Thursday, 19 April 2018

March of the Living and why I support it (Part Two)






Last week, I wrote an article in support of continuing the “March of the Living,” where young Yisraelis visit Poland and the death camps, an experience which many of those who partake in it describe as a deeply meaningful one. It is one that is mingled with sadness, agony on the one hand and joy and victory on the other.

Soon after I published my article, a dear friend who opposes this endeavor, sent me an article written several years ago by a Holocaust survivor, Ruth Bondy. It is entitled, “After we, the Holocaust Survivors, are gone.”

Very few can argue with Holocaust survivors about their trials which, naturally, helped shape their views. No one ever could and probably never would be able to grasp the abominable ordeals that they have been through. No one could speak in their name. We can only listen to their stories and admire them for their inner strength, endurance and the sacrifices they had to make.
We can, however, disagree with some of their views. And on this subject, I beg to differ with Ms. Bondy.

Reading her words, I sense a somber timbre, a trace of disappointment and doubt in the ability of many to carry on the survivors’ torch and share with the world their torments and tribulations. “Many will be relieved,” she writes, as she goes on to name some of those organizations, politicians and government agencies that might be relieved when the Holocaust survivors are no more.
In that, I fully agree with her. The miracle of their survival may be a burden to some.

However, I was somewhat surprised to read her suggestion, almost a directive, an order to cease with the practice of “March of The Living.”


“And put an end to the outrageous “marches of the livings,” to the school trips to places where Jews died, instead of to places where they lived—Toledo, Segovia, Rembrandt and Spinoza’s Holland, Odessa, and perhaps one day to Baghdad,” she writes.

She calls Poland, a place “where Jews died.” Instead, she suggests, visiting places like Holland, Spain where Jews “lived.”

With all due respect, will someone please point out to me a place where Jews ONLY lived and never died in, sometimes, strange deaths? Can anyone deny that in many of the places that she names, Jews both lived and died? Have Jews only “lived” in Spinoza’s Holland? How about Toledo? Have Jews not suffered there or died there sometimes under horrible conditions?

Poland is not only one big Jewish graveyard as history proves. It was, and few know it, also a place where Jews DID live and a very rewarding life, for many years. Poland was not only a haven for Jews for many years, it produced some of the greatest Jewish minds, Jewish thinkers, great Jewish Zionists who added immensely to a flourishing Jewish culture and later to the Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. I invite you to visit the Jewish museum in Warsaw. I was just there. What an eye-opening experience it was to learn that Poland, where vast parts of it are soaked with Jewish blood, was not only a big burial place for our People, it also provided a fertile cradle to our creativity and our Jewish ingenuity.

That is a fact!  And it is facts that we should teach our young ones. The many memorials and, the camps, the maps of the Ghetto, the crematoria, the gas chambers, they are ALL facts just as are the big synagogues, the gravestone are all testimonials to a formerly very thriving Jewish world, unfortunately a vanished world.

It is this vanished Jewish world that we need to educate our young ones about. It is the world that serves as a link, an important link in the chain of our Jewish existence.

When I educate my students about the Shoah, I stress that facet of our Jewish Polish heritage, a facet that I am afraid the cessation of the “March o the Living” might help erase. When my students go to Poland, they learn about the great Yeshivas and the amazing scholarship that they produced. The devastation that they face there serves as a constant reminder of a once great Jewish world, one that may evaporate into thin air should we fail to remind ourselves should we fail to see its remnants. To do that, in my view, would send a very strong message to the victims, a message they would have hoped never to receive. After all, isn’t it the very reason we continue to visit the graves of the Maccabees and the final stronghold of the heroes of Metzada? Is not our arrival at their final resting place aimed at telling them that we will never forget the sacrifices they made? Or is the memory of some heroic Jews more equal than that of other Jews?

It is this experience, I believe, that will help infuse and reignite the defiant Jewish Spirit and remind us that “Never Again,” is eternal, just as eternal as our People.

