Dr Mark Baker and the Neturei Karta boycotters of the Left Wing

I was sent this article, written by Mark Baker, an academic at Monash University (and family friend). Mark is alleged to have posted the article below on his facebook page. I received it by email and have never visited Mark’s facebook page. My reaction, over a few days, was that we had the mirror image of the boycott tactics used by Neturei Karta against the State except unlike Neturei Karta, this wasn’t about religion (Halacha doesn’t get a guernsey in Marks article). Rather it was the exasperated groans of a left-winger indelibly married to two “states”, even if one is effectively the mamzer Amalek.

I interspersed his facebook commentary with my understanding of why some of Mark’s views are blind post-liberal, and left-wing economic terrorism. The tone sounds an awful lot like the failed rhetoric we hear from J-Street, Bernie “the shhh I’m a Yid” Sanders, American reform and the Tikun (sic.) Olamniks of this world. They stem from superimposing a left-leaning view of the world, into some plasticine-like Zionism (and Judaism) as opposed to the other way around. In the other way around, Zionism and Judaism are already defined. They react to the world. They do not metamorphose to become something else to fit into some world views.

I will variegated Mark’s emotive outbursts with a critique of his post-liberalism. The rhetoric sounds like the extreme left views we hear from J-Street and Bernie “I’m not sure if my grandchildren will even be reconstructed cultural Jews” Sanders, feel-good American Reform clergy,  and of course, the Tikun (sic) Olamniks of this world. I don’t mention the infamous Norman Finkelstein because Mark appears to be even more radical than Norman on BDS. Norman, one of many communist inventions of the Holocaust, actually opposes the very BDS that Mark claims he “quietly supports”. The left-leaning start with their vision of the Olam (world) which they conjure to appease an already morally corrupt world and then mould (sic) Judaism into having plasticine-like spinal characteristics that can be contorted any which way.

My comments are interspersed and not in italics. The original article from Mark is in italics. This should not be understood as an ad hominem attack on Mark; I’m sure he believes what he says and he is no Norman Finkelstein anymore than I am a Dershowitz or Benny Morris.

I was living in Israel in 1995 with my family. From our apartment, we could hear the crowds at Zion Square baying for Rabin’s blood, and holding up placards of the PM dressed as a Nazi and a terrorist. Bibi Netanyahu was standing on the balcony, whipping up a frenzy, which culminated in the assassination of Rabin.

Long time ago! This description is mendacious.  Both the left and the right engaged and engage in spirited demonstration, but  implicitly opening with a remark that is designed to ascribe the assassination of Rabin to Bibi is confounding and offensive, while it is woven indirectly as a deflection. Clearly  this imagery and its conclusion is out of context. It was designed to paint the entrance to the rest of the article. First, “Bibi is responsible for Rabin’s assassination”. Now we’ve got you hating him for that episode, let’s continue.

Nothing has changed about Bibi in 22 years, except that he has stood at the helm of a government that has led the country literally into a dead-end.

People who don’t change their views in the face of unchanged oppression and rejectionism should not be held to ridicule. Let’s see what else hasn’t changed in 22 years.

  1. Arafat hopelessly let his people down (apart from Mrs Arafat’s fat bank account and the years of siphoning money to his cronies and the 1 Billion spent on the 1st intifada, 1/2 of which was funded by Saudi Arabia, and the massive corruption, which makes James Packer’s gifts insignificant. Even now, it is a brave person who claims that Abbas actually distributes international money to non political causes.
  2. He had Rabin, not Bibi, and Arafat still couldn’t bring himself to sign on for a two-state solution! Wasn’t there a proposal for this in 1948 too and before that? Note: it was in Arafat’s hands; not Bibi’s. What do we learn from that? That Israel didn’t offer enough? Come now! Everyone knows that simply wasn’t true. Arafat wanted to live another day. Peace would have meant his savage opponents would lop his head off-ISIS style. In the end, I believe this is why Arafat didn’t sign. Mark, perhaps tell us why you think Arafat didn’t sign off? Was it because he was actually born in Cairo and didn’t think he had the authority. Goodness me.
  3. They still want ALL of Israel. Is anyone in any doubt? When push comes to shove, Arafat, Abbas, all of them, simply do not accept the concept that there is a distinctive JEWISH Homeland. Does Mark really believe they don’t want to push us into the sea? What does “the” occupation mean? Mahmoud “Holocaust denier” Abbas, calls the idea of a Jewish Homeland “Racist”. A Chutzpa. Let him try to live in Jordan where most of his DNA-brethren live and where his genome is found.  Perhaps he’d like Saudi Arabia or Yemen; maybe Syria?
  4. Post-holocaust, especially, endangering Israeli sovereignty is not negotiable. Not 22 years ago, while Mark sat on balconies sipping coffee, and not now. Since most Arabs still don’t accept that reality, we are delusional if we think otherwise. Instead they engage in diplobabble. Mark, falling for this, is no different to someone who takes all of Trumps rhetoric seriously.
  5. They should seek to confederate with the Hashemites in Jordan, most of whom are their blood cousins. Why do you respect Jordan so much Mark? When does Monash’s library make a big deal of that tribe. Is the Palestinian in Jordan different somehow or are you as afraid of the Hashemites as they are. Call the historic truth, not some temporal Ottoman historical relic.
  6. Israel is probably at its strongest point (although it should have listened to Bennett in respect of the Hamas tunnel tactics and not Bibi. Certainly Mr Morality Ya’alon is now finished in politics for his clumsy left-wing handling of the mortal threat of death tunnels.
  7. One cannot talk about a two state solution! One must talk about a three state solution. When someone can make Abbas, Hamas, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hizbollah, Da’esh and Turkey’s dictators kiss and make up, they can cut the number to consideration of two states. Don’t hold your breath. Make sure you have done a course on disentangling diplomatic babble before you fall for the type of nonsense, that Rabin and Clinton did.
  8. And yet, we don’t hear anything about “the right” of return. Is this deemed acceptable by Mark? Is he expecting Abbas to move back to Tzfat and vote in the municipal elections and avail himself of Kupat Cholim for his hemorrhoids? Maybe he wants not an international Jerusalem, but an international Israel where we pay jizya or become Dhimmis. (Who were the first to call for an “international Jerusalem”? Of course, it was the Pope. Study Xtianity and the chosen people and you will understand why they had to say that).
  9. Palestinian PhD students in Melbourne who I talk to, make it VERY clear. They don’t want a Palestinian state under Abbas. I was actually shocked. They say they want ONE state (not two). They say that Abbas and Hamas and the lot of them are corrupt criminals. They say they are happy to live along Israelis and Jews and vote in elections. Sorry guys, that’s not a Jewish Homeland. We aren’t stupid. I didn’t say that in response, of course. I just listened to their view.

While he wasn’t the first to build settlements, he has deepened and permanently institutionalised the occupation, eroded Israeli democracy, continued to whip up racism against Arabs, propagated the myth that there is no peace deal to be made, turned Israel into a partisan issue in Congress and among Diaspora Jews, launched brutal wars that could have been avoided, created a diversionary campaign to fight the delegitimisation of Israel when he more than anyone has contributed to its delegitimisation, alienated Israel from world leaders by shunning international law, abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card, exploited real threats in the region for his own political expediency, undermined the civil rights legacy of his own Likud party in exchange for a fascist impulse; created a settler state and given free rein to Jewish thuggery; and worst of all, he has paid lip-service to the two-state solution while creating a one-state reality, leading Israel (as warned by every PM before him) down the path of apartheid.

Now that’s a looong expectorating sentence, even if interspersed by stray semi colons. Lets take the allegations one by one so they can be swallowed slowly.

  1. Bibi wasn’t the first to build a “settlement”. I guess that’s a feather in Bibi’s cap. Indeed, tell us please what a settlement is. Is Efrat a settlement or are you upset only about 10-20 families in caravans on a hill-top? I trust you boycott Rabbi Riskin as well as Gush Etzyon. He’s here now. Go and demonstrate against him? Define your terms. I believe 2-3% of land is taken up by “settlements”. Are you going to tell Rabbi Riskin to pack up and go back to Lincoln Square because Arabs listened to their mufti in 1948 during a war?
  2. “The occupation”? I’m sorry, it’s disputed land. You live in an occupation. This is Aboriginal land. Have you bought it from them? I don’t know which of your teachers failed to teach you that Jews are the closest thing to indigenous natives, and Palestine is a recently promoted modern term used to confuse the neurone-deprived UN. Warren Mundine knows it. Why doesn’t Mark Baker?
  3. How is Israeli democracy eroded? Have people gotten into power unelected? Perhaps Trumps victory has you so upset that you’ve forgotten he was democratically elected. Maybe you want a new J-Street constitution?
  4. Where does Bibi whip-up racism against Arabs! He’s been hobnobbing with Sunni Arabs who are all too eager to join him and not face the brutal Shiite regime of Iran and its satellite terrorist puppets. Perhaps if God forbid one of their rockets hit your balcony in the 90’s you would have a more sober view of them. I know: Sunni, Shiite, what’s the difference, they are all fine people, full of democracy and tolerance. Did you know Iran is building underground factories for Hezbollah. You think Hezbollah care about Palestinian Arabs or Lebanon? The only thing that unites these people is hatred for YOU, yes you Mark Baker. Go back and look at the beheadings from ISIS. Do you think these savages would spare you?
  5. “Launched brutal wars?” What newspapers were you reading Mark, the Anarchist nonsense given out near Melbourne University or the Trade Union? Did you forget what the D in IDF stands for? That is the motive behind every interlocution. Oh, and don’t forget to read how the soft and fuzzy democrat Ya’alon and his mate Gantz let Israel down with their dismissal of the Hamas Tunnels. Would you ask them to resign. The report is out. Only Bennett comes out looking normal. You won’t enjoy reading how it placed Israelis in grave danger.
  6. “Abused Holocaust memory by playing the victim card.” Nobody is playing cards Mark. Did you borrow this line from Finkelstein? His parents were communists. Yours aren’t. This is for real, just like the Holocaust. How many times do you need “we will drive them into the sea repeated to you? Don’t you watch memri.org or is that also just a load of baloney? Guess what? Holocaust survivors like your parents Mark, actually like Bibi and support Jewish strength; not the pathetic ‘my grandchildren will never be Jews, Bernie Sanders nebachs’, and the libertarian, egalitarian Diaspora pontificators.
  7. You’ve chosen to only focus on the political machinations in the Likud. You think that the Labour party or the Mapai or the Mapam would stop at any political method to keep power? I have no doubt your new darling is Yair Lapid. Why? Because the left-wing is so morally bankrupt, even left wingers don’t take them seriously. Only Shimon Peres could get some attention with his one liners, but we know his part in Oslo. That wasn’t about power either, was it? He was as power drunk as the next politician. Jealous of Rabin?
  8. Alienated leaders? Oh spare me. Is Obama now your love child? Obama will go down as one of the most useless Presidents that existed. Yes, a nice fellow, smart, and great orator, but anyone who can stand and watch 450,000 Syrian casualties (those who do need Tikun Olam) and the best Obama can do in response is send the odd drone, smells morally corrupt and makes Obama a gutless wonder: take your pick. Oh, did you notice how the Africans are now lining up. Perhaps Mark you’d be more impressed if that English anti-Semite Corbyn or the genius Richard Gere was “happy” with Israel.
  9. What is a settler state? Define your terms. Stop with hyperbole. Maybe you mean the Charedim of Betar? Oh, we better not mention Betar. It’s a Jewish place, after all, and the Charedim are iconic “settlers”! I think it’s four minutes to cross Israel by plane. I imagine your microwave achieves more in less time, Mark.
  10. Free reign to Jewish Thuggery. I am a scientist. Perhaps you will quote some figures for us. Let’s go with statistics. You know you are wrong, and that’s even if the soldier who shot the dying terrorist was pardoned. Ask your acquaintance Zev Slonim why Zev’s son was held in prison without representation and democratic rights. He’s a right-winger. I thought Bibi only did that to lefties. Think again. Was that a ruse?
  11. Apartheid. Let’s see. I didn’t see it in Jerusalem. Did you see it while you were watching with your family on the porch, as you stated or while walking down Mamila? You obviously have a better understanding of how to defend ISRAELI cities and civilians from thugs, terrorists and murderers. Those who live their lives peacefully do so and nobody is bothered by them. There are plenty of Palestinian settlements (and Jewish ones) that are peaceful.

He is a liar like Trump, who will speak in Australia tonight by using his oratory skills to trade in fear, eternal victimhood, and despair – while claiming the high-moral ground that Israel is a beacon of light unto the world.

Trump is a liar. Okay, maybe, perhaps he is also a fool. Or maybe he is a clever non politician who has read the mood of the American people better than unelectable Clinton. I decided to judge Trump on what he does. What he says, is all part of the political game. Perhaps you think that Malcolm Turnbull was a sycophantic fool when he acknowledged that Israel had high democratic standards. I think your rhetoric Mark is more akin to the liar Richard Di Natale and his band of merry tree-hugging anti Semites or the repetitive letter writers in the  Jewish News (e.g. Henry Herzog). I hope no Jew ever votes Green. The assimilated ones will. I have no doubt. The tree will be more important than the rotted root. The tree lives on. The rotted root stays that way. (By the way Mark, do you consider Mark Dreyfus Jewish? You claim to be “Orthodox” albeit partnership style. Ask Melanie Landau? )

He will go down in history as having unleashed the dark demons of hyper-nationalism that will kill the Zionist dream.

I can see exactly what Trump and Bibi are doing. I’m surprised you can’t. Either Abbas will come to the party (he’s gutless so forget that) or the status quo will continue. The Palestinians will have their own Arab global warming. They will fight: Fatah and Hamas and Dahlan and say “enough is enough” we don’t hate Jews like you’ve taught us.

It is not the anti-Zionists who should be shunning him, but those who care deeply about Israel and its future.

Those who care deeply about Israel can support Bibi whole heartedly unless he is found guilty of breaching ministerial standards.  Why is the implication that only a Zionist lefty is a true Zionist. Now, that’s apartheid and bias. That’s the killing of democracy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a “two state” solution. That arose in 1948 and was rejected by Hitler’s Mufti.

Nothing has changed for the better, it’s only become worse. Can I suggest concentrating on supporting the indigenous people of Australia? That’s where you and I live. Maybe we should give back their land, and their right of return (as Jews deserve in Israel).

Leave the defence of Israel and its decision-making to those who put their lives on the line–not me, nor you. We are just pontificating, opinion-bearing people. We are irrelevant.

Hey Mark, watch this video. Give me a mark out of 10 for the pathetic apologist.

But none of this is as expressive as your mentor, Mark, the venerable David Ben Gurion. Watch him here. If he heard you admit that you boycotted Israel “quietly” I suggest he’d call you a fool. As to why you continue to be funded through the community at Monash. That’s a mystery to me and I call on the community to redirect their money away from extreme left wingers.

Mark, what do you have to say about the difference between Ben Gurion and Bibi as per this video?

Perhaps, Mark, it’s time you stopped pretending and joined Noam Chomsky as a fully fledged egalitarian member of the Jewish Community where the notion of identity is erased, as per a communist manifesto and has little hope of surviving the next century.

PS. Anyone whose Hebrew isn’t good enough to understand Ben Gurion’s interview above MUST find someone to translate it to them. He didn’t sit on balconies sipping coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

רפואה שלמה ליהודה בן טובה גיטל תיכף ומיד

 

If you want it darker: my take on Leonard Cohen’s mesmerising song.

A few weeks before Leonard Cohen passed away, somebody sent me [hat tip AN] a youtube video of his new song ‘You want it darker’.

I was mesmerised. I loved the song. I have to admit to not being a big listener of Leonard Cohen but knew some of his better known tunes as we all do (eg, Halleluka — yes, I write it with a K, it’s a Machlokes Tannoim at the end of Psochim, but that’s how I was taught).

Some  listen to a song but don’t really “hear” the lyrics. In general, this is me. Often, I think it is because the lyrics and the tune often have no relationship. When they do, the lyrics become relevant to me. The famous and great Rabbi Ben Tzion Shenker ז׳ל who recently passed away, wrote his songs FROM the lyrics. The songs emerged from the lyrics. I think that’s the right way around. Others seem to always know and remember lyrics to songs irrespective. On the other hand, as a band leader, I’m probably more attuned (sic) to the musicianship and pitch of the singer (mind you, so many sing through pitch controllers these days) and don’t focus on lyrics.

What surprised me about this song was that the lyrics hit me between the eyes. I sent a link of the song to our family whatsapp group and said

“He’s preparing for his death, and it’s so deep, he’s telling us what he’s going to say to God”

I had heard that he was ill but I wasn’t across his life history in much detail.

I am somewhat drier and like things in black and white without the cloudiness of interpretation. I don’t want to guess multiple meanings.I remember in year 7 our English teacher becoming so excited while reading  poems. This did nothing for me. I guess I don’t have that aesthetically nuanced ingredient. It’s also the rare piece of Art that I will stop and appreciate. Abstract art is something that just passes me by.

Yet, somehow, this song grabbed me immediately and the lyrics were just luscious. I said at the time that I was going to write my commentary to them but hadn’t gotten around to it. Apparently, Rabbi Sacks wrote a masterpiece “drush” but it was only after I mentioned to my wife last night before retiring to bed, that I had written this piece, that she told me about Rabbi Sacks’s interpretation. I had mistakenly thought Rabbi Sacks had spoken about Cohen’s most famous song Halleluka. Since writing the draft post, I listened to Rabbi Sacks, and enjoyed his ever-brilliant take. You can watch it here

Just before writing this blog post, I looked up Leonard Cohen on wikipedia to learn a bit more about him. Cohen was seemingly an enigmatic thinker. He strangely stayed close to his Orthodox Synagogue and yet became involved with Zen Buddhism even becoming a Monk. He never abandoned his Judaism, although his life couldn’t be described as that of someone with complete fidelity to their religion’s tenets. He felt that there was no contradiction with Zen because his involvement never included another deity. There was only one God for Cohen. He believed that, it seems, all his life. There was only one Judaism as well, and it was Orthodox Judaism. Whatever the case, he was clearly monotheistic and believed he would confront God one day, as do we all. He was buried in a traditional Orthodox way, as was his wish.

