Archive for the ‘Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist’ Category

By the time that we American Jews begin our commemoration of the Shoah, the first round of the 2017 French Presidential election will be over.

That is significant.

At the very moment that we are praying that the horror of the Holocaust will never again befall our people, the moment when we hear from the few remaining survivors of the Nazi death camps, it’s likely that Marine Le Pen – the daughter of an avowed anti-Semite who is the farthest of the French far right – will receive sufficient public support to make it to the final round.

The French racist hyper-Nationalism which puts Ms. Le Pen into this position is not unique.

As we pray that such a horror will never befall our people again, many of us pray that such atrocities will never befall ANYONE again. But, as we do so, our American President is hell bent on beginning to build a wall on our southern border before he reaches his 100th day in office. Our American President sends congratulatory messages to dictators who’s people stupidly grant their leader additional powers. Our American President was elected on the specific promise to turn away refugees just like our country disgracefully did to European refugees who’s return trip sent them right into the National Socialist gas chambers.

But it does not end with Le Pen and Trump.

Throughout Europe there is a rising tide of Antisemitism. Around the world, Antisemitism is weakly disguised as anti-Zionism. America is immersed in Islamophobia. Radical Islam perpetuates the myth that even Muslims have insurmountable divisions that can only be solved through mass murder. The UK would rather leave the European Union than to embrace diversity. And an insane child is leading North Korea toward World War III.

In other words, every year I quote Robert Nozick and every year I come closer to believing his statement that the Holocaust may have demonstrated that our species is indeed unworthy of survival. I can’t bring myself to embrace that, though, and here’s why:

I believe that humans are no more than the latest round of primates. I believe that we are not really all that special. But, I also believe that we have been given, by God or by chance (who knows?), the unique capacity to reason and, as far as we know, a uniquely sophisticated linguistic ability. Together this is a powerful toolkit. With it, we have the ability to change our destiny.

We can use those tools to accelerate our demise as Kim Jong Un is want to do. But we could also delay it by thousands of generations, perhaps even permanently change its course. But to do the latter takes the courage to fight the forces of hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, and fear-mongering through which everything “other” becomes a tool for evil dictatorial “leaders” to take control of our societies. To turn toward good we need only use our reason and our communicative capacity to help enough others to realize that we can, indeed we must, turn away from evil.

And so, as we approach Yom haShoah 2017, my hope is that all of my coreligionists will use our commemoration of the past to rededicate ourselves to the realization that the past can and will repeat itself if we are not each individually a force for change.

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I am the grandson of Russian immigrants. My father’s parents came to America in the very early 20th century. They were Jewish and the main reason they came was to escape and Antisemitism. 

Grandma and grandpa came from a place where, as a minority, they were hated – to a place whose founding principles were equality and liberty – well, at least for white folk. All that they, and others like them,  wanted was a chance to make a life not mired in hatred. Grandpa’s first way of earning a living was to own gumball machines.

So, I give a danm about others partly because I am just rwo generations removed from immigrants; immigrants who embraced America’s dream –  and I am proud of that. 

The American dream is eroding now; eroding at an unprecidented rate; leaving in it’s wake both sadness and disdain for anyone who’s not a gun-toting rich white Christian. Most horrific is that this is happening in a part of the world where every gun-toting rich white Christian is an immigrant! 

What has this to do with Passover? Easy. 

On Passover one of the greatest mitzvot is to welcome strangers into your home. This is because, just like the gun-toting rich white Christians were in America, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We embrace “strangers” because we WERE strangers. Not only that, if we let liberty continue to erode, we could become them once again. 

It happened in Russia. It happened in Germany. If you think it won’t happen in America the I beg you to open your eyes and polish up your critical thinking skills. Because… it is.

On Passover especially, we don’t build wall; we open doors. We don’t exclude strangers; we embrace them. We don’t detest diversity; we embrace it. 

This must happen for everyone, every day. Only then will we open the door and will Elijah stay for longer than just a swig of bad wine. Only then will Eliahu ha navi hearld the messianic age. Or, for we who do not believe in all the theology, only then will people stop treating each other like shit and embrace dignity and love.
This Passover I urge you to RESIST hate and embrace all humanity. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan “Mr. Trump, tear down (the plans for) this wall”.

Hag Pesach Someach!

