Nazi

A Cosmic Hatred

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Introduction to his month’s Zman magazine

Zman 81 cover - Bassem Eid - Palestinian Authority scandalsA Cosmic Hatred

In our cover story, Bassem Eid offers a surprising angle on the Arab-Israeli conflict: “The first thing that we as Palestinians must do is to stop viewing ourselves as victims of the Israelis. This constant blame that our situation is the result of Israeli politics has brought us nothing and will continue to do nothing for us.”

This is downright refreshing, even revolutionary. Change is impossible without accepting responsibility. The kneejerk reaction to blame others (even where justifiable) is a recipe for misery. It takes strength of character to acknowledge one’s failings and move onto the hard business of fixing oneself, first and foremost, instead of giving that power to others by blaming them. Kudos to Mr. Eid.

Now, if only the rest of the Middle East felt that way….

Blaming Israel for everything – like traditional anti-Semitism that blames Jews for everything — permeates today’s world, but especially Middle Eastern culture. Ironically, some of the soberest thinkers on this subject are Muslims. “I am an observant Muslim committed to combating Islamism,” stated Dr. Quanta Ahmed, an outspoken British-Muslim physician, in a recent interview. “Islamism is a political totalitarian ideology, one of the central tenets of which is Islamist anti-Semitism.”

She then adds, “There is a deep-rooted anti-Semitism… which is greatly fueled by Islamist ideology… which is actually in the philosophy of major groups… like Hamas and Hezbollah, who explicitly identify the Jew or Judaism as a ‘cosmic’ enemy, not just a mortal enemy.”

Here she has hit the proverbial nail on the head: Islamists do not hate, persecute or murder Jews because of anything apologists and politicians imagine, such as alleged economic inequality or territorial disputes. They do so because of their ideology. Similar to the Nazi ideology, Islamism turns Jews into an evil, cosmic, supernatural force to be opposed at all costs.

Hundreds of stabbings of Jewish Israelis by young Palestinian Arabs over the past year are, at their root, natural outgrowths of the raw anti-Semitism spewed daily from places like the Voice of Palestine Radio teaching school children that killing Jews and dying in the process is a sacred duty. Many of the assailants (like Muslim terrorists in general) were financially well-off. It was ideology that drove their behavior.

“Is it any surprise that after decades of indoctrination in a culture of hate that people actually do hate?” Nonie Darwish, who was raised as a Muslim in the Gaza Strip, said of her birth-culture.

Sadly, thanks to what Dr. Ahmed calls an “incredibly ignorant marriage of Left and Islamism,” presidents and pundits alike perpetuate the dysfunctional attitudes that plague the Middle East and which are exported to the West. They need to diagnose the problem soberly, which begins by having no illusions about the central role ideology plays in Islamist terror.

Be that as it may, we can only control what we can, which means living by our faith, growing our communities and continuing to serve as conduits for the “cosmic” good.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

Light in the Kingdom of Darkness

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Aushwitz-Birkenau. The main Nazi guard tower is the highest point, offering a view of virtually the entire camp. In that tower, we davened mincha…

Last month, I joined a group of 24 educators visiting the concentration camps in Poland. It was the culminating leg of a year-long fellowship program sponsored by Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education branch of Torah U’Mesorah. Its director, Rabbi Sholom Freidmann, and I worked all year with these highly experienced and accomplished teachers helping them to become in effect the vanguard of a new generation of Holocaust educators.

From the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps at Treblinka and Majdanek to the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin (presently being rebuilt) to the kevarim of the Remah, Sfas Emes, Chozeh of Lublin, Maharal and others – none of us came back the same.

Undoubtedly, the most moving experience was Auschwitz…

Auschwitz – its name alone sends a chill down the spine.

Peering through the barbed-wire fence for the first time, the thing that struck me was its size. Nothing had prepared me to grasp the sheer expanse of Birkenau, Auschwitz’s main death camp. Besides the unimaginable numbers murdered there, it housed 80,000 slave laborers.

80,000!

That’s larger than most Jewish communities today; think of a medium-sized town.

Row after row of barracks stretched almost as far as the eye could see. Straight ahead, the infamous railroad tracks extended into the distance further than I had imagined until they veered off to the equally infamous disembarkation point where Dr. Mengele conducted the Selektion, deciding who would live and who would die….

A chilling thought as we head into the days of Elul and Yemei HaDin….

It took hours to tour the camp. Terrifying… horrifying… yet uplifting don’t properly convey the emotions… especially by the “Pool of Ashes,” a marsh-like area of human ash next to the tangled concrete and metal of the now destroyed gas chambers and crematoria, listening to Rabbi Shmuel Klein talk about Kiddush Hashem… which was followed by a rousing kaddish.

Kiddush Hashem – it’s hard to explain to the uninitiated the connection between Auschwitz and Kiddush Hashem. But, nowhere more than the depths of the deepest darkness can the brightest light of spiritual heroism emerge.

By day’s end, we were the only group remaining in this Empire of Evil. That was eerie enough. But then we were given special permission to ascend the main Nazi guard tower. And there, high above Hitler’s Valley of Death, we turned east, bowed and poured our hearts out to Hashem.

After mincha, the guard tower became engulfed in a supernatural orange glow of the now set sun. Spontaneously, we formed a circle and danced — silhouetted against heaven’s glow — singing Aleh Varechev, Ani Ma’amim and L’shana Habah b’Yerushalayim.

View from atop the guard tower where we davened mincha. (View is west; we prayed facing east.)

It was a flash of light in the Kingdom of Darkness. A moment of triumph. A proclamation! The Thousand Year Reich is dead… Om Yisrael chai….

Elul is a time for introspection… and inspiration… to make light, not darkness… to choose life… to live lives of Kiddush Hashem… for the six million kedoshim… for ourselves.