Here are the lyrics and uncharacteristically my own thoughts, after I first heard it (and replayed it several times). I sent it to members of my band, and my non-Jewish Bass player responded with “brilliant” and went out to buy the CD. My interpretation isn’t set in Parshas Vayera. More likely it reflects some of my own feelings about the world today and that is why I connected with the lyrics in my own way. Maybe my teachers in year 7 were right after all

The lyrics are in red, below. My interpretation follows each line.

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game

Here the ‘you’ is God. He is apprehensively asking about God’s nature. What is your role in this world I have lived in. Are you like the proverbial dealer in a card game? If so, since you are God, I’m bound to lose, and so I’m out of the game. I’m going to die. I’m about to meet my maker.
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame

Cohen had cancer and it wasn’t going away. He tried to understand the meaning of God as a healer. This is what he knew. God could heal, but wasn’t healing him. Cohen was descending into the valley of death, and so he was broken by this realisation, and lame in the sense that he wouldn’t be able to go on doing what he had. He was perhaps wondering if his not being healed was due to the path he had chosen, or that he would soon need to account for it. I think he was addressing his preparation for addressing why he lived the way he did.

If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame

He self-reflects and in the face of death, considers himself and his life as inglorious. He was dying. Perhaps he regrets some of the things he had done. So he meekly points out that compared to God’s glory, what he has done must be considered shameful and hence his journey to the valley of death/heaven. Cohen seems to be saying is he about to say goodbye.

You want it darker

He is questioning God. Living is light, but ultimately our lives seem to be so unclear. We don’t see the light, so often. The world is such a dark place. Coming to the end of his life, Cohen is saying, well God, you don’t seem to need my light in this world, “you want it darker” because Cohen considered that he did offer some light. But, he is resigned. He knows he can’t win and the next line is
We kill the flame

Who is the we here? I think it is humanity, especially Jews or those who speak in the name of God. He is reminiscing now about others who have died and killed. He’s saying, there were times when God seemed to want it darker. The current state of affairs, where Jerusalem is dismembered from Jews and Jewish history is pretty dark. Cohen says, “have it your way”, you are the boss. We are ultimately responsible though for our actions, so perhaps then it is WE who kill the flame through either completing our task or polluting your world, in your name.
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name

He’s acknowledging that he has inescapable deference for the Creator. God is by definition perfection, this is the essence of Kaddish, but

Vilified, crucified, in the human frame

We Jews have a tangible element of God within us, and yet, we Jews are vilified, crucified once that Godliness is within our human frame. The body isn’t a perfect receptacle to hold such a sanctified element, says Cohen. He is reasoning that God knows this, so how can he be critical of what we haven’t achieved and the state of this dark perverted world. Cohen, then goes to the great tragedy of Jewish mass murder
A million candles burning for the help that never came

He is “fighting back” in a presumably future dialogue and saying, but there were good people, good Jews, who did light up the darkness. Why then does God allow them to suffer. Why has this world become so dark. Where was God’s help that never came. The million candles lit up the world throughout history, but when they were bullied and murdered, he asks God why He didn’t intervene, and then says again.
You want it darker

Ultimately, you don’t seem to want that light, or it’s not enough for you, or Cohen has no explanation except that it is God’s “want” that this world seems so hopeless. He wants it darker.
Hineni, hineni

So here I am. Here I am ready to be confronted, dressed down, analysed and judged. I am not hiding. I will engage you. Cohen submits himself to his end, and says
I’m ready, my lord

I’ve thought about it all. I am not apprehensive. I will engage in dialogue. I will ask questions. I’m ready. I’m ready to meet my maker.
There’s a lover in the story

Cohen is telling us that this isn’t a relationship of antagonism. He has a love of God despite what it might sound like. He stresses, that Cohen, is the lover, and he is part of the story of Jewish history, despite not understanding the darkness and the killing of the flame.
But the story’s still the same

Yet, even though Cohen tried to manifest his love, as did many others, the story of the fate of the Jewish people, the continuing pain and anguish at being persecuted for being different, is constant. Others have also perpetrated atrocities in God’s name.
There’s a lullaby for suffering

Yes, one can sing softly and meaningfully about the tragedy of the Jewish people’s suffering. We do so on Tisha B’Av and other occasions. It can rhyme beautifully, calm the nerves, and eventually put one to sleep, as well as …
And a paradox to blame

If we are the Chosen people, the ones charged with a holy mission that other nations refused, it is an extreme paradox that as a result of that choice, it’s all our fault? What a paradox. Cohen then says that it’s not just his feeling or interpretation. In fact,
But it’s written in the scriptures

The Torah forewarns us that we will go through periods of terrible suffering. The world will be an ugly place. The Esav’s will bite our neck, when they pretend to kiss us. Amalek will sneak up on us, and ultimately there will be an enormous battle of Gog and Magog. The prophets of the Scriptures have told us this would happen. So, please God, don’t think this is just Leonard Cohen’s poetry. In fact ..
And it’s not some idle claim

There is evidence that this is our destiny. You told us so. What do you want from Leonard Cohen. How could he change what you decreed. The fact is that, you God
You want it darker

For some reason that Cohen doesn’t understand, he accuses God of just “wanting” it to be darker, as Jewish lights are extinguished. He can’t understand it. The world is full of shameful darkness and lies. But, in the end, we submit and
We kill the flame

We go to our maker, vanquished, and resigned. It is our fate, we accept it and thereby kill the flame. But God, can’t you see that we are victims?
They’re lining up the prisoners

We were taken during the Holocaust and before and now are lined up against a wall as we were before. Is that called killing the flame? Who is killing? Who is making it darker? Why did this have to happen? What are we meant to do when ..
And the guards are taking aim

We face the barrels of a gun, aimed at us. Whether in the form of mass murder, murder tunnels, missiles, knives and now fire … We are in the aim of those who have us captured in our enclaves. How do you expect us to live the life you wanted us to live? Cohen is saying he was far from perfect, but he is one of a production line of historical tragedies that seem to have been foisted on him. He struggles to understand dark humanity
I struggled with some demons

Cohen didn’t give up. He might not have lived a proper Orthodox Jewish life, but he was proud that he was a Cohen, and he left strict instructions that he was to be buried as a Jew in a traditional Jewish way. He wrote acclaimed poems and songs. He gave voice to his struggles up and down the ladder of his human existence. He wasn’t a passive player.
They were middle class and tame

Yes, Cohen says, his struggles were with the pen, with the mind (probably his tuning out of the world through Zen) and through his guitar. The issues he struggled with were not those of a pauper nor those of a wild man. The demonic ideas and explanations that paraded in Cohen’s head were not extreme. They were plain and tame, somewhat middle class in their roots, much like the German Nazi middle class expected tameness … He didn’t go blowing himself up because he didn’t understand. His voice, words and music were rather an urbane reaction. Was that not enough for you, God, asks Cohen. Did you expect me to do more?
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim

Cohen says he did what he could but he hadn’t been taught that  weapons would be the mode of violence in the name of God, as we see all too often. He wasn’t that sort of person anyway. He gave voice. He wasn’t silent. He did his best, but he wasn’t ready to terrorise those who preferred the elimination of Jews even though they terrorise the world. He doesn’t understand, and repeats his mantra once more:
You want it darker

Which I see as question to God. Cohen replies rhetorically, okay then

We kill the flame

Have it your way. I have no choice. I’m ready to have a discussion with you, as I leave this world.

For those of you who don’t know about Jewish Gen

This is a very great service. They digitise the records of Jews in all the shtetlach before the war etc and mainly rely on volunteers. You can look up their website and I have found records of relatives etc. They need about 2K to continue their work. Every $18 dollars helps.

I fully support their appeal, and believe it to be very worthwhile.

Quick Update: we are now just over $2k away from our goal. Please help us achieve our goal today, so that we can complete our Spring Appeal a day early!
As mentioned, our average gift is just $79. We need 25 people to step forward and donate $79 or more to reach our goal. (If you are in a position to do so, all gifts of $100 ore more will qualify for Value Added Services). 
Please click here to donate online via our secure website, or here to contribute via PayPal.
 
Thank you in advance. If you have any questions, please reply to this email and we will do our best to help.
 
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JewishGen.org
Here is the link to donate.
Please pass onto those can help out in any way.

75th Holocaust Memorial Event

Melbourne was and probably still is a predominantly Polish refugee influenced community largely due to the 2nd largest group of Polish refugees coming to Australia. We are all the richer for that wide tapestry of different components which, I guess Warsaw alone represented. I don’t remember the number, but the sheer volume of different views and newspapers and groups therein was just astounding.

On the other hand we have had valuable refugees from the then Soviet Union who suffered also from the vicissitudes of the Holocaust and associated political atrocities committed there. Chabad, which is really a Lita (Litvishe) / White Russian movement that withstood the attempted erosion of Jewish identity in Russia was an early important element, but in more recent times many Russian Jews have enriched our community with their own contribution having escaped the so-called “Union” of Soviet Republics led by Stalin ימח שמו וזכרו.

Due to the hard work of Mordechai Oyberman and others Elwood Shule is commemorating the 75th memorial and I attach the flier and encourage those who are able to attend. Whilst it’s a pity that we haven’t fully united in commemoration (save for Tisha B’Av which consumes us with Jewish tragedy over the ages) I think it’s important that Jews of all “colours” make an effort to offer Tfilla, Kaddish and Kel Moleh Rachamim for the holy souls consumed by the sub-human element that comprises society.

Flier for 75 years from 22 June 1941 final eng

Women singing at public events or commemorations

The following is from the Jerusalem Post.

“A row has broken out after Bar-Ilan University earlier this week banned women from singing during its Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Wednesday night.

Female students were told they would be allowed to read passages of text for the ceremony and play musical instruments.

Rabbi Shlomo Shefer, Bar- Ilan’s campus rabbi who is responsible for the ceremony, told Channel 10, which first reported the story, the decision was made because women singing in ceremonies on campus was not the customary practice at the university. Jewish law, in general, prohibits men from listening to women sing in person, although some rabbinic authorities are more lenient on this issue.
The university faced criticism from several quarters, including the national-religious organization Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah (NTA), which said that singing at national ceremonies is an Israeli custom and stringencies in Jewish law should not be imposed on the general, non-religious public.

“Even if within Jewish law there are different opinions regarding women singing at public events, there are enough opinions [in Jewish law] that do not prohibit this at public ceremonies, for religious ceremonies and other events,” the organization said.

“NTA holds that women can and should appear on stage at public events. Those who have a stricter approach are free not to attend these events, but they cannot impose their strictures on the general public.”

Separately, NTA also criticized the Israel Association of Students for inviting singer Eyal Golan to perform at its annual Student Day celebrations.

Golan was accused, in 2014, of having sexual relations with underage girls, although the police investigation against him was closed due to lack of evidence. During the investigation, the singer had told the police that there was a difference between sleeping with a girl of 17 compared to a girl of 16, saying the latter was a criminal act and the former was not.

“It is difficult to accept the indifference in which performers who are caught up in moral controversy are invited to such events,” said NTA.”

My view (Note very carefully that I am not stating any more than an opinion. Halachic rulings should only be given by Rabbis of recognised high calibre unless they are an “open and shut” case as per Shulchan Aruch, which this is not, as per the parameters in Responsa on similar questions e.g. Women singing Zmiros in the Sridei Eish 2:8 especially near the end of that responsa, and reciting Krias Shma in front of a female who is not wearing a head covering these days as per the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 75:7) cf. Mishna Berura (Orach Chaim 75:10) who disagrees.

Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein ז’ל, the Aruch HaShulchan
  1. It is proper for a University of this type to have a Rabbi to whom it refers Halachic questions and advice.
  2. It is proper for such a Rabbi to proffer his opinion on such matters, as well as providing these to students who consult him.
  3. On weighty halachic issues, I would expect any Rabbi, unless he is a recognised Posek and/or who writes Responsa which leave them open to peer review, to confer with Poskim of note who already have no halachic issue with attending this type of University establishment
  4. I think I have been at Bar Ilan once; I do not know the University except for some academic Computer Science issues (e.g. its responsa project) and some academics who publish Judaism-oriented articles.
  5. The issue of women singing (many consider this a Rabbinic prohibition) together with men at a formal ceremony, as in a remembrance ceremony or the singing of an anthem, is one which is not new. Although one may be sitting or standing relatively close to a female and hear her particular voice clearly despite a group setting (מגילה כא, ב), I would be inclined to respond as follows (assuming the questioner was free to make their own decision 🙂 ):
    1. If this issue is one which you personally feel is halachically problematic, do not attend.
    2. If your own Posek has advised you that you may attend or may not attend, then follow his Psak Din.
    3. I would consult with a renowned Posek and suggest to that Posek that, perhaps based on the Aruch Hashulchan and those who quote his interpretation, it can be argued that it is highly unlikely that anyone who is already attending Bar Ilan, and today might be sexually aroused from this group form of singing, might be permissible.
      Either way, I would suggest though that they look straight ahead or up at the sky while singing, or close their eyes (looking and “staring” are two different things halachically). In my opinion, any permissive ruling should be accompanied by a qualifier to remind the person of the fact that there is always a prohibition of a male listening to a female singing. [I was privy to a permissive ruling for my band, Schnapps, from Rav Moshe Feinstein ז’’ל. Schnapps offered a male singer only for many years, but over the last few years (in my opinion this changed when certain Rabbis did not, and some still do not, leave a Simcha when a female was singing) now offers either a younger new male singer or a male and female combination).]
    4. I would offer to discuss parameters that are inviolable according to Orthodox opinion (I exclude Open Orthodoxy and Shira Chadasha from such, as they are not considered Orthodox by Orthodoxy.)
    5. An interesting sub-question that came to mind is the case of a male who had a homosexual disposition and קול באישה ערווה. I’m reminded of one of my teachers of Halacha, Rav Yosef Efrati שליט’’א  many years ago who would answer such questions when asked publicly (on Thursday evenings when he gave his packed Halacha Shiur at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh) with: “Nu, Is this a question להלכה ולמעשה?” I don’t doubt that it is a question for some, however, my inclination is that it would be not advised to advertise such a disposition, despite the reality that those in this category are more vocal, and ask for acceptance. On the issue of acceptance, there should be no barrier placed which causes them to feel disenfranchised to the extent that they feel uncomfortable in a largely heterosexual Shule.

What would I do personally? I come across this each year at Yom Hashoa events where the partisan song and the Israel national anthem are sung (according to a Psak I received many years ago, I replace להיות עם חפשי with להיות עם תורה). I do not leave the Hall. I sing these, and usually concentrate on the lyrics, looking straight ahead. On the other hand, if a female sings alone, which is much rarer these days, I look to leave the hall earlier (there is a printed program) as if I need a bathroom break, and return some time after. I have found myself in the company of Orthodox Rabbis who attend such events and do not enjoy bothering people in the row that I sit if I don’t get an aisle seat. I attend because my father ע׳ה, a survivor, attended and my children attended with him together with my mother, עמו׳ש, who is also a survivor. I won’t digress into a discussion of forms of commemoration and Halacha, though, there are substantive views on this from Mori, VeRabbi, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז’’ל.

I want to repeat: please do not under any circumstance treat this blog post as anymore than Pitputim. In practice, if you have such a question, please consult your Posek.

How many Jews in Melbourne hold these perverted views?

Does the Adass breakaway, “Divrei Emineh”?

Do Satmar and the Neturei Karta in Adass?

How many only disagree in as much as they shouldn’t be saying this (out loud), but actually subscribe to this discredited view of R’ Yoelish of Satmar? Emphasis is mine. Text is from my Mashgiach, Rav Rivlin שליט’’א

The Gemara in Ketubot (111a) derives from the triple mention of the pasuk, “I have bound you in oath, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Shir Hashirim), that Hashem bound Am Yisrael and the nations of the world with three oaths. The first oath is, “shelo yaalu bachoma,” that the Jews should not forcibly, “break through the wall,” and enter Eretz Yisrael. The second is that the Jews should not rebel against the nations. The third is that the nations of the world should not oppress Yisrael too much over the course of the exile. According to R. Zera, there are three additional oaths which relate to the ultimate redemption. The Gemara concludes with the threat that if Israel violates these oaths, their flesh will be made free like wild animals in the field, i.e., Hashem would bring upon them great suffering and physical destruction.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, claims in “Vayoel Moshe” that Hashem brought about the Holocaust because the Zionist movement caused the Jews to violate the “Three Oaths.” Since the Jewish people forcefully went to resettle Eretz Yisrael, Hashem brought upon them massive destruction, as the Gemara warns in its conclusion. Rav Shlomo Aviner compiled thirteen answers to this claim, amongst them the following:

1) Rav Teitelbaum’s claim rests on the fact that there was a “choma,” that the nations of the world prohibited the Jews from settling in the land of Israel. The Avnei Nezer writes that this oath does not apply when the nations give Yisrael permission to return. Following the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference, in which the nations of the world determined that the Jewish people have a right to settle the land of Israel, the oaths do not apply. The Midrash hints to this idea, that if Bnei Yisrael have permission to enter the land they do not violate the oaths.

2) Another answer is that once there is a sign from Hashem to return to the land, the oaths no longer apply. In addition to the permission given by the nations, the national reawakening and birth of modern Zionism can be viewed as a sign from Hashem that it is permissible to return to the land. The oaths were not an “issur” (absolute prohibition), but rather national tendencies that Hashem instilled within Klal Yisrael which would cause them to remain unmotivated to return to their land. Also, throughout most of the exile, it was very difficult physically for Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael. Once a wide scale movement with an objective to return to Eretz Yisrael began, and it was physically possible to begin Aliya to Eretz Yisrael, it became clear that the oath was no longer in effect.

3) The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98a) says that when Eretz Yisrael gives forth fruit abundantly, it is a sure sign that the redemption is coming. Eretz Yisrael, in the time of the Zionist movement, began blooming and giving forth fruits unlike any previous time since the destruction of the land. This sign of redemption showed that the oath was no longer in effect.

