Posts Tagged ‘Shoah’

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.

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.

This coming week (specifically January 27th) marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – the techno-sophisticated, hyper-efficient, murder-factory that exterminated about 1.1 MILLION innocent human beings. When the Auschwitz-Berkenau State Museum commemorated the 60th anniversary, about 1500 survivors attended. For this 70th they expect around 300 and most are in their 90s or early 100s. Needless to say, when the 80th arrives the number will almost certainly be ZERO.

This commemoration will be the last to include survivors. Some of the bastards who deny the Shoah, some of the rising tide of European antisemites, some of the Muslim Israel-haters, and some of the increasingly widespread global body of apathetic people who simply don’t give a shit may think that we who fight for the memory of our martyrs will now shut the hell up.

But, my friends, I’m here to tell you that silence, even in the face of a dead generation, is not an option. We will not EVER let the memory or our Jewish martyrs, and the equally abominable murders of homosexuals, “Gypsies”, handicapped people, prisoners of war, etc., die out. If the world’s community of assholes think we will shut-up then they have another thing coming.

This week, in the face of the last “decade commemoration” of the evil of Auschwitz-Berkenau, I promise to become INCREASINGLY vocal about what occurred and INCREASINGLY intolerant of denial and apathy; not only about the Shoah but about all crimes against humanity.

I call upon all my friends, colleagues, and followers to do the same.


My friends, sitting before me is a stack of books which I deeply cherish. There were presented to me by a university that was looking to house them appropriately when I was a board member of the American Jewish Committee’s Portland Chapter. This set of books is the full set of volumes of  “The American Jewish Yearbook” published between 1938 and 1949. Each year, on this day, I remove these books from their appointed shelf and explore them. This I do to remind myself just how much the world, especially American’s, knew of the Nazi regime and the “Final Solution” before anyone chose to act.

As I look through these books, it is clear that American’s knew what had happened in 1933. The British certainly knew as well. In fact, in 1938, long before the mass murders were in full force, England’s Lord Winterton said: “The treatment of Jews in Germany has sent a feeling of horror throughout civilization. It seems to me that the Germans are animated by a sort of sadism run amok“. It is clear that…

… when, in July of 1937, German Jewish charitable institutions lost their tax exempt status, we knew;

… when, in August 1937, Hungarian poet Josef Erdelyi published his ballad “The Blood of Ester Solymosi“, reviving the obscene myth of an 1882 murder supposedly for Jewish ritual practice, we knew;

…when Poland outlawed the practice of Jewish ritual slaughter of cattle in March of 1938, we knew;

… when 40,000 Jews were rounded up in Antwerp and Flanders and interned at Hasselt in Limbourg, Luxembourg in January 1941, we knew;

… When the Central Office of Economics in Slovakia ordered the liquidation of 3000 Jewish businesses in February 1941, we knew;

… When in July of 1942 Jewish patients in a Vienna hospital and those in the Jewish Home for the Blind committed suicide on hearing they were to be immediately deported from Austria, we knew;

… when, in October 1942 a report was released by the Belgian Information center in New York that 14,000 Jews had been killed the previous April in Latvia, we knew.

Simon Segal wrote, in the 1941-42 issue of the World Book, that:

“Jewish history knows nothing comparable to the tragedy of Polish Jews under the Nazi regime. It would be futile to attempt to describe the martyrdom of Polish Jews. Words cannot adequately disclose the story of daily sufferings humiliation, and degradation to which the Jews have been subjected.


In other words, if you think that the world did not know what was going on, or that people just did not believe it, then all I can say is NONSENSE.

Six million of my people were murdered. Millions more who were “undesirable” if not Jews. The world waited and waited, and waited and waited as if it either was not really happening or as if we Jews were just to stupid to “fight back”. I’m not blaming anyone except the Nazis. I want to clearly say that. But, one of the reasons this went on for so long and to such a tragic end was the lack of action.

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the horror.

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the suffering.

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the near annihilation of a culture.

This is the reason that I take such an active stand against 21st century genocide. It’s why I don’t think I am being inconsistent when I advocate less American spending on foreign intervention while simultaneously saying we should have done more in Darfur, Congo, and even Armenia and Cambodia. It is true that we can’t be the police for every other country. But NEITHER CAN WE EVER STAND IDLY BY while living, breathing, loving, thinking, feeling, human beings are systematically destroyed.

So, on this Yom ha Shoah, I pray that we may all become more cognizant of the humanity that exists in the mind, body, and spirit of every single human on our little blue planet.