It seems that, each year, the usurpation of every single Christmas Carol for the purpose of selling more stuff bothers me more.  Maybe this year I’m just a bit extra grumpy from the steroids I’m taking after my brain radiation. Or, maybe I’m just in one of my moods. But, this year, I’m getting pretty tired of Christmas advertising.

After all my years of questioning religious dogma you may be surprised that I say this but:

my religious Christian friends are right when they say “Jesus is the reason for the season”. 

We can extend that into my Jewish context  by remembering that the rededication of the 2nd temple after having our culture threatened by much greater military force is the reason for Hanukkah. We should even remember that the pagan roots of seasonal traditions like Christmas Trees are really about the solstice and the timing of our fragile planet’s Gaia-esque lifecycle. Even my athiest and agnostic friends can relate to celebrating another year of living on a funky little blue planet that is so full of unceasing wonder, and so unlikely to have borne us. The main thing, to me, is that in the darkness of winter we can celebrate our faiths and our vision of a world healed and renewed.

It is no secret that I don’t believe what my Christian friends believe. I don’t focus my life on eschatology, I focus it on what I know I can affect by working for this life, not a next one. If you guys are right and there is some place called “Heaven” please put in a good word for me because I think I’m a good guy and do good work for the world. In the meantime the extent of the eschatological Steve Bilow is limited to leaving a decent place for those who will follow me, to live. If I don’t clean up my Karma and I have to reincarnate without being promoted to Mavatar Bilow for another 1000 lives. so be it.

That said, here is my message to my Christian pals.

What I think and believe should be entirely irrelevant to you. It is what you believe that is important. Furthermore, if you respect me and I respect you then we will always be able to learn from each other, to understand the unknown better, and to love each other more. So, let’s just do that and continue healing the universe together.

Please at least consider this:

If you think that you have a belief system that will improve the world without disrespecting others, murdering people, or infringing on other people’s freedoms and liberties, pursue it with gusto. Just stay open to the high likelihood they we Jews, most Muslims, the Hindus, Buddhists, Shintos, Unitarians, Mormons, athiests, Jains, agnostics, Taoists, and others also have the same goals. I may call dogma “irrational” but I’ll apologize right now it that offends you. All I ask in return is an equal amount of respect.

The Unitarian Universalists have a very beautiful saying. They say:

One light, many windows.

That was taught to me by one of my followers and it sums things up very well.

My own way of saying the same thing is to tell the story of the blind men and the elephant:

One blind man is near an elephant’s leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree. Another, is by his tail and thinks an elephant is like a snake. A third is by his trunk and thinks an elephant is a big garden hose. All are right based on their available data. 

Substitute the word “God” for “Elephant” and you can imagine us as each having limited knowledge of something we can’t see and about which we can never have more than speculative data.

I like the UU concept better.

And on the topic of respect:

I would say that every television or radio commercial that usurps your festive and holy music to sell a car, a toy, a movie, a diamond, a perfum, a bar of soap, an insurance policy, a debt restructuring plan, a condom, a plane ticket, a larger erection, a cure for COPD, a new job as a highly paid truck driver, an adjustable bed, a new vertical blind, an HDTV, a department store gift card, some nice new jeans, or anything else, is an affront to your beliefs. So, Christian friends, what you should really be offended by is the usurping of Christmas by commercialism. If you really want more for respect Christianity then don’t let it become a bacchanal of commercialism.

All that said, I’m off to work. Hopefully I’ll listen to some Christmas music on XM Radio. There I can contemplate love, joy, peace, God, holiness, truck driving, and perhaps a bit of erectile dysfunction. If the latter 2 outweigh the former 5, well, that’s why God invented audio books.

I wish all who celebrate Christmas a blessed Christmas Eve and a wonderful Christmas Day. Please fill it with the love and light, the care for the less fortunate, and the peaceful compassion that the Christ in which you believe would have it filled.

Merry Christmas!

Today I have every reason to be thankful for a wide array of wonderful doctors, technologies, friends, and, of course the blessing of being married to Patt Bilow.

If you are one of the regular readers of my blog then you know that I am among the least intellectually consistent people you will find. Although I don’t take the Bible literally, I am very active in my synagogue. Although I tend to be skeptical about most things spiritual, I spent many years as a disciple of Paramshansa Yogananda and the Self Realization Fellowship. Although I am really bad at it, I tend to be as much of a rationalist as my love for Judaism, my love of Kriya Yoga, and my love of all of the amazingly wonderful religious friends that I have in my life allows.