3) Rav Teichtal, in his work, “Em Habanim Smeicha,” offers another explanation. Although the Jews were sworn not to enter Eretz Yisrael forcefully, the nations of the world were also sworn not to persecute the Jews too much. Over the course of the exile, the Jews were severely persecuted by the gentiles. Because the gentiles violated their oath, the Jews were no longer bound by their oath.

4) According to some opinions, the only way to violate the oath would be if people came to Eretz Yisrael in very large groups. Since the Jews entered the land slowly, and over the course of many years, they did not violate the oath.

5) The author of the “Hafla’ah” maintains that the oaths only apply to those who are in the exile of Bavel, and not in other lands.

6) R’ Chaim Vital explains that the oath only applied for 1000 years, not longer.

7) The Gra writes that the oath applies only to building the Beit Hamikdash, not to entering Eretz Yisrael.

8) Elsewhere in the Gemara there are other, conflicting, sources. Furthermore, the Gemara regarding the “Three Oaths” is aggada, and we do not decide halacha based on aggada. [I add that this isn’t even from Torah and Neviim, but from Kesuvim, the weakest link in determining Halacha]

Based on all of these explanations, there is ample basis to say that the movement to return to Eretz Yisrael was a positive, not a negative, one. In fact, others maintain just the opposite, that the Holocaust was because Jews became entrenched in galut and did not return to Eretz Yisrael. Since we are not living in a generation of prophecy, it is very difficult for us to determine exactly why Hashem brings specific punishments to the world. However, the Gemara does teach us that when we are afflicted with punishment, we should look into our actions, and try to fix our bad deeds. By looking at the Akeida, we may gain some insight regarding the Holocaust.

One of the most famous tests of Avraham was Akeidat Yitzchak. We constantly mention the Akeida in our prayers, and we still reap the benefits of this test. The question is asked, what is so special about this test? Avraham did not even do any great action of sacrifice, because in the end he did not slaughter his son. There were many other tests which Avraham actually fulfilled which are not so commonly mentioned!

Furthermore, Rav Dessler questions the very concept of “zechut Avot” (merit of the Patriarchs). If two criminals violated the same law, one coming from a dysfunctional family and one from a normal background, logic dictates that the one from a normal background should be punished more severely. When we come to Hashem and tell Him that we are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, this should work against us! Why is there zechut? In fact, Rabbeinu Bachya says that sometimes it is best not to mention zechut avot. After the sin of the spies, Moshe pleaded to Hashem and did not mention that Hashem is “notzer chesed la’alafim,” that He rewards for good deeds for generations to come. Moshe did not want Hashem to say, “If Bnei Yisrael came from such great people, why did they sin?”

Perhaps this insight can explain why we ask Hashem to remember the Akeida, as opposed to other tests of Avraham. Many times Am Yisrael does not live up to the other tests which Avraham was tested with. Through our entire history, however, Am Yisrael lived up to the test of the Akeida, and on many occasions Jews were willing to die “al kiddush Hashem” (in sanctification of G-d’s name).

The Torah introduces the story of the Akeida with the phrase, “It happened after these things.” (Bereishit 22:1) The parsha directly before the Akeida is the story in which Avraham makes a peace-covenant with Avimelech. The Rashbam explains that Avraham was tested with the Akeida because he did not have a sufficiently strong connection with Eretz Yisrael, and was willing to make a pact with Avimelech, thereby forfeiting some of his right to the land. The Tanna D’vei Eliyahu writes that any nation which has a serious conflict with Yisrael, does so only because of the pact which Avraham signed with Avimelech. Hashem always had a two-part covenant with Yisrael: descendants and Eretz Yisrael. Because Avraham was willing to give part of Eretz Yisrael, Hashem said, “I will take the other half of the pact — your son.”

Although we are not prophets, and we cannot determine which punishments correspond to which sins, we must try to learn lessons from events which happen in this world. Today it is clear that our bond to Eretz Yisrael still needs strengthening. If we pray and strengthen our connection to Eretz Yisrael, there will be an end to all of the Akeidot.

For those who want to seriously understand why Satmar and these clowns are dead wrong, read this from the Seforim Blog.

I note they don’t mention Gog and Magog, and the Jewish Redemption where their friends will be beholden to the Beis Hamikdash and Elokus. Politically, they don’t mention that, because they are of course afraid. These are the Jews about which the Torah says “stay home, you are afraid to go to war and you are an impedance”. Help your wives with the washing, cooking and food provision.

I notice Issy Weiss of Neturei Karta wears the palestinian scarf. Why doesn’t he put a Kaffiyeh on and add tzitzis to the corners. Now there’s solidarity.

 

Methodologies to attract members: ARK — revised

Over the weekend, I was strongly encouraged  to repost my article. I had one comment which was valid in retrospect, and I am taking that fully into account in this revision. I was not aware, but a number of people have mentioned that R’ Shneur Zalman Waks is involved in conversions, including one involving the marriage of a Cohen. I was informed he has his own Beth Din and does not involve the Melbourne Beth Din. That’s not to say his conversions are invalid. I can’t give an opinion without knowing details. If anyone knows, do tell. We have RMG Rabi’s Beth Din which does conversions, R Schneur Zalman’s ARK Beth Din for conversion, Adass which has always been separatist, in addition to the standard and fully internationally accepted Melbourne Beth Din. In my opinion, a community should only have one Beth Din and it should be modelled on the Melbourne Beth Din, with its checks and balances from a lay committee, including a separation from money issues.

The original reason for this post, however, was that someone sent me emails that Shneur Zalman sends to his ARK community (of which I know little) and I’m commenting on the last one that I received.

Shneur Zalman of ARK, is someone who is different and seemingly diverse. That, in of itself, isn’t a problem provided he is sincere and maintains a fidelity to strict Halacha. I’ve decided to intersperse commentary on his most recent article because I found it vexing. The quotes below are verbatim from what was sent to me.

Growing up in a strictly Chabad home in the days before internet meant that my information sources were rather limited. We weren’t allowed to listen to radio, watch television, or read ‘secular’ books, so I became a Jewish History buff.

This is a questionable representation. There are plenty, including Rabbis, who were and stay intimately involved in many issues and who have strongly different views than Shneur Zalman. The statement that bothers me is that it is crafted to convince ARK congregants that Shneur was born into a prison-like idyllic “crown heights” or “kfar chabad” standard Chabad home of a most orthodox type. This has been a matter of discussion by members of that family itself. I do not know if ARK members have been exposed to counter claims. This is contextually important.

Shneur Waks and wife Lisa

The issue of Chabad in particular is profoundly misplaced. All ultra orthodox groups encourage minimisation of interaction with the outside world unless necessary.  Of all the ultra groups who have a higher percentage who are exposed to the outside world, Chabad is clearly the one most exposed and experienced (and pilloried as a result). That being said, it might be that Shneur Zalman’s  parents had no hidden TV or other devices, and a computer was locked for use for “business” purposes. I do not know. Perhaps he was denied access to the world.

It is ironic though that Shneur Zalman’s claimed TV and Radio-avoiding family chose to agree many years ago and feature in full length documentaries for SBS about how they get on with life!  I assume these were motivated primarily for the benefit of the non Orthodox and gentiles who do watch TV and whom the family they wished to influence to adopt their “idyllic Amish-like lifestyle?  I’m sure the parents felt this was prototypical Chabad Chasidism encouraging others to have double-digit children while demonstrating how it could be done with dynamic results. My band members (non Jewish, watched it with incredulity). Maybe this was a form of outreach, though, using the very medium Shneur Zalman claims was discouraged to engage with. I assume Shneur Zalman was part of that documentary. Based on his description, he might appeared like a rabbit in bright lights not knowing anything about the outside world, save his claim to be a self-made “Jewish History buff”, appearing bewildered by the brouhaha.  I have not seen the video, as the topic per se had never been of interest to me.

From my religious study I already knew about the suffering of the Jews as they were enslaved by the Egyptians, nearly annihilated by the Persians, and oppressed by the Greeks and Romans. But added to that I discovered the long history of Christian antisemitism; peaking during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms, and of course culminating in the devastating Holocaust.

Shneur Zalman has been selective. He implies that his “History buff” knowledge informed him of Xtian antisemitism, the inquisition, pogroms and the holocaust, but these were denied by his education. I find this derisorious. All these events save the last, are covered in formal long lamentations  on Tisha B’Av, and spoken about on Pesach. Either Kinos wasn’t said, or understood, or Shneur Zalman met teachers throughout his entire Jewish education who always put a full stop at the Roman Conquest.

Everyone is aware of the Holocaust, including the ultra orthodox  and the survivors who occupied the pews. Does Shneur Zalman not know what happened because of his religious upbringing at home?. Even Satmar knows!

Shneur Zalman is disingenuous about modern-day events. He most definitely would have heard how his namesake was persecuted by the Communists and dreaded NKVD. Strangely, Shneur Zalman doesn’t seem to mention the systematic attempts at destroying Torah Judaism to eradicate the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. The Nazis attempted it physically, the Soviets were happy if one abandoned Judaism spiritually and adopted a (ironically Jewish sourced) Stalinism or Marxism, that considered a Jewish text, to be poison and to be eradicated.

Shneur Zalman tells us that

I read every book I could get my hands on which told the story of the darkest years in human history and heard the story from the mouths of many survivors. When we then sang the Vehi Sheamda on Seder night, which basically translates that in every generation there are those who want to kill us, it was felt in a most immediate fashion.

Shneur Zalman’s  own Chabad School has a very good free lending library almost next door to his house. Are we to assume that his parents forbade him to borrow books from that library (let alone his excellent School library) or perhaps they they vetted the books lest they would corrupt their son with hatred to those hell-bent on killing Jews at any time or place? I think not. Is Shneur Zalman being purposefully disingenuous here or just tardy? I’m not sure.

I surmise that Shneur Zalman is  naïve  if he considers himself a “Jewish history buff” and yet could write

At some point I came to question the point of this message. Granted, we should never be complacent about antisemitism. We have suffered too deeply to be so naïve. But I personally never experienced antisemitism. Sure there were Saturday morning drunks who could scream out “bloody Jew”, but to rate that at all would be to belittle the traumas inflicted on our people. So what relevance does the story of antisemitism have to me, my generation, and the ones younger?

How did Shneur Zalman know that only drunks screamed this message from their fast-moving car? Is he superman with X-ray vision?

It is incredulous that anyone could emerge as a self-proclaimed ” Jewish History buff” and yet feel that because in the short cloistered walk of 1 minute from his house to his School (remember, he claims he was forbidden to be exposed to the real world) he concluded that people who called out “bloody jew” in that moment, were not hard-core anti-Semites. What a strange intuition. It in fact contradicts the beginning of each and every blood bath the Jews faced. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that they all started with small voices of “bloody Jew” and then grew into a society unfettered by morals and ethics proceeding to death and destruction. Does Shneur Zalman not realise that if he took a number plate and reported it to the police that those who said those things would be prosecuted for hate crime? Was Shneur Zalman blind and deaf  to a prominent incident, next door to his home, where one of his chassidic colleagues was beaten by off-duty police. It was all over the papers and the talk of the centre. Did Shneur Zalman miss the articles or was he forbidden to read them.

I contrast that with my experience which is philosophically diametrically opposed

Walking with my father to Elwood Shule, we stood in the middle of Brighton Road on the tram tracks. A car load of “young and restless” passed us, rolled down their window, and called out “Bloody Jews”. To me, standing next to my elderly father, a holocaust survivor, this was simply not on. I took off on a fast run down the tram tracks of Brighton Road in my suit, hoping that their car would be stopped by a red light. Luckily, it was. I reached their car, thumped hard on their window and bonnet. Startled, they turned their heads and heard me yell at the top of my voice.

If you filthy scumbag anti Semites ever say that again, I will smash your bones and report you to the police. Don’t ever take a Jew lightly. I will break every bone in your body if you dare say that again

I went to the same school as Shneur Zalman. I don’t attribute my then reaction to the school in totality, let alone should Shneur Zalman be insinuating that his lack of understanding of the beginnings of anti-Semitism had anything to do with his home or his school. This was Shneur Zalman’s  reaction, and his alone. His sad misunderstanding of anti-Semitism, is there for all to I see in that paragraph.

By the way, my father later asked me why I reacted with such crazed venom. I explained that precisely because of the message of Pesach and his place as a survivor, I for one was not ever going to be a  Jew who minimised such vituperation in the way that Shneur Zalman seemingly professed to his ARK community in tame words and wonderful sculptures.

A wedding at ARK. (I’m not sure who the second witness is, based on this picture)

Jumping back to where Shneur Zalman was heading, he informs us

The most prominent response I came across when I was younger was that we should never trust the Goy. We were even taught in the first chapter of the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad philosophy written by my namesake, that non-Jews are inherently incapable of good deeds, that whatever seemingly kind acts they perform are for their own selfish gain.

I see this as sloganeering. The lack of definition and intentional misrepresentation is breathtaking. Firstly, he claims this was the most “prominent” response. Response to what? Response to anti-Semitism? What is the context of trust here? Was it trust in business? Trust in Tae Kwan do? Even a young Shneur Zalman would know that this is not manifestly practiced by any ultra orthodox people (who may have more tangles in business with many Jews than they do with non Jews.)

What was he getting at, I thought? Was he saying that he was taught that a non-Jew was more likely to thrust a knife in his back than a Jew? If so, statistics would say that this is entirely correct whether one is ultra orthodox or not. Does Shneur Zalman not know of a gentile reporter who recently donned a Yarmulka and found that this immediately made him a magnet of hate, violence, and derision. Heck, the reporter was featured everywhere.

Does Shneur Zalman still not read the popular press? Perhaps he subscribes to the doctrine that it’s all because of the “settlements”. I guess the prime settlement of Tel Aviv, which is still claimed by Hamas and their ilk as the problem as well as the mere existence of Jews? Or perhaps Shneur Zalman sides with Neturei Karta or Mahmoud Abbas, that a Jewish homeland, should never exist? Alternatively, he might be one of the mixed up clerics who think that sharing bread and holding hands with clerics of other religions espousing “social justice” will solve the latent hate blatantly expressed in the texts of their religions, while clasping hands for photo ops. Will Shneur Zalman change that? It has never solved anything. I don’t see a “Jewish history buff”.

Now, I do not profess to have more than a simple passing knowledge of Chabad metaphysics as described in Tanya, but I do know that it is not a Shulchan Aruch as Shneur Zalman had his ARK members misunderstand. One of its tenets, which isn’t universally held (I hope Shneur Zalman is able to transmit authentic  other Orthodox approaches and that he isn’t still in the “imprisoned cloistered” youth that he painted, Tanya is a collection of older texts rewritten coherently and beautifully. Jews do have an element of Neshama that non-Jews do not. The oldies used to call it the “pintlele yid”. This has ramifications to understanding conversion, and whilst it most certainly is a valid understanding of Judaism, I’d hope Shneur Zalman isn’t on some populist anti-Chabad rant  presenting it as the only  Orthodox approach to understanding the metaphysics of the soul. It seems that Shneur Zalman either forgot, or chose not to mention many Talmudic statements which, if understood in a simple way are far more contentious. More importantly, projecting other Orthodox approaches would be a great idea if he didn’t “like” the Tanya’s sources.

What I can say without any doubt is that his namesake was an absolute giant of an intellect on par with the Gaon of Vilna, and was possessed with a love of Jews and the future of Judaism that was legendary. That he chose sides in the Russian/French non-Jewish conflict is remarkable. Perhaps Shneur Zalman should tell his ARKers about how his name sake  made the right choice and that almost single-handedly saved Soviet Jewry from obliteration. To this day, moderate Rabbis such as Rabbi Riskin make kiddush on Vodka on Shabbos because of the incredible legacy that Shneur Zalman’s  name sake left in Russia. Shneur Zalman will readily admit he isn’t a boot lace compared to his name sake: either in matters of standard Jewish Law, or in matters of Jewish Metaphysics or as a Jewish History buff. Is there anybody today?

Next Shneur Zalman makes what seems to be a leap of logic from his earlier statement, that confounds understanding.

But that is a very depressing message. Moreover, it contradicts our experience. And most importantly, that message is precisely the message propounded by the most evil of people. I mean isn’t that precisely what Hitler was saying in the inverse? Surely that can’t be the moral of the story.

Shneur Zalman, it would be profoundly incorrect to assume that every non-Jew is an anti Semite. It would also be wrong to assume that many non Jews are indeed anti semitic but it’s definitely on the rise. I have personally experienced it in today’s age of the culturally sophisticated.

Hitler? Has Shneur missed out ? Has he taught ARK about Amalek? We read it today in Shule. I know of no Jewish gangs who take baseball bats to Lakemba or Coburg with the aim of obliterating Lebanese Muslim anti-Semites who openly say Jews should all die (as does Hamas). Again, perhaps Shneur Zalman has not caught up with current events? He seems to live in a utopian but unrealistic world.

Over the last two weeks, ARK Centre has been hosting an incredible exhibition put on by Courage to Care that provides an answer to this question most profoundly and resolutely. We must remember the suffering of our people not in order to perpetuate trauma but to learn the evils of bigotry and what happens when good people stand by and allow it to happen. We must learn to be up-standers, not by-standers!

The exhibition contained a number of evocative pieces. The one that affected me most deeply was a piece by an incredibly inspiring, youthful, and optimistic, 89 Year old Sarah Saaroni. It is a sculpture of Dr Janusz Korczak, a paediatrician and head of an orphanage, who had an opportunity to save himself but decided to stay with the children as they were gassed to death. In the sculpture he is holding, embracing, and comforting a dozen children or so as they are standing in the gas chamber. The image really is heart wrenching and now, as a father of two beautiful children I love so dearly, it really is difficult to process.

But the sculpture is more than a statement about the unbelievable depravity of the Nazis who could do this to pure children. It is a tribute to the spiritual depth of the doctor who, in the midst of absolute darkness, was able to radiate a beam of holiness, of love. His facial expression left me, and I dare say anyone who sees it, with a sense of warmth and serenity.

I’m not sure how Shneur Zalman’s  religious education seems to have forgotten the concept of the other Chassidim. Yes, the חסידי אומות העולם.  The righteous gentiles. Note: they are called Chassidim, Shneur Zalman.

