Why Does Antisemitism Matter?

The recent Gaza/Israel conflict has exposed the misinformation about Israel originating in Russian/Soviet antisemitic prpoganda that has infected many media outlets and a large part of academia over the past fifty years.

 

A World War II-era Slovak propaganda poster

A World War II-era Slovak propaganda poster exhorts readers not to “be a servant to the Jew”.

Bradley Martin has reviewed this sad history in his recent article, The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism. He writes  “In 1955, the USSR would begin to sell weapons to Arab countries. Even the cause of Palestinian liberation and statehood was largely invented by the Soviets, considering the blueprint for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Charter was drafted in Moscow in 1964 and approved by 422 Palestinian representatives hand-selected by the KGB, according to Ion Mihai Pacepa. Such “liberation fronts” were “seen by the USSR as centers of Marxist indoctrination and opposition to democratic and capitalist movements,” states an article in the Stanford Review.

Ever since, the antisemitic calumnies, promoted by the Soviet Union and adopted by the Arab League, and many UN members, has been disseminated by professors and students promoting this pro-Palestinian Soviet ideology at top universities, Oxford, Columbia, Yale and sadly many many others all over the world in the name of free speech. It has gotten so bad that lists of these professors have now been compiled by AMCHA initiative *3, along with databases of antisemitic incidents on many campuses.

These notions, “Zionism is racism,” “Israel is an apartheid state,” and a “colonial power“, have become so familiar that it almost proves the saying sometimes attributed to Goebbels that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, often enough, people will eventually come to believe it.” These lies have invited and condoned ugly incidents of antisemitic terrorism towards Israel and Jews worldwide. They are lies and they are antisemitic tropes geared to arouse hatred towards Israel and towards Jews. 

Zionism is racism, Durban

Durban, Zionism is racism (Photo credit: REUTERS)

In his book, Not In God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence *1, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks examines the psychological roots of violence that appear in many disparate ideologies, not just between individuals but also between groups. He calls these ideologies altruistic evil. Unfortunately, most people are so appalled by the violence of the Shoah, Jim Crow laws, and Jihadism that they prefer to avoid looking at and analyzing these phenomena.

Rabbi Sacks starts with the premise that as humans, we are all vulnerable to psychological issues that lead to ideologies that demonize the other, such as Islamic jihad and antisemitism. They are insidious and powerful because we all want to be on the right side of aiding our countrymen. These ideologies of altruistic evil powerfully manipulate our very human characteristics:

Sibling rivalry” is natural in childhood. Every child is angry with the seeming loss of attention from parents at the birth of a sibling. Murderous impulses towards siblings are well documented and often undergird these ideologies of hatred.

Hostility towards the out-group: Cooperation is the basic survival mechanism for any group, but an equally potent survival mechanism is banding together against the outsider – “Us against them”.

Victimhood: When one’s problems are blamed on the other/outsider and not addressed, this imprisons the “victim” in the “victimhood of helplessness”. As one Holocaust survivor expressed it, “I may have been victimized, but, never was I a victim!”

The scapegoat: focusing blame on a third party. When a group is attacked, the first impulse is to counterattack, and this may continue in an ongoing feud unless two groups can unite against a third, the scapegoat. Attacking the scapegoat will obscure all internal problems by focusing blame on a third party but imprisons those who choose this route to unity since scapegoating simply unites in hostility towards the third, never addressing any real problems between any of them.

The ideology of dualism, dividing the world into forces of good vs evil, creates a universe in which the Satanic forces wage war against the Godly forces, creating an all good vs all bad dichotomy. This avoids any nuance for negotiation and can only lead to an “us against them, war of the worlds”.

Monotheism renounces dualism. For Jews, our One God is the source of all, even that which is evil. In Jewish thought, Satan is not an opposing God but a rebellious angel also created by God. By acknowledging that all people are created “in the image of God” and all share equally in the human condition, endowed by their Creator, with the capacity to understand and choose their behaviour, only then can peace and reconciliation be achieved.