The whole point of writing this blog is that I do struggle with my rationalism in relationship to my interest in, and openness to accepting, other people’s viewpoints. This blog is all about my struggle and my skepticism. It’s intended to allow me to share my wavering thinking with all of you, in the hope that if even one of my posts helps someone else I will have done a good thing. So, once again, as I struggle with rationalism and religiosity, I wanted to talk about Thanksgiving and the ability to build a life of gratitude whether or not one is religious.

This year, I want to do this by sharing my personal set of gratitudes.

One of the most interesting things I’m grateful for is that someone invented a medical technology called MRI. What kind of guy would even think about hitting a human body with a magnetic pulse to get all your atoms to line up and then to image that body by measuring how long it takes them to go back to the way they were! The guy must be a genius. What completely blew me away though was to realize that the genius who invented this technique has almost diametrically opposite beliefs to mine.

You have seen me write here, several times before, that I typically don’t care much for beliefs in creationism or those who deny evolution. What blew me away was to find that Dr. Raymond Damadian the “father of MRI” converted to Born Again Christianity with Billy Graham in the 1950s. Now, if you think I have conflicting thoughts and feelings and views, this guy makes mine look like nothing.

I really don’t understand how a guy with this level of brilliance could be an advocate for creationism; even having written about it in his book. That said, he is clearly a genius, has done more for the medical profession than almost anyone, and has now done more for me than most other people in the world have done for me because, only through his invention, were they able to find my tumor.

One would expect that I would be a fan of a guy who started his college career as a violinist at Juilliard and ended it as one of the most important inventors of a medical device ever. But you certainly wouldn’t expect me to be that much of a fan of a creationist. So the first thing that I want to say is that I am thankful for this guy, and the second thing I have to say is that my respect for him shows once again that I should not make value judgments about a person because of their religious beliefs. I am thankful that I’ve had another opportunity to come to realize this. Dr. Damadian has given me two new things for my collection of gratitude.

  • One, I am grateful for MRI.
  • Two, I am grateful for yet another lesson in religious tolerance.

I’m also indebted to the guys who invented Stereotactic Radiosurgery. Swedish neurosurgeon Lars Leksell first described it in a seminal paper in 1951. His work led to the Gamma Knife. But Dr. Barcia-Salorio in Madrid is the first guy to use something similar to what I just had done. He used a fixed cobalt device rotating around the patient’s head, not for tumors but for blood system malformations. Then Osvaldo Betti in Buenos Aires developed a machine, where you sit in a rotating chair and a linear accelerator (linac) moves in non-coplanar coronal arcs around the isocenter, which is the math wiz way of saying “the thingy ya wanna hit“. I layed on a flat bed which I think came from Federico Colombo in Vincenza who described a multiple non-coplanar arc concept that moved the linac around a couch in 1984. So, gratitude comes again. This time for:

  • Three, I’m grateful for the noble, honorable, ethical, life-affirming uses of radiation that stand in opposition to all the negative results of nuclear science.

But these folks are all people of the past. The present is full of blessings as well. My Neurosurgeon Dr. Burchiel, my Radiation Oncologist Dr. Kubicky, and their entire staffs are medical blessings of the present. The dosimitrist and medical physicist are mathematical blessings of the present. Even my overly expensive American medical insurance system is a blessing in its own way. These are gratitudes 4, 5, and 6

  • Four: I’m grateful that I live in a city where I can drive for 20 minutes to OHSU, a world-class teaching hospital with great doctors and a budget that allows them to own world-class instruments.
  • Five: I’m grateful that mathematics, medical science, and physics have merged in ways that can save, rather than destroy, lives.
  • Six: I’m grateful that I get to work for a company that gives me acceptable medical coverage, despite the costs.