I do hope Shneur Zalman exposes ARK to that concept. It was there well before the cultured sculptures, and has a history as long as the history of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, his namesake writes about them and their reward in the world to come. Is Shneur Zalman trying to turn  his congregation into populist left-wing tree huggers? Let Shneur Zalman break bread and condemn Senator Lee Rhiannon of the loony greens to ARK. Would he? Perhaps he should remind ARK about German Jewry who were more German than the Germans, and that it did not help them in the “advanced” socialist democracy of Germany.

Don’t misread me. I interacted with 400+ non Jewish alumni on my Facebook. I didn’t have family or friends on facebook. I recently lent a significant amount of money to a non-Jewish colleague who had to fly back from overseas because her father and uncle dropped dead. The message I give Shneur Zalman is, rather than the seemingly post-modern one he is giving ARK, one can be centrist orthodox with an absolute fidelity to Halacha and live in this world peacefully, especially with tolerant non Jews. I can tell Shneur Zalman, that if I ever meet an intolerant or anti semitic type who threatens me overtly or covertly, I turn into a different persona. I don’t sit down to “break bread” with them. I know exactly with what I am dealing, and any “Jewish history buff” will affirm this.

Shneur Zalman writes:

This is a message that is so relevant and extremely positive. This is, in fact, what the Jewish tradition is all about. We are not the Chosen People of a superior race as I was taught. Rather we are a people who have, unfortunately, experienced immense suffering as a result of bigotry and the absence of enough up-standers in our midst. This experience of being a stranger in a strange land endlessly persecuted compels us to be the preachers of light; to declare that all human beings are created in the image of God and, therefore, all equally deserve to be treated with compassion, dignity, and humanity.

To the whole team at Courage to Care, thank you for your vision and dedication to fulfil it.

With hope and prayer that we internalise this message and turn our horrible history into a reservoir of inspiration to become more sensitive and caring human beings especially to those who are very different to us.

I couldn’t disagree more with this contorted configuration of childhood and this message. My own family was saved by righteous gentiles who were honoured in Yad Vashem. I have visited them. For close to 70 years, the extended Balbin family still sends all our surplus clothes to their extended family. A number of their family are anti Semites. They hid the fact that they saved Jews. When the husband of the girl found out, he beat his wife constantly. She held it a secret for some 30 years because she knew he was a depraved anti-Semite. We send them money and medicine too. (One of the family couldn’t even stand being in the room with me and my father, and left). This, despite the heroic efforts of his mother and her father). Some morality!

In short Shneur Zalman, I find this newsletter message rather populist, misleading, and simple. I’d rather if it was more learned and candid and more informed and realistic. The simple reading of history today, actually matches the claimed simple education Shneur Zalman claims to have received!

He didn’t receive a simple education.

He sounds populist.

Is he a member of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria?

If not, why not?

Why doesn’t he  break bread with them and convince them of his views and how they conform with Halacha. This is the Rabbinic way.

I take that back if he does not consider himself or ARK Orthodox.

Sir Martin Gilbert ע’’ה

Sir Martin’s wikipedia entry states:

Gilbert was born in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert; all four of his grandparents had been born in Tsarist Russia. Nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, he was evacuated to Canada as part of the British efforts to safeguard children. Vivid memories of the transatlantic crossing from Liverpool to Quebec sparked his curiosity about the war in later years.

After the war he attended Highgate School, and then completed two years of National Service in the Intelligence Corps before going on to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1960 with a first-class BA in modern history. One of his tutors at Oxford was A.J.P. Taylor. After his graduation, Gilbert undertook postgraduate research at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Career
Historian and academic
After two years of postgraduate work, Gilbert was approached by Randolph Churchill to assist his work on a biography of his father, Sir Winston Churchill. That same year, 1962, Gilbert was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and he spent the next few years combining his own research projects in Oxford with being part of Randolph’s research team in Suffolk, working on the first two volumes of the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Gilbert was commissioned to take over the task, completing the remaining six main volumes of the biography.

Gilbert spent the next 20 years on the Churchill project, publishing a number of other books throughout the time. Each main volume of the biography is accompanied by two or three volumes of documents, and so the biography currently runs to 24 volumes (over 25,000 pages), with another 7 document volumes still planned. In the 1960s, Gilbert compiled some of the first historical atlases. Michael Foot, reviewing a volume of Gilbert’s biography of Churchill in the New Statesman in 1971 praised his meticulous scholarship and wrote: “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.”

His other major works include a definitive single-volume history on the Holocaust, as well as single-volume histories of The First World War and The Second World War. He also wrote a three-volume series called A History of the Twentieth century. Gilbert described himself as an “archival historian” who made extensive use of primary sources in his work. Interviewed by the BBC on the subject of Holocaust research, Gilbert said he believes that the “tireless gathering of facts will ultimately consign Holocaust deniers to history.” He wrote the foreword to Denis Avey’s The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz which he described as “a most important book’ and stated that Avey’s “description of Buna-Monowitz is stark, and true.” The accuracy of certain aspects of Avey’s account have subsequently been challenged

In 1995, he retired as a Fellow of Merton College, but was made an Honorary Fellow. In 1999 he was awarded a Doctorate by Oxford University, “for the totality of his published work”. From 2002, he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan, and between 2006 and 2007 he was a professor in the history department at the University of Western Ontario. In October 2008, he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill College.

Public service
Gilbert was appointed in June 2009 as a member of the British government’s inquiry into the Iraq War (headed by Sir John Chilcot). His appointment to this inquiry was criticised in parliament by William Hague, Clare Short, and George Galloway on the basis of neutrality, Gilbert having written in 2004 that George W. Bush and Tony Blair may in future be esteemed to the same degree as Roosevelt and Churchill.[8][9] In an article for The Independent on Sunday published in November 2009, Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya, objected to the presence of Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman on the committee partly because of their Jewish background and Gilbert’s Zionist sympathies. In a later interview, Gilbert saw Miles attack as being motivated by antisemitism.

As the Iraq inquiry was to be conducted on Privy Council terms, Gilbert (who was not previously a Privy Counsellor) was appointed to the Council in order to take part in it.

Praise and criticism
Many laud Gilbert’s books and atlases for their meticulous scholarship, and his clear and objective presentation of complex events. His book on World War I is described as a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts — domestic, diplomatic, military — for “a stunning achievement of research and storytelling.” Catholic sources describe him as a “fair-minded, conscientious collector of facts.”

Gilbert’s portrayal of Churchill’s supportive attitudes to Jews (in his book Churchill and the Jews) has been criticised, for example by Piers Brendon. Also, Tom Segev writes that, although Gilbert’s book The Story of Israel is written with “encyclopedic clarity,” it suffers by the absence of figures from Arab sources.

Honours and awards
In 1990, Gilbert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1995, he was awarded a Knighthood “for services to British history and international relations”.

In 2003 Gilbert was awarded the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize by the University of Tübingen. The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School, where he was a pupil, was opened on 6 May 2014 by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “I know he helped Lady Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, but he also helped me a great deal with his insights into history,” said Mr Brown.“I know he advised Harold Wilson even before them, but at every point Martin was available and he wanted to believe that the best outcomes were possible. A genuine humanitarian, someone whose writing of history taught him we could always do better in the future if we are able to learn the lessons of history.”

Personal life
In 1963, he married Helen Constance Robinson, with whom he had a daughter. He had two sons with his second wife, Susan Sacher, whom he married in 1974. From 2005, he was married to the Holocaust historian Esther Gilbert, née Goldberg. Gilbert described himself [sic]as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist.

One Friday evening, I found myself sitting on the roof of the old Chabad House in Bombay prior to 2008. I wasn’t in a talkative mood, being really tired, and wanting to get back to the Taj Mahal Hotel to sleep. I was very tired from travelling the depth and breadth of India, being in an airplane each night, interviewing students in a different city from morning until evening, then travelling to the next city either late evening or very early morning.

There is a formula used in most Chabad Houses. This one was no different. There were  about 20-30 of us on the roof, in stifling humidity. We were asked by Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי’’ד to introduce ourselves and then either tell a story, sing a song, or say a Dvar Torah. I was used to it, and always chose the Dvar Torah.

The person opposite me declined to say anything other than what his name was. I distinctly recall him saying “My name is Mordechai, and I come from England”. Mordechai had a thick English accent and persisted in making conversation with me, even though I must have looked disinterested and tired. Eventually after talking about various topics he told me that he was Martin Gilbert. Startled, I then introduced myself. Turning to him I said “you are not Sir Martin Gilbert, are you?” to which he answered, “I’m afraid so”.

For the next hour I found myself in private conversation with Sir Martin and his wife Esther (nee) Sacher. She was writing a set of books that served to record stories of Holocaust survivors. She described how she visited holocaust survivors and was writing volumes of their history based on their testimony. I do not know where she is up to, but I will send her a condolence message.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to a Chabad House on a Friday evening in Mumbai, of all places. He mentioned that when he was in China he had also visited a Chabad House, and liked the informal and friendly atmosphere. He commented that unlike China, where he felt he was being watched by the authorities at every turn, Mumbai was gloriously emancipated. Neither of us was to expect that we might have been watched watched by the Pakistani terrorists who eventually gunned down Rav Gavriel, Rivki and those who were in the newer Nariman house, Chabad house.

I asked Sir Martin what brought him to India.

Sir Martin related that he had travelled through India as a young student and became very ill. His mother advised him that if he was ever to become ill, that he must visit an “Auntie Fori”. Auntie Fori’s husband, Mr B.K. Nehru was a famous and distinguished civil servant of India, also serving as Ambassador to the US and UK. He was a cousin of Prime Minister Nehru. This Auntie Fori had curiously avoided shaking the hand of the German Foreign Minister when she met him, and it transpired that she was in fact a Hungarian Jewess related to Sir Martin’s mother. After months of nursing Sir Martin back to health, Auntie Fori mentioned to Sir Martin that she knew nothing of her Jewish heritage but something told her not to touch the German Foreign Minister’s hand. Before he left, she begged Sir Martin to give her a history lesson about the Jews. He responded that he would write a series of letters to this effect, from England. These letters were later published as a book entitled Letters to Auntie Fori: the 5,000 Year History of the Jewish People and their faith.

I mentioned that I’d love to read the book and Sir Martin promised to send me a signed copy. It’s somewhere in the house or someone has borrowed it. I spoke to his wife Susan who told me that she came from Stoliner Chassidim. In return, I promised to send the music to some famous Stoliner Nigunim. Sir Martin and Susan left before everyone. I had surreptitiously revealed Sir Martin’s identity to Reb Gavriel during the meal, but he and Rivki were otherwise involved. Their focus was usually on the younger Israeli tourists. I know that if they had realised who he was, there would have been some fanfare, but I realised that Sir Martin preferred to be incognito, and I didn’t have the right to disclose his true identity.

After they left, I disclosed to Reb Gavriel who his guest was, and being a Yeshivah Bochur from Israel and then 770, he hadn’t heard of him. He believed me, of course, and for a number of years, Reb Gavriel would ask me to “tell the story about Sir Martin” to his guests. He was always proud of his visitors.

Everything is Hashgocho Protis. I wondered why I had met Sir Martin. I discovered this later. I received a phone call in Melbourne from an anguished Israeli mother who mentioned that her daughter was in prison in India awaiting a trial for alleged drug possession and asked me to do what I could to put pressure to facilitate her freedom. Indian prisons are not fun, and it can take two years or more until a trial is held. She was apparently pregnant, and they had one bucket of (horrid) water to share for drinking and washing amongst the female inmates in a cell. I knew a consul general in Melbourne representing India, as I had admitted his daughter to our course. That was one avenue.

It then dawned on me that perhaps this was a reason I had met Sir Martin. I knew he was far better connected than me! I sent him an email and described the situation and asked for his advice and help. I noted that perhaps this was the reason he and I had met that Friday night, and so it was now incumbent on both of us to get this girl out of the hell hole before she died prior to her ttrial. Sir Martin responded immediately and gave me the name of an international lawyer in Jerusalem who would work on the case at no cost. She told me that the system in India was riddled with corruption and delay and she didn’t know whether she could be effective but would try.

I couldn’t write this in email, so I rang Rav Gavriel and in Yiddish told him what I was trying to do. On a subsequent visit, I asked Rav Gavriel how the girl was doing. He told me with a glimmer in his eye, that she was in Israel. Incredulously, I asked how that happened. He took me aside and whispered a few things. Apparently, since she had escaped from prison, the Indian police had stalked the Chabad house daily, until one day Rivki הי’’ד came out with a broom, and told the plain clothes police officer that the girl was not in their house and they had no information to relay, and if he didn’t disappear she would use the broom on him.

With a smile, Rav Gavriel told me they didn’t come back.

I would describe Sir Martin as someone who towards the last 10-15 years of his life moved more and more towards traditional Judaism. I emailed him (in code) that the girl was now safe. Alas, he is is now with Rivki and Reb Gavriel in a higher plane.

יהי זכרם ברוך

Our holiday. Part 1: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn New York

Dear Readers,

I’m starting with some (self-indulgent) prose, as this will more fully inlay context.

As ought to be inferred from blog postings on pitputim, my tendency is to inspirationally respond to more rationalistic approaches of Judaism. I recognise of course that one size does not fit all.

This predilection isn’t for pre-conceived ulterior motives or להכעיס. It is perhaps a natural inclination of my id as opposed to some super-ego. Perhaps a PhD, based on formal logic and a grounding in science affected (or infected) a tendency to align myself with certain of the 70 faces of Torah. At the same time, I have always had a love for פשוטו של מקרא and that is a natural follow on.

I am certainly not the first or last to procure a comprehension and meaning through this particular prism. In some ways, it is the prism of Brisk, where my grandparents on one side were married and lived close by. Undoubtedly this is a reason for a veritable love affair with more halachic aspects, and a disdain for pilpul. I have modified my approach after realising that this isn’t the taste of Torah my kids want to hear at the table 🙂 Indeed neither do most unless one happens to know of a specific היתר. For example, I held for 30 years that showering on Yom Tov is permitted. Now many Poskim agree with that. I am far from a Posek, but I can detect when there is a hungarian-style inertia stopping the obvious 🙂

I am technically a תמים although in reality פסול is evident. Being classified a תמים means one learned in a Chabad Yeshivah. Chabad made Melbourne, irrespective of what Adass or Mizrachi or Johnny-come-latelys may claim or dream. The previous two groups have made enormous contributions, but these have been upon the shoulders and foundation of people sent by the Rayatz and last Lubavitcher Rebbe זי’’ע whose foresight was as prophetic as one can be, limited by the clouds of today’s גלות.

Many of us gained from the simple presence and הנהגות, primarily from the likes of (In no particular order) R’ Shmuel Betzalel Althaus, R’ Nochum Zalman Gurevitch, R’ Zalman Serebryanski, R’ Betzalel Wilshansky. Rav Perlov, R’ Isser Kluwgant (I never met R’ Abba Pliskin) and of course the late and great Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner זכרונם לברכה. Although I didn’t notice it in an active learning sense (except with Rabbi Groner) most of the דמות תבניתם passively infused my soul and the lessons are indelibly etched. Understandably, I didn’t understand or realise much or most of this phenomenon until I was older and less of a one minded חריף. Indeed, the older I become, the more I miss “the real McCoy”.

One of the lessons passively learned over time is an extreme disinclination towards those who speak or act in a degrading way concerning another Jew because of a perceived lowly position that other Jew seems to occupy in the ladder of Torah and Mitzvos. Unfortunately this is a hallmark of some and their philosophy. I understand it, but I vociferously disagree with it.

Chabad are masters at seeing and seeking the good and never being judgemental. I have a spine chilling aversion to the word חילוני or even בעל תשובה. Neither of these words rest easily with me. I actually abhor them. When one truly does a דין וחשבון over oneself, I don’t understand how those words can enter anyones vernacular.

While I admit that when I was fresh out of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, a Yeshivah which I will forever be indebted because it imbued me with a sense of genuine התמדה and יגיעת התורה, I tended to be much more of a black and white person, a real loner. I would have no problem in those days sitting for three hours by myself on two lines of a Tosfos. I refused short cuts. Life and its experiences have taught me that the approach of compartmentalising people as  “Chofshi” or “Yeshiva Leit” or “Nisht Frim” make me uneasy.

I was super sensitised when I returned from Kerem B’Yavneh to the extent that I literally hid in my car between lectures so that I would not be amongst the אומות העולם. Upon returning home from University, I used to lie on the couch in a semi-state of depressive stupor and did little homework. My mother confided years later that she and my father ע’’ה wondered and worried greatly whether they had made the right decision asking me to come home when I wanted another period to advance my learning. I listened to my parents, however, not for halachic reasons but because they are and were giants in my eyes. In all honesty this was happening subconsciously. I was sensitised to an extreme level.

Life is hard enough for any of us to climb up the ladder, and the higher one manages, the bigger even a little fall can potentially cascade one downwards into a spiral. We’ve all seen this sadly.

I discovered a love of Israel while at Kerem B’Yavneh and being in ארץ אשר עיני ה בה מראשית השנה עד אחרית השנה was super special. This was not something that was imparted to me in Chabad in Melbourne. The “Medina” wasn’t a word that was used. ארץ ישראל was mentioned scantily and mainly in the context of גאולה. In Chabad there was basically 770 (or as they call it בית רבינו שבבבל). This was their epicentre until משיח took them out.

I was a lad when the technology of live Sichos beamed through the Shule, and our Torah classes were suspended. Although there was a live translation, I didn’t understand much, and frankly, for most of us, we saw it as an indulgence for our teachers and an opportunity to “wag” or play ball. In hindsight, the teachers could have listened to a recording, but I digress.

This year we not only wanted to go on holidays we needed to. My wife and I were exhausted physically and mentally. The mortal body and the soul need  some rest and relaxation (although I ironically heard the Lubavitcher Rebbe speak against this concept 40 years later when I entered a room leading to his קבר. There was a recording playing when one entered the ante-room, and this was part of his topic.) Was he telling me I didn’t need a holiday? I don’t think so. My understanding was that Torah could not stop because one was on holidays, and it didn’t for me anyway. I found myself in many discussions of interesting issues. The Lubavitcher Rebbe himself was somewhat supernatural in that respect. He was tied to his room and his Chassidim, except for the daily beautiful visit to his loving soul mate to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat. Medically, both my wife and I needed a holiday.