Rabbi Sacks derives these ideas by interpreting the text of the Bible and the stories of Cain and Abel, Issac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. He demonstrates via careful analysis of the text, that God never favours one over the other but loves and provides for each of us equally and wants us all to care for each other as brothers.

Rabbi Sacks explains succinctly the role antisemitism plays in legitimizing evil behaviour towards Israel and towards Jews.

“Antisemitism is only contingently related to Jews. The real targets of Christians in the age of the Crusades were the Muslims, not the Jews. The targets of Nazi Germany were the European nations that had defeated it in the First World War. The real targets of the Islamists are secular Islamic regimes and those who defeated the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and divided up its spoils.

Pointing a finder

Jews, however, play an essential function in the group psychology of these movements. By fulfilling the role of the scapegoat, Jews can be blamed for everything bad that happens to the group. As the mysterious, omnipotent, all-embracing evil enemy, hatred towards Jews unites the group, silences dissent, distracts from painful truths and enables otherwise utterly incompatible groups to become allies.

The significance of antisemitism, however, is its effect not on Jews but on antisemites. It allows them to see themselves as victims. It enables them to abdicate moral responsibility. Whatever is wrong in the world ‘it isn’t our fault; it’s theirs. They did it to us. After all, they control the world.’

Antisemitism did not help Christians win the Crusades or the Nazis to win the Second World War, and will not help Muslims build just societies.

He writes eloquently:

“Hate may harm the hated, but it destroys the hater. There is no exception.”

Antisemitism matters not just because it assaults Jews but because it assaults our common humanity. It is the paradigm case of fear of the outsider, the stranger, the one who is not like us. It resolves conflict within the group by projecting all evil onto the hated group.

Is there a solution to this problem?

Rabbi Sacks says emphatically, “Yes, there is!”. He brings as an example the reconciliation between the Jewish community and the Vatican since the Shoah/Holocaust.

“Pope John XXIII and his successor Paul VI, reflecting on the Holocaust, read the work of the historian Jules Isaac who showed how ‘the teachings of contempt’ of the Church towards the Jews had given rise to a history of libels, false accusations, forced conversions, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, expulsions, ghettoes and pogroms.

The result was a historic change in relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews, initiated by the Nostra Aetate declaration in 1965. Pope John Paul II deeply identified with that process and carried it forward. That took courage, honesty and humanity — the qualities that made him loved and admired within the Church and beyond.”

Rabbi Sacks warns that issues like antisemitism can never be resolved through war/power/dominance alone but only through education. As humans, we are all vulnerable to the virus of demonization of the other such as antisemitism and racism. Yet, for the same reason, we also all share the potential for insight and healing of these tendencies.

Jews call this healing “the process of teshuva”, “repentance” or, more precisely, “a reconsideration of one’s path” through vigorous discussion and study of our holy texts. To achieve a world where all diverse individuals and groups can begin to see themselves as brothers is the ultimate redemption that Torah education envisions.

Think before you speak, Read before you think

The Israel/Gaza conflict is not simply political: It bases itself on Hamas’ ideological claim of the supremacy of Islam over all other religious ideologies, and its precise aim, stated in its charter, is to annihilate the state of Israel simply for being Jewish. In this way, Hamas legitimate war against the Stae of Israel and antisemitic acts against Jews in New York, Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris, and anywhere globally. Thus, Hamas’ Islamic Jihad is a clear example of altruistic evil couched in political terms.

All people of goodwill must oppose it.

 

Footnotes:

  1. DURBAN & 9/11 – TEN YEARS LATER, BY IRWIN COTLER, Crif, 2016

  2. The Soviet Roots of Far-Left Antisemitism. Bradley Martin, Epoch Times, June 2, 2021
  3. AMCHA Initiative, has been documenting antisemitic activity on hundreds of U.S. campuses, free for the public for many years
  4. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Schocken Books, 2015

 

How to deal with Antisemitism, Racism and Prejudice

The Jewish people have suffered greatly throughout history and nevertheless have not succumbed to hatred of the other.

