October 14, 2005
Dear Rabbi Schecter,
I hope by the time this letter reaches you the rains will have stopped. I just want to wish you a Happy New Year and congratulations on another job well done. Both Linda and I appreciated how you run the service along with your excellent and dynamic chorus.
With and regarding your Yom Kippur remarks, I can sincerely agree with your position on the Holocaust and I can certainly understand the non-Jewish world’s tiring of the subject. There comes a time when the articulation of self-pity generated from someone else’s need to be reminded of “guilt” starts to get weary. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “I can forgive, but not forget.” I can never do either. But I speak not for the world. But since many of us preach that that “That the sins of the father should not be visited on the son, “ now we are dealing with the grandson. Throughout the long history of the Jewish people and many others, there have been many horrible murderous periods. Of course that invidious character Hitler said, in talking about the Jews, “Who remembers the Armenians?” We have therefore have had many, many pogroms and indescribable events of brutality that have permeated each century of recorded and unrecorded history. How many in our congregation can remember or even know of the “Rape of Nanking?”
I have worried about the cult of “Holocaust Worshippers” for many, many years. If, of course, the understanding of G-d is amorphous then surely the long-lasting meaning of Holocaust and its message is also unclear when dealing with so many parallel events of smaller, but no less brutal of consequences. We all know the uniqueness of the Holocaust, but to each new generation of non-Jews, the Holocaust becomes less important as a “lesson to the world” and more and more a “self-aggrandizing” method of currying sympathy aside from all other peoples. Certainly in our own time, and in the last 60 years since the walls of the last concentration camps were ripped down, we have experienced the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan tribal massacres and the Balkan ethnic cleansing among others.
Of course the Holocaust was almost an unspoken topic in the post war era. It almost associated and caused more guilt amongst the victims then a lesson in brutality from group to another. In the 1970’s when Jewish concerns were raised with the rise of anti-Semitism, the Palestinian liberation movement, the threat of the disappearance of the Jewish people through assimilation, the lack of religious commitment and an accelerating inter-marriage rate, the subject of the Holocaust started to emerge. On an intellectual basis two themes started to coalesce from a new class of Jewish neo-con thinkers. Though unconnected these themes started to merge. One theme was that traditional Jewish liberalism was encouraging assimilation and therefore inter-marriage. Inter-marriage would eventually inhibit the Jewish people from replacing itself with a new vibrant progeny. It was the internal Holocaust. On the other hand the cause of the Holocaust was aided and abetted by so-called liberal Western governments, which did not do enough to stop Hitler or attempt to rescue Jews before or during the war. This twin attack on liberalism culminated with David Wyman’s book, “The Abandonment of the Jews,” which cast an unfair pall on Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration. On one hand it was liberalism that tolerated and encouraged assimilation and on the other hand the chief icon of America liberalism, Franklin D. Roosevelt, turned his back on the Jewish problems in Europe. As a corollary of that, Roosevelt was even accused of being an anti-Semite, even though the New Deal, called the “Jew Deal” by his legion of haters, brought Jews into the mainstream of American life, and President Roosevelt and his mother Sara were avowed Zionists throughout their lives. FDR met his future close associate Benjamin V. Cohen, at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, who was a lawyer for the American Zionist Movement from 1919-21. Cohen would serve Roosevelt throughout the President’s life. But other Jews closest to FDR as, Henry Morgenthau Jr, Samuel I. Rosenman, and Anna M. Rosenberg were not avowed Zionists and they represented a large number of well-placed Jews in America that feared a large Eastern European Jewish immigration and the subsequent increase in the backlash of anti-Semitism that was sweeping America during the Depression.
Of course Wyman’s postulation about immigration and the lack of the bombing of Auschwitz fueled this frustration within the Jewish people and had a resonance with younger less informed generations. Of course America’s attitude of “forget and forgive” coupled with the containment of Communism, promulgated by President Truman after the war, fed Jewish frustrations. Remember because of the rise of Communism, both Japan’s atrocities in China were conveniently ignored and Werner von Braun’s V1 and V2 team of Nazi friends and co-workers were invited with open arms to America. Nazi hunting took a back seat as other international problems and threats emerged. American intelligent agencies, desperate for help against the Soviet menace, freely used Germans with explicit Nazi histories, and many in our State department ignored the work of the Roman Catholic Church in helping well healed and well placed Nazis escape to South America.