Baruch Hashem.


On the night of November 9th/10th, the Nazi Sturmtruppen, acting on Herr Gobbels mandate that every Synagogue in Germany and Austria be burned, destroyed Jewish homes and businesses, as well as almost every synagogue in those countries. Often these“Stormtroopers” wore civilian clothes to make it look like this was just a spontaneous anti-Jewish uprising. It was really the first of many well planned and well executed acts of horror perpetuated by the National Socialist regime.

On than night, nearly 400 Jews were murdered and about 30,000 were imprisoned. By Christmas of 1938 over 2000 of  those imprisoned were dead. In an equally vicious showing of bullshit, the Nazi bastards ordered the Jews themselves to pay for the destroyed property and imposed fines on those who had been attacked.

This, my friends, was Kristallnacht. It was a sign of things to come on a scale so massive that European Judaism virtually disappeared in the ashes of six million corpses. By the end of the war in 1945, tens of thousands of human beings were being incinerated DAILY in an intricate network of murder factories. Every one of those murdered humans was an individual soul who felt individual fear, individual pain, and individual emotional anguish. Every one of those murdered humans had individual loves, individual hopes, individual dreams, and individual relationships. Everyone of those individual murders (by individual murderers) affected the families and future families of the individual victims; reaching down through the generations such that we, today, still bear the scars.

This night is “the night of broken glass”. As always, this night I write in memory of six million of my people. As always, I want to share some thoughts.

For a long time my “holocaust belief system” was based on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem“. I used to believe in the concept of “the banality of evil”; that evil can be an artifact of a bureaucracy so massive that individuals were not necessarily accountable for their actions. I no longer believe this and I think Arendt’s premise is nonsense. In my opinion it does not matter how big a bureaucracy is; it does not matter if all one is doing is to “make the trains run on schedule”; no mater the political or environmental factors, every human being is a living, breathing, THINKING, SELF-AWARE, INDEPENDENT actor. We CHOOSE and, even when forced to choose evil over death, we must be accountable. We often have little or no influence on the systems that govern us. Still, once we have made our choice to comply with evil, we must be held to account: COMPLIANCE IS COMPLICITY. My belief in the ultimate supremacy of individual human action leaves me no choice but to place blame on every single person who “just did what they were told”, who “just followed orders”, who COMPLIED. Arendt was wrong.

While I’m pondering Arendt, I must say that I always contextualize her with Heidegger. Heidegger saddens me more deeply than almost any of the Nazis. There were lots of evil people in Germany during the Shoah. There were lots of people who did what they were told. But Heidegger! Heidegger, the genius who wrote “Being and Time” was so far the intellectual superior of almost everyone else, that he had no business utterly forsaking his intellect and his profoundly rational gift of reason to even join the Nazi party, let alone to be among its public spokesmen. As long as the National Socialist party existed, Heidegger paid his annual membership dues. Never, even after the war, did he forsake the party. He complied with the political norms and, in doing so, forsook his human reason. As far as we know, only humans are self-aware, rational animals. To be a genius and to forsake reason entirely is to be inhuman. I must set aside everything I learned from “Being and Time” because I must set aside Heidegger’s humanity. As for Hannah Arendt, I suppose having sexual relations with Heidegger is its own sort of bestiality. That said, she and I do have one thing in common: I too enjoy thinking “screw Heidegger”.

And speaking of German Intellectuals, who can forget the theologians. I did not know this until I recently read Suzannah Heschel’s latest book, “The Aryan Jesus“, but Germany actually had an institute for the eradication of Judaism from the New Testament. There were “intellectual” papers written to deny the Jewish Heritage of Jesus. There were more than one edition of the New Testament that actually removed any positive references to Judaism and the lineage of Jesus but left in all the negative references . I’d find it funny that one could edit the New Testament to remove the entire premise for Jesus being the Messiah from the book about Jesus being the Messiah, if it weren’t that the purpose of doing so was to make a religion of “love” into a justification for mass murder. It seems that even the highest of academic traditions can be bastardized by politics and transformed into a tool of terror.

So, on this night of broken glass I want you to consider a couple things.

First, always stand against hatred, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance. Those thoughts and actions ARE evil. Doing nothing is complicity and as an individual, rational actor in the world, YOU ARE accountable.

Second, always question. Genius can be as evil – or more so – than stupidity.

Third, judge for yourself. The high priests of academia have as many ulterior motives as anyone else. “Rational” argumentation can be used for good or evil. You have individual reason and the ability to make your own decisions.