Happy Yom Ha’atzmaoot to our dear beloved Yisrael. I salute ALL those members of our Jewish People who through their death, commanded us Life!



Saturday, 14 April 2018

March of The Living and Why I support It













I recently read an article by Varda Epstein and one of the threads by Roger Froikin. They both address the issue of “March of the Living” and the visit to Poland, where the ground is one big graveyard to many of our People.

Needless to add, I disagree, and STRONGLY, with both.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their views. So here is mine.

I have never participated in such a “march.” I have, however, visited some camps, former Ghettos and mass grave sites where millions of our brothers and sisters were slaughtered. Though some of those were first cousins of mine, many others, nameless victims were all my family. I was raised to believe that family is the most basic and important unit of every society. It is that link that connects us to our past and paves our path to our future life’s journey.

As someone who grew up in the shadow of the Shoah, I heard many stories. I relived it through my parents and their many friends and acquaintances who frequented our home. I thought I had heard it all.

WRONG!

“A Picture is worth a thousand words,” a wise person once said. I did not realize how wise that statement was until I stood on the ground of Auschwitz, walked in the footsteps of my four young cousins who were marching to their grave among the ravines of Ponar and Babi Yar. I heard their voices calling me from the ground, begging “Never Forget.”

My response to those voices was “I never will.”

I have been visiting these sites whenever the opportunity presented itself. I whisper their names, their many names, as I light the Yahrtzeit candle and silently recite the Kaddish. I am not an observant Jew in the traditional sense of the word. However, “Remember”  is one of the commandments that I adhere to performing. Visiting the graves of those that perished and through their death commanded us to Life is one of my ways of practicing and experiencing my Judaism.

A fellow lecturer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand, Dr. Ghazallah once told me, “Stop dwelling on Auschwitz, its ovens are already cold.” To her, Auschwitz has been reduced to merely a museum and a “cold” place.

Well, unfortunately, these are the sentiments that I get from the article and the thread I mentioned above.

Let it be known, THE OVENS OF AUSCHWITZ WILL NEVER BE COLD FOR ME! With each visit Jews make there, we reignite them and the memories they bring. There is no stronger reminder than a physical encounter with the gates of Death, a reminder of our past, our Miracle of Life and the path to our glorious future.

I, for one, will continue to be there at every opportunity. Through my visits, I will continue to remind the victims that they are never forgotten. Because as a teacher I can tell you that if we stop this practice, in a matter of a generation of two, the memory of the Shoah and the high price we Jews had to pay for the mere fact that we were born may fade into oblivion!

Any educator will tell us that experiencing or getting as close as possible to experiencing any lesson is getting as close as possible to living it no matter how brief or how much they think how futile the encounter is.

An answer by one of my former students reinforces my sentiments on the subject. His words upon returning from the "March of the Living" were:
"Now I understand why I should join the IDF. It is the only way to ensure that what I witnessed through the 'March of the Living' never happens again!"

I will conclude with the wise words of my friend, Judy Berlin, because they echo my view on the subject:

Seeing is believing and that may be the only way for many young people to make the emotional connection to the past. Their parents don’t infuse Holocaust history in the home, nor do the Jewish schools or synagogues teach it. This may be the only way that our young people can feel and see the painful conditions that the Jews of Europe were forced to endure. They need to see the victims as their families.










Friday, 13 April 2018

Reflections






The sound of children’s laughter woke me up from my brief afternoon slumber. It welcomed me as I walked onto my veranda blinded by the fiery red ball of sun slowly setting into the horizon. They were playing outside my window. Their melodious voices, some shouting, others running, chasing a ball, enjoying the basic slices of life here in Eretz Yisrael were the answer to our Jewish People’s prayers: “Lihayot Am Chofshi Be’eartzeinu, Eretz Tzion V’Yrushalayim.”

How was yesterday different than any other day, here in our beautiful Homeland, you might ask?