The State of Israel has tried very hard to include the Arab co-residents of Israel in its social fabric. As a result, Israeli Arab citizens are found in every profession in the country, including the government and the army, notwithstanding the Palestinian calumny that Israel practices “apartheid” and “colonialism”.

Israel continues to be the first to arrive with medical supplies and assistance at every natural national tragedy, anywhere globally and has been exceptionally generous in sharing her medical and scientific achievements.

Jewish texts and Rabbis advise:

  1. That which is hateful to you, do not do unto others *1
  2. Do not oppress the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt *2
  3. Care for the widow and the orphan *3
  4. Do not bear a grudge against your neighbour *4

Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence Book by Jonathan Sacks, Baron Sacks

In his book, Not in God’s Name, Rabbi Sacks *5, analyzes several biblical stories that he claims have been misread, such as the stories of sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac and Ishmael Esau, Joseph, and his brothers. And, he demonstrates the underlying premise of the Hebrew Bible that God, the Creator of all humans, loves and cares for each of us equally and wants us to imitate Him and care for each other as brothers.

He posits that although the roots of antisemitism may be part of our basic instincts as human beings, the remedy is character development that focuses on brotherly love.

How does one achieve this kind of education?

We can look at Rabbis of the last several millennia and their deep understanding of how education can be both meaningful and transformational. Rabbinic teaching uses every educational tool available to achieve its aims, to educate for a life of brotherly love, including narrative, questioning, analysis, and repetition. These tools are embedded in every aspect of Jewish life and daily practice, and there is no better template for Jewish education than the Passover Holiday Seder, which is celebrated annually by Jews all over the world and illustrates how these principles are put into practice. Let’s look at how this works by analyzing the Passover seder.

A Seder table setting

A Seder table setting

  1. Jewish education begins with the children, and it starts in the home. Naturally, therefore, everything about the seder is geared so that children will notice and ask questions from the traditional “four questions,” which are to be asked by the youngest participant at the table, to every other detail of the evening.
  2. The Passover seder is experiential learning. You tell the story with props and reminders for young and old. For example, God instructed Jews to consume only unleavened bread – matzah – during the seven-day Passover feast. At the seder table, we point to the matzah and say, “This is the poor bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.”

Matzo

The matzo serves as a reminder to remember what it was like to be a slave in Egypt and have no control over one’s life. Through tasting the Marror, the bitter herb, often horseradish, also present on the seder plate, we taste the bitterness of slavery and oppression several times during the evening. We recite the Ten Plagues visited on Egypt while dipping a finger in the wine and removing a drop for each plague to remind us that we also feel for the distress of the Egyptians who suffered those plagues and drowned at sea. They, too, are G-ds’ children and God, and we weep for them as well.

3. You then explain how this is not someone else’s story but your own.

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. And the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched forearm. And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our ancestors from Egypt, behold we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” (Haggadah text)

4. You repeat the ritual every year, regardless of circumstances, whether you are in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 or Montreal amid a pandemic. The Haggadah text states:

“Even if we were all sages, all discerning, all elders, all knowledgeable about the Torah, it would be incumbent upon us to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. And anyone who adds and spends extra time telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, behold he is praiseworthy.”

The Torah

Magically, studying this text on seder night and reviewing it year after year, the reading comes alive for each one of us in a different way that connects to our imaginations at every stage of life and to our particular circumstances, every year of our lives.

At my own family’s seder table, every year, we shared our family story of having survived the Holocaust in Hungary and fled Soviet Hungary to rebuild our lives in the safety of Montreal. So no doubt you, too, have your escape from slavery story.