So, tonight, in memory of Kristallnacht, I pray for a world of tolerance, accountability, individual decision-making, and free rational thought. Baruch Hashem.

Yesterday I was talking to my brother about Tisha B’Av. As a guy who grew up in a Reform Synagogue and is not currently practicing he did not know much about the day and why I care so much. I explained that this was the day we mourn the destruction of the Temples. He asked the logical question for a non-practicing Reform Jew: “Why do you care about mourning the temple?” I read him my list of the tragedies that have befallen our people in the last 2500 years. I read it to him as I do to myself each year. In a moment, I want to talk about what he said to me in reply. First, I’ll remind you that I showed him this list:

  • 586 BCE: The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.
  • 70 CE: The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
  • 132 CE: The Bar Kokhba’s revolt was overturned.
  • 133 CE: Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and its surroundings.
  • 1066: The Granada massacre took place on 30 December 1066 when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada. They assassinated the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population.
  • 1095: The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095, killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities through Western Europe.
  • 1190: The ninth of Av marked the day that the Jews of York, England were slaughtered
  • 1290: The Jews were expelled from England.
  • 1305: A mass imprisonment of the Jews in France
  • 1492: The Jews were expelled from Spain.
  • 1493: The Jews expelled from Sicily. About 137,000 Jews were exiled.
  • 1496: The Jews expelled from Portugal and from many German cities.
  • 1571: Italy ghettoized the Jews of Florence
  • 1648: The Chmielnicki massacres occurred from in 1648-58. Tens of thousands of Jews were murdered throughout Poland and the Ukraine
  • 1660: The destruction of Safed by the Druze occurred during the rein of sultan Mehmed IV. Both Safed and Tiberias had large Jewish communities that were destroyed entirely,
  • 1670: Austria forced all Jews out of Vienna.
  • 1775: Mob violence against the Jews of Hebron.
  • 881–1884, 1903–1906, and 1918–1920: Three huge series of pogroms resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Russia and Ukraine.
  • 1914: On Tisha B’Av 1914 World War I began.
  • 1942: On Erev Tisha B’Av the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.
  • 1994: The Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina was bombed on July 18th, killing 85.
  • 2006: The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting occurred on July 28, wounding 6, killing 1
  • 2012: In Toulouse in the month of March 4 Jews were murdered simply because they were Jews.
  • 2013: Upon completing his term in office  the president of Iran says that one of the greatest achievements of his presidency is his Holocaust denial crap.

I explained to my brother my fundamental premise: even if I did not concern myself with the first and second temples; even though I do not believe that their destruction, the overthrow of the Bar Kokhbah rebellion, the Spanish expulsion, and the start of WWI all happened on the very same day; even if I refuse to pray for a return of the sacrificial cult; there are thousands of years of Jewish tragedies for me to mourn. So, I said, “I always mourn on Tisha B’Av.”

What my brother Rich said has inspired me to, once more, comment on the fate of the Jewish people this Tisha B’Av. He said: “Yeah but what about the fact that, no matter how bad things get, the Jews always manage to overcome and survive. Hey, the Germans tried to EXTERMINATE our whole race and we have managed to overcome even that! Why not talk about that?” So, here, my brother, is my comment on Jewish survival.

Adversity builds character. Adversity builds community. Adversity strengthens resolve. Adversity forces upon us the creativity necessary to overcome. Adversity offers the simple dualism of dying out or thriving.

Our people has been expelled from more places than one can even count. We have been beaten, raped, tortured, and forced to convert to other religions. We have been attacked, shot, burned at the stake,  enslaved, stereotyped, lied about, pissed on, ghettoized, imprisoned, and hated by every manner of evil, weak, fool on the planet. Yet, YES, we survive. For thousands of years we have overcome everything from Egyptian bondage to concentration camps that could incinerate 10,000 of our gas-murdered bodies per day, to the bastards who would deny us even the right to mourn THAT Shoah. And, what have we given these countries and Peoples in return?

Great scientists, amazing musicians, the world’s most important writers, Nobel prize-winning economists, baseball greats, industrialists, boxers, medical advances, political giants, a world-class Israeli research university in the form of the Technion, painters, physicists, philosophers, and on, and on, and on. Why is that?

I’ll tell you why. It is because all the evil, murder, enslavement, hatred, and horror has forced us to make that binary decision between dying out and thriving. Between stagnation and achievement. Because we CHOSE to never allow our adversaries to destroy us but, rather, to use our strength of will to overcome. THAT, my brother, is why.