Yesterday was Yom Ha’Shoah, that solemn day when Yisrael commemorates the innocent souls that perished in the Shoah. It was merely seventy some years ago when young tender lives bearing the names Yoseleh, Moisheleh, Avremaleh and many other belonging to children like the ones playing outside my home were deprived of similar rights, not to mention some privileges.

Yom Ha’Shoah has always been a hard day for our Jewish People.

As I grow older, though, the images, the stories, the miracles of survival and above all, the pain that they carry fail to diminish. If anything, they grow harder and more difficult to bear. That is the day when old scars that are begging to be healed open and bleed our invisible and tormented Jewish spirits. It is the day when images of dear ones briefly flash before our eyes, images of relatives and of strangers, some bearing the Yellow Star, others in the arms of their mothers as they cling to them in one last hope, nightmares of our starved brothers and sisters facing the unknown. There is only so much that the human mind and heart can hold.

We must continue to carry their memory.  To remember is the eternal destiny of our people. “And You Should Tell Your Son,” we are commanded. Remember and tell. Tell and remember.

“What about forgiving?” asked one of my students.
“Forgive whom and for what?” I answered. Forgiveness is a great concept, I teach my students. But it is up only to those who were the subject of injustice, of inflicted suffering, to grant it. Neither one of us, members of “second Generation,” or even “third Generation” of the victims have been given a mandate to forgive in their name. They have, however, demanded and rightfully so, that we “Never Forget.”

Some memories beg to be erased. Our tormented souls plead to free themselves of the pain and let the scars heal. But just like the tattooed numbers on many arms which bear witness of “What Man hath made of Man,” and which refuse to fade, so do those images of horror, engraved on our Jewish DNA, refuse to disappear.

They are all eternal reminders, I keep telling myself, in an effort to help ease the pain, of our One and Only Covenant with G-d, a Covenant of Hatikvah, Hope, Endurance and the Eternal verdict that we are here to stay. They are the unending Promise that “The Eternal of Yisrael Shall Never Lie.”

As we are about to enter this Shabbat, I pray that I will always be awakened by the sounds of laughter of Jewish children in Eretz Yisrael.


Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Anatomy of a Proselytizing Faith







I have recently come back from an exciting experience of visiting Ireland. The Emerald Isle, as some refer to it, is beautiful. Its history is fascinating, full of intrigues, wars, conquests and above all Irish Christian history.

Strangely enough, I was fascinated by the sometimes very intricate and artistically designed Celtic Cross, a recognized ancient pagan solar symbol, which can be spotted around the country’s Christian sites. I was also intrigued, riddled and staggered by its copious use in these sites. Not for long, though.

As someone who has been following the activities of Christian missionaries, I quickly found the answer to my conundrum in the modus operandum of the propylitization milieu.
The goal of any missionary faith, creed or philosophy is to spread its message to as many people and as widely as possible. This is not always an easy task, especially as most humans are creatures of habit who are not readily willing to tread into an unknown realm.

As a teacher, I have learned that a precondition to making the foreign familiar and comfortable is to, first and foremost, create a climate of safety and trust for students. It is the basic stage of human motivation, as correctly prescribed by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Missionary undertakings must be familiar with that concept. 

Their choice of tactics confirms the assumption. One only has to look around at the way missionaries operate here in Yisrael. One only needs to observe their organizations and how they raise money for their designated cause. Their ongoing calls for support and donations are almost always about feeding poor Jews, new immigrants and the elderly. Noble and just causes indeed. But that is where theirs stops - on what Maslow termed as the “Physiological” plain, one that stresses the importance of fulfilling the basic needs for food, water, and warmth.

A principle tenet of their agenda, it would appear, is to make their beneficiaries dependent on them. At least that is what I have observed here in Yisrael. Once the physiological needs of poor souls are satisfied, the missionaries are ready to move to the next level of their holy mission.

