Monday, July 16, 2007

We All Fall Down

Fly like an eagle
Fly, touch the sun

Now his wings turn to ashes, to ashes his grave

- “Flight Of Icarus”, Iron Maiden (Piece Of Mind, 1983)

A brilliant article, or rather interview with rabbi Ber’l Wein appeared in Mishpacha magazine. Actually, it’s not so much the article that’s brilliant, but the fact that it got published in an orthodox publication. The documentation of historical events, until the return from the first exile, was part and parcel of the scriptures. But ever since, it was neglected to one extent or another, and has become the lot of secular historians. Ber’l Wein bemoans our forsaking the knowledge of our Nation’s chronicles, rightly so, and wants to maistreamize and re-introduce it in Orthodox curricula. Rabbi Wein’s straightforward approach and the magazine’s willingness to openly aboard the subject are a great step forward. And in no way should it be seen as a step ‘charedim’ took toward Western Civilization (to which it has already come dangerously close – but we’ll save that subject for a rainy day) – au contraire: if Rabbi Wein succeeds in his efforts, average people will be able to learn history from books written by “our guys”, not outsiders. Rabbi Wein has a professional, no-nonsense and honest approach to history. On one hand, he won’t hide facts such as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato –author of Mesilas Yesharim and Derech HaChayim- having written plays, poems and psalms, yet he won’t present him as a bohemian from Sheinkin either. Of course, there are far more important elements, such as incorporating Jewish History in world history, as well as correcting distortions by secular historians. Two thumbs up to Ber’l Wein and his efforts on behalf of Klal Yisroel’s history.

* *

Three weeks ago, an Israeli-American Orthodox businessman was on his way to JFK airport to board a flight to Teal-Aviv, where he was going on business. Due to harsh weather he was running late, so he called to notify EL-Al, who promised him that they would let him on board. He arrived 45 minutes before scheduled departure, but in typical Israeli incompetence, the moron who took his call failed to notify anyone else. Finally, he was let on board, but his seat in business class was given to someone else. He was told that he’d have to travel economy and would not be reimbursed the difference in price. He started to argue, but agreed to travel economy. As he was sitting down the Captain came out and informed him that he refuses to leave with him on board. He was finally dragged off the plane by two NYC cops. I didn’t write about it as I was convinced that the J-blogs would be abuzz with the story. But nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not important; wasn’t on Yediot Acharonot’s front page – didn’t happen.

As a matter of fact, I would not have been so hast to inculpate El-Al of anti-Semitism. These are troubled times after all, the Captain may not have had all the facts right; he was probably tense and jittery. It is known that the Captain wasn’t informed on time about the late passenger, and we can’t know whether he saw the latecomer and knew that he was religious before he took the decision not to take him.

What really amazes me is that no one on board had the nerve to stand up, walk up to the Captain and tell him very calmly, yet very firmly: “Sir, this is an injustice. The man called and was informed that he could board the plane. He agreed to take an economy seat for the price of business class. If you don’t let him on board, I’ll leave the plane with him. Then you will have to wait four hours until they take my luggage out, and I’ll make sure that you won’t fly another plane with El Al.” That would have solved the problem, I can guarantee you. I’ll assume that no one knew the guy personally nor was familiar with the details to take full responsibility for him.

Last week a few bums in Bet-Shemesh illegally hung up a sign and started a brawl with the police. The act was widely decried on blogs, which is perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, everyone automatically took the police and the secular business owners’ side. And not only weren’t the miscreants harshly condemned, but their entire community, or rather communities, were also inculpated as accomplices in the act. But worst of all, these accusations were touted as a call for love, peace and solidarity. In the name of the three weeks and mourning over our past sinas chinom, is dissemination of negative information the answer? Did we stop for a moment to think what we would accomplish by that? Will we really stop these actions by throwing more oil on the flames? Why not apply “hate the sin, not the sinner”, as so many preach in other cases? In such cases, all charedim are invariably guilty. Why? Why not only the miscreants, or their families, their chassidus, yeshiva, neighborhood, what have you? How come that such broad accusations pass as the promotion of peace and brotherhood? How come only the cop and the secular are considered brothers, but your fellow Orthodox Jew is lower than dirt? Had the same exact thing happened with Irish people, Kurds, Basques, Bretons, Palestinians, etc., had your reaction been the same? How come so many respect and feel solidarity with the oppressed minorities despite their murderous violence, yet when it comes to his own brothers, the coin all of a sudden has only one side? I really can’t make heads and tails of it…