In 1899, Mark Twain wrote an essay on the Jews. It concludes:

“The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” (emphasis is mine).


It is with Twain in the back of my mind that, as I read the book of Lamentation this Tisha B’Av, I will pray: Not for a return of the temples of the past, but for the resilient Jewish people of the future!


I really enjoy reading an online Jewish publication called “Tablet Magazine”. However, in the past couple months I’ve been really angry about a couple of positions that they have proposed. First, Tablet published a piece questioning whether we need an “Israel Lobby” in the US. I could not disagree more with their suggestion that we don’t. That is a topic for another day.

Today’s topic is about their Yom ha Shoah article, questioning whether that commemoration is “obsolete”. In this case, just the title made me cringe. I was prepared to lambaste the piece. Then I read it and realized that the author, Ruth Franklin, has a very well-reasoned argument. Despite my understanding of her position I don’t agree when she proposes that a decrease in participation in Yom ha Shoah events since the 90’s implies that the day may no longer be relevant.

Ms Franklin is correct in acknowledging that a 12+ year period of terror can’t be sufficiently dealt with in a single day. She is also correct to note the nationwide decline in event participation. My conclusion differs from hers, though. I propose that a decline in Yom ha Shoah commemorative events indicated a larger problem. The number of remaining survivors is dwindling at an ever-increasing rate. We are nearing the time when High School students will be assigned to read Eli Wiesel’s “Night” but will no longer have real, living human beings to testify to its veracity. We are reaching a time when even those who were babies at the time of the liberation will no longer be here to speak with the generations to come.

Because of the sorry state of the human race and the even sorrier state of global rationality, there are plenty of people to speak about genocide: Cambodians, Rwandans, Darfuri Sudanese  and more. But I propose that one of the reasons America has refused to take direct action to stop these atrocities is that, even when the Holocaust was freshly concluded, even when we did have night-long Yom ha Shoah vigils in the 70s and 80s, even when we did have a large pool of survivors, even then we did NOT DO ENOUGH to speak out. Perhaps we should have acknowledged earlier that this had orders of magnitude broader implication than simply that of Jewish remembrance. But, if anything, we need commemoration now more than ever.

I agree completely with Ms. Franklin that a single day is insufficient to remember over a decade of irrational nationalistic xenophobic insanity. But I disagree that the day may no longer be relevant. If that question can even be proposed then I have a twofold conclusion:

1. We Jews owe it to our families, ancestors, and cultures to revivify Yom ha Shoah; not to discard it.

2. We citizens of a planet torn by strife owe it to our co-inhabitants to use the experiences of our families, ancestors, and cultures, to use Yom ha Shoah to protect ourselves, and everyone else, from the destruction we have seen can happen and that our species, in a post-Holocaust, post-Cambodia, post-cultural revolution, post-Rwanda, post-Darfur century, perhaps deserves.


I don’t have much time for writing today but I need to say something about Yom HaShoah. Because of my limited time, I will primarily remind you of things I’ve said before. It’s hard to describe why it’s difficult for me to even clearly function on Yom HaShoah – why it makes me so sad. I think there are several reasons, though.

First, I think that the great American philosopher Robert Nozick, summarized it best when he said: “The Holocaust is a massive cataclysm that distorts everything around it… a massive and continuing distortion of human space… It’s vortices and gnarled twistings will extend very far.” The Holocaust is not the only one of the 20th century’s utter bastardizations of moral principles; but it demonstrated what monstrosities our species can be when we allow irrationality to run amok. When we think of ourselves as “rational animals” but conclusively demonstrate our indifference to individuals who live, breath, think, and love, then the support for our “specialness” is decimated. Having proven we can be destructive on such a scale, I understand why Nozick contends that we may have, indeed, lost out rationale for believing that  humans have some elevated place among the animals.

I want to repeat something that I’ve said before: “Reason is our distinguishing characteristic. But when even reason does not raise us above the murder of 2/3 of an entire segment of the European population, there is cause to question whether it makes us all that special as animals. Surely it makes us no more inherently moral than our opposable thumb”. Yes, we have now seen atrocities of equal or greater proportion in the guise of Mao and Stalin and Pol Pot and, even now, Bashir. Yes, the Holocaust was in no way the first attempt to destroy the Jews. But, the Holocaust touches me so personally because, first, it directly relates to my people, and, second, it is the event which most directly destroys my sense of optimism. We want to believe that the process of human evolution has a direction and that this direction points toward an ever greater species. But the Holocaust reminds us that this really isn’t true. We are orders of magnitude more technologically advanced than our predecessors. But the question is whether all of this technology makes us more caring, respectful, loving, unified beings. The Holocaust and other 20th century genocides provides pretty strong support for the sad conclusion that the answer is “no”.

