other synogogue that is in Sisli was ruined by the bombs . . . . first bomb exploded in a track at the morning in Sisli at 09.29 in the morning. . . . at 09.30 second bomb exploded at the street of the Neve Salom synogogue . . . .

We are OK but there are lots of deaths and injuries.... we feel unsafe and do not know what to do right now.... most of my friends' families got injured and they are in surgery. Most popular two synogogues were exploded and these were really crowded on Saturday because there were Bar-misva ceremonies in both of them...

It is really like a second 11th september that you faced in USA for us. We are in great danger just because of the fact that we are Jewish.

I really can not find any words to express my hate and anger. Those people who died did not have any fault and they were there only to attend the ceremony.... the son of the rabbi injured too.... I do not know what will happen next. I do not also trust Turkish polices... we are not really safe.

They say that these attacks will increase. But life is going on here. We are all fine. Some relatives who are not close injured but not so serious. Thank you for asking..... but I do not know how the psychological damage of these attacks will end....

Today, all the counselors and psychologists (jews) will come together to decide how we can do to help to our community, and families. People are psychologically hurt and there will be group threapies in a week or two.

I will go to the meeting now and will join to the group.. we will learn how to behave for this crisis situations and help others... this will be a service for our community. that is all for now...

In a related string of posts, Ariel advises those who are discouraged:

Keep your head up. We have a long history, a proud history, a history of survival against insuperable odds, of prosperity in the fact of unnatural disasters that have consumed many others.

We will be here long after the Islamists are gone; Hitler passed, Stalin passed, Babylon passed, Rome passed, Pharonic Egypt passed - but we are still here.

All of our oppressors have gone the way of the dodo, but we are still here.

And we will be here forever. We will be here forever because we stand for what is right and what is true, for a system where people are governed by laws and morals, where people don't rule by the might of the fist as much as the might of the brain.

We are still here and we will be here forever; we are Jews and there is no changing that our unjust oppressors have arisen in every generation only to fall once again.

They always fall.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Tony Judt Sinks Even Further

Michael Walzer demolishes Tony Judt's infamous New York Review of Books article calling for the end of Israel as an "anachronistic" Jewish state:

Tony Judt believes that it is a hopeless task to persuade Israeli Jews to remove 200,000 of their fellows from the West Bank and Gaza. So he wants to persuade them instead, all five million of them, to give up political sovereignty and remove themselves from the society of states.

. . . Here is a state with the strongest army in the region, with a nuclear arsenal, a flourishing economy that provides (despite today's hard times) a Euro-American standard of living, and the only democratic political system in the whole of the Middle East. And Judt proposes to make it disappear.

It is a nineteenth-century nation-state, and the nation-state is, as we all know, an anachronism: away with it!

Ridding the world of the nation-state is an interesting, if not a new, idea. But why start with Israel? Why not start with France—which is, after all, the original nation-state?

The French led the way into this parochial political structure that, in violation of all the tenets of advanced opinion, privileges a particular people, history, and language. Let them lead the way out.

Or the Germans, or the Swedes, or the Bulgarians, or the Japanese, all of whom have enjoyed those "privileges" much longer than the Jews. . .

So what is the alternative? It seems obvious to me: two anachronistic states are better than one.

Judt says that this was "once a possible and just solution." He can't really believe this, given his view of nation-states, but it is kind of him to tell us that the solution preferred by most Israelis and most Palestinians would once have been all right with him.

Judt's response to Walzer is lame, but at least it begins with a useful summary of the reaction to his article, from both the left and right:

"Distinguished professors" at American universities canceled their NYR subscriptions . . .

Andrea Levin, executive director of the "Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America," accused me of . . . being "party to preparations for a final solution."

Alan Dershowitz of Harvard made the analogy with Adolf Hitler's "one-state solution for all of Europe."

David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, charged me with advocating "genocidal liberalism" . . .

The New Republic described my essay as "crossing a line" . . . [and] dubbed my views "anti-Zionism with a human face."

In fact, Judt's response is not only lame but disengenous. He (1) denies he was calling for Israel to disappear, (2) denies he proposed the demise of its independence, and (3) asserts that when he asked "what if there were no place for a Jewish state?" he was just "posing a question."

Right. Don't insult our intelligence, Tony.

Respected no more.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Some Shabbat Reading and Listening

No D'var Torah this week, but you might click on "A Prayer for Israel (Psalm 83)." Wait for it to load. It's worth it.

(Hat tip to the remarkable Anne Lieberman, who will eventually need a whole wall to hang the hats coming her way for the original link to this video).