I genuinely believe, If everyone in the world could experience a Passover seder night, the hatreds of the world would disappear into thin air.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Hillel, Talmud Shabbat 31A
  2. Do not oppress the stranger, Exodus Ch 22:20
  3. Care for the widow and the orphan, Exodus Ch 22: 21-22
  4. Do not bear a grudge against your neighbour,  Leviticus ch. 19-18
  5. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Schocken Books, 2015

What the Holiday of Shavuot can teach us

Shavuot occurs exactly fifty days after the Passover seder. But in modern times, this Jewish Holiday is largely glossed over, even by Jews. Everyone knows about Passover, but fewer of us appreciate Shavuot, especially in modern times.

Shavuot, or Zman Matan Torateinu, is the Holiday that celebrates the “Giving of the Torah.”

Moses and the Ten Commandments.

Moses and the Ten Commandments. Engraved by H.Martin around 1850.

We can all recall the iconic scene In the film The Ten Commandments of Moses standing at the top of Mount Sinai holding the two tablets inscribed with The Ten Commandments, while the children of Israel are assembled at the bottom.

In a nutshell, these “commandments,” or aseret hadibrot, are the guiding principles of the Jewish people about to become a nation at Mount Sinai, something akin to a constitution that Moses brokers between the people assembled and G-d himself. Rabbinic commentaries refer to this experience as the “eternal marriage ceremony” between God and his people.

Shavuot is inclusive.

Everyone present is included, both young and old. The text even has the mystical phrase, “those who are here today and those who are not yet here,” implying all Jewish souls, present, past and future. I want you to imagine this scene.

Moses looks out and sees thousands of people.

He says to the people, “atem nitzavim hayom kulchem”.

You’re all standing here together, the leaders, the men, the women, the children, the stranger, the people who cut the trees and the people who draw water from the wells.

You’re all standing here to enter a covenant. And furthermore, the covenant between you and God is not just with you. It’s also with those who are not here today.

V’et asher einenu po imanu hayom.” (Deut. 29:13) *1

Shavuot requires the consent of the people.

In the text of the Torah, we read about Moses going up to the mountain and, as per God’s instruction, coming down to ask the people if they are willing to receive the Torah.

“And Moses went up to God.

The LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.

Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the LORD had commanded him.” (Exodus 19: 1-7)

The people were promised to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation if they agree.

Mamlechet kohanim v’goy Kadosh.”

What does “mamlechet kohanim,” or a nation of priests, signify?

The word “hieroglyph” is Greek for a pictorial writing system. “Hiero” is Greek for priests, and hieroglyph is “priestly writing” because in ancient times and even up till relatively recent times, only priests were taught to read and write.

Moses, however, is instructed to teach the Torah to the elders. And, the elders are to teach it to the children of Israel. Thus, every person in Israel is to be taught the Torah, and thereby become a “kingdom of priests,” a kingdom of teachers and learners.” They are to learn the Torah laws and become “holy,” i.e. sanctified by their unique relationship to G-d which exists only due to their mutual choosing.

“All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do!’

And Moses brought back the people’s words to the LORD” (Exodus 19 v 1-8)

The Rabbis wondered, however, whether receiving the Torah in the wilderness could be considered willing consent? After all, how free is your consent if given under the most vulnerable conditions in the desert with no visible alternative? And so, the contract is renewed voluntarily every year by the Jewish people on this Holiday. *2

All are witnesses when the mountain thunders, and they both “see and hear” the giving of the Commandments.

“All the people saw the sounds and the lightning, the voice of the horn and the mountain smoking.” (Exodus 20:15) *3

Shavuot celebrates this holy union, giving every Jew an opportunity to renew their vows each year. *4

The only traditional activity prescribed for the Holiday is “the study of Torah.” We read the portion of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:1 – 20:23) and The Book of Ruth during the morning prayer service in the synagogue, and it is customary to study Torah all through the night of the Holiday. This year, due to the pandemic and curfew, a Torah study was organized in the synagogue from 6-9 pm for 25 people who registered ahead of time.