When my father ע’’ה was in this world he wanted us around him in Surfers Paradise, his favourite holiday destination. I didn’t go the beach or walk around bare-chested like those, for whom holidays affords an opportunity to be a little lax. For me, I strolled around mainly sharing “love and other bruises” with my father. I cherish those days and our nightly “farbrengens” which were catered in a way that superseded usual holiday-based epicure-centred  compromises. We danced, we sang, we shared special moments and we were light-headed through the addition of ubiquitous Tamdhu whisky. These moments are vividly captured in pictures and videos and cherished by the extended Balbin family.

The body, soul and brain do need a rest. My wonderful wife and I hadn’t been in a position to have a holiday for seven years. After my band Schnapps performed magnificently and professionally at Rabbi Yossel Gutnick’s magnanimous yearly “Chanukah in the Park” and once I knew all was well from a medical perspective, we booked to leave the very next morning.

770 was really not my destination of choice, to be honest, I had been in the States only once before, when presenting a paper in Texas and spent some days in Manhattan. I loved listening to Jazz late into the night. The quality was stupendous, and I knew some Jazz players, who used to play in my band Schnapps before they moved to live in the States. I could easily have stayed in Manhattan again and wiled my evenings at good fress outlets followed by Jazz; the latter being something my wife shares with me. However, things changed. Through our exuberant Mechutonim and our children and children-in-law there was a familial connection to Chabad now. There were now a range of people whom I now knew and knew of who lived there and importantly, my wife enjoyed the ambience and vibrancy she experienced the year before when she dashed there (while I was an Avel) to be at the engagement of our daughter Batsheva to Yisroel Goldman (aka izzinism) the son of well-known and Choshuve Chabad families. I had spoken to to Yisroel’s maternal grandmother, the well-known Mrs Shula Kazen,IMG_1097

IMG_1193
Batsheva, Rabbi Levin’s mother, my wife and Iwhose son

whose son Yosef Yitzchok ז’ל was curiously one of the first frum Jews I “met” on the internet back in the days of soc.culture.jewish and Aarnet. We developed a long distance relationship and neither he nor I could ever imagine that my daughter would marry his nephew. Shula, with her ultra clear head, is a true foot soldier of the last Rebbe and she continues what she understands to be her Shlichus into her 90’s. She has no holiday! She spoke with me many a time in Melbourne from the USA, apologising that she could not come to the wedding. At her house, I also met her sister, who is the mother of the acclaimed Gaon, R’ Feitel HaLevi Levin.

I wanted to also meet the famous Rabbi Shimon Goldman,IMG_1094 may he have a Refuah Shelemah, having read his book on Shedlitz. He shared that town with Professor Louis Waller, whose family were rooted in Shedlitz, and whose son Ian, president of Mizrachi Melbourne married my sister Adina.

I have a natural affinity for older people; they project Tachlis and חכמה with real stories that resonate. Accordingly, I promised Rebbetzin Shula that on my first opportunity I would visit her in her apartment and chat face-to-face. I wanted to meet Rabbi Goldman and at least give him Bircas Cohanim as well as Rebbetzin Rivka Groner’s father (Rabbi Gordon) who isn’t as well as he should be.

Rabbi Gordon
Rabbi Gordon

Our friends,Avremi andRifka Raskin’s son Ari, was getting married at that time in freezing Montreal. We watched Ari grow up from a babe, and Rabbi andRebbetzin Raskin, as I like to refer to them, had always been more than magnanimous when it came to our children’s weddings. Their home was and remains open for the entire community. Their hospitality is infectious.

IMG_1320

 

Over the last few years, we also had the Zechus to farbreng in our Succah with R’ Michel

R' Michel Raskin in vainglorious style
R’ Michel Raskin in vainglorious style

and Danya Raskin. Michel was very sick at one stage, and I could see it was affecting Avremy in a major way. I did what I could to cajole the Aybishter to give R’ Michel a lease of life. Thankfully Hashem had his plans for R’ Michel and these included a recovery and his famous crushing handshake. R’ Michel (and a line of traditionalists) love my wife’s Galeh (he calls it Pecha) and I love to hear his stories about Russia. It’s a natural extension of my life-long love of talking to older people. I found his stories and history much more interesting than the Booba Mayses and simple Shikrus that now pervades the Yeshivah Succa on Shemini Atzeres. Oh, for the times when Rabbi Groner farbrenged on Shmini Atzeres-I stayed the entire time.

In truth, from a halachic perspective I would move inside the house if it was cold or pitter pattering with rain on Shemini Atzeres, but out of respect for R’ Michel and other guests, I couldn’t do that, despite the Halacha being clear (to me). There is also the concept of כבוד הבריות and there was a certain romantic feeling about the rain pattering while being regaled with stories of awe.

So, logically, my wife suggested we spend a few days in Crown Heights before heading for a few days to Ari’s wedding and eventually enjoying a holiday in Miami on the way home (as it was the closest warm place where one could be Maaleh Gerah with gluttonous and fiscal abandon)

A three inch high fat free medium rare steak. Who could resist that!
A three-inch high fat-free medium rare steak. Who could resist that!

[to be continued]

Where is the sense in left wing Israeli Politics?

I just don’t get it. Even the ultra left humanitarian tree huggers of J-Street saw what happened in Gaza, and were shocked with the plan for a massive Rosh Hashana action that would have devastated all Jewry. Settlers? These were Kibbutzim in line.

We have the physics master telling us God doesn’t exist (do we believe him because he is disabled and we tend to subconsciously ascribe more genius to him as a result out of Rachmonus) Where is his cure for cancer, he could have turned to that, it might have been more useful than models that don’t seem to stand more than ten years before a better model emerges.

We have a President in his last stage, whose entire path seems to be that he “won’t repeat Bush’s mistakes”. In  pursuing this one-minded agenda he has deluded himself that he actually has friends in the Arab world and that they don’t ultimately treat him as a denier. He has failed to apply proportionality. Why doesn’t he take a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay (that he was desperate to close down) and behead him on TV. Now, that’s proportionality. A head for a head. Even the Bible doesn’t say that, so he can’t be accused of being partial. I see that civilians are killed in his bombings. Isn’t his army perfect?

He knows full well that the aged Shimon Peres, our picture/news seeking missile, that Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t got the strength or the political belief to make peace ever. Abbas just wants to go to his grave as a “great leader” like Arafat, ימ’’ש and not be shot in the head by Hamastan.

Yerusholyaim is not for sale, in the words of Mordechai Ben David, except where Arabs sell their land to the Jews and even then we are “settlers”. It’s a pejorative. Settling the City of David is a pejorative?

We buy it legally and live therein. Is there something particularly historically Arab about Silwan. Any honest historian knows the Palestinians are at best nothing to do with a long history, but an existentialism (no different to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria et al) that were “created” ex nihilo by the Turks and British. Is that some sort of Klipa that we have to honour?

No, there is only one answer, and that is a strong, unforgiving, determined, and lasting Israel. No compromise on anything. If you give an inch, they take a mile. There is no Rambam that says that the COMMENCEMENT of the ingathering of the exiles can’t preclude Moshiach.

בונים בחול ואחר כך מקדישים

Our politicians are a disgrace. No sooner than the rockets have stopped temporarily, and we are surrounded by the biggest threats since the establishment of the State and they pretend like political marionettes that they have a “peace” partner in Abu Mazen, the infamous holocaust belittler. They have no morals. Even Yair Lapid has more morals than they, and Tzippi Livni seems to have finally come to her senses.

The only way forward is the no nonsense and unambiguous approach of Naftali Bennett. Don’t like him? He’s more moderate than the Iranians, and the Qataris and all the riffraff that Obama and his side kick and delicately coiffured Kerry pretend they have respect for.

The word diplomacy needs to be rested. It has no place in the current climate. The only thing that will change the status quo is the realisation of those who want to eradicate us, that we are not budging. We are expanding on all fronts, and their time for farnarkling through multiple processes where they could have built a viable demilitarised state is running out. They must make the move. The UN is just a prostitute.

On Yom Hashoah we say “Never Again”. I wouldn’t trust those words with the left-wing in Israeli politics. The Meretz types, the opportunists and the seat piners and liners. This is no joke.

Let me say it in plain English.

They do NOT accept a Jewish State. End of Story. No Jewish State, means we have NOBODY to talk to. If you put deodorant on a stinging wound, it will still stink to high hell, and will likely also hurt. No deodorants, no more, pardon my language, it’s all bull dust. Close the doors and open them when someone normal is standing at the gate. Two State Solution? They don’t recognise one state!

If Hezbollah have a notion of starting with us, then we must not dillydally. We must ignore the world, and destroy them for their aggression in a very aggressive quick and no-nonsense all out attack. THIS is “Never Again”, not the lovely poetry and fancy speeches on Yom Hashoa.

Wake up Yidden! Stop falling for all the diplo-crap. We might be going into temporary dwellings over Succos, but those observing most of the Mitzvos of the Torah deserve quiet and solid dwellings for the rest of the year.

 

Maybe it’s not just Beck and Neturei Karta?

I’m sure many of us are spending time defending Israel and its rightful inhabitants at work, in forums, in comments on various newspapers (I had a totally benign comment of mine censored by the Economist, no less)

These are TOUGH times. Jewish soccer players get attacked on the pitch. We read that a shop in Belgium hung a large sign saying ‘no entry to Zionists or dogs’ and then had Zionists replaced by the word Jews. Our people fight those who want to annihilate us every minute and protect Jewish lives. Is it Torah that doesn’t see a missile on Bnei Brak or is it the Enemy themselves who perceive such enclaves as their friends?

Many in Europe of all places are facing violence and huge barrages of protest which invariably link us to hitler Yimach Shemo Vezichro. There is a very clear approach being taken by haters of Jews.

This morning someone sent me a phone picture of a demonstration in Paris taken by a bystander. I don’t have words to describe how sick in the guts I felt seeing these low lives joining those who would be happy to see us wiped out.

I am thinking that we need a web page, a World-Wide page, of faces and names. Anyone from any country in the world who joins these protests, is made visible in their anti israel views and should be named alongside their picture.

Here is the picture that raised my blood pressure significantly.

20140724-090807-32887744.jpg

Torn between what I think is right and a Torah law

In the evening, as I lie in bed hoping I can fall asleep quickly, I often take to my iPad arguing the outright lies put out by Hamas sympathisers disguising themselves as spokesman for the Palestinian cause.

In an among one stream of debate, a past moral and respected alumni of mine called for money to help the citizens of Hamastan. I asked her whether she was motivated by helping only Muslims or whether it was a civilian gesture to help all citizens caught up in the war begun by Hamas. She didn’t like me introducing that angle to her appeal, although she had published figures where she had already politicised the debate. She was, I believe, one of the vocal supporters of the rabble-like demonstration together with the great unwashed: consisting of the Marxists, Socialist Alliance, and other anti-Semitic no hopers living on Government subsidies in the main. I see them putting up posters all around my workplace. I take them down, if I pass such posters. I have the same right to take down a non mandated poster as they do putting them up.

Suddenly, one of my alumnus’ friends posted a horribly offensive picture of Hitler ימ’’ש with the words “I didn’t kill all the Jews, I left some for you to kill” followed by Share the post etc

I was fuming. I tried to control myself, but as a child of holocaust survivors and like many of us who lost relatives in the genocide targeting a race–the largely helpless Jews–I felt that justice needed to be effected. I quickly took pictures of the said disgraceful post and researched the background of the person who sent it. I asked him to contact me as he was in breach of State and Federal Laws, after which he quickly took down the post.

He wasn’t a Yobbo. He is very intelligent, having completed an Aeronautical Engineering degree from RMIT. He was from Pakistan, living in Melbourne, occupying a very senior role in a well-known company, and was undertaking a part-time MBA part-time at Melbourne Uni.

I asked our common acquaintance to contact him. Our common acquaintance/alumnus is a nice person, also a Muslim, and she and I have mutual respect. He refused to contact me. When a week passed, and I saw another objectionable post from him, I decided that I had to do react. The Police were outraged and informed me that he had likely broken both a local and federal law and if convicted faced a term of up to 3 years in prison and all that flows from that. The police suggested that we need to react to such hate speech.

Yes, it is also true, I was grossed out by the assault perpetrated by Zach Gomo, and this was also on my mind. Zach has been to our house several times, with his lovely partner to be.

There was a rally, which I couldn’t attend. I understand it was poorly attended. In my opinion the proper JEWISH response was not to wear red (a colour we are enjoined to avoid), but to blow the Shofar, to the sound of Teruah (it is a Machlokes Acharonim whether this applies today) and to issue prayers for the safety of the defenders of our Holy State. The agenda should not be led by Zionist organisations alone. They sometimes invent new modes of protest and rally. As Rav Soloveitchik stressed: the Chachomim defined the limits of Torah according to tradition-Mesora. We should not be inventing new traditions. The Mesora informs us what we should be doing. We must follow the Mesora at all times. Unfortunately I could not attend. I was teaching Torah at the time to two people who are the future of our people. I hope the rally achieved success and the organisers were pleased.

Now, I wanted my interlocutor to visit the Holocaust Museum and issue an advertisement apologising for his racially genocidal incitement. In other words, I wanted him educated.

I had rung the Neil Mitchell program on Monday when the topic arose, and related what a low-life had perpetrated. Neil took my number off air but never followed up. I wouldn’t expect Jon Faine to have any more sympathy even Neil although he is technically Jewish and has two very fine traditional parents.

Yes, my angst is trivial compared to a family that has lost a love one, but I can’t help the seething frustration, where weeds are permitted to sprout with impunity in a “multi-cultural” Australia. That being said, a Torah Law prohibits me taking the next steps, and one must bow to the Torah and I will leave it at that.

This is from Debbie Schlussel. It’s not what he posted. What he posted was much worse and I dare not even let anyone see it as it is distressing.

Yizkor—is it dead and buried?

The saying of Yizkor, apart from Yom Kippur (which is mentioned in the Medrash Tanchuma), is a more recent custom. It became part of the Ashkenazi liturgy probably during the time of the crusades in the 1400’s. The Rabbis specifically instituted it to be (outside of Israel) on the second day of Yom Tov. Why not the first day of Yom Tov? Clearly it was felt that by setting it the second day, this would encourage those who were vacillating about whether to attend the service on the second day to do so. Of course, Reform (who like to consider themselves and call themselves) progressive, just dismiss the second day of Yom Tov and banish it to an ordinary day no different in “holiness” to a non-Jewish ordinary day.

There is no requirement to say Yizkor with a minyan of ten males (or females I guess if you are Reformed). We don’t say Kaddish at Yizkor. It is a moment of vocal and silent contemplation during which one lists those who are to be remembered in one’s family and give charity in their merit.

There has always been a disagreement as to whether someone whose parents are alive leaves the Shule during Yizkor. Our family Minhag (like many) is to never stay inside during Yizkor if one’s parent(s) are alive.

During the first year of mourning after a parent, there are also divergent customs. Some say that the mourner stays inside for Yizkor but remains silent, whilst others leave the Shule until Yizkor has concluded and then re-enter (our Minhag)

Over time, special extra Yizkor prayers were added for those who were murdered during tragedies such as the Holocaust.

Jews of Sephardi origin never had the custom to say Yizkor, except on Yom Kippur. They were less influenced by their neighbours and I surmise their Rabbis didn’t need to insert Yizkor in order to cajole them to come to a Jewish service. They came anyway.

In truth, the first Yizkor (after my father ע’’ה) was on Pesach this year. I was planning to attend Elwood Shule, however, I was asked to make up a minyan (and be the sole Cohen for the priestly blessings) for someone who was too ill to attend Shule, and I said Yizkor in his house. My second Yizkor, the first in a formal Shule, was to be Shavuos, and I was planning on attending Elwood Shule again (my father’s Shule). However, I have bouts of plantar fasciitis which occasionally flair up, and had been at the Orthotist on Erev Shavuos because it had caused me pain. I went to Yeshivah Shule, which is closer, as a result. I stood there, while the Shule was engulfed in silence, each person uttering their personal Yizkors. My father used to daven there in the evenings, and had a seat there as well as Elwood.

Strangely, I was not moved. I had been more engrossed in refamiliarising myself with Megillas  Ruth!

I (over) think about my father regularly, either with tears, memories or laughter. For some reason, I could not focus at that ordained moment to make it especially meaningful.

One of my sisters undertook the very long walk to Elwood Shule specifically for this reason and came away quite sad. She mentioned that the Shule was morgue-like, with barely anyone in the women’s gallery and the same few familiar faces in the men’s gallery. She commented that Rabbi Gutnick had spoken well, but that looking at the Shule, she couldn’t get over a feeling of gross cavernous emptiness. It suited her mood though, and her Yizkor wasn’t mine. There is a custom to say Yizkor at the Shule where a parent used to pray.

These days most Jews don’t come to Shule on the first day of Yom Tov. You’d be lucky if they even said Kaddish on the day of the Yohr Tzeit. Perhaps they light a candle at home, I don’t know. Ironically, they went to Jewish Schools, and know what’s required. They aren’t complete ignoramuses. They are caught up in new-age Hedonism or “Tikun Olam”.

Even Yizkor seems to have lost its attraction to a generation that had and has no trouble accepting a financial inheritance, but plenty of trouble making time in a day to attend Shule and say a prayer like their parents, for their parent(s). Perhaps I’m over-harsh. It’s not the first time my blatant honesty has been interpreted as harshness and even offence. That’s just too bad. I call it as I see it. Word games are for U.N. Diplomats. They achieve nothing. Oslo accords anyone?

It’s so very sad but remembering is part of a much bigger picture. That picture has now been dumbed down and recreated in the image of modern fun events. Kids seem to come to Shule on the first day when you offer them ice cream. Great. Perhaps the second day should be “Whisky day” for the adults? It’s all very nice, but it isn’t Jewish Identity unless it leads somewhere. There can be no Jewish Identity without solid authentic Jewish Education, and I do not include the University style study of History, Poetry or the Arts in that category. Yep, you heard me right.

