A few short weeks ago on August 23rd, 2010 I attended and videotaped an amazing conference organized by CIJR (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) here in Montreal.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center gave the lunchtime address. He started by commenting that in the face of intellectual giants who were presenting during the day such as Professor Wistrich of Hebrew University and Professor Small of Yale University, he did not feel compelled to exert himself on the intellectual plane. And so he shared three incidents which resonated powerfully with me, one of which I will share with you today, as it feels particularly apt on the eve of our annual YomKippur observation.
Rabbi Cooper shared that he has traveled extensively internationally, meeting with government officials, the Pope, and the public on issues of concern to the Jewish people. For example, he shared that he has traveled to Japan and many other countries to educate about the dissemination of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and to shut down its publication.
After one of these talks to a group of Japanese businessman, the Rabbi respectfully asked, “Are there any questions?” As Japanese audiences are known for their polite reticence, he was very surprised as one CEO stood up and said ‘Yes, Rabbi, I have a question. Rabbi Cooper, we understand now that Jews don’t get together to plot world conspiracies and financial domination in their synagogue, but can you tell us what do Jews do in synagogue? Do Jews pray?” This question stopped him in his tracks, and it stopped me in my tracks as well. I think of it especially now as we Jews begin our twenty-five hour annual stint of fasting and prayer. How do we explain what happened there?
How do you share a five thousand year tradition while standing on one leg?
On September 10th, 2009, I participated in a webinar with Rabbi YitzGreenberg on the prayer service of YomKippur. Rabbi YitzGreenberg and Rabbi Kimmelman share how the ritual of the YomKippur prayer service is connected not only to the individual Jew but also to the community and all nations. He shows us how the prayers are carefully crafted to pray for peace not just for the individual but for all nations and all people in the universe, and to be realized under the rule of law, truth, and justice. And these are not mere empty words but also a prescription for achieving it.
The amazing thing about our tradition is that it has been evolving for five thousand years with loyalty to the past, the present, and hopes for the future.
The main refrain on YomKippur is “Tshuva, tefillah and tzedaka, maavirinetroahhagzera.” I say this in Hebrew transliteration because each word is multilayered, powerful, and significant and difficult to translate but I will attempt it. Tshuva, (return to our sources) tefillah (prayer) and tzedaka (doing just acts) can have the power to mollify evil outcomes.
To be continued… gmartov: traditonal greeting at the end of Yom Kippur – May our prayers be fulfilled for good in the next year and within our lifetimes.
May we all pray together this YomKippur for the tshuva (improved behaviour) of every Jew, every human being, every government, and all peoples in the Universe. Even a slight improvement in each individual’s awareness and behavior can have a major impact on all of us.
Wishing you a good and sweet year during this coming year.
At this time of year you are probably getting used to hearing Happy New Year, Shana tova, and the words Rosh Hashanah bandied about and wondering what is this exactly. Rosh Hashana is a combination of penance and joy. It is hard to explain so I will share a short (2 1/2 min.) video I recently discovered that explains this weird holiday, and also contains the blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – which I will talk more about after the video.
Now you are probably wondering what is the meaning of the shofar? The shofar is a ram’s horn which is reminiscent of human vocal expression and is supposed to awaken us to do the work of self-evaluation and introspection regarding the world and our place in it during the month prior to Rosh Hashanah, and also integral to the High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) services. And by the way it’s harder to get a sound out of it than it looks. (Yes I tried and failed). But here are some examples of people who succeeded.
The longest shofar blast.
And a totally new initiative, the shofar flash mob, groups who got together at different places in the world to blow shofar together.
And last but not least, here is an adorable video of my nieces and nephew wishing you all a happy Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tova!
Why does the State of Israel and the Jewish people all over the world, continue to observe the National Day of Mourning Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the two temples and the Jewish peoples’ two previous exiles from the land of Israel, when we now have a sovereign Jewish State in the land of Israel? Today happens to be Tisha B’Av, (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) and while normally I commemrate this day outside of the modern State of Israel, this year I am fortunate to be spending it in Jerusalem, Israel. In fact, I can tell you that this is no minor holiday,either in the diaspora or in Israel. Traditionally, the day decrees a full day of fasting and prayer that Jews have observed since the destruction of the First Temple (2500 years). In Israel and increasingly in the diaspora as well, there are not only synagogue rituals and readings but also public gatherings in synagogues, in Jewish institutions and parks, including talks and film screenings relevant to the subject. In Jerusalem, a film festival was dedicated to this theme at Beit Avichai in Jerusalem which I attended called “The Earth Trembles”. Contemporary Israeli films on contemporary social and political subjects were screened in the presenceof the producers and actors.