So with worries about a 50% inter-marriage rate, the new neo-cons of American Jewish thought raised Holocaust iconography to an art form. The Holocaust worship reached almost on a par with the Passover Seder and the High Holidays. Of course as a result of this diversion of interests, the traditional needs of education, Jewish religious institutions and the preservation of Jewish culture suffered. Jewish culture started to descend almost into a mocking satire of itself with the rise of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and the Seinfeld sit-com phenomenon. Along with these self-deprecating images brought forth by Jewish comics, producers and directors, in Hollywood and out, Jewish life was portrayed in the same way American life was pictured, but even worse, petty, vain and materially focused.
Therefore the problems that the Jews face now, and in the future, cannot be assuaged by a constant appeal for sympathy relating from the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Other disasters and crises are happening daily and the demands of new generations of Americans and others for aid and comfort will far outweigh the pleadings and demands of Jews, who for the most part, enjoy high economic and social status in an America that is getting more and more divided between lower and upper middleclass.
As for your other two thoughts on Catholicism and the Palestinians, both Linda and I reacted much differently to your thoughts. With the Roman Catholic Church, as opposed to Catholics in general, I (we) do not have much sympathy for their current plight. The Church has been in the vanguard of opposing change, progressive thinking, scientific advances and toleration for others. Over the last 2000 years, until very recently, the Church was opposed to almost everything Jewish. In fact the Vatican still maintained a chained in Jewish Ghetto well into the period just before World War II. The Church only had it excesses controlled, by first the emerging Italian Republic, the rise of Mussolini, and the subsequent end of the monarchy after WWII. Each group, whether liberal or conservative was co-opted by the immense strength of the Church, and in almost every instance, Jewish aspirations suffered. But besides their institutional anti-Semitism, their current conduct regarding tolerating and covering up sexual abuse of children cannot be excused, justified or pitied. The Church has been at the forefront and complicit in the greatest crime of sexual abuse in the history of the 20th Century. Any other business or public institution or school that would allow its managers or employees to sexually abuse children would have been prosecuted and sent to prison for life. In fact the Church has been given a “free pass’ by most of the press, especially Catholics, and Jews who are afraid to speak out against their litany of crimes. Local government has also been afraid to take on this battle. Thanks to the heroic work of lawyers who have pushed for victim’s redress through civil action, has some justice been served. As recently as the other day, the NY Times reported, on its front page, another massive cover-up of criminal sexual activity by the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Therefore I have no sympathy for this outrageous collection of pederasts and pedophiles. I would not shed one tear over its potential institutional collapse. The average Catholic should demand full disclosure of their records and a complete rooting out of all of these criminals and their protectors. Any Catholic that continues to contribute to their church until this happens are, in my opinion, complicit in the cover-up.
Also I do not have any sympathy for Palestinians, or their movement and leadership. Their problems are almost 100% self-inflicted. They have had ample opportunity over the decades to seek normalization with Israel, and justice for themselves. They and their Arab brethren rejected power sharing in 1947 when they were granted 83% of the land of the total British Mandate. When the West Bank was completely controlled by Jordan from 1947 to 1967 there was no effort to grant the so-called Palestinians independence or statehood. The whole area was called Palestine, a name that originated with the Romans in 79 AD. After they defeated the Judean Revolt they changed all the Jewish names in Judea and called the area Palestine after the Philistines. Up until the 1970’s, Arabs, Druse, some Christians and Jews occupied the land that was the old Mandate. The term, Palestinian, was then adopted by Yasir Arafat and his PLO cohorts. But the truth is that both the Jordanians and the Palestinians were Arabs of the same region, with a small group of Hashamites from Saudi Arabia. Therefore Jordan is the Arab-Palestinian State. Of course the main reason that the West Bank was not annexed by Jordan or not granted its statehood, would be by that mere act Israel would have been recognized by de facto. In today’s world, Israel’s so-called draconian tactics are a sensible reaction to the extreme tactics of the radicalization of the Intifada that had been fueled by Arab payments of “blood-money” to encourage suicide bombings. West Bank dissatisfaction with the criminality Arafat’s Fatah Party has led to the more radical Hamas alternative. Therefore sympathy for their national desires and angst must wait for another day. Statehood and so-called liberation from Israeli control will not solve their problems. They must create an internal stability first by rooting out their climate of hatred and revenge. When that happens maybe they will deserve our sympathy to their plight.
Richard J. Garfunkel