I want to remind you of another thing I have quoted before. It is from a poem by Abraham Joshuah Heschel, written about the 1933 Nazi book burning. The final line of the poem says: “On this, your blasphemous holy day, hatred is your sanctity.“ True, this is specific to a single event. But it reminds us of what we should have noticed and what we should have ended long before the final solution. What began with a book burning ended with death camps that could murder and incinerate 10,000 human souls each and every day. When we let hatred take over, we can destroy entire worlds. And, if our species has the capacity for this much hatred then we obviously are not the innately special, exalted, anointed beings that we want to believe we are; or even viable stewards of the planet.

I am not saying the we do not have the capacity to be a great species. Surely we do. What I AM saying is that every single human being who cares about continuing to exist as a species, needs to USE our rational faculties every single minute of every single day, in the service of respect, human rights, and acknowledging the unique dignity of every other member of the species. I don’t know if we have that capability and, if we don’t, I guess I need to let it be okay that our species may perish. But I will say that, personally, I refuse to give up just yet. Every Yom HaShoah, I rededicate myself to not giving up. This begins with remembering the past.

Remember the Chassidic story with which I began writing on this blog? The one about Reb Yitzhak? – The Kotzker Rebbe goes to search for Reb Yitzhak in heaven and finds him at the end of a dark forest overlooking a huge ocean. Kotz embraces Yitzhak and asks him about this vast sea. Reb Yitzhak says:“This is the ocean of tears. In it are all the tears shed over the centuries by God’s Holy people.  I can not leave this dark place because I spoke to God about the countless people who’s suffering this embodies and, when I left, I vowed that I would not leave here until God has wiped away all the tears of our people!” That, to me, is the point of remebering our past; remembering six million Jews and the 4 million others who were murdered by the Nazis; reading names and praying the mourners kaddish on Yom HaShoah: to NEVER FORGET until all the tears of countless human souls have been wiped away.

So, today, on Yom HaShoah, let us all rededicate ourselves to remembering the horrors of irrationality gone wild and to working toward unity through rational action and individual respect for the dignity of every human being.

We remember them!

(In memory of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

I’m often asked why Holocaust remembrance is so important to me and why Yom ha Shoah is the most important thing on my Jewish calendar each year. I once told you all of my deep intellectual  relationship to Robert Nozick’s essay on the Holocaust and his contention that it marks the point in human history when we know that human beings no longer have an automatic right to continue to exist because our species has proven itself unworthy. But this year, since Yom ha Shoah, I’ve been trying to understand my own feelings better. I have found a wonderful Chassidic story that I think explains it better than anything else. I want to share that with you:

The time came when Reb Yitzhak died. His son Mendele kept expecting to hear from his father in some way, even if just in a dream. No message came so about a month after his father’s death Mendele went to visit the Kotzker Rebbe to ask why he had not heard anything. The Kotzker Rebbe said that he too had expected Reb Yitzhak to contact him from Heaven and when he heard nothing he decided to go to Heaven to find him. He looked in all the palaces in Heaven and found no Reb Yitzhak. Desparately he went to the angels and asked. From them, he learned that if he wanted to find his dearest friend, he would have to search for him in a dark forest at the farthest end of Heaven. He mustered all of his strength and entered the forest. Finally he came to the end of the forest and saw a huge ocean. Leaning on a walking stick, staring out over the vast sea, was Reb Yitzhak. The Kotzker Rebbe rushed to him, embraced him, and asked what was happening. Reb Yitzhak pointed at the ocean and said: “Don’t you recognize this ocean?” Kotz replied: “No, what is it?” Reb Yitzhak said: “This is the ocean of tears. In it are all the tears shed over the centuries by God’s Holy people, the community of Israel. I can not leave this dark place. I spoke to God about the countless people who’s suffering this embodies.  When I left, I vowed to God that I would not leave this place until he has wiped away all the tears of our people!”

 Obviously I don’t think I’m on par with a great Rebbe. Nor do I believe in this type of afterlife. None the less, I’d say that Reb Yitzhak sums me up perfectly. Until the tears that have been shed over countless centuries of my people’s suffering, and the tears shed through the pain of the Shoah, have been wiped clean from the Earth, it is my responsibility to remember. Like Reb Yitzhak, I vow that I will not leave this place until all these tears have been wiped clean. I think that means remembering forever.