Recently Mahmoud Abbas made a speech announcing to the world that Israel has no indigenous rights in the Middle East, his Palestinian version of reality is based on a premise of left wing ideology, namely, that Jews in Israel have been and are part of a pattern of “settler colonialism”.
Abbas: “The Egyptian thinker Abd al-Wahab al-Masri described the Zionist entity in this way: ‘The goal of Israel’s creation is to establish a colonial state that has no connection to Judaism’ – that is, it exploits the Jews to its end.”
One of the mainstays of the modern university is the idea of settler-colonialism. This argues that certain societies are birthed by settlers implanted in a foreign territory, either directly by or with the consent of an imperial power. These colonists then dominate and eradicate the indigenous population. They develop bellicose cultures that eliminate the natives from historical, literary, and other narratives. Primary examples often cited are the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Israel.
Among the many concepts abused and perverted by the Palestinians, such as “settler clonialism”, “apartheid” accusations of Israeli “genocide” rank the highest for blatant audacity, and for twinned calumny and odiousness.
The observance of Tisha b’Av, a Jewish day of mourning or the last 2500 years is an elegant rebuttal to this argument. the second destruction of the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem, occurred in 70 AD, 500 years before the birth of Mohammad and 2000 years before the modern university idea of “settler colonialism” was argued.
Ben Gurion the pioneer settler and first Prime Minister of the State of Israel that was declared following the UN vote regarding the establishment of the State of israel expresses these ideas elegantly.
Ben-Gurion: “From a Jewish standpoint Zionism is not just a flight from persecution and restrictive laws, but primarily love of a homeland and a vision of the rise of a nation-state. Our Zionism is composed of a national ideology, a feeling of love for the land, an aspiration to political independence. And of a desire and a need to settle in the Land of Israel. Take away from Zionism the hundreds-years-long love for the ancestral homeland, take away from Zionism the political aspiration to independence – and Zionism is emptied of its content” (Bama’archa, vol. 2, p. 48).
Ben-Gurion: “Our right to the Land of Israel does not stem from the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration. It precedes those. The Bible is our mandate… I can state in the name of the Jewish People: The Bible is our mandate, the Bible that was written by us in our Hebrew language, and in this land itself, is our mandate. Our historical right has existed since our beginnings as the Jewish People, and the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate recognize and confirm that right” (testimony to the Peel Royal Commission, January 1937, Bama’archa, vol. 1, pp. 77-78).
“A homeland is not given as a gift and is not acquired by means of political rights and contracts. It is not purchased with gold and is not conquered by force, but is built with sweat. This homeland is a historical creation and a collective endeavor of a people, the fruit of its physical, spiritual, and moral labor down through the generations. … The Land of Israel will be ours not when the Turks, the English, or the next peace conference agrees to it, and it is undersigned in a diplomatic treaty – but when we, the Jews, build it. We will not attain the real, true, and lasting right to the land from others, but from our labor. For the Land of Israel to be ours, we must build it; the mission of our revival movement is the building of the land” (New York, September 1915, Mema’amad Le’am, p. 10).
Today is Yom Hashoa ve Hagvura – The day Jews both mourn and celebrate. They mourn the destruction of more than six million innocent men, women, and children, hunted down for the sole reason that they were Jews (the Shoa) and the Gvura (courage and heroism), they celebrate the courage of all those who fought to survive. Every moment of continuing life every day required courage everywhere during this period and great courage was required and offered by many, many who died and many who survived: all of them fought to defeat the enemy and some lived to see the defeat of the vicious enemy – Nazi Germany and her vicious antisemitic policy.
This day always comes shortly after celebration of the Passover holiday, commemoration of the miraculous Jewish liberation from slavery three thousand years ago. Regardless of whether you believe the exodus from Egypt actually happened or not, we have to acknowledge with the reader of the Passover Hagada that “if we had not been freed, we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved: but tonight we celebrate as free men and women.”
Last night I attended the annual shoa commemoration project of the Montreal community. Every year, six survivor families are chosen to light a candle and to share their story. Each survivor, flanked by their families, tell their story on a short prerecorded video. No matter how often one attends these programs one is consistently awed by these stories of survival and redemption.