Rabbi Eliyahu Gateno *5 spoke about the meaning of the order of the Ten Commandments, which are traditionally seen as inscribed on two tablets with five on each one.

This 1768 parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer

This 1768 parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer emulated the 1675 Ten Commandments at the Amsterdam Esnoga synagogue.

The first four appear to be about the relationship between man and God.

  1. I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of Egypt.
  2. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
  5. The fifth commandment, “Honour thy Father and thy Mother,” does not seem to fit here unless one considers that the respect owed to parents, our earthly creators, ought to be no less than the respect owed to the Creator of heaven and earth.

The second tablet comprising commandments 6-10 appears to be about the relations between persons.

  1. Thou shalt not murder.
  2.  Thou shalt not steal.
  3. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  4. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
  5. The tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife or his slaves or his animals or anything of thy neighbour,” appears again to be of a different order than the previous four. After all, “coveting” is a very hidden psychological aspect rather than the earlier acts. It would seem that coveting generally is a psychological aspect that perhaps precedes acts such as murder, stealing, adultery, and bearing false witness.

Again, the Rabbis of the Talmud share a story that illustrates how coveting will lead you to all the other sins. And yet, we have this order, perhaps to warn us that in the end, the behaviour is more important than the potential thought leading to that behaviour. And, they explain that the principle that enjoins man from coveting is perhaps a guide to a refinement of character, which will enable a person to avoid these sins, these human inclinations to murder, steal and so on.

Why do we read the Book of Ruth?

The next speaker discussed The Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795.

Naomi’s husband and two sons have all died. She, therefore, recommends to her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, that they return to their countrymen. Naomi explains that she is destitute and has no more sons for them to marry. Orpah does so, but Ruth insists on staying with Naomi, saying:

“Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the Lord do to me if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth ch 1: v.16–17)

The story continues with what happens upon their return.

Ruth in Boaz's Field

Ruth in Boaz’s field by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, oil on canvas, 1828; National Gallery, London.

Ruth goes out to the fields to collect grain during the harvest as per Torah custom for providing for the poor – leket, shichecha and paya *6. She encounters Boaz, the owner of the field. Although he is much older than Ruth, with Naomis’ directives, Ruth and Boaz are married, fulfilling the biblical law of “yibum,” levirate marriage *7. This results in the birth of Obed, the father of Jesse, who gives birth to David, anointed as King David, the progenitor of the Kingship line and the Messiah to be, in Israel.

The short Book of Ruth reminds us of Torah laws, written, oral, and rabbinic, including caring for the weak, the widow and the orphan, and caring for the legacy of the deceased through marriage. It is a reminder of how the Torah affects Jewish life and history throughout the ages.

The Holiday of Shavuot is hence the culmination of the Jewish people’s devotion to G-d and His Torah and an annual reenactment of the eternal loving marriage between G-d and Israel in good times and bad. In this sense, it goes to the essence of what it means to be a Jew.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Generations Yet Unborn Are Watching, Sunday, September 15, 2013
  2. The Shadow of the Mountain: Consent and Coercion at Sinai By Gerald Blitstein
  3. Sefaria: Seeing sound making sense of Sinai offers a collection of the many oral Torah explications over the centuries and within our own time about seeing and hearing the voices and sounds at Sinai.
  4. These thoughts are based on a recent zoom teaching about Shavuot by Rabbi Asher Jacobsen of the Chevra Synagogue in Montreal
  5. Rabbi Eliyahu Gateno, Kollel Torah Mitzion, Montreal
  6. leket, shichecha, pay, (Heb. לֶקֶט, שִׁכְחָה, וּפֵאָה; ” leket, gleanings, Shichecha, forgotten produce, and paya. the corners of the field” – Talmudic designation of three portions of the harvest which the farmer was enjoined to leave for the benefit of the poor and the stranger. Pe’ah (“corners”) and leket (“gleanings”) are enjoined in Leviticus 19:9–10, while shikhḥah (“forgotten produce”) and leket, in Deuteronomy 24:19–21  Encyclopedia.com.
  7. Yibum is the marriage between a widow whose husband died without offspring (the yevamah) and the brother or relative of the deceased (the yavam or levir: Deuteronomy 25:5–6) to maintain the genealogical line of the dead. Encyclopedia.com.