* *

In an address to the Institute For Holocaust Studies last month, Seymour Reich, former president of Bnai Brith international, officially admitted for the first time that his organization’s WWII era leaders actually sabotaged the rescue efforts of the Bergson Group. (Until now these events were documented almost exclusively in Ben Hecht’s “Perfidy”, which has been written off as a “Satmarist conspiracy theory”, though Hecht remained Zionist, denouncing only the treacherous leaders.) This is a huge step for reform/secular Zionism, as they’re finally starting to face the facts as they are - and they should be applauded for that. And we should follow example as well. A worthy quote from the speech “…On Monday, Goldman picks up the paper and reads that Hungarian Jews are being deported to death camps. On Tuesday he goes to the State Department and complains against Bergson. And he tells the State Department that Stephen Weiss considers Bergson as dangerous as Hitler!” Reich explained that the Bnai Brith leaders’ opposition to rescue was motivated by several factors, among them competition and ideological opposition to other groups. He concludes: “Had Jewish leaders single-mindedly focused on the Holocaust, as they should have been, then it would not have mattered how many people signed Bergson’s latest ad or which radio network interviewed him. Instead of writing to foreign embassies about Bergson, Jewish leaders should have been writing these embassies to rescue Jewish refugees. Instead of mobilizing chapters around the country to attack Bergson, they should have challenged the FDR administration’s failure to take serious steps to rescue Jews. … These leaders seem to have lost sight of their primary responsibilities… …maintaining their positions and prestige became more important than anything else. … power can corrupt, in the Jewish leadership like anywhere else.” (I strongly urge you to read the whole article on the Wyman Institute's website.)

I guess by now you understand what I’m getting at. We are steeped in a world of materialism, extreme comfort and complacence. When we talk poverty, we don’t mean going to sleep hungry or not having shoes to one’s feet. We mean “poor” as in “no prime rib steaks four times a week”. Or poor as in “no new Ferrari this year! Oy vey!” The abundance we enjoy now is unprecedented, but with all the ease and comfort it also breeds selfishness and coveting for more and more. We take our good fortune for granted and party like there’s no tomorrow. Yes, I full and well know that there are hardships, but we must put them in perspective. I bet many of you are far better off than me, yet all we do is complain, complain, complain, and want more, more, more. We use and abuse our ideologies to put down one another, to further advance our own agendas and we use other people’s misfortunes to vindicate ourselves. Do we really care about Bais Hamikdosh? Do we really mourn the loss of the Nation’s heart and soul, or are we just going through the motions? Or even worse – is even the Churban used to repeat the very factor that caused it? Can’t we see the writing on the wall? Are we again causing our own demise?

My good friends, my brothers my sisters, I have something sad to tell you. We are now just like those past Bnai Brith leaders. When the Nazis YM”S made soap bars of our grandfathers and grandmothers, they didn’t ask them before: “So, Moishi, what kind of soap would you like to be? Modern Orthodox or Satmar? Good, good, we won’t make you into one bar with those stupid Yeshivishers, OK?” In a short while, we will say day by day “forgive us, our father, for we have sinned”. Will we really mean what we say, or will we really mean “they have sinned?”

The real tragedy is not so much that our rabbis and leaders still stand in Beth-El and Dan – it’s that we dance around them and justify them. They let us go on with our sweet addictions – and we keep them in power for that.

Yes, we all fall down.

Very special thanks to Mr. Steg, who turned the intended fire and brimstone of this post into sweet waters.

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