When I returned home I saw two programs on PBS ((Public Broadcast Station). One program (Nova) visits the city of Vilna/Vilnius to attempt to find the underground traces of the Great Synagogue of Vilna over which a school has been built. This documentary tells the story of the destruction of the culture of Vilna, which was also known by Jews as the New Jerusalem, and the murder of the 70,000 Jewish residents of Vilna, and the heroic survival of 8 of the 80 last Jews of Vilna – 76 men and 4 women who were tasked with burning the bodies of their brethren, while imprisoned in a deep pit over several months, just before the arrival of the Russians. These 76 men and four women who realized that they too would be executed at the end of their task, succeeded in creating a secret underground tunnel which led from the pit in which they were imprisoned into the forest for a last ditch effort at escape. Only eight of the eighty persons survived this escape through the tunnel. And the whole episode became a legend which survived only as a “tale” told by the survivors. A group of scientists returns to the site and succeeds in uncovering the remains of the tunnel thus verifying their story. At the end of the show, we see the eight survivors, now living in various parts of the world, reunited with each other.
The next program was a 90 minute production called GI-Jew, which told the story of the 500,000 Jewish American men and 20,000 Jewish American women who enlisted and fought in the American army to destroy the Nazi scourge and to save whoever could be saved from the Nazi onslaught. Among them were 1,000 Jewish American Rabbis who served as American army chaplains. Throughout the war they accompanied the troops and organized services for soldiers, and upon liberation for survivors. And victory was not at all assured over 5 long years of war in Europe and the Far East.
Whether you believe in the G-d of Israel or not, something has enabled the Jewish people to survive every attempt at destruction and to continue to thrive for the last three thousand years. I believe what has enabled them to survive and to thrive is the ideology of the Torah, which lays out a vision of justice and compassion for all living beings, individually and in community, and for the planet itself.
Yes, I was born a Jew to parents who lived through the terrible time of the Shoa in Europe. I have struggled with the issues of the Shoa (Holocaust in Hebrew) my whole life. What have I learned from this over the course of my lifetime? The lesson I take away from this is that the ideas of Torah are mightier than the sword. What are these ideas? First, the idea of a G-d interested in humanity, who has “an eye that sees and an ear that hears”. It is a G-d who prescribes rules for communal living, which include prohibitions against murder and theft, and also legislates that one is not to covet the goods and assets of one’s neighbor, including his wife. Also one where individuals and communities struggle with the right path that will conform to this G-d’s ideas of truth, justice, and compassion. And in this Jewiish world, there is also room for human error and correction without resorting to violence. The torah prescribes economic principles as well as how to deal with murderers and those who may kill accidentally. It prescribes a code of behavior for the common man, for the King and for the priest and it tells us how to regulate time, weekly, monthly, and by the year. The laws of Sabbath and dates of the holidays are thus prescribed. And the Torah does this while also giving us a narrative history of the Jewish people from their beginnings as a family to the creation of the nation in the dessert following the exodus and laws for dealing with the settlement of the land of Israel, whose boundaries are also described in the Torah.
We see that those who have missed out on the precepts of truth justice and mercy described in the Torah and who revel in the power of the sword, have repeatedly been doomed to the ash bin of history. This is evident in the demise of the powerful empires that did not know G-d or mercy or justice, such as the Assyrian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Spanish Empire, The French Empire, the German Reich, the Soviet Empire, etc. What is the remedy to all this fighting and destruction? One thing and one thing only: for every one to lay down their arms and to acknowledge that life, liberty, and happiness can only come to those who lay down their arms and struggle to improve the lot of their human compatriots. This is the most powerful idea, and the idea of redemption prescribed by the Hebrew prophets. It is what we pray for at the end of the seder – for everyone to lay down their arms and to acknowledge the rule of the G-d of justice and compassion. Jews of course are aware of vengeance but we are admonished to leave retribution and vengeance up to the Almighty alone. Our duty is to get on with our lives in a productive way. We leave vengeance to the Almighty as is discussed in this blog regarding Jewish views on vengeance. blog.
…The prophet rehearses the classical Jewish teaching that even a merciful and patient God will ultimately wreak powerful, unanswerable retribution upon the enemies of His chosen people.
Following Torah prescriptions would work much better than war crimes trials, and better than hollow statements often made by politicians and human rights activists regarding peace and “never again”. Only organized actual disarmament by all rulers and civilians and working towards improving the lives of all, as prescribed in the Jewish Bible (Torah) will bring us to a just world where violence is renounced and the lion can lie down with the lamb as detailed in the biblical book of Micah chapter 4 verses 2 and3
verse 2: Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the G-d of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
verse 3; And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.