If you dumb Judaism down, reduce it to clichés or the spiritual, and over focus on the experiential and don’t achieve follow-up there is nothing to hold the house up in the future. That’s my view. Take it or leave it. If you are offended by my observation, do try to focus on the fact that my intention is always to call a spade a spade; and yes, some are offended by that. מה אפשר לעשות.

Pinchas Koplowicz ע’’ה

My memories of this man are larger than life. I attended his Levaya on Erev Shabbos. To us, the Balbin family, he was known as ‘Uncle Pinye’. We were brought up never to call more senior people by their first names. It wasn’t appropriate to call him Mr, in the same way that it wasn’t appropriate to use the Yiddish “Ir” instead of the closer version “Dir”. He, as usual, disliked Mr just as much, and always said he was “Peter Kay.”

Uncle Pinye was another long-time member of Elwood Shule after his family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. He sat at the back-most row of the Shule in the last seat of the middle section on the left, leading into the Beis Medrash named after R’ Chaim Yoffe, where daily services are still conducted. Uncle Pinye didn’t sit there because the seats were cheaper. He sat there because he was enigmatic. On the one hand, he wasn’t short of a dollar, and was munificent when it came to Tzedoko for causes that were dear to him. He revelled in the happy social murmur pervading a brunch or event that he loved to host. On the other hand, he wasn’t a person who felt comfortable “standing out” in a Shule environment. The most comforting, perhaps compromising position for him was in the back row. If anything, I felt that he was always struggling when sitting in Shule, conjoined to a seat.

To be sure, there were other members of our family who also sat in that back row over the years, and this would also have contributed to feelings of relative comfort. I use the term ‘relative comfort’ because he was constantly in a state of inner and vocal philosophical turmoil.

All Holocaust survivors struggle to find meaning or justification (if I can use such a word) to describe what they experienced, but he was an Auschwitz survivor whose tattooed number one didn’t need to see. ‘Holocaust survivor and State of Israel lover‘ were evident in a virtual tattoo that was visible constantly on his forehead and literally manifested itself in every second line of conversation I and others had with him for almost 50 years.

A close friend of my father ע’’ה for seventy years, he and his wife Resi ע’’ה loved my mother equally.

Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום
Pinchas and my father עליהם השלום

He always told me that if I needed to study the definition of Yiddishe Mamme, I should simply look at my mother. I remember my band ‘Schnapps’ flying up to Sydney to play at his grandson’s wedding. I secretly wept at select moments when nobody was watching. I played Yiddishe Mamma at his request on my violin. For him, this was a surreal occasion. I feel he was riddled with the understandable guilt of enjoyment and Nachas. What do I mean by that? Although he merited seeing two daughters build families and played joyfully with great grandchildren, he was in a state of questioning at all times. His question was

“Why me? Why did I deserve to survive? What inherent quality did I possess that was not possessed by the millions who were butchered around me?

That was not his most powerful question or indeed his constant question. He traumatised me somewhat from a very young age whenever, and I mean whenever, he saw me. He would ask:

Hey youngster! Yitzchik, I know you are an intelligent boy, a religious boy, and a good son to your parents, but one day I’d like you to explain to me why 1,000,000 children deserved to die.

As I got older, and wiser, I subconsciously, and no doubt intentionally, tried to gently steer the conversation away from that and to the Nachas he was enjoying. He wasn’t simple, of course. He knew exactly what I was doing, and sometimes managed to reverse my strategy.

He wore a small Tallis, and usually that grey hat. I suspect that the late and great R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל was someone whose expressed the pain of the holocaust and a genuine love of the State of Israel as manifested in his renowned drashos, affected Uncle Pinye in a manner that captivated his attention. Rabbi Gutnick didn’t have answers either. He never pretended to. Who does? He spoke about the dry bones, and how those dry bones came to life. I am sure that message resonated somewhat with Uncle Pinye, and it was probably for that reason, and the cajoling of my father and late Uncle Yaakov, that allowed him to feel semi-comfortable enough to attend Elwood in those days.

Last week, when his state of health state was undulating precariously like a yo-yo, between recovery and imminent end of life, I visited him. As a Cohen, it was a calculated decision. We donned gowns and gloves. He was lying listlessly in the bed, and when he realised that I had come with my mother, an enormous strength overcame him as reflected in his eyes and hands. Suddenly, he was the typical Uncle Pinye. I knew it, because he said , in his last words to me

Listen to me youngster (he was 93 and I have grandchildren!)  I do not intend to leave this world until I get an answer to why 1,000,000 children were allowed to be murdered.

I was frozen, as always when confronted with this style of questioning. I find it difficult to read books about the holocaust, let alone watch a movie. The latter stems from my experience as a boy, watching the Diary of Anne Frank and running out of the TV room when the Nazis ימ’’ש found her. I recall running to my room in Rockbrook Road, lying down on the bed, trembling and weeping. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that moment. But, this isn’t about me.

When we were young, his family lived in Adelaide. It was there that he built his livelihood. They would come (and it wasn’t cheap) for visits to Melbourne, and there was no question that his daughters were tantalised by the richer Jewish and social life in Melbourne, as well as the sense of family experienced through the wider Balbin family. Whenever they came, we were in their surrounds, enjoying many moments together. They were a permanent fixture though they lived in Adelaide. Eventually, daughters Dora and Belinda won. The family moved to Melbourne, but he used to commute because he couldn’t just leave his business interests to dissipate in wanton abandon.

He had used the name Peter Kay, because in a non-Jewish world it was easier. I recall his love of table tennis, gymnastics, hand-stands and sport, as well as the gregarious nature he oozed without tiring. He had no qualms dressing up, and his house just had to have a formal bar. The refrain

Can I offer you a drink?

still rings in my ear. It wasn’t an offer. It was essentially a command. He had it all behind that bar, and once a drink or two were quaffed, our discussion inevitably led to the Holocaust and how much he admired my parents and family.

He would enthuse that he didn’t have words for the honesty and integrity of my father and Uncle Yaakov who slaved upstairs in their factory cutting clothes and assembling them for production.

For her part, my mother knew that Uncle Pinye loved Choolent. Almost each Shabbos, especially when my father retired, we set aside the remainder to be delivered personally by my father (sometimes together with me) to his house on Sunday. If my father was ill, he and my mother would ask me to perform the delivery. I did so, willingly, of course, even if it meant a drink and talk session that lasted at least an hour. There was no such thing as a quick visit.

I remember a number of times he said to me, “Yitzchik, I have so many paintings, please choose a few and take them home for your lovely wife”. I have always felt uncomforable accepting gifts, and I kept replying that I had no art appreciation and he’d need to talk to my wife. His response was, of course, “so bring her, with pleasure”. My wife also visited on a number of occasions and he loved her too like family.

The root of this connection goes back many years. Although he was born in Lodz, he had relatives in my father’s home town of Rawa Mazowiecka. Immediately after the war,

Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום
Pinchas Kay in Rawa on the left with my Uncle Yaakov soon after the war, עליהם השלום

when he imagined that nobody had survived, he found two of his sisters in my Booba and Zeyda’s house in Rawa. He never forgot that. I recall when the sisters (Zosia and Itka), who lived overseas, would come to Melbourne, the special bond that they too shared with my father. The kinsmanship and love were palpable. It was no problem for me to like them as well. It was a veritable hand in glove.

Like my parents, his family was his love and purpose and that kept a tortured soul focussed and grounded somewhat. The State of Israel was a miracle he was so very proud of and he never failed to be part of it, even when he wasn’t physically standing in the streets therein.

When my father ע’’ה passed away recently, he turned his attention to the isolation and melancholy that my mother understandably descended into. After her serious fall, he redoubled his efforts, even though he was physically frail. Almost a day wouldn’t go by without him incessantly ringing my mother, and then me and my sisters when he couldn’t elicit an answer from her phone. He wanted to take out the entire family for dinner. I tried to explain that we’d need to wait until the year was over, and he accepted that, but even after the year was over, my mother was and remains rather isolationist, rejecting invitations from her friends for the most simple of activities, such as sharing a cup of coffee. This will change, undoubtedly, in time, but alas, Uncle Pinye departed before she was able to bring herself to accept invitations with comfort.

He is now, no doubt, at peace. I use the term קדושי ניצולי השואה which whilst not common, cannot be seen as objectionable. For me, every survivor was and is holy. They were holy, because they had been “set aside” as a Korbon, literally a sacrifice on the altar. For reasons we do not comprehend, the Korbon survived, not because it was a בעל מום, חס ושלום, rather because

הנסתרות להשם אלוקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם

The hidden mysteries are the domain of Hashem, but the revealed, is for us, our children and offspring, forever.

This is my only response, although it is not one that I ever used in discussion with Uncle Pinye. There could never be a response that would assuage his troubled, quixotic character.

He is now hovering above his grave on the journey to the Garden of Eden, at the end of the 12 months of mourning. His legacy, kindness, love, and gregarious nature, though, is set in stone in my psyche, and  in that of my mother, siblings, children and the wider Balbin family.

יהי זכרו ברוך

Postscript: at great expense and with much paper shuffling under the devoted hand of Ezra May, he decided to formally change his name back to Koplowicz. He had needed to function as “Kay” but he had never lost the Koplowicz, and that describes his essence in a single act. It isn’t surprising that Yom Yerushalayim will fall during his week of Shiva. That is also Hashgocho—the conundrum of issuing praise for the miracles Hashem wrought after the Holocaust, davka at a time of extreme mourning for an individual of this ilk.

Our country, our people, our struggle and extremism

I was not going to post about this topic because I know there are many at Adass Yisrael, the Melbourne Chassidic Charedi organisation, who were upset at what happened and I didn’t want to pour petrol on a raging fire.

Then I received the following video [hat tip MD]. It shocked me to my core. If you understand Ivrit, just a little it will likely do the same to you. Make sure you turn on annotations and captions in youtube for English.

The Palestinian Arab rendition of Hatikva

It is plain to see that they have butchered the words of Hatikva to issue calls for the destruction of our homeland and annihilation of our people. We are sixty short years away from a scourge that made no difference between a Rebbe or Mechalel Shabbos. A scourge that didn’t care if someone was from Satmar or from Mizrachi. The common theme is that

עם לבדד ישכון

But who is the עם?

Two incidents occurred with the approval of Rabbinic decree at Adass on Yom Haatzmaut. Now, nobody is saying that people have to give שבח והודאה to Hashem if they feel that the state is a cataclysm for עם ישראל but is this אחיך בלבביך?

Both incidents are outside the rules of Dinim Mefurashim in Shulchan Aruch according to all Rishonim.

  • We don’t say Tachanun at a Bris Mila (שו”ע, סימן קלא, סעיף ד). The Kaf Hachaim says that even other minyanim in that building don’t say Tachanun כה”ח, סימן קעז. The Mishna Brura says that even if the Ba’alei Simcha aren’t there  (משנ”ב, שם, ס”ק כב). Yet, when a recent Bris was held on the 5th of Iyyar (yes, we can assume that they didn’t accept the 6th of Iyyar this year because that was designed to lessen the chance of עבירות) yet at Adass, the Rabbi declared vocally that Tachanun had to be said. The SADNESS and CALAMITY of the establishment of a State overrode in his unpublished and unsourced opinion (I know about the Chazon Ish 60 years ago) the clear requirement not to say Tachanun because there was a Simcha. Perhaps they should have worn sack cloth at the Bris and said Kinos on the floor? When I look at this action in the context of the youtube link above, I feel sick in my stomach. Isn’t it clear to one and all that Tachanun would not have been said because of a Bris? Isn’t it known that the right-wing Satmar branch of Adass are closer to Neturei Karta and the breakaway than they are to the rest of the community and Adass has lurched to the right over the years, especially as the sane voices of holocaust survivors dwindle.  Would this happen at Chabad? No. Would this happen at Beis HaTalmud? I’d venture to say no. Even though Rav Kotler was no uber supporter, he had a fidelity to Halacha. Someone correct me if they say Tachanun at Lakewood on Yom Ha’atzmaut if there is a Bris.
  • There was a poor Adass fellow who was sitting Shiva for his father. During the Shiva,  the Halacha is clear that we do not say Tachanun. Nobody is talking about Hallel with or without a Brocho or anything like that. Tachanun is not said in the mourners house. Yet, because it was Yom Ha’atzmaut, they decided to say Tachanun in contrast to an open halacha שולחן עורך אורח חיים סעיף ד’ ובמשנה ברורה סק”כ. This is a time when the Midas HaDin is threatening and we dare NOT mention sin (Tachanun) in the house of an Avel. But here, the existence of a State of Israel and the possibility that this might be seen to be supporting Yom Ha’atzmaut, was seen (unpublished and unsourced) as more important than the fearful notion of מידת הדין מתוחה, וצריך ליזהר שלא להגביר מידת הדין עליו

So what does one do? My suggestion is that all who are friendly with people from Adass and who agree with my viewpoint express objection in strong terms and ask them why those who were not happy with the unhalachic ruling, decided to say Tachanun. This is not a הוראת שעה from a נביא.

במקום שיש חילול השם אין חולקים כבוד לרב

I fully accept that the Rabbi(s) who must have issued this ruling are careful with the minutest detail of Halacha and are honest and ehrliche Jews, but I simply cannot reconcile this alleged breach of Halacha in the context of that sickening youtube video.

Nobody says one has to agree with ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו … I know many Rabonim who cleverly say סמיכת when it is politically wise to do so, or who add the word שיהא. These are eschatological matters which really don’t concern me too much. I’m happy with plain גאולה as soon as possible.

I consider these actions as tantamount to matching the antics of the ערב רב who visit and visited those despots who seek to dismantle the only Jewish homeland we have, and have had for thousands of years.

It’s a Shame and a Shande ואין פוצץ פה

Visiting their “Rebbe” Arafat’s Tziyun
Holocaust survivor, Moshe Ber Halevi Beck, with Ahmadinajad, ימח שמו וזכרו

Yom Ha’atzmaut: I didn’t find it funny

As I was leaving Shule today, there was a function being held. I don’t know who the caterer was, but it was under Adass supervision. The door was open, and the Mashgiach (supervisor), a rather portly chap was munching on some soup nuts. He was a jovial type and we exchanged a few pleasantries. He then asked me (in Yiddish) do you know what day the Megadef (blasphemer) in today’s Parshas Emor committed his sin? [ The blasphemer who cursed God was the son of Shlomis Bas Divri  and his father was allegedly the Egyptian killed by Moshe Rabbenu (Shmos, second Perek) and he was punished with death for cursing God.]

This Mashgiach of the food (who was a Chossid of some sort, with long Payes, and his Tzitzis Beged on the outside) bellowed that it was the 5th of Iyar (i.e. Yom Ha’atzmaut). I have to admit that I didn’t know if he was telling me the truth in respect of the date and I just wasn’t aware or I was confused with the date of the Mekoshesh Etzim, but it doesn’t matter.

In other words, on the very the day that Hashem allowed the world to grant Israel the ability to be an independent nation, was according to this fellow the same day that the Megadef sinner was put to death for cursing God.

His point was clearly that there was a connection between the two. The notion of a new State for Jews wasn’t a cause célèbre but something akin to cursing God/sinning for which the death penalty was appropriate.

As is my way, I usually find a quick retort, and told him that the correct meaning was that anyone whose distorted weltanschauung saw the establishment of the new State of Israel as a sin/curse, was deserving the death penalty. He snorted, and didn’t respond, and I went on my way.

I simply cannot comprehend how people can speak this way about Israel. I struggle with it. Either they feel that immediately after the Holocaust God decided to “test us” and offer us a State and we should have said “NO”, or they think that the Hester Panim (concealment of God’s visage) during the Holocaust continued further and we shouldn’t have fallen for the “ruse” agreed to by the United Nations, or that we should simply have accepted the view of  R’ Yoel of Satmar, that it is (God forbid) a sin to make mass Aliyah to Israel before the Redemption (as expounded in VeYoel Moshe and discredited as an halachic argument by many Talmidei Chachomim of note).

Having been at the Yom Hashoa commemoration during the week, focussing on the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, and feeling the pain of that episode once more, I find it utterly incomprehensible that soon after 6 million holy people were murdered by the Nazis, that I am meant to see the establishment of a State as  a cataclysmic curse akin to the Megadef (the episode of which has some parallels to the Mekoshesh Etzim in Parshas Shlach).

It is times like this where I am profoundly challenged to consider such people and their views as brotherly. Not only did I not find it funny, I found it grossly offensive (he mistakenly thought I was a Chabadnik, as he had stated).

I am glad that I went home to have a nice Shabbos meal with my mother (a Holocaust survivor who lived, studied and found refuge in the new State of Israel immediately after the war) and managed to control my seething anger.

The flag of the State of Israel atop the Ponovezh Yeshivah on Yom Haatzmaut

With friends like these who needs enemies?

John Kerry who is trying admirably to organise peace between Palestinians: the Israeli Jewish ones and the Arab ones, has been quoted as saying

Netanyahu wrong to insist Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state

Why is Bibi wrong? Because “international law” already recognises Israel as a Jewish State? I see, so Kerry wants us to make peace with those don’t accept or agree with International “Law”. Narishkeit?

Law? You have two opinions in Law even about Yehuda and Shomron. Some say it’s perfectly within International Law and these includes eminent Jurists, and others (including the bleeding left amongst our own people, who also tend to be the uber egalitarians) say they are “settlements” and illegal. חס ושלום

You’d have to be pretty naïve to accept Kerry’s assurances. One can only assume that he’s reached a dead-end. Even a not very bright politician wouldn’t make such a ridiculous statement or claim תהיס as a way of moving forward. Crimea anyone?

There will never be peace while Abu Abbas is in the Chair. That is my view. It will take someone bold. Abbas is a holocaust denier. He’s yesterday’s man. He isn’t bold or brave enough to look after those in the West Bank. He hasn’t made a single contribution to humanity. The Islamists in Gazastan are another kettle of fish. If you mixed them together with those on the West Bank you’d have Syria. If Abbas really cared about his people, he’d become a separate State within Jordan. Now, there’s a good idea. Why doesn’t someone run with that solution. Makes a lot of sense to me especially since some 50% of Jordanians share DNA with the West Bankers.