Rick Richman (who?) reviews Martin Gilbert's latest book: The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (Henry Holt and Company: 2003).

Here is one of the stories, in summary form: Richard Vanger was 10 years old when a young Polish Catholic, known to him only as Mrs. Teresa, agreed to hide him and a rabbi’s daughter, Gietl, in her barn. Later, he got to stay in the house, under the bed, listening as Mrs. Teresa played Chopin on the piano — music he still remembers today.

One day, as Richard was hiding in another village, two Polish policemen and an SS officer, acting on a tip, went to Mrs. Teresa’s barn, where Gietl was hiding.

Finding Gietl, they confronted Mrs. Teresa: "What is this Jew doing in your place?"

As Mrs. Teresa hesitated, Gietl said: "Thank you very much for all you have done for me" — and the SS officer shot Gietl on the spot.

Mrs. Teresa was arrested and taken to the concentration camp in Koldiczewo. She survived the war, but emerged a sick woman and died in 1952, at the age of 42.

With the help of Vanger, Gilbert has told her story.

Sir Martin will be at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles this Sunday at 9:30 a.m., speaking on "How the Truth About Auschwitz Reached Roosevelt's Desk."

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Focus on Veteran's Day

Mark Steyn, writing yesterday on Veteran's Day, about the role of the United States and the West:

You can't help noticing that it's the low-tech weapons that are really horrible. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and the Congo, millions get hacked to death by machetes.

Even on the very borders of EUtopia, hundreds of thousands died in the Balkans in mostly non-state-of-the-art ways until the Americans intervened.

According to the latest estimates, the mass graves in Iraq contain the remains of at least 300,000 people, but we're still arguing about whether the war was "justified". . . .

In our time, mass slaughter occurs only in places where the West refuses to act - in the Sudan or North Korea - or acts only under the contemptible and corrupting rules of UN "peacekeeping," as at Srebrenica.

Prime Minister Tony Blair gave another remarkable speech last night to the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London, ending with:

The hardest thing in politics is to keep clarity of vision when all around the clatter of political intrigue and day to day policy -- from the petty to the profound -- swirls around you, jostling your footing, confusing your senses and unnerving your courage.

Remove it all and the vision is indeed clear and sharp. Europe and America together. Britain in the thick of it. The world, a darn sight safer as a result.

Monday, November 10, 2003

An Important New Book on Israel

Ethan Bronner in the New York Times Book Review and Daniel Gordis in The Jerusalem Post review "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars," by Yaacov Lozowick.

Cynthia Ozick calls the book "one of the most important political histories of our generation:"

A modern-day Zola, Lozowick meticulously unravels the Big Lie that demonizes Israel and Zionism and contaminates the viler estuaries of what is nowadays dubbed "the international community."

The title alone -- the scandal of calling into question a living nation's existence -- ought to shame the prevaricators and defamers, whether they be professors in universities, media distorters, "peace activists" who justify terror, morally deformed intellectuals, self-deceiving unconfessed haters, or merely the herd of the easily led.

Honorably and irrefutably, Lozowick reintroduces plain fact and clear truth into a world of malice and mendacity.

Bronner's review notes the absence of any response from Arab historians, intellectuals, media, schools, or political or moral leaders to Israel's revision of its national history to encompass the Palestinians:

There were virtually no Palestinian ''new historians'' asking whether their leader in the 1930's and 40's, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was right to collaborate with the Nazis, calling for the killing of Jews ''wherever you find them.''

Few Muslim leaders questioned whether sending suicide bombers into Israeli cafes was a moral act.

No Arab television station ran a series on David Ben-Gurion's confrontation with rebel Zionist militias.

Israel's new historians were viewed by Arab intellectuals not as an invitation to self-examination but as further evidence that Zionism was a crime.

Worst of all, in 2000, when Israel offered Yasir Arafat more than 90 percent of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for a Palestinian state, his rejection was accompanied by a terrorist war that shows no signs of stopping.

Gordis notes the book is critical of Israel as well, and "therefore, will make both ends of the political spectrum uncomfortable:"

But that is precisely why Lozowick's book is such a welcome addition to this conversation. To a world in which too much of what we read and hear denies any legitimacy of competing arguments, Lozowick's book is a well-written, wise, passionately Zionist, nuanced and morally serious contribution.

An excerpt from the book is here.

Friday, November 07, 2003

This Week's Portion: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 - 17:27)

[The Lord] took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He added, "So shall your offspring be."

And because he put his trust in the Lord, He reckoned it to his merit.
(Genesis 15:5).

Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles has a lovely d'var Torah on this verse, particularly meaningful for those facing adversity and an unlit horizon:

Abram had looked death in the eye and sat distraught over his own future.

God listened to His friend’s lament and then He took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And he added, "So shall your offspring be" . . . .

There is an intimacy between Abram and God that exists outside of words: "He took him outside."

Imagine how you would take someone outside to see the stars or ruby Mars, a slivered moon or sunset, gently tugging on a lover’s sleeve, scooping up a sleepy child, "C’mon sweet little you, come see the sky in ribbons of lavender." . . . .

Poised somewhere between the endless jeweled sky and undulating desert hills, there is a still, small silence, during which God’s arm rests around Abram’s troubled shoulders, and Abram looks up, following the grand sweep of God’s other arm, gesturing him to count the stars. . . .

Where is God? Why do bad things like fires happen? How does the universe tick and spin? . . . . How could this happen? Why me? When will it stop? What can I do?

. . . God’s arm is around you, and so shall your offspring be. God’s arm is around you, and that’s all you really need to know.

Ultimately our soul rests in God's hand. We must be patient and pray. There are blessings in the darkness as well.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

How the Arabs Created Their Own Nakba (Catastrophe)

Asher Susser, Director and Senior Research Fellow of the Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, has a fascinating article in the Fall 2003 issue of The Middle East Quarterly.

Based on a lecture last May to analysts at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the article ("The Decline of the Arabs") is a tour d'horizon of the last 50 years of Arab history.

Here is an excerpt from his discussion of the most recent chapter in the Palestinians' self-created catastrophe:

The Cold War came to an end with the disintegration of the Soviet Union; massive Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union threatened to tip the demographic scales . . . and the United States defeated Iraq in the 1991 Kuwait war. . . .

Yasir Arafat, under the impression that time was working against him and in desperate need of an entrance ticket into the center of gravity of Palestinian politics in the West Bank and Gaza, decided to accept the Oslo accords in 1993.

But by the end of the 1990s, the wheels of fortune had seemingly turned again, and Arafat's perceptions of time altered accordingly.

Arafat was now in control of the Palestinian core. Soviet immigration to Israel hardly affected the demographic balance . . . Iraq appeared to be on the verge of regaining [international] acceptance . . . . Saddam defied the United States with apparent impunity . . . . Israel withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon, giving the impression that affluent Israel was tiring.

Arafat lost his sense of urgency for a deal with Israel and acquiesced in the use of force to coerce Israel to accept conditions more favorable to the Palestinians, particularly on matters relating to Jerusalem and refugees.

The use of force was a catastrophic mistake, the worst the Palestinians have made since 1948.

. . . Israeli society has proved to be more resilient than the Palestinians — and many Israelis, too — would have thought. The Palestinian effort to break the Israeli spirit through terror has failed. . . .

If the Palestinians believed momentarily that their war with Israel would draw the Arabs into the fray, they were mistaken. . . .

Lastly, the Palestinians desperately sought to draw the international community in on their behalf. This did not materialize either.

Arafat's terrorist war has discredited him in the eyes of the international community. . . . Arafat, by leading the Palestinians in the present war, lost any residue of credibility he may still have had with the Israelis.

His position is reminiscent of the predicament of the first leader of the Palestinian national movement, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini's collaboration with the Nazis in World War II cost him his international legitimacy. He then made matters infinitely worse by leading his people headlong into their 1948 disaster.

Arafat has done pretty much the same.

The Palestinian war against Israel has resulted in massive Israeli retaliation that has crippled the Palestinian Authority (PA), disrupted the Palestinian population's daily life, and devastated their economy.

Moreover, the war has also led to the constant rise in the popularity of Hamas at the expense of Fatah. And the Palestinian modus operandi of suicide bombings has earned their struggle unprecedented international opprobrium.

There is much, much more in Susser's absorbing article. Essential reading.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Book Recommendation

Rabbi David Wolpe reviews and recommends Lev Raphael's "The German Money" -- an "unconventional story of a family that reels and reveals, in a thriller with a wicked twist."

The plot of The German Money is driven by a mother's leaving a legacy of money she has received from the German government as a survivor. Reluctant at first to apply for the money, she invested it wisely and it has become a considerable sum. Why does she leave the money to Paul, the oldest? . . . .

None of the three [children] had much of a relationship with their mother or their father. Indeed, none of the three have much a relationship with anyone. . . .

Estranged from Judaism . . . and from each other, the mother's death provides the occasion for one of those family reunions where sulking and anger are the order of the day:

"Simon was sullenly self-destructive, Dina was a theatrical and questing malcontent, and I was a saboteur, methodically destroying my own happiness."