Redemption lies in getting the agreement of all peoples to lay down their arms in the name of justice and compassion and the rule of the Transcendent Law: And I believe that the amazing thing is that this actually lies within our power today but we do have to start the ball rolling: the right hashtag? – the right call to all leaders and to all individuals to lay down their arms? to embrace love between man and man via the amazing instrument of the internet ? Is it possible? I am envisioning setting a date in the near future for this to happen at the same moment all over the world – Like New Years Day during World War one when both sides spontaneously lay down their arms on the battlefield and celebrated together – “Peace on earth good will to men”. The Rabbis have said that if all the nations were to observe one Sabbath, at the same time, it would be a signal that the Messianic times had arrived.
Who will join me in this project? How long can we all continue to deal with the effects of hatred, war and destruction? Wouldn’t a world focused on feeding the hungry and clothing all of the poor be a much better kinder world for all of us!
As i shared this post with my friends, many responded “its too idealistic, it will never work”. I believe that it can work and will work. Who could have dreamed seventy years ago that we would have a Jewish State that is not only able to defend itself but has become the strongest nation in the Middle East and a powerhouse for agriculture, water purification, medicine, pharmacology, technology, and humanitarian aid, – truly “a light unto the nations”.
The story of young women at the outset of their lives who, when challenged by history, responded with remarkable courage. The Jewish “Couriers” who were real life “Wonder Women”.
The three couriers (from the left) – Tema Sznajderman, Bella Chazan, Lonka Korzybrodska (Photo – Ghetto Fighters House Archives)
During the Holocaust, Jewish resistance groups employed women as messengers to communicate with the world outside the ghettos. Daniel Seaman tells the story of three daring young women—Tema Schneiderman, Lonka Kozybrodska, and Bella Chazan—who risked their lives to help their people:
In December 1941, Tema, Lonka, and Bella were. . . invited to the Christmas party at Gestapo headquarters in the then-Polish city of Grodno, disguised as Polish Catholics. . . . [Before the war, all three had been] members of their local chapters of the [Zionist-socialist] He-ḥaluts Dror Jewish youth movement. . . . Once the war broke out, the youth movements, with their elaborate network of connections, proved to be an unexpected asset for the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe that were deliberately isolated [from one another] by the Germans.
Tema, Lonka, and Bella, like several other female members of the youth movement, were the natural choice to serve as the link between the communities, known as the “couriers” (k’shariyot in Hebrew). Disguised as non-Jews, they risked their lives to move from ghetto to ghetto, traveling through treacherous territory, transporting documents, papers, money, ammunition, and weapons across borders and into ghettos. . . .
Not long after that evening, the dangers of the tragic era would inevitably catch up with them and their luck would run out. First Lonka, who in June 1942 was caught at the border crossing at Malkinia. She was interrogated as a member of the Polish Underground, [her captors not realizing that she was a Jew], and held in the [notorious] Pawiak prison in Warsaw. When she failed to arrive at her expected destination, Bella set out to look for her. She too was captured at the same border crossing and also sent to Pawiak. Bella and Lonka never revealed their identities, never broke, never exposed secrets though tortured severely. They never broke character either, [maintaining the ruse that they were Polish Gentiles].
Of Tema’s fate, it is known that she was transferred to the Treblinka extermination camp after being captured in the Warsaw Ghetto on January 18, 1943, during one of her many daring excursions to the place. She most likely perished there.
While Lonka died in Auschwitz, Bella survived and lived to the age of eighty-two in Israel.
And this was a comment posted following this article by Nancy Rexin Evans who shares the story of her own Mother who also had risked her life and joined and underground movement.
This article was heart-wrenching and brought tears to my eyes as I read about this brave young woman and brought memories of my own mother, a 19 year-old non Jewish woman with a huge Jewish heart and a lot of ‘chutzpa getting angry at this ‘new fangeld upstart Adolph and his brown-shirts, a group of thugs going about, beating up people and going after Jews, her own friends included. She and others joined an underground movement where they started to print and distribute anti fascist flyers. She was caught after being betrayed by her best friend and room mate, arrested and interrogated for several months yet never gave away any names. Subsquently, she was sent to Ravensbrueck, outside of Berlin, afterwards to a labor camp from where the Americans liberated her. One of the soldiers became my dad. Two things stayed with me when Grandmother told me that the Jews were God’s chosen and to always remember that. The night before she died she made me promise to never forget the Jews and always stand up for them and Israel which we visited shortly before her passing, overwhelmed how beautiful Israel was. She would speak to schools, churches, the media, etc. about what happened and how survivors rebuild their home land. “Am Yisrael Chai” indeed. May we always remember! Never Again!. Thank you for this article and the bravery of those young women who should make us ashamed whenever we complain about little inconveniences.