 

What Can Purim Teach Us Today?

What does the Jewish Holiday of Purim have to teach us today? Purim is a story about antisemitism or Jew-Hatred, and what it can lead to when wedded to power.

Haman, the second-in-command to King Ahashverosh of the Persian empire, managed to extract from his King a formal decree to murder all Jews living in the 127 lands of the Persian Empire.

 

Esther and Mordechai

However, Haman’s plans were foiled by the Jew, Mordechai and his cousin Esther, who happened to be Ahasverosh’s Queen. The whole story is relayed in the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, read annually in homes or synagogues of Jews worldwide. It states:

“When Haman saw that Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself before him, Haman became full of wrath. But it seemed contemptible to him to lay hands on Mordechai alone, for they had told him Mordechai’s nationality, and Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout Ahasuerus’s entire kingdom, Mordechai’s people.”

Haman said to King Ahasuerus:

“There is a certain people scattered and separate among the peoples throughout all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws differ from [those of] every people, and they do not keep the king’s laws; it is [therefore] of no use for the king to let them be. If it pleases the king, let it be written to destroy them, and I will weigh out ten thousand silver talents into the hands of those who perform the work, to bring [it] into the king’s treasuries.”

The king took the ring off his hand, gave it to Haman, and said to him:

“The silver is given to you, and the people to do to them as it pleases you.”

What do we learn from this?

  1. Prejudice starts in the heart of a single person and is based on personal obsessions and assumptions that are not necessarily true. Jews do have a particular culture. However, for over two thousand years, they have lived among other cultures worldwide, and one of their principles is “to obey the law of the land” in which they find themselves and to always include a blessing for the governing entities in their daily prayers.
  2. Moreover, we see how specific hatreds rely on stereotypes that assume that all members of the group share similar characteristics. These ideas are only tangentially based on human interaction. Nevertheless, once floated and received as “truth,” they serve to separate and incriminate the hated group with no recourse to engaging with the truth.
  3. Destroying the Jews has a financial benefit to the destroyer.

Purim celebrates the fate of a minority in a diaspora. It presents us with the first literary paradigm for antisemitism/racism/persecution of a minority group.

These are the same themes one finds whenever analyzing racism towards Blacks, First Nations, Immigrants, or Ethnic minorities. Every form of discrimination has its “narrative.” As the Rogers and Hammerstein song recount:

“You have got to be taught to hate and fear. You have got to be carefully taught.”

Nazi antisemitism was founded on the notion that Jews were engaged in a deadly conspiracy against the German people. The Nazis charged that the Jews had “stabbed Germany in the back” during the first world war, thereby engineering its loss. The truth is at the start of World War l, 12,000 German Jews volunteered for the German Army. Of the 100,000 Jews who served with the German military – a very high proportion relative to their numbers:

70,000 Jews fought at the front line.

  • Three thousand were promoted to officer ranks.
  • Twelve thousand were killed in action.

Moreover, immediately at the outbreak of the war, the Federation of German Jews requested the introduction of Feldrabbiner (Field Rabbis) – rabbis dedicated to military chaplaincy in the German Army – something that had not existed before in the German Empire. In August 1914, eighty-one German rabbis volunteered to serve as Field Rabbis, and the first seven, among them, Rabbi Leo Baeck, entered service the following month. Rabbi Baeck’s service for Germany did not spare him from being incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp during WWll.