ישראל נושע בה׳

תשועת עולמים

Wishing all my readers a freilechen/happy purim where the Hamans of our world are rendered purposeless. Feel free to drop in and make לחיים if you are so inclined and in the vicinity. Yes, that even includes Satmar Chassidim and Kalte Litvaks. At the same time, watch your alcohol intake, know your limit, and make sure your kids are under control and fettered!

Has the Kollel apogee been reached?

A few nights ago after Ma’ariv, a young and enthusiastic collector asked me for a few bucks. When I asked what for, he responded that he established a new Kollel for Ba’alei Tshuva who had learned there for 9 or so years, and that times were tough. Of course, that was the truth.

I asked him why they were still in Kollel? He said, because their Torah protects Am Yisrael?

I asked him whether there were any exemplary students therein or were they “run of the mill”.

He asked me “why? what does it matter”. I replied because in my view, if those of us who work for a living extend ourselves to support mediocrity then it’s highly questionable. I noted that at (lehavdil) University level, we were tested for entry most vigorously, and all our outputs are scrutinised. I asked  what level of scrutiny was applied given that there was a crisis, limited money, etc

He  re-iterated that my point wasn’t important because their Torah was protecting Am Yisrael. There is ample precedent in Kosvei Kodesh of that. I asked him what he thought of Nachal Charedi. It’s a litmus test for me, because I feel it offers so many of the more mediocre types the chance to gain a profession and make a living which has more self-esteem. I asked him whether he thought Israeli Soldiers (e.g. Nachal Charedi) were protecting his Kollel when they were policing borders and the surrounds.

He became agitated, and told me that Torah protects.

I then quoted an Aderes Eliyahu from the Vila Gaon (he being a Litvak) where the Gaon explained the Gemora in Brachos לה ע”ב that when הרבה (many) do like R’ Shimon Bar Yochai (devoted themselves solely to Torah Learning) לא עלתה בידם (it wasn’t successful). I argued that the problem is that we are not following the Gemora which makes it clear that as a general rule people should work (and then be Kovea Itim LaTorah) and not be poor in Kollel to the extent that there are myriads begging terribly for money simply to put bread on their empty tables. I feel very sad when people are in poverty because of this choice.

I fully understand that post Holocaust, there was an urgent need to rebuild, but we have rebuilt, and Torah is flourishing in the Holy Land like never before. I know of Tshuvos e.g. from R’ Moshe Shternbuch on the topic. He chuffed off and asked me to text him the Aderes Eliyahu מקור

I kept forgetting to look it up (I had seen it 30+ years ago) but unsurprising, when I was looking into the Nefesh Hachaim of the Saintly R’ Chaim Volozhiner, the Gaon’s prime pupil and yoresh, two nights ago, the Nefesh Hachaim says the exact same words.

Sure you can twist any which way with Girsaos in the Gemora, and I’ve seen lots of that, but you can see my line of thought in R’ Chaim’s classic Nefesh Hachaim from Shaar 1, No 8.

ואמרו הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידם, והרבה עשו כרשב”י ולא עלתה בידם. היינו רבים דוקא, כי ודאי שלכלל ההמון כמעט בלתי אפשר שיתמידו כל ימיהם רק בעסק התורה, שלא לפנות אף שעה מֻעטת לשום עסק פרנסת מזונות כלל ועל זה אמרו באבות כל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה וכו’. אבל יחיד לעצמו שאפשר לו להיות אך עסוק כל ימיו בתורתו ועבודתו יתברך שמו ודאי שחובה מוטלת עליו שלא לפרוש אף זמן מועט מתורה ועבודה לעסק פרנסה חס ושלום וכדעת רבי שמעון בן יוחי…

The Maharsho on the spot is even stronger. Check it out.

Of course, it’s also in Shulchan Aruch, אורך חיים קנ’’ו

Your thoughts appreciated?

Ex-Kollel students training to be policemen (Jerusalem Post)

Good article on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

I received this article from Monica Krawczyk, with whom I have been working on an issue to do with my the restoration of the cemetery of Rawa Mazowiecka, my father’s הכ’’מ hometown.

The fight against the German Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto was of three kinds: civil resistance (the activities of the population, which strove to survive by various means, organizing food supplies, medical care), military resistance – based on the activity of underground organizations; and spiritual resistance – based on the attitude of religious Jews, for whom the fight against the Germans consisted in remaining true to their religious principles.

Little is known of this last group; few written sources have been preserved, and survivor testimonies are rare. Because they refused to conform to the occupant’s regulations, keeping their beards, sidelocks and traditional attire, often also refusing to wear armbands with the Star of David, they were the first to be targeted by the Germans. Yet paradoxically, the tactics they had adopted since the establishment of the ghetto – i.e. non-cooperation with the Judenrat insofar as registration for any type of duties was concerned, produced a significant representation of this group, in contrast to those saved from the Grossaktion of July 22, 1942. The remainder of the population preferred to register in order to obtain work, which meant getting food rations. Religious Jews (today we would probably call them orthodox) preferred to rely on accidental and charitable opportunities, but did not take part in the ghetto’s bureaucratic system. Shutting themselves off in apartments (they tried not to be out in the streets in order not to provoke anyone with their traditional dress), then cellars and bunkers, they studied the Torah and led spiritual lives – at the same time being moral beacons to others. Some were also unwilling to have anything to do with being in the Judenrat services, and therefore forced to take part in repressions against other Jews. Dr. Hillel Seidman wrote: “Whoever wanted to forget the horror of life in the ghetto – the hunger, suffering, pain – found his way to Rabbi Awraham Weinberg. In spite of horrible conditions, Rabbi Weinberg continued to teach the Torah in his home until the Germans carried out a brutal operation in his street. He and his students were literally dragged from their study to the Umschlagplatz and deported to Treblinka on September 2, 1942. Volumes of the Talmud remained on the tables, open at the treatise Bikkurim, about which Weinberg had written a work entitled Reshit Bikkurim. The aban-doned books bore testimony to those tireless Torah scholars.” Deportations continued. Seidman relates: “I visited the underground world today. From afar, I heard the melodic recitation of the Talmud. The Talmud here? In the ghetto?! About a dozen boys were sitting at a table, avidly discussing the text. They considered ancient laws, completely plunged into another world. Their faces were pale, their eyes aflame. Most no longer had mothers or fathers. They only had their rabbi – Yehuda Leib Landau, who taught night and day.” Another story: Rabbi Itzchak Meir Kanal was 82 in 1942. He had been a member of the Warsaw Rabbinate for several years, and the deputy president of the Agudas Yisroel Rabbinical Council. His apartment, along with his huge library, burned down during the Nazi bombardments of September 1939. He had no illusions as to what the deportations meant. During a roundup, he refused to go to the Umschlagplatz, while according to another version he refused to get on the train at the Umschlagplatz, saying “whatever happens, at least I will die like a Jew.” He was shot on the spot and was in fact buried at the Jewish cemetery in Okopowa St., or, as it was then called, “on Gęsia.”

We will return to this group further on in this article.

The great deportation Aktion of July 22, 1942, begun on Tisha B’Av, dealt a fatal blow to the ghetto population. About 300 000 Jews were deported to Treblinka and murdered.

After these events, the ghetto was no longer the same. First of all, Jews shed the illusion that deporta-tions “to the East” meant anything other than brutal murder. Many, especially young people active in underground organizations, who escaped deportation, lost their entire families. This made them determined and eager to fight. All those remaining in the ghetto were now certain that they were sentenced to death.

Second of all, the ghetto no longer resembled a residential district. Its inhabitants now officially num-bered 35 000 (in fact, about 60 000 people). As Prof. Engelking and Prof. Leociak write in The Warsaw Ghetto. A Guide to the Perished City, “it resembled more of a labor camp than a residential district. It was made up of separate enclaves inhabited by the workers of the official shops [i.e. workshops – M. K.] put in barracks, and the uninhabited areas between them, where it was forbidden to stay (…). The Jews remaining in the ghetto had to work in German factories and workshops.” One of the most thriving was Walter Többens’ shop, the “Többens Werke”, which – according to Franz Konrad, head of the company charged with “reclaiming” valuables from the ghetto, the “Werterfassung” – produced 60% of all the winter clothing for the eastern front. Workers were escorted to and from work by the German Werkschutz. About 2500 people worked for the Judenrat, whose significance as an administrative body in the ghetto was gradually fading.

The account of Rabbi Awraham Ziemba, the nephew of Rabbi Menachem: “The leaders of the resistance movement knew that there was a widespread understanding of the approaching catastrophe for the [Jewish] society. People naturally gathered at my uncle, Rabbi Menachem Ziemba’s house, looking for counsel and support. My uncle had already declared a while back that whoever could escape the ghetto on Aryan papers, should do so. Whoever could not, should seek a hiding place in the ghetto. In line to see the rabbi was a young man, who said that he had arranged a place for his mother on the Aryan side, but only on condition that she would convert to Catholicism. His mother had refused, claiming she would rather die as a Jew than live without her Jewish identity. What was he to do? Rabbi Menachem looked at him and said: how can I change her decision? If your mother has decided that she wants to be a Jew, how can I take that privilege away from her? Next in line was a young couple: they wanted a get (divorce). They had gotten Aryan papers, but the wife was afraid, she had strikingly Jewish looks and suspected they might be caught if they remained together. But she wanted her husband to survive. When Többens and Schutz announced that their “shops” would be transferred to Lublin and offered their workers the “opportunity” to leave, these people came to Rabbi Menachem. Should they go? The rabbi didn’t want to take personal responsibility for their decision. After consulting other rabbis and social activists he said that he thought the Germans were lying….”

Coming back to military resistance: in the fall of 1942 Jews began to rebuild and reinforce their under-ground. Traitors and collaborators were sentenced to death and executed. Those killed included Jakub Lejkin, the chief of the Jewish police who oversaw the police during the Grossaktion; Israel First, who collaborated with the Gestapo, and others. The second wave of assassinations took place between January-March 1943 – preventive measures against any potential leaks.

Contact was established with the Polish underground. On request from Leon Feiner of the Bund, Jan Karski (a courier of the Polish government-in-exile in London) visited the ghetto twice before embarking on his London mission in 1942 in order to see personally what the conditions were like and to meet with the leaders of the resistance.

The Jews’ appeal for help, or at least to make the fate of Polish Jewry known, was not only directed to the Polish government-in-exile, but to all of the “free world” and “Jewish leaders.” Jan Karski delivered this message faithfully, both in London, and later in the United States. Unfortunately the world did not react to this tragedy.

In London, Karski reported the situation to the Polish government and spent a long time explaining it to Szmuel Zygielbojm, the representative of the Bund on the London National Council, who – along with the other Jew on the Council – Dr. Ignacy Schwarzbart, who represented the Zionists – took up intensive efforts to persuade the Allies as well as Jewish communities in the free countries to come to the aid of the Jews being murdered by the Germans in Poland and Nazi-occupied Europe. Their efforts met with no real response. Paradoxically, a meeting of the American and British governments had been scheduled for April 19, 1943, in Hamilton, Bermuda, to discuss the war with Germany. The situation of the Jews in occupied Europe appeared on the agenda.

In Warsaw, meanwhile, as information was prepared for Jan Karski, talks continued with the Polish underground. Arie Wilner was nominated for the talks with the Home Army and to establish permanent contacts with the Polish resistance. Wilner made contact with Henryk Woliński, nom de guerre Wacław, from the Jewish Department of the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army Command. Wacław was a Righteous among the Nations – during the war, he hid 25 Jews in his apartment, for which he was awarded the Yad Vashem medal after the war. The Polish side responded positively to the initiative, suggesting that it preferred to work with a unanimous representation of all the under-ground organizations active in the ghetto. The Jews (in spite of ideological differences) also recognized such a need. On November 9, 1942, the unanimous (without the ŻZW – more on this, below) ŻOB rep-resentation informed the authorities of the Underground State of its establishment, and appealed for help in acquiring weapons. General Stefan “Grot” Rowecki responded positively to these declarations. In December, 10 (sic!) pistols were delivered to the ghetto.

The Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) was comprised of: Hashomer Hatzair, the Dror, Akiba, Gordonia, Poale Zion Left, Poale Zion Right, HaNoar HaTzioni and the PPR. The revisionists (and Betar) remained unaffiliated with these structures. The Jewish National Committee was the political wing of the ŻOB. A Social Committee was also formed, whose mission was to collect funds and bring together authorities supporting the military initiative. The ŻOB had about 600 members.

Next to the ŻOB, another military organization was active in the ghetto, led by Paweł Frenkel and Dawid Apfelbaum, and connected with the Revisionist Zionists and Betar as well as the Jewish Military Union – Jewish Combat Organization. The ŻOW was much better armed than the ŻOB and enjoyed the support (amongst others, probably) of the Security Corps, a Polish secret organization (subordinated to the Home Army General Command since 1942), one of whose units, led by Maj. Henryk Iwański, nom de guerre Bystry, fought a battle against the Germans, shoulder to shoulder with the ŻOW, in the area of Muranowski Square on April 27, 1943. A German tank was burned during this operation. It is in Muranowski Square that two flags were flown from a roof – a Polish and a Jewish one. All of the fighters of the Jewish Military Union perished in the ghetto, along with ten heroic combatants from Bystry’s unit. After the war, due to communist propaganda which supported the leftist Bund (which also came to dominate history on account the political makeup of the ŻOB and the prevalence of Zionists in the organization), the contribution of the ŻOW and of Maj. Bystry’s troops was completely omitted. Poles fighting in the ghetto are mentioned by SS general J. Stroop in his report on the quenching of the uprising, as well as by Stefan Korboński.

The outbreak of the uprising in April 1943 was preceded by the so-called January self-defense. Himmler visited the closed district on January 9, 1943, and noted that there were still “too many” Jews in the ghetto, ordering their “liquidation.” This was resisted by the German entrepreneurs who were not con-tent at the idea of reducing their work force. They soon came to an agreement with the SS that their companies would be transferred to the labor camps at Trawniki and Poniatowa together with the work-ers. At this point, people no longer believed the German assurances that they would be sent to work. Summons to assemble were boycotted. It was only after 5 days that the Germans managed to catch about 5000 people – on January 18, 1943, the SS entered the ghetto and carried out a classic roundup. Many of the ŻOB activists thought they were dealing with the final liquidation of the ghetto, and fighting broke out in a number of places. Sixty Bund activists were shot at the Umschlagplatz – they had refused to get onto trains.

Based on the contacts established between the ŻOB and the AK (December 4, 1942), the Żegota Council to Aid Jews was founded on the Aryan side at the initiative of individuals and various underground groups. The Council obtained documents, arranged food aid, medical care and hiding places for Jews, with special efforts made to protect Jewish children. The operations of Żegota were financed by the Polish government-in-exile in London, Jewish organizations and numerous private donors. This is a beautiful chapter in Polish-Jewish relations and it is a pity that it is so often ignored. The Council was made up of a dozen individuals, both Poles and Jews. Its best known members include Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, Irena Sendler, Adolf Berman and Leon Feiner. Every member of the Council was aided by his or her own network of collaborators.

Sometime between January and April 1943, a meeting of the last three surviving members of the War-saw Rabbinate – R. Menachem Ziemba, R. Szimszon Stockhammer and R. Dawid Szapiro – was held in the ghetto. The Catholic Church had offered to help them. R. Szapiro spoke first: “I am the youngest of us. What I say is not binding for you. It is clear that there is no way we can help the Jews remaining in the ghetto. However, the fact that we have not abandoned them can lend some moral support. I cannot abandon the people.” After a moment of silence, Rabbi Ziemba said: “There is nothing to discuss.” And they all went their separate ways.

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba (1883-1943) was one of Warsaw’s greatest rabbis. During the interwar period, he was the rabbi of Warsaw’s Praga district and a member of the city Rabbinate. He was a great halachic authority. In Praga, he lived at 34 Brukowa St. (today’s Okrzeja St.), just a few steps away from the no longer extant synagogue on Szeroka St. (today’s Kłopotowski St.). In the ghetto, he lived on Kupiecka St. – the area of the fighting of the ŻOW.

There is debate about his factual and clear support for the ghetto combatants. Although as a public fig-ure he could not become actively involved in preparing for armed resistance, he is supposed to have been one of the first people to have contributed funds for the purchase of weapons. At a meeting on January 14, 1943, he gave his rabbinical approval to an uprising. He said: “out of necessity we must stand up to our enemy on all fronts… we will no longer obey his orders… the sanctification of the Name takes various forms. During the first crusade in the eleventh century the Halacha defined one way of reacting to the situation of the Jews in France and Germany, and in the middle of the twentieth century, during the liquidation of Jews in Poland, it requires us to take a wholly different approach. In the past, faced with religious persecution, we were required to lay down our lives. Now, when we are faced with an archenemy whose unbelievable brutality and program of destruction knows no bounds, the Halacha would have us fight and resist until the very end with unvanquished determination and will in order to sanctify the Divine Name.”

The fighting in January made it possible to improve the organization of the combatants. Most im-portantly, it was decided that units would reside in the same or in adjacent apartments in various key locations throughout the ghetto. A certain mental barrier was also overcome – the Jews were now capa-ble of raising their heads and fighting. “The Home Army Information Bulletin” stated: “the heroic stance of those who have not lost their sense of honor in the saddest moments of Jewish reality, elicits respect and is a beautiful chapter in the history of Polish Jews.”

At that moment, no one could doubt any longer that the days of those still alive in the ghetto were numbered. The ghetto population engaged in feverish preparations: food was stockpiled, secret passages and tunnels were prepared as well as hiding places (bunkers) for long – as was thought – months of resistance. Those who had put off escape to prearranged shelters on the “Aryan side” did so immediately. The prices of food and building materials smuggled into the ghetto, or weapons sold to Jews, in-creased. The last were the most difficult to obtain.

In spite of agreements with the AK the ŻOB still lacked weapons. Following the December shipment, which seems only to have been symbolic, the AK delivered a further 50 pistols, 50 grenades and 4 kg of explosives at the end of January. In March 1943, the ŻOB wrote to the AK: (…) right now we have ten bullets for every gun. This is catastrophic. Giving us guns without ammunition gives the impression of cynical mockery of our fate and confirms the suspicion that the poison of anti-Semitism still consumes the circles of those who rule Poland in spite of the cruel, tragic experience of the last three years… I ask for at least 100 grenades, 50 pistols, 10 guns, and a few thousand ammunition of any caliber.”