Welcome to the Borgias of Brooklyn. Or rather, the Upper West Side.

. . . It is a fast read, an engaging one, with glints of insight, and a deeper, twisting message about the ambiguities of history and human nature. Enjoy.

The review itself is a nice piece of writing.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism

Two brilliant articles -- excerpted here, but which have to be read in their entirety -- explore the connections between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

Natan Sharansky has an extraordinary article in the current Commentary that traces the history of anti-Semitism, its re-emergence today in Europe and the Muslim word, and its relationship to anti-Americanism:

Herzl envisioned the creation of . . . a Jewish polity and predicted that a mass emigration to it of European Jews would spell the end of anti-Semitism. . . .

[T]his particular illusion has come full circle: while Herzl and most Zionists after him believed that the emergence of a Jewish state would end anti-Semitism, an increasing number of people today, including some Jews, are convinced that anti-Semitism will end only with the disappearance of the Jewish state. . . .

And so we arrive back at today, and at the hatred that takes as its focus the state of Israel. . . . [which] has the distinction of challenging two separate political/moral orders simultaneously: the order of the Arab and Muslim Middle East, and the order that prevails in Western Europe. . . .

The values ascendant in today's Middle East are shaped by two forces: Islamic fundamentalism and state authoritarianism.

In the eyes of the former, any non-Muslim sovereign power in the region . . . is anathema. Particularly galling is Jewish sovereignty in an area delineated as . . . the realm where Islam is destined to enjoy exclusive dominance. Such a violation cannot be compromised with; nothing will suffice but its extirpation.

In the eyes of the secular Arab regimes, the Jews of Israel are similarly an affront, but not so much on theological grounds as on account of the society they have built: free, productive, democratic, a living rebuke to the corrupt, autocratic regimes surrounding it.

. . . to the degree that Oslo were to have succeeded in bringing about a real reconciliation with Israel . . . to that degree it would have frustrated the overarching aim of eradicating the Jewish "evil" from the heart of the Middle East and/or preserving the autocratic power of the Arab regimes.

And so, while in the 1990's the democratic world . . . was (deludedly, as it turned out) celebrating the promise of a new dawn in the Middle East, the schools in Gaza, the textbooks in Ramallah, the newspapers in Egypt, and the television channels in Saudi Arabia were projecting a truer picture of the state of feeling in the Arab world.

It should come as no surprise that, in Egypt, pirated copies of Shimon Peres's A New Middle East, a book heralding a messianic era of free markets and free ideas, were printed with an introduction in Arabic claiming that what this bible of Middle East peacemaking proved was the veracity of everything written in [the] Protocols of the Elders of Zion about a Jewish plot to rule the world.

Victor Davis Hanson, who writes a seemingly unending series of compelling essays, exceeds even his usual brilliance in "Those Jews:"

There are certain predictable symptoms to watch when a widespread amorality begins to infect a postmodern society: cultural relativism, atheism, socialism, utopian pacifism. Another sign, of course, is fashionable anti-Semitism among the educated . . . .

[S]uch is the nature of the new anti-Semitism that everyone can now play at it — as long as it is cloaked in third-world chauvinism, progressive thinking, and identity politics. . . .

These are weird, weird times, and before we win this messy war against Islamic fascism and its sponsors, count on things to get even uglier.

Don't expect any reasoned military analysis that puts the post-9/11 destruction of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's evil regime, along with the liberation of 50 million at the cost of 300 American lives, in any sort of historical context. . . .

Do not look for the Islamic community here to acknowledge that the United States, in little over a decade, freed Kuwait, saved most of the Bosnians and Kosovars, tried to feed Somalis . . . ensured that no longer were Shiites and Kurds to be slaughtered in Iraq . . . and now is spending $87 billion to make Iraqis free.

That the Arab world would appreciate billions of dollars in past American aid to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, or thank America for its help in Kuwait and Kosovo, or be grateful to America for freeing Iraq — all this is about as plausible as the idea that Western Europeans would acknowledge their past salvation from Nazism and Soviet Communism . . . .

No, in this depressing age, the real problem is apparently our support for democratic Israel and all those pesky Jews worldwide, who seem to crop up everywhere as sly war makers, grasping film executives, conspiratorial politicians, and greedy colonialists, and thus make life so difficult for the rest of us.

Also worth reading: Mark Strauss' "Antiglobalism’s Jewish Problem" in the November/December 2003 issue of Foreign Policy.