That next step in the process of successful learning, knowledge acquisition and adoption of new concepts and beliefs, as any teacher would know, is give them tools that will guide them into new realms. These are aimed at helping them overcome the fear of the unknown and the uncertain and face the alien. It is therefore of utmost importance for teachers to engage students by presenting new ideas in frames of reference that are familiar and comfortable to them as we lead them to the new and unfamiliar path.

Missionaries throughout history must have known that as well.

Imagine the first missionaries roaming the pagan fields of strange lands. How would they be able to introduce the concept of a one invisible god when the ones they worship have human traits?

The answer is very simple. To facilitate that process, all one must do is bring some of their mundane and recognizable pagan symbols into the new faith. To help facilitate the transition all one has to do is embrace their familiar and deeply rooted frames of reference into it. This would bound to make them feel more comfortable and more at home in the newly introduced belief system.

The adoption and incorporation of the Celtic Cross is but one example of such a measure.
Another example is the adoption of the name “Easter,” an important Christian holiday that is an ancient pagan celebration named after the pagan goddess Ishtar, the Sumerian goddess of fertility (hence the custom of Easter eggs and rabbits on this holy day) that was hung on a stake and ascended from the netherworld.

There are many more similar examples. Adoption of foreign symbols and customs is very common. It is also a natural growth process of any culture, a process that no one can or should try to stop.

However, and that is where I have an issue with Christian missionaries here in Yisrael. They do not only adopt Jewish customs and symbols, rather they take Jewish sources that are ours only and redefine them to fit their Christian theology, in order to mislead ignorant Jews into accepting their faith. They become salesmen selling a product by choosing misleading words and phrases and making fraudulent promises. 

This is NOT what teaching is about. This is NOT what good teaching should do.

To that, many of us, refuse to be accomplices.


Special thanks to my dear friend Roger Froikin.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

"And You Should Tell Your Son....




Last night Jews around the world celebrated the Pesach meal, called Seder.

“Seder” is the Hebrew word for “order.” Anyone who has ever attended one, would understand why it is called “Seder.” There is a certain order in this ceremony, a logical sequence to each part of this observance. It is lined out for us in the Haggadah, the booklet we use to guide us through it.

It is also apparent to anyone who has ever partaken in a Seder that, during this special meal, unlike any other night, the table is laid out and set with unusual food items and symbols. They are all intended to raise our curiosity and intrigue our inquisitive minds.
Likewise, a bird’s eye view of the Haggadah will reveal that its text is written in a manner that is aimed at prompting us to ask questions. We have the Four Questions which answer the basic query of why this night is different than any other night. We have the segment listing Four Sons, each with their own questions as well as other ones.  

Questions are an important tool along the journey of growth and development of any human being. Questions are also important along the ontogenetic path of a nation. It is curiosity that has triggered human growth and progress throughout the ages.

Our Jewish sages must have known that. And that is where the directive “And you should tell your son” comes into play.
“Those who forget their past,” a wise person once said, “have no future.” This important principle was also known to our wise sages. Teaching and educating about one’s national, cultural and spiritual past is a very important tenet in our Jewish tradition.

There are different ways of teaching, as many would know. The Haggadah, as we saw, uses a common didactic method to achieve that goal, “Questions and Answers.” There is great value in asking questions, as any teacher would tell us. More importantly is the manner in which the questions are formulated. Our sages who wrote the Hagadah were great pedagogues. They framed the questions in a way that helps the readers master core concepts about our Jewish/Zionist past. The method in which the questions in the Haggadah are articulated, the way the facts and ideas are communicated help the listeners and readers develop their critical thinking skills.

Moreover, as one might notice, the Haggadah never asks more than one question at a time. It lets them sink in, one by one. Asking questions throughout the reading of the Haggadah, as during any lesson, not only makes the experience of learning more interesting, it also makes it more interactive.