What is the source of antisemitism in Islam? What is the cause of Muslim antisemitism? Why have Arab countries and the Palestinians been so adamantly against accepting and acknowledging the Jewish narrative, the continuous Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and the Jewish state of Israel? Professor Mordechai Kedar, explains this very well:
This was one of a series of talks on antisemitism sponsored by ISGAP – Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism at McGill University in January 2015.
Prof. Kedar explains that Mohammad borrowed extensively from the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians but when Jews and Christians refused to accept his doctrines, he systematically attacked their communities with his mercenaries for the denial of his message. Islam makes the claim that only the Islamic version of G-d is permissible anywhere in the world: That all messages of Jews and Christians are deceptive and invalid: That Islam is the one and only true religion i.e. the true version of reality. This very conveniently self serving doctrine has been followed up by Mohammad and his successors by the murder of Jews and Christians. This has been the source of Islamic precepts of Jew hatred and animosity towards Jews and Christians and Pagans throughout the centuries.
As Professor Kedar pointed out Muslims have a different view of history, and different values than those that have developed in the western democracies. Their concept of peace is “the peace of Sharia”, and Sharia can brook no compromise with other religions or cultures. For Westerners this is a hard lesson to accept: but it has to be faced if we are to understand the current state of conflict in the middle East between between Islam and the West, and between Islam and Israel, and between Islam and Jews.
In addition to the Islamic precepts demeaning Jews and infidels, European/Nazi ideas of Jew hatred have also permeated the Arab world via the Mufti of Jerusalem, an ally and friend of Hitler.
A living monument to European anti-Jewish hatred and misunderstanding is enshrined in the many publications of the forged Russian document: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion“. Prof. Kedar pointed out that this document is being widely published and disseminated all over the Arab world and has been published widely there since the 1920’s. Apparently, no one has told the Arabs of the Middle East that this was and is a forged antisemitic document published by the Russians. The Egyptians have been misguided to the point that when they opened the New Library of Alexandria in Egypt, The Protocols of the Elders was chosen as one of the two most important books representative of Jews and Judaism. It was only removed when the Israeli ambassador, who was present at the opening advised them about the origins of this book which never had any reality connection whatsoever to any living Jews in the world or to Judaism.
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is an antisemitic hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. It was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. The Protocols purports to document the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies.
Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the US in the 1920s. Adolf Hitler was a major proponent. It was studied, as if factual, in German classrooms after the Nazis came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. It is still widely available today in numerous languages, in print and on the Internet, and continues to be presented by some proponents as a genuine document.”
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other similar books such as Mein Kampf, written by Hitler himself formalized the rampant antisemitism of Europe in the 19th century and made it sound rational and authoritative. These two works formed the basis of the irrational Jew hatred (otherwise known as antisemitism) in Europe and Russia of the 20th century. These books disseminated irrational notions about “The Jews” which lead directly to the acceptance of the genocidal murder of at least six million “Jews” identified as such by the third Reich. Publication of both texts has been banned in many countries due to their libelous and destructive nature.
This fraudulent book, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is considered to be G-d’s truth in the Arab World as evidenced by the many publications and republications in the last several years. Some of the covers of these publications are reproduced here:
Even if you do not read Arabic, the cover pictures associating Jews and Judaism with snakes and worse is clear.
Alongside antisemitic publications, one can find hundreds if not thousands of videos on you-tube espousing these ideas.
As unpleasant as this is, it has to be faced if anyone wants to understand the sources of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in the Muslim world, and also in the ranks of the non-Muslim, European, anti-Jewish, antisemitic ranks. This virulent antisemitism, finds its voice amplified and easily spread on the internet.
Sadly few Western pundits or journalists have faced this dark truth about Islam when discussing Israel or the Middle East.
When hate depends on a specific cause, it ends once the cause disappears. Causeless, baseless hate, – irrational hate – can last forever.”
After 9/11, when the horror and trauma had subsided, Americans found themselves asking what had happened and why. Was it a disaster? A tragedy? A crime? An act of war? It did not seem to fit the pre-existing paradigms. And why had it happened? The question most often asked about Al Qaeda was, ‘Why do they hate us?