Apart from the abovementioned underground groups of the ŻOB and ŻOW there were other armed groups unaffiliated with the above structures, which also prepared for armed resistance. Fragments of information from survivors seem to indicate that there were groups of religious Jews who decided to take up arms. We know of a group led by a certain “Matys” Matetiahu Gelman, who was a Chassid, a follower of the tzadik of Góra Kalwaria, and Rabbi Josef Aleksander Zemelman from Przedecz, who, according to accounts collected by the Michlal Institute in Jerusalem, fought actively in the ŻOB and was killed at 44 Zamenhof St.

Meanwhile religious Jews prepared for the holiday of Pesach, whose eve was on April 19, 1943. Clean-ing was probably not a priority, but an attempt was made to prepare small matzos and wine from raisins or beets (it exists – I checked!). Rumors of an uprising or a new liquidation operation intensified, and all were at the end of their nerves. Knowing the habits of the Germans, a new Aktion was expected to take place at daybreak.

“During the evening hametz hunt (on April 18), news spread that the Polish police was gathering at the entrances to the ghetto,” Rabbi Awraham Ziemba relates. “Everyone went home to take the most essen-tial things down to the bunkers. The atmosphere was very tense. Members of the underground assumed their posts.”

And indeed the tradition of disrupting holidays was maintained. The Germans entered the ghetto in the evening of April 19. This time, although they always perversely planned their operations on Jewish holidays, it was not about Pesach, but about Hitler’s birthday, which fell on April 20. The SS wanted to make their boss a nice gift, reporting that Warsaw was “Judenrein.” A German column advanced from the side of Gęsia/Zamenhof Sts. and down Nalewki. It was greeted by a shower of bullets and Molotov cocktails, thrown from ŻOB positions. The civil population were already for most part down in the bunkers and shelters.

Interestingly, the ŻOB had prepared no bunkers, shelters or ways out of the ghetto for its members… because they were not thinking about the future. As Itzchak “Antek” Cukierman wrote in his memoirs: “We did not seek ways to survive, our goal was to fight… we prepared no shelters… We prepared no plans of rescue because we did not take into account that any of us would remain alive.” In the end, as the uprising raged, it was the civil population who admitted the fighters into their bunkers.

Bela Szapec-Bar recalls the first day of the insurgency: “The uprising began on the evening of Pesach. We could hear bullets whistling by, and explosions, but Rabbi Herszel Rappaport said that we were to continue preparing for the seder. Nearly 70 people sat down to the table. Most were Gur Chassidim (followers of the tzadik of Góra Kalwaria), mostly young people, but 20 neighbors from the same courtyard also joined in. Among them was a well-known doctor who had never been religious, but had recently joined the Chassidim because he wanted his soul to depart with those of the holy men. Rabbi Herszel led the seder, but rapidly mounting gunfire forced us out to our hiding place in the attic. Rabbi Herszel remembered to take a small Torah scroll with him. Outside, fires raged, while inside we prayed and sang Chassidic songs. When the smoke grew thick, Rabbi Herszel said to us: “It is time. At this very moment we must be strong in order to keep from thinking that God has abandoned us… we want to live so badly, but at this moment His will is that we sanctify His Name, and we accept our fate with joy.” The SS finally found us. They took us outside, took away all of our valuables, and asked R. Rappaport if he was a rabbi….”

Rabbi Ziemba’s hiding place was located in an attic at 7 Kupiecka St. As many as 100 people had gath-ered there in the evening. He asked if everyone had matzos. In the preceding days he had advised eve-ryone to bake k’zait matzos – the minimal size acceptable by Jewish law (a bit larger than half a palm) – and to keep them in their pockets. Who knows where one will be spending the evening? Shooting sub-sided after nightfall. The seder was begun, the Haggadah read. In the morning, fighting resumed, and the Germans began to burn down house after house, rounding up survivors. On Shabbat, neighboring tenements caught fire, and everyone from 7 Kupiecka St. had to evacuate. During the escape, Rabbi Menachem was shot dead along with his five-year-old grandson. He was given a provisional burial in the courtyard at 4 Kupiecka St. After the war the grave was found (thanks to the efforts of Awraham Ziemba and Rabbi Menachem’s daughter, Rebetsin Rojza Weidenfeld, who witnessed his death), and the remains of this illustrious man were transferred to Jerusalem. It is is a pity that there is no street named after him in Warsaw.

The German command was well aware of the existence of shelters, and adopted a suitable strategy: their inhabitants were to be systematically “smoked out” by setting fire to and blowing up building af-ter building. The drama of those days is witnessed by a photograph from Stroop’s album, showing a mother with a baby on her arm, holding on to a balcony railing. She is hanging on the outer side of the balcony, located on the second floor. Flames and smoke blaze out from inside the apartment. How many such mothers and children were there?

On April 22, 1943, Stroop reported: “At night, the fire we had set forced the Jews to come out of resi-dential buildings in order to avoid the flames. Until then, they had remained hidden in cellars, apartments, attics and other places which our searches had not revealed. In great numbers, whole families of Jews, engulfed in flames, jumped from windows or lowered themselves on sheets tied together. Efforts were made to liquidate all of them immediately.” The account of a ghetto fighter: “The situation in the bunkers is tragic and hopeless. Air, water and food are in short supply. Days pass. Ten days after the beginning of the Aktion [here: the outbreak of the uprising], the ghetto is burned. There are charred remains everywhere. In the streets, courtyards, cellars – people buried alive.”

On April 30, 1943, a paid advertisement placed by the Zionist Committee for a Jewish Army (a non-formal organization) appeared in the New York Times, condemning the ineffectualness of the Bermuda Conference. Senator Henry S. Truman, who, as President of the United States, will support the United Nations resolution approving the establishment of the state of Israel, resigns from the American delega-tion’s negotiation committee.

On May 8, 1943, the last ŻOB bunker putting up armed resistance is destroyed. 18 Miła St. becomes the last fortress, the eternal resting place of Mordechaj Anielewicz and his comrades, a grave, a mausoleum to this day. It was not until 2008 that this place was registered as a national monument and grant-ed legal protection thanks to the efforts of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Community of Warsaw.

On May 12, 1943, Szmuel Zygielbojm commits suicide in London. He finds out that his wife and son have been killed in the Warsaw ghetto. In a letter to the president of the Polish Republic, Raczkiewicz, he writes: “The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime.” The letter was kept secret for several years. The press was informed of a “tragic death.”

When Stroop sends his famous report to Hitler on May 16, 1943 (“Es gibt sinen judischen Wohnbezirk in Warschau mehr!”), Adolf has other matter to tend to – on that and the following day the Allies bombed 3 dams in the Ruhr Valley as part of the famous Operation Chastise. The destructive power of water caused enormous losses. On May 15-16, four German submarines were sunk.

In the United States, it was only on October 6, 1943, that a march of rabbis took place – an appeal for help for the Jews in Europe. The march was organized by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee), formed in November 1939, which attempted to rescue Jewish religious luminaries (in particular) from Europe. It was thanks to its efforts that in 1940 the entire Mir yeshiva was able to escape Lithuania. The president of the United States, Roosevelt, did not meet with the delegates.

Fifteen more months pass and the Warsaw uprising breaks out. Meanwhile the history of Warsaw’s Jews has already come to an end. The Germans have a plan to turn the former ghetto area into a park once the ruins have been sifted in search of reusable materials. For the moment, it is the site of KL Warschau, where Jews from Greece, Yugoslavia and France, mainly brought from Auschwitz, are hard at work.

 

Monika Krawczyk

A miraculous reunion

Yesterday evening, after Mincha/Maariv, Rabbi Mottel Gutnick, after having read my pitput of yesterday, told me another incredible story. I subsequently remembered Rabbi Mottel’s father, R’ Chaim Gutnick ז’ל used to play chess with Mottel Kinderlerler ז’ל.

I knew Mottel Kinderlerer from the days that I used to daven at “Katanga“. Mottel was a fierce Zionist and used to sit next to my brother-in-law’s father, Emeritus Professor Louis Waller שיל’’א. I sat in the back row of the Shule, in the far corner for several years. Katanga was an “interesting” place in those days. The Mispallelim were known to be rather pugnacious, for want of a more diplomatic word, and coveted the Amud with somewhat more physical relish than one would otherwise expect.

Apparently, towards the end of the war, Mottel, who as I recall was a member of the Zaglembier Landsmanschaft, survived the camps with his elderly father R’ Elimelech Zushe ז’ל. Towards the last days, Mottel found himself alone with his elderly father and the Nazis (if I’m not mistaken) decided to separate father and son. R’ Elimelech found himself in the midst of a hay stack, hiding from those who wanted to end his life. Mottel looked on in horror as the brazenly cruel murderers, realising that Jews were in the haystack, raised their bayonets, stabbing into the hay with gay and wanton abandon. Depressed and broken, Mottel eventually survived the Holocaust, but without his beloved father.

A few years later, Mottel found himself in England. There was a certain gentleman, who made it his business to especially invite spiritually broken holocaust survivors to his home on Friday evening. There was always a large crowd of survivors, many of whom were orphans, wherein they partook of a welcome warm Shabbos meal in a hospitable atmosphere.

The English gentleman, made no demands of the survivors, save that they would each be asked to say Kiddush separately. I’m not sure why he did that. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone knows why he did that. Clearly, he could have made kiddush for all of them. Perhaps he intended to attempt to re-ignite the badly damaged Jewish souls that had suffered so, at the hands of the Nazis, ימח שמם וזכרם.

When it came to Mottel’s turn, he refused to say Kiddush. He could not bring himself to say anything religious to God. After what he had witnessed, especially the horrid stabbing of his father, one could hardly blame Mottel. The English gentleman, persisted and persisted until R’ Mottel relented. After finishing  Kiddush, the English gentleman approached Mottel and complimented him on the unique Kiddush niggun/tune that he had intoned. Strangely, he went on, there was an elderly gentleman who had said Kiddush in his house, in exactly the same way only two weeks earlier.

The rest is history. The old man turned out to be R’ Elimelech Zushe, who had miraculously survived the frenzied attack on that hay stack.

[Perhaps some elements of this story aren’t perfectly correct. No doubt, someone from the Kinderlerer family, who live in Melbourne, will update me with any inaccurate details.]

Rosh Chodesh at Elwood Shule: tale of twin survivors

Shabbos morning began in the usual way. I awoke, enjoying the extra hour afforded by Shabbos and headed quietly downstairs to the kitchen to enjoy a cup of coffee before davening. I usually read/learn a sefer with my coffee, and this Shabbos was no different. My concentration hasn’t been what it should and I can’t claim too much registered, even while I read “דברי הרב’’.

I experience various sources of stress at the minute, and I have come to realise that it’s more difficult to concentrate when one’s mind is somewhat diverted, even subconsciously. Nights can be the worst, as one is unable to consciously control the flight of mind and emotion.

Since my father הכ’’מ passed away, I’ve needed to cope with new and significant contributors to higher stress levels and, although I’ve always seen myself as relatively impervious to the rougher waves that life can dispense, I’m not as water-proof as I had previously imagined in delusion.

Stepping out into the brisk Shabbos morning air, I began the weekly long and lonely walk to Elwood Shule for Shachris. Elwood is but a shard when compared to its former exalted beauty and glory; but Elwood was my father’s Shule. It was our Shule. I am the Chazan on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur, and I daven there daily. My parents were married at Elwood. It was Rabbi Chaim Gutnicks ז’ל first wedding at Elwood. I was Bar Mitzvah’d there, as were my sons. It is, therefore, only natural, if not magnetic, that despite the almost empty and ghost-like pervading atmosphere, I continue this heritage; only now I speak to my father on the occassion, and ask why he isn’t walking with me. I don’t merit answers.

It hadn’t been a great week. Two friends recently lost their parents, one to the same dastardly illness as my father. In addition, my workplace is in some turmoil due to an internal managerial episode. I sense my wife and children see my ups and downs, and they are sensible enough to know when to speak and when to stay silent. I thank them for this.

As I approached the gates of the Shule, I recalled that it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s זי’ע Yohr Tzeit and no doubt the handful of Chabad Chassidim at Elwood would seek to be called up, as is the custom in Chabad. It was also R’ Zalman Serebryanski’s ז’ל yohr tzeit as well as Rabbi Groner ז’ל: a momentous ensuing week.

Elwood was rather more vacuous than usual. It seems that not too many had decided to come early. There was hardly a person under the age of 50. Where were all the young people? What is happening to our generation? Many attendees are “JFK” style attendees: that is, they arrive Just in time For Kiddush. What would happen if we didn’t have a delicious Kiddush catered by Peter Unger each week?

I’m not a contemplative davener. In fact, I’m now a poor davener. My dialogue with God is quick and lacks a previous more qualitative element. I usually grab a Sefer/Holy book from the Beis Medrash and learn while davening stretches out.

I sit in a barren area. It wasn’t always this way. There is nobody in my row, save a plaque remembering my dear father, and the ten rows behind me are void. I (now) make a point of going around the Shule and shaking each person’s hand. It’s what my father used to do. My father הכ’’מ was a far better person than me, though.

At that time, I noticed that one elderly gentleman, Mr Tuvia Lipson, had not yet arrived. Tuvia attends weekly. Apart from being a holy holocaust survivor, Tuvia enjoyed a stellar history after the war, joining the Israeli army, and rubbing shoulders with Shimon Peres and others. Tuvia remains an active and positive man. Despite losing his wife many years ago, he picked himself up and continued spreading the mantra that is emblazoned weekly in gold on his lapel, “זכור”-Remember.

At one stage of Layning, I noticed Tuvia entered Shule and I approached, wishing him Good Shabbos. Tuvia was shivering and complained that there was a cold breeze running across his back. Asking him to join me in my row, where the heating seemed to be more effective, he readily agreed. So, for the first time, Tuvia and I sat together, he sitting on my father’s seat alongside me. Tuvia whispered that my father used to call him “Pan Parantchik” which means “Mr Captain” in Polish, because Tuvia had apparently been a Captain in the Haganah.

Between Aliyos, Tuvia informed me that he had been in Bendigo for a few days. “Bendigo?”, I asked inquisitively. “Were you looking for gold? It’s cold over there”. Tuvia responded that he had visited the schools in the area and had spoken about his Holocaust memories and thereafter. This was part of his activities in the courage to care campaign. I shook my head in disbelief, after which he pulled out a wad of little notes and handed them to me. Korach suddenly became less significant, and I was mesmerised by the honesty and integrity of the short vignettes the school kids had penned in appreciation.

At that point, I thought to myself, this Shabbos, had already been more significant. It was then that Tuvia proffered another story: one that I had not yet heard.

Tuvia Lipson (centre) with three generations. Picture from jwire

Tuvia had decided one day to attend the “march of the living” with a son (Jack) and grandson (Jason). A former resident of Łódź, Tuvia suddenly informed his sons that they were going to try and see if his orginal family home was still standing. Tuvia had been born in that house, there being no hospital at the time for such events. Knocking on the door, an elderly woman answered and asked how she could help . Tuvia explained in Polish that he was born in that house, in a particular room, and if she would be so kind, he’d appreciate if she had no objection to him showing his son and grandson that particular room in which he was born. Rather surprisingly (based on other stories I had heard, where Polish owners are disquieted by the fact that “jews are returning to take back their houses”) this woman immediately ushered them in and agreed. As they walked towards the room, the woman stopped and said:

“I  know what you have been through and fully understand”

Tuvia was taken aback. How could she know what he had been through. Yes, she had the best intentions, and was willing to let them enter, but she wasn’t Jewish. She hadn’t been persecuted and subject to a policy of mass murder.

Tuvia retorted:

“With the greatest respect, you cannot know what I went through”

Upon returning from the room, they thanked the woman for her positive disposition and were about to leave when she said

“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me, so that I can explain why I do know what you went through?”

Inquisitively, Tuvia et al agreed and sat down to hear her story. She had been a little girl of 7 or 8 during the war, and her parents had concealed a little Jewish girl of the same age, under the floor boards of the house. Each day they would feed the young Jewish girl, and in the evening the little Jewish girl would emerge to wash. One day, after two years of hiding, word got out that the parents were hiding a Jew. That, of course, was a cardinal (sic) sin. Suddenly, out of the blue, there was a firm knock on the door, and two Nazi SS officers ימח שמם וזכרם entered demanding to know where the Jew was hiding. Frozen by fear, the lady’s father denied any knowledge of a Jew in his house. One of the Nazi officers became angry, and gave the father 10 seconds to reveal the location of the hiding little Jewess. During this episode, his own daughter, now the older lady, was hiding behind a wardrobe door and watched in horror at what was transpiring.

Suddenly a shot rang out and her father slumped to the floor—dead. The SS officer then turned to the girl’s mother and demanded

“now you tell me where the Jew is hidden, or I will kill you in the same way”

The lady’s mother also stood firm, and after a few moments another shot rang out, murdering her mother before her very own eyes.

At this point, the little girl ran out from behind the cupboard door and started attacking the two Nazi officers and cursing them for killing her parents. The officers were cruelly and clinically cold and ignored her entreaties and protest, as they walked imperiously towards the front door. Almost predictably, the Chief officer issued the chilling command to his underling:

Shoot the litte girl as well

They left through the front door and the underling trained his gun on the little girl and shot— only at the last-minute aiming his gun upwards to miss the target. The Chief Officer, thinking that she too had been eliminated left together with his underling, “satisfied” with his cruelty beyond human belief and sensibility.

At this point, the woman revealed to Tuvia, that she was the little girl who had experienced this near death experience. When the Nazis left the house, she descended below the floor boards and both she and the little Jewish girl escaped to a non-jewish relative and hid for a further two years until the war was over. At that point, Tuvia was taken aback and fully understood why she had originally stated

“I know how you feel”

Immediately, Tuvia approached Yad Vashem and had the story verified. In fact, the Jewish girl who survived was now living in Haifa and was in yearly personal and close contact with the woman, her saviour. Tuvia organised that a fitting memory  be established for the