Questions by themselves, though, are not enough. They need answers in order to complete the cycle of learning, growing, advancing and progressing. Above all, the answers need to provide the links that connect our past learning to our present and future lessons.


The Haggadah writers knew that well. And when the answers come, it is often in the form of a song or a symbolic act. Everyone partakes in them. They engage every participant in this beautiful and heartwarming celebration of Freedom and Jewish Nationhood culminating with the song “L’Shana Ha’Ba’ah Birushalayim,” Next Year in Jerusalem which seals the meal. 

This morning, I am still singing this song as I continue to bask in the greatest lesson of them all, the greatest lesson of our Jewish history - to be a Free Nation in Our Homeland, the Land of Tziyon and Yerushalayim. May we all enjoy this Pesach season of Freedom and live to experience it designed and intended lessons.

Chag Sameach

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Guilt of Some




I just got back from a seminar on Yiddish literature in Lithuania and Poland.

Needless to say, it was a very difficult trip. The monuments, the memorial sites, the death camps, every place was soaked with painful memories from our Jewish people’s recent sanguine history.

The visit to Poland, naturally, was overshadowed by the recent Polish law which calls for criminalizing some Holocaust speech accusing the Polish state or people of involvement or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Punishment for breaking it can range from a fine or up to three years in prison. It went into effect on March 1, 2018.

Those who know me, know that as a daughter of two Shoah survivors, the subject is close to my heart. Some simply did not understand why I even bothered to visit Poland after this law had been enacted. For them such a law is a slap in the face of the victims and chose to ban Poland.

This was not my first visit to Poland. It may not be the last either. Let me make one point clear. I do not go there for cheap shopping or a vacation. I go there to tell the victims that they are not, nor will they ever be forgotten.

The last visit, however, brought about some insights which shed a light on a new reality. That reality, I believe, is not a pleasing one to the eyes, minds and collective subconsciousness of the Polish people.

Based on testimonies of friends and relatives who had visited Poland in the past, mainly before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland did not have nearly as many monuments commemorating the Shoah and its Jewish victims as it does now. Most tributes were dedicated to the Polish victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupation. And there is no denial that they were many.

Nowadays, more than ever, though, there are additional and new markers. They were erected to honour the Jewish ones. These are yet another permanent reminder of the extent of the Jewish graveyard that Poland was turned into by the Nazis and their Polish collaborators.

A note of caution is called for. In times of anger and grief, our human nature tends to generalize. One cannot and should never make sweeping statements. There were some Poles who helped Jews. My father was saved by one. I, for one, will never forget that.

Let us also not forget that many Poles were themselves victims of the Nazis. However, anyone who denies the collaboration between Poles and the Nazis verges on Shoah denial. That includes some of my Jewish friends who have suddenly become bleeding hearts for Poles.

Many Poles did assist the Nazi killing machine as it ploughed through their country in an effort to make Europe “Judenrein.” My parents lived through that. They, other members of my family and their close friends were my most reliable and trusted witnesses for what happened during those times.

No one, be it an individual or a nation, likes to be constantly reminded of or hammered about their past transgressions.

That is precisely what the many monuments with Hebrew and Yiddish epitaphs inscribed on them, which have sprung since the end of the Cold War and which are strewn all over Poland, do. They put a permanent mirror to the face of a nation that was turned into a killing field pushing many of its members to becoming willing and in some cases unwilling collaborators.

And that, in my view, that constant reminder of past transgressions prompted the Polish Law which I mentioned above. It is, I believe, part of the Polish nation’s way to help its members overcome a hard, and unfortunately for them, a dark and uncomfortable chapter in their nation’s history. It is their defense mechanism, one means to cleanse and wash off their guilt especially when it is sprinkled with small doses of projection as reflected in the words of its Prime Minister who claimed that the Shoah had not only Polish, German or Ukrainian perpetrators, but Jewish ones as well.

It may help the Poles. As far as I am concerned, though, “Never Again” is as vibrant in me as ever before. Am Yisrael Chai!