Just like the surprised Americans who woke up the day after the 9/11 tragedies asking “Why do they hate us?” Jews have asked the same question – “Why do they hate us?”. Antisemitism, the hate unjustly directed at Jews can and has morphed to meet the political needs of various regimes and religious groups. It has become a cutting edge tool to advance aspirations for power and dominance. In the middle ages it was used as a tool by the Catholic Church: In Russia: It was used as a tool by the Russian Czar: in Nazi Germany, Hitler used it to advance his ideology, and Islam has also used it, since its beginnings to assert dominance. None of these tyrants knew or understood anything about Jews or Judaism. They were all spinning their Jew-baiting tales as a means to an end.
As Ruth Wisse has so ably pointed out, “antisemitism has nothing to do with Jews: it has everything to do with the antisemites. Antisemitism has very little to do with the realities of Jews or of Israel. It has everything to do with the power of irrational hatred as a self aggrandizing tool, and as an instrument for political dominance. Ruth Wisse, below analyzes very well, antisemitism and its effects not only on Jews but also on how it affects those who practice antisemitism.
Recently I attended and filmed the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research Conference on “The Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim” in Toronto (Sunday, 25 October 2015). Emil Fackenheim (1916-2003) was a German-born Jew who went on to become a philosopher in his own right, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and, after making aliyah, a professor at the Hebrew University as well. He was not only a philosopher but also an ordained German Reform Rabbi. Emil Fackenheim became known for probing the antisemitic dimensions of German Idealist philosophy, for studying the impact of the Holocaust on Judaism and on secular modern thought, and for demanding that Philosophy address the Holocaust. In this context he analyzed critically the secular philosophers, including Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger (who espoused the Nazi movement).
Bringing a Jewish perspective to Fackenheim’s thought, Professor David Patterson, Hillel A. Feinberg Chair of Holocaust Studies of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, University of Texas at Dallas, presented a paper: A Jewish Philospher’s Critique of Philosophy: Emil Fackenheim’s Response to the Holocaust. Emil Fackenheim asks the question: What does philosophy have to do with Auschwitz?
Professor James A. Diamond, Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Chair, Jewish Studies, University of Waterloo, compared the writings of the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe, Rabbi Shapira, with Fackenheim’s teachings in a paper titled God’s Infinite Pain: Encounter between Emil Fackenheim and the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe. Professor Sally Zerker, Professor Emeritus York University, spoke on the subjectEmil Fackenheim and Post Zionist Jewish Intellectuals.
Over lunch time, we were treated to a keynote address by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, President Emeritus, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Rabbi John Moscovitz, Rabbi Emeritus Holy Blossom Temple, spoke about Fackenheim’s ideas of Tikkun Olam and Mending the World.
Many of Fackenheim’s students and friends, spoke about Fackenheim’s impact on them. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate, a colleague, and personal friend, sent a brief video greeting. We were fortunate to have Fackenheim’s son, Joseph Fackenheim, now a theater director living in Toronto, share some thoughts about his father. Joseph feels that he is carrying on his father’s legacy by bringing the Jewish Theatre Aspaklaria to the Toronto stage.
Peter Margo, National Board Member of CIJR, who had known Fackenheim as a young immigrant in Montreal shared: The Young Fackenheim in Canada: a Personal Reminiscence.
Professor Edward Alexander, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Washington sent a Letter on Emil Fackenheim, which was read by Professor Krantz.
Several of Fackenheim’s students were present. Professor Sharon Portnoff, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Connecticut College, and a student of Fackenheim’s, presented a paper, Emil Fackenheim’s Moral Seriousness in the Art of Living.Professor MIchael Morgan, Grafstein Chair in Philosophy and Jewish Studies, University of Toronto, examined Fackenheim’s Legacy. Professor Paul Merkley, Professor Emeritus of History, Carleton University, also a student of Fackenheim’s presented: Emil Fackenheim: The Perspective of a Christian Realist. And another student, Professor Victor Shepherd, Professor of Theology, Tyndale University College and Seminary, presented a spirited tribute: Emil L.Fackenheim: Gratitude for the Gift HeWas.
And academic scholars of philosophy also presented these papers:
Professor Kenneth Green, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto presented on Emil Fackenheim and the Political Theology of Diabolical Evil, while Professor David Novak, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, spoke on Emil Fackenheim and Heidegger. Professor Martin Yaffe, professor of Philosophy and Religion, University of North Texas presented a paper: After 50 Years: Emil Fackenheim on Hermann Cohen.
CIJR (Canadian Institure for Jewish Research) is planning to publish these papers and to post the videos of the lectures.
In the meantime below is a video of Professor Emil Fackenheim himself, presenting his ideas during a conference at the University of Oregon entitled Ethics and the Holocaust:He gave a paper entitled: Holocaust as a Persistent Threat to Thought.