But, clearly, the present has many more blessings than the doctors and scientists. More important than anything else is the people who I call friends and colleagues who have been so supportive:

  • Seven: I’m grateful for the myriad friends of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Unitarian Universalist,  and other traditions, who offered their prayers for me.
  • Eight: I’m grateful for my Objectivist, athiest, and other non-religious friends who offered such encouragement over the past few months.
  • Nine: I’m grateful to live in a community, here in Portland, that offers me the extraordinary friendships of people like Traci, Cindy and Tom, LeeAnn, Jon and Mair, Julie, Ann and Robin, Peter and Yukiko, Michele and David, Mike, and many, many more.
  • Ten: I’m grateful for WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter which have given me connections to my family, friends, and colleagues near and far; and which have allowed me to reconnect with my past in a profound way.
  • Eleven: I’m grateful for my own psychological makeup which gave me a sense of humor, the strength to be powerfully brave in the face of fear, the willingness to work through my feelings publicly, the ability to remain lighthearted amidst darkness, and the ability to turn everything into humor.
  • Twelve: More than anything, I’m grateful to have Patt Bilow by my side, no matter what.

These twelve gratitudes certainly have a spiritual component. Arguably, they may have a religious one. But, I think it’s fair to say that it is not necessary to have a specific view of God in order to maintain these 12 senses of gratitude. Certainly it does not require one to be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist, or anything else. It doesn’t require one to meditate. It doesn’t require one to pray. It doesn’t require one to forsake anything. It doesn’t require one to embrace anything. At least, in all of those cases, it doesn’t require any particular religion or belief system.

All it really requires is to look around, to seek blessings in everything around you, to embrace yourself for who you are, to refuse to give into negativity  (which I am too oft prone to do), and to appreciate your life for what it is, what you can accomplish, and who is surrounding you to support you along the journey.

So this Thanksgiving I want to once again remind us that it is not necessary to have a specific Godhead in order to feel thanks. If you are religious, that is great.  But please don’t think that your religion, or any religion, or any individual believe system is the only path to grace. You don’t need anything supernatural or mystical to feel a sense of gratefulness and thanksgiving, you need only look around and appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

So, I’ve been sitting here in my backyard, sipping scotch, waiting for Shabbat to begin and pondering the interesting conflict we have this year between Shabbat and Tisha B’Av. You see, Shabbat is all about joy, yet Tisha B’Av is all about lamentation. On Shabbat we are not supposed to fast yet on Tisha B’Av we are mandated to fast. So, what do we do?

Not surprisingly, The rabbis have an answer to everything. Unlike most Shabbats, where it is a mitzvah to have sexual relations with your spouse, on this Shabbat you are not supposed to. You are also not supposed to read any parts of Torah on Saturday afternoon unless they are parts specifically permitted on Tisha B’Av. You’re supposed to do the Tisha B’Av stuff on Sunday. But, you’re not supposed to have a mournful separation meal before the fast that you begin on Saturday night.

I have a feeling that all of that means very little in the Reform Jewish movement. Still, it seems like you need to treat this Shabbat and Sunday in a special way.

Basically, one thing I think we can share is that Shabbat joy cannot be diminished. That is the number one holiday in the Jewish calendar. And, moving the mourning to Sunday is not an Earth-shattering proposition. So, that’s all you seem to really need to worry about.

But I have come up with one more thing that I think is important. We’re going to do our usual mourning by reading the book of Lamentations on Sunday. But one of the things we should focus on in the joy that we express during this Shabbat is the joy of knowing that after all the horrors we’ve been through and all the millennia when the Jews have been persecuted, expelled, tortured, hated, and murdered, we still exist! 

There has been plenty of evil in the world over thousands of years and there will continue to be evil over thousands more. But, despite the evil and despite the hatred, the Jewish people have continued to persevere even in the face of genocide and even in the face of the anti-Semitism that exists around the world today. 

If that’s not a reason for Sabbath joy then I don’t know what is.

Shabbat Shalom.

Every year, as Tisha B’Av arrives, I write about all the Jewish tragedies that supposedly occurred in this very day,

Tisha B’Av used to be a time to mourn the destruction of the first, and then second, temple. But, a big problem arose with Reform Judaism because, in our faith, we have no wish to return to the days of ritual sacrifice. We also don’t necessarily believe that there is an actual dude called “the Messiah” so we don’t have a reason to want the temple back.

We believe that, through our actions, we can improve the world to the extent that one day a Messianic age will arrive through our efforts. We need no savior, like Christians do; no singular prophet; and no special guy from the lineage of David. What we DO need it to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Each individual is tasked with doing their own little part until one day the sum of those parts is great enough to affect a global culture of holiness, respect, and love.