Every act of antisemitism – from shoving a Jew on the street, to mass murder – has conspiracy and demonization at its roots. In the middle ages, the common folk believed that their Jewish neighbours had poisoned the wells and were the source of the spread of the Black Death. This prompted massacres and expulsions. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a well-known 19th-century book written by the Czarist government, purports to record a meeting of influential Jews scheming to control the world’s finances. It has no basis in fact. This book continues to prompt libels about Jews and their supposed control of money and power. It has resulted in libels of Israel, the Rothschilds, the Jewish financier Soros, and a general suspicion that all Jews aim to “control the world”.

Deborah Lipstadt, the genocide/holocaust scholar, points out that demonized groups can be either successful or victimized.

“The racist “punches down” and loathes persons of colour because they are apparently “lesser than” the white person. They are, the racist proclaims, not as smart, industrious, qualified or worthy. In contrast, the antisemite “punches up.” The Jew is supposedly more powerful, ingenious and financially adept than the non-Jew. Neither of these notions is true; they serve to separate and isolate one group from the other.

The Megillah Text

The Megillah text teaches us profound lessons about the social and psychological webs that we are all entangled in, personally and communally. And yet, each of us writes our individual story as exemplified by the actions of each of the characters: Haman, Mordechai, Esther, Vashti – the King’s first wife, and Zeresh – Haman’s wife.

The Megilla text continues to tease young and old and to inspire as satire, character study, and politics and offers important messages for all of us, perhaps, especially for our times. But when all is said and done, it inspires one of the most joyous days of the Jewish year: we are encouraged to dress up in costume, drink hard stuff till we can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys, exchange gifts of sweets with our neighbours, give money to the poor, have a shared feast and above all enjoy the moment with singing, dancing and homegrown plays.

This is a lot to unpack – Happy Purim!

Creating satirical theatre is one of the traditions of the Purim celebration.

Here is one I discovered on YouTube: An original play By Itzik Manger, the Yiddish playwright with subtitles: a takeoff on the Purim Megillah.

A retelling of the Purim tale:

 

 

 

 

 

January 27: An International Day of Remembrance

January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was designated by the United Nations General Assembly, on November 1, 2005, as an international memorial day to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. January 27 is significant because the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz concentration camp on this day in 1945.

Since both of my parents lived through the Nazi period in Hungary and three of my grandparents, along with uncles, aunts and cousins, were murdered in Auschwitz, the Holocaust/shoah was something I had been aware of and struggled to comprehend from a very young age.Parents of Abigail Hirsch (Montreal) Unlike some families, there were no secrets regarding the war in my family. My sister Anita and I were both born after the war in Hungary, but my parents and uncle fled, escaped Communist Hungary in 1949 and arrived in Montreal in 1951. I was five years old at the time. There was quite a sizeable community of Hungarian-speaking survivors in Montreal at the time. They arrived as immigrants and, with the help of Jewish community resources, used their skills and worked hard to get started.

Both of my parents worked while I was growing up. My Mother paid a teenager to walk me to school, and I came home to an empty house.

My parents and our surviving relatives and friends in Montreal formed a close-knit community and spoke openly about their experiences whenever they got together on weekends and holidays. There was no way I could escape wondering about the Holocaust. Why? Who? How?

My search and struggles continue to this day. As a retired psychotherapist, I have come to realize that none of us escape the inherited bonds of our particular family history, whether it be the sequelae of slavery, or residential school, or the predatory governments of Africa or the Middle East, or merely the fault lines of poverty, all of us must wrestle with how these legacies impact us, even across generations.

However, we are also members of our contemporary local and international environments. Holocaust Remembrance Day is significant because it creates an opportunity for governments and institutions, locally and worldwide, to reflect upon the choices of individuals and governments that allowed this genocide to unfold and to remember, to honour the victims, and to commit to educating about the root causes of hatred to prevent future atrocities from happening.

Cover photo: Survivors from Poland disembark the US Military Ship
"S. S. General Sturgis" as they arrived in Canada on March 28, 1949.
Photo courtesy of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, Montreal)