Emil Fackenheim’s talk begins at 8:46 minutes and he speaks for an hour. But you will appreciate this, I am certain, for the originality, the erudition and the passion of his presentation.
Every one knows that Jewish civilization rests on the bedrock of the education of children. However study of Jewish texts and values is not limited to children. It happens to be one of the fundamental behaviors that Jewish men and women of all ages are enjoined to practice throughout their lives: study is a lifelong aspiration and a primary goal for all Jews. Here in Montreal, we are fortunate that classes are held all week and every week at various venues, synagogues and community centers. We are blessed with exceptional teachers and can be busy with Jewish learning every day of the week. In addition Rabbi Steinmetz and Rabbi Jacobsen have been offering a full day of learning to the community every year for the last several years. The most recent day of learning took place last Thursday, June 25th, 2015. This time I recorded their classes and want to share them with you so that you too can taste the nature and scope of what we call Jewish learning. I videotaped these talks and share them with you here.
1) Hachnasat Orchim – Hospitality towards strangers in the Jewish tradition: What is its Source and Why is it Important? (Rabbi Steinmetz)
2) Why are the Jewish people called G-d`s witness. What does this mean and what are we being called upon to witness or to testify to? (Rabbi Jacobson)
3) Talmudic Study: “acquiring an accidental treasure, when unanticipated value emerges, who owns it?” Rabbis and class sharing one on one discussion. This is typical of the way Jews study texts via inquiry but difficult to video.
4) The Racist Murders in Charleston: Is Forgiveness possible?This talk was a response to the families of the murdered victims in the Charleston Church shooting offering the murderer forgiveness at the funeral of the victims. Rabbi Steinmetz argues that offering forgiveness without asking for any reflection from the perpetrator deprives the perpetrator of the opportunity for acknowledging his transgression and working through any personal responsibility abd regret that is involved in “asking for forgiveness? (Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz)
5) Quebec’s Bill 52 and the “right to die”: A Jewish perspective on this issue. 1,the obligation to avoid suffering and 2. the need to appreciate every life to its very end.
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. André Vanasse, a prolific writer, professor and well known Quebecois literary figure. Recent developments in the world arouse thoughts of concern about world order, migrations, religions, commerce, and how they affect the individual. André Vanasse’ expansive historical novel, La flûte de rafi deals with the themes of migration, both physical and cultural between Europe and the New World. It tells the story of several generations and permutations of a family. The protagonist is a young Jewish man from Poland whose father is a “shochet”, a Jewish slaughterer, i.e. a man who is well versed in the laws and regulations prescribed for the slaughter of animals for food as prescribed in the “Mishnah” and “Talmud” – the compilation of the Jewish code of life.
The project JQ-Mtl was conceived and executed by Sonia Sarah Lipsyc. She is the interviewee. Below is the video interview in French with English subtitles.
Project executed by AskAbigail productions
This is the first of a series of similar interviews with authors, scholars, and artists whose books, works and oeuvres touch upon Jewish culture in Quebec , conceived and executed by Sonia Sarah Lipsyc in collaboration with AskAbigail Productions for the JQMTL/videos website – the JQMtl Quebec’s Jewish Arts and Culture Magazine, Le Magazine des culture juives du Québec.
The next one will be an interview with Marc Alain-Wolf about his current work Histoires de famille, histoires de guerre, which also has autobiographical elements about the search for identity in contemporary Quebec.Sonia Sarah Lipsyc est directrice de ALEPH, le Centre d’Études Juives Contemporaines de la Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec (CSUQ), depuis sa création en 2009.
On my way to Chicago to screen my documentary, “Yiddish; a tale of survival” in Chicago, I caught the documentary “When Jews were Funny.”My impression after watching the first hour of the film (the plane arrived and I was interrupted) is that this documentary is more about Allan Zweig, the filmmaker struggling with his own Jewish identity than about the comedians he interviews. It is midway through the film before the interviewer/filmmaker shares anything about himself. What does he share? That he married outside the faith and when it came time to name his daughter, he objected to a name that his wife suggested by saying instinctively – No! too goyish! And his wife accuses him of playing the Jewish card retroactively.
In an article, titled “The Death of Jewish Culture,” reviewing the Jewish American cultural scene of the last 50 years, James Leoffler asks: “Are American Jews alienated from Jewish feelings? Do they lack Jewish identities?” He answers, “Not at all: they freely and openly profess such feelings, and appear quite comfortable with their Jewish identity. Rather, the content of that identity has itself shrunk to a solely internal realm of subjective experience and emotion, fortified by clichés and bits and pieces of an elementary cultural literacy.” This is exactly how I would characterize the filmmaker in this work.