What we also need is the courage to press on no matter the obstacles. THAT is why I care so much about Tisha B’Av. Irrespective of mourning the Temple, we can use this day to realize that our people have survived countless instances of cruelty and hatred and yet we have remained.

Think about it. In this week’s Torah portion, the first of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses begins the first of his three great “sermons”.  He reminds us, through a perspective that is much more mature in its deutero-retelling than in the original tellings earlier in Torah, of all the things we have been through. He also reminds us of our failures and our lack of courage and persistence. In a rather timely sort of annual occurrence, it is said that one of the things that happened on Tisha B’Av was the failure of the “spies” to come back from reconnoitering the promise land with confidence in our success. Moses not only reminds the people of their lack of faith and their unwillingness to persevere and enter the land but he takes personal responsibility for it by reminding them that G-d is angry with him as well.

What I’m saying here is that, in his well seasoned maturity, Moses takes responsibility even for the things that he himself did not do. The buck stops with Moses. From this we learn that we, as a society, must have the forbearance to take action AND that we, as individuals, must have the integrity to accept responsibility for making those actions work or not work.

So, on this Tisha B’Av I am not suggesting we neglect the temple. Nor am I suggesting that we ignore the crusades, the inquisition, the expulsion from Spain, the expulsion from Portugal, the weak will of 10 out of 12 biblical spies, the mass transport of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz, or anything else that has tragically befallen the Jews throughout history. Rather, I suggest that, as we mourn the myriad terrors, we use that memory to notice that we yet remain a people.

Remember that much of the reason we persist is that we never give up, never give in, never allow humiliation to trump fortitude, and never act with complacency in the hope that all will be fine with a new temple, a Davidic Messiah, a second-coming of Christ, or anything else.

Don’t wait for the end of days to take responsibility for doing your part to bring about the world you hope to someday have.

B’Shalom.

Every year, on this day, I take some time to write my thoughts about the Shoah. Year after year you have seen me refer to the writings of my “guru” Robert Nozick wherein he has said:

I believe that the holocaust is an event like the Fall in the way traditional Christianity conceived it, something that radically and drastically alters the situation and status of humanity.”

Nozick later goes on to say:

“…the Holocaust has created a radically  new situation and status for humanity as a whole, one that the sacrifice of Jesus can not, and was not meant ti heal. The human species is now desanctified; it it were ended or obliterated now, it’s end would no longer constitute a special tragedy.”  

I am certainly unqualified to speak about Christian beliefs; Nozick does so, I think, only as an intellectual exercise. But I do like one of the conclusions he comes to because it speaks to my desire for interfaith dialog. Nozick uses his contention to conclude this:

“The status of the human species can be redeemed, if at all, only through (almost) everyone’s now taking the suffering of others upon themselves”.

In essence, Nozick is saying that after the Holocaust humanity must adopt a post-Christian, post-Jewish, (post-whatever) worldview where we take personal, individual responsibility for the survival of our species. Christianity can’t save us. Judaism can’t save us. Islam can’t save us. Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, New Age spirituaity, Atheism, NO SINGLE BELIEF SYSTEM CAN SAVE US. Only WE can save ourselves and only if we accept personal responsibility for it. No prophet, no Messiah, no Bodhisattva, no savior, no Mahavatar. JUST US. THAT is my own personal belief and I am grateful to Robert for teaching me how to think about it.

I want to tell you a bit about the way I see myself in this context and my way to actualize it. First, Unlike Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and other “great souls” I have no plans to forgive the atrocities of the past. This may seem counter-intuitive since I just said that I must take personal responsibility. I do not view my position that way and I’ll explain why momentarily. First, I’ll provide some context.

There are a number of large collections of first hand accounts of the Holocaust: some at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, some at Yad VaShem, some in smaller museums like the very beautiful memorial in Montreal and others in LA, Houston, etc.; still others widely distributed around the universities and libraries of the world. By way of context for my feelings let’s look at some of the words of survivors and liberators.