May we all have a meaningful Pesach.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Pesach





As Jews around the world prepare for the Pesach Holy Day, perhaps it is time to rethink the message and lessons of this very significant and meaningful celebration in our history.

The Hebrew word Pesach means “Pass over.” It is derived from the Book of Shemot (Exodus), 12:7 where the Torah recounts the story of the ten plagues brought upon the Egyptians following Pharaoh’s refusal to “let my people go.”

When G-d was about to inflict the Egyptians with the tenth plague, smiting their first born sons, He told Moses to instruct the Congregation of Yisrael to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that G-d could “pass over” their homes and spare them.

Subsequent to G-d’s wonderous work,  the Congregation of Yisrael was finally freed from slavery, at least the physical kind. Freedom and liberation, however,  as we all know, is not confined merely to unshackling the corporeal chains of bondage. It also involves ridding oneself of the obsequious and submissive mindset so emblematic to those who have been oppressed for a long period of time.

In order to better understand this point, allow me to go back to that verse in Shemot where Moses pleads with Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

That Hebrew verse, to be precise, does not use the term “let” or “free.” Rather, it says “send my people.” (Another unfortunate result of the disastrous mistranslation of our Tanach!) For me, the verb “send” implies a deliberate act with a specific destination, a much more powerful and calculated design by G-d. It was the first step towards becoming a free people, physically, spiritually, culturally and nationally. Not an easy mission for a nation that had been suppressed, abused, isolated and on the verge of eradication, considering Pharoah’s own version of a “final solution” to the Hebrews.

Any slave, be it an individual, a group or a People would have welcomed with open arms such a ploy, it would seem. For who enjoys the status of slavery?

I can almost feel the excitement of Benei Yisrael as they rush to bake their Matzah, pack their belongings, and prepare themselves for their destiny. I can see them gathering their flocks, children and preparing for the great occasion, their deliverance.
Unfortunately, the excitement seemed to have worn off rather fast. Once they realized the hardships ahead of them, they began to miss the slavery routine in Egypt.

Suddenly, the “house of Bondage” did not seem that bad. Moreover, it had swiftly turned into a house of luxury and plentiful, the idyllic place. “If only we had died by G-d’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and fish and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Shemot 16: 2-4)

The Yisraelites may have been freed from physical bondage. They were still, however, inflicted with an emotional and spiritual one, one that had been imposed upon them and their forefathers for a few hundred years.

G-d had, naturally, expected it. He knew that one cannot become free merely by removing physical shackles.  It is, therefore, I believe, that He instructed Moses to wander in the desert for forty years, when a brief overview of the map of the region shows that the route to the Promised Land could have been cut shorter.  Forty years is the approximate life span of a generation.

The slavery generation had to die off, it had to remain in the desert before Am Yisrael could live a free and fulfilling life in its ancestral Homeland. The younger generation had to be coached and prepared to run and oversee its own life without the daily pressure of persecutors.

Fast forward to our times. Has much changed?

It is only seventy years ago, with the establishment of the state of Yisrael, when the Jewish people were liberated from the House of Bondage called Galut (Diaspora). The Galut and its reality indoctrinated Jews to a submissive mentality, the kind that forced us to seek the approval and love of others. Jews were mental slaves.

Unfortunately, some of our people have not yet shed that mindset. They continue to seek endorsement of the nations. They are desperately needy of Love and acceptance and consider the support of strangers the “pots of meat and fish and ate all the food.” Have we forgotten the suffering we endured because of that very long chapter in our history?

My concerns and my questions are, if it took Moses forty years to rid the Yisraelites of a few hundred years old slavish Galut mentality, how long will it take the Jewish state and nation to rid some of its members of a two millennia old one?

How long will it take all of us to Pass Over the threshold from the slave disposition to that of a Free Nation, the kind G-d had intended us to be?

May we all have a meaningful Pesach, full of the celebration of Life and Freedom.