The interviewer appears to be obsessed with an external expression of what it means to be Jewish as he gleans it from the public persona of comedians, born Jewish, and universally popular in the America of the fifties and sixties – comedians such as Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Shecky Green and David Steinberg. He sees this as a golden age of “Jewishness” which he both loved and hated, and which is no longer with us.
As a child of survivors, born in Hungary, after the war, and growing up in Canada, I too have struggled with my Jewish identity all my life. I am deeply aware of the desire to assimilate, to be part of one’s surroundings, the pervasive culture, and to distance oneself from identifying with Jewish culture that has been denigrated through history. Yet I am also deeply aware of the roots of Jewish identity as passed on through religious identification and participation that has also been part of my growing up experience.
I have to admit that doing this documentary about Yiddish, has also been a part of encountering and struggling with my own Jewish identity. During most of my life I was mostly disparaging of anything “Yiddish” and did not know very much about it. This attitude towards Yiddish, has been part of the Jewish culture ever since the possibility of acceptance by mainstream secular culture became an option open to Jews in the 1800’s with the emancipation born of secular nation states. But then we encountered the fiendish national religion of Hitler and his cohorts.
Recently Jews all over the world celebrated the annual biblical holiday called Shavuot, a Jewish holiday very few non-Jews can identify or even know anything about. And yet it is the holiday of the receiving of the sacred covenant at Sinai, receiving the ten commandments and the attendant lore and commandments as set down in what we know today as “The Torah”, the Teachings of the Jews that form the very basis of Jewish cohesion throughout the centuries.
Everything that Jews understand today, and are today as a people, emanates from this basic event. We separate Jewishness and Jewish culture from this basic source to our peril.
This was again brought home to me by the recent performance of “Soul Doctor,” the story of Shlomo Carlebach performed as a Yiddish play at the Segal Centre in Montreal. Shlomo Carlebach is known for his unorthodox ways of connecting with Jewish tradition and bringing the non-affiliated in contact with those sources via the example of his life and his work as a musician and composer. He birthed new life into prayer via ecstatic music and dance first popularized at the House of Love and Prayer in Berkley in the sixties.
Carlebach was born into a well known Hassidic family from Austria that relocated to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1939. He and his twin brother can both be called Hassidic Rabbis. But his brother was the congregational Rabbi at the synagogue on West 79th Street which still bears the family name, while Shlomo, “took his ministry to the streets” of Berkely and New York. Shlomo Carlebach composed and introduced revivalist melodies that stirred the hearts of those who heard them and have become mainstream in Jewish synagogues of all denominations. Shlomo Carlebach was not accepted in his lifetime by mainstream Judaism.
Two important ideas are shared over the Shavuot Holiday. One – “not by might or by force but by my Spirit, sayeth the Lord”. The other one that the Jewish people have struggled with over the centuries is the famous phrase “Naaseh venishma”- “we will do and we will listen” as regards acceptance of the laws of G-d. There are many competing interpretations of this idea “we shall do and we shall listen” that are chewed over every year.
Does “naaseh venishma” mean we will follow your commandments blindly even though they make no sense to us? Does it mean that we will follow the commandments first and then struggle to make sense of them? Do we even have a choice re accepting the law? There is one interpretation (midrash) that says that the Jews only accepted the law because G-d threatened to destroy them if they did not. The specific legend is that G-d picked up the mountain of Sinai and said “accept my law or I bear this mountain down on you right now.” As the Jewish mother confronted with conflicting versions of the truth by her children would say “Darlings, you are both right!”.
There is an element of fate in being Jewish. Most of us do not choose to be born into this tradition, but being born into it we are forced, willy nilly, to confront its meaning and to struggle with making our own choices vis a vis this heritage.
Filmmakers, such as Allan Zweig and myself, are only one part of this longstanding tradition of struggle and contemplation that starts with actions and dilemmas that we do not choose and needs to lead to actions that we do choose which entails struggling to accept anew the covenant of Sinai every year, and indeed every day with ever newer understandings.
Klez Kanada is Quebec’s largest annual festival of Jewish/Yiddish culture and arts. Every year, musicians, Yiddishists, Jews, and non-Jews gather in the Laurentian Mountains at camp B’nai Brith for a week of inter-generational song, dance, and culture.
This year I attended several very interesting lectures and was treated to numerous musical performances by a wide range of artists, both young and old, from all corners of the globe.
Here are a few of the photos from the festival, and I’m currently working on a short video highlighting parts of the festival.