From the Testimony of Yaacov Schwartzberg:

The Lithuanians became organized squads in capturing Jews to work. They did it voluntarily. They helped the Germans. They actually did more of the capturing and torturing and running and all that and bringing the people to hard work, hard labour, where they took them to work. They captured them in the streets. Some of them were never saw them return. They took them and afterwards I found out about it. I didn’t know at that time. They were taken and shot, murdered in Ponar, which was on the outskirts of Vilna, a forest with big holes there, you know, dug up, craters like, the size of craters, which were dug up there. Afterwards I found out that these craters were prepared by the Russian army to hide over there different equipment from the Germans, but no equipment was hidden there. The Germans used those big holes, these dug out holes, they used them to murder the Jews in and bury them there. They used to walk on the edge, they shot them, they fell in there into these big holes, these graves. Some were even buried alive. Some people that escaped from there came back to the ghetto and told the story. Not too many, but some did.

From the Testimony of Barbara Stimler:

We started going through the… through the gate; the SS men were on both sides. And the girls, young people that could see what state I was in, they had a bit of sugar and they started putting sugar in my mouth to revive me. And when they were going through the gates, they were just holding me up, and was left and right, left and right. I went to the right, they told me to go to the right, the SS men. And we had to be…. we were…. they formed us like fifths, five, five, five, we had to stay in five, five girls. And it was dark; it was dark, and they are starting to march us. And can you imagine the screams, the…. the mother was going to the left, the daughter was going to the right, the babies going to the left, the mothers going to the right, or the mothers went together with the babies… Oy oy! I cannot explain to you the cries and the screams, and tearing their hair off. Can you imagine?”

From the Testimony of Edith Birkin:

…This feeling of death, all these people going in the gas chamber. It was a very weird place, very weird place. With this atmosphere of death all the time you know, and this unbelievable situation of people being… you could smell, you could smell these people being burnt. All the time you smelt this… it was a little bit like you know, when people used to boil glue, it was the bones that smelt like glue.///

From the Testimony of Jeanne Levy:

An SS officer was standing there and a woman said, “But you know I can still work and I am still strong. Please help me.” And he gave her a kick that we felt over the whole floor with his foot and said, “You can only die once.”

From the Testimony of Laura Varon:

We were starving and we thought that they gave us food. And while we approached the bowl, in the nose I smell detergent and my stomach was sick already, got even more sick, and I tried to vomit, but I didn’t have nothing to eat and they were beating us to eat and they were calling us names, “Schwein, Jude, whore Jude.” We learned that after, what this means. And beating us in the head, in the shoulders. And I told my sister, “Eat, eat, because he is going to kill you, she is going to kill you.” My Aunt Fortuné, we ate everything and we were vomiting and eating, vomiting and eating. You understand? …Cleanser. Detergent, like chlorox. They gave us so we didn’t have any more periods. And also to kill, Hitler wanted to kill our genes, but he didn’t succeed because still we can reproduce…

From the Testimony of Jack Oran:

We didn’t know what it meant, to the right or to the left. Little did we know that to the left meant going…to the left meant elderly people, young people. To the right, we didn’t know what it’s going to be with us when they marched us into Birkenau, into the camp. In Birkenau we enquired among other people that were there and they told us: “You see that fire that’s burning far over there? That’s where they burn the bodies of the people.”

From the Testimony of Emil Reed:

… a certain amount they sent to march out from the ghetto some place for transportation and the others, what they killed and they left a certain group to go to Plaszow, to the concentration camp, so we had to clean up all the corpses, what they killed there, and put them on the trucks and go with them up to the cemetery, dig the ditches for them and have them buried there. That’s what they assigned people whom they assigned to go to Plaszow.

From the Testimony of Don Krausz:

In February, 1944, all the Hungarian Jews that were in Holland were sent to Germany. My father and three of his brothers were sent to Buchenwald. Sixty thousand people died in Buchenwald. Of the four of them, only one brother came back. From what that one brother told me, my father was practically beaten to death there.

From the Last Will of Ilya Altman:

“On August 31, in the middle of the day, a car full of people arrived. We didn’t know who they were. After a short break, all of them were driven off to the forest, and only when the car returned with their belongings did we realize that these were our wives and children. Imagine this tragedy! The date of September 1, when we burned our families, we shall remember all our lives. The same fate awaits us, but when this terrible moment will come, we don’t know. We live with the hope that God will let us survive till the moment when we will be able to avenge all our dear ones torn out from our hearts. We ask everyone to avenge us, because meanwhile there is nothing we can do, and we wait for liberation.”

from 1985 remembrances of Dachau Liberator Glenn Edward Belcher:

Immediately in front of me after entering the gate – and about 20 yards away was a moat with water in it about 4 or 5 feet wide – a dead soldier was laying face down in it. Just beyond the moat was a high fence – I’d guess it to be 8 or 10 feet high – I understood it was electrified. On the other side of the fence was a valley which was about 20 feet wide and 8 or 10 feet deep – on the other side of the valley were barracks and those locked up. We did not talk to the prisoners and they did not talk to us – between usthere was a moat, an electrified fence and a steep up and down valley. We stared at them and they stared at us. It was as if they didn’t know what to do and neither did we. On our side of the fence and to the right of where the dogs were – were the gas chambers and ovens where people were killed and then burned. There were stacks of bodies (all looked like skeletons) apparently prepared for burning.

From a letter home by Dachau liberator US 1st. Lt. William Cowling:

Another door with the word showers lead off of this and upon going through this room it appeared to be a shower room but instead of water, gas came out and in two minutes the people were dead. Next we went next door to four large ovens where they cremated the dead. Then we were taken to piles of dead. There were from two to fifty people in a pile all naked, starved and dead. There must have been about 1,000 dead in all.


There came a time after the Shoah when German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer declared publicly that  Germany would pay reparations to the Jews. Doesn’t that imply that Germany was repentant enough to warrant forgiveness? I might consider that a possibility. But, did you know that, at the very moment that Adenauer was offering reparations, his Secretary of State was Hans Globke the man who drafted the Nuremberg Laws and the legislation that gave Hitler unconditional power? Why could Globke serve the German government after the fall of the Third Reich? Easy. He was never an official member of the National Socialist party so he was free to continue serving the government! That is reason #1 for my refusal to forgive: I can’t forgive what has not been atoned for.

Here is reason #2: In Judaism, forgiveness must take place between one man and another as part of repentance. For me to “forgive” a NAZI is meaningless. The only people who could offer forgiveness are but ashes now. No forgiveness is even possible.

Number 3: There are 2 things that Jewish law says are not forgivable: Murder and Defamation of Character. Everyone who died in the Shoah was MURDERED and the propaganda leading up to those murders what expressly intended to destroy the lives and reputations of all Jews then and into the future. First, those are both unforgivable. Second, to defame all Jews is to defame all Jews irrespective of time. So, this was not only an assault on European Jews, it was a personal assault on me and all Jews to come. No forgiveness here.

The 4th reason: Since the Shoah, our global planetary ethics have not improved. If anything, they have worsened. We have seen the Cambodian Khamir Rouge murder over 3 million, the Ethiopian Red Terror resulted in half a million murders, over a million were murdered in the Rwandan genocide, almost a million were murdered in the ustasha genocide in Croatia, the Hutu Massacre in 1972 in Burundi resulted in a quarter million murders, the Chinese government killed between 2 and 70 thousand people for being part of Falun Gong in 1999 (not to mention the insanity of the first 2/3 of China’s 20th century!), AT LEAST half a million people were murdered in Darfur,Sudan between 2003 and 2010, and even as you read this the Yazidis in Iraq are being systematically massacred, abducted, raped, expelled  and forcibly converted by Islamic State (ISIL), And as icing on the Islamist insanity, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 300+ girls (over  200 still missing) by Boko Haram. I’m told I would be “happier” if i could “forgive people” and “get rid of all the anger”. But I don’t want to get rid of my anger because I don’t want to loose my desire to fight  these horrors. So, I would refuse to forgive the ideological perpetrators of these travesties even if Jewish law has a path to doing so.

So, today, as Jews around the world gather to mourn the Martyrs of our Faith I say to you that forgiveness is impossible. Jewish law does not permit it and it would be counter productive to the goal of stopping the insanity of which the Shoah is only my most personal example. I  side with Professor Nozick’s ultimate conclusion:

“The Holocaust is a massive cataclysm that distorts everything around it… a massive and continuing distortion of the human space … It’s vortices and gnarled twistings will extend very far. Hitler too constituted a force that distorted the lives of those around him – his followers, his victims, and those who had to conquer him. The vortex he created has not disappeared.”

The vortex will never disappear. The only way to minimize its effect is through human action directed toward and dedicated to using, love, reason, and respect for all human life in a (still questionable) quest to reestablish a reason to call humanity unique enough to continue it’s existence in a universe that couldn’t care less. Not through simply “remembering” and surely not through blind forgiveness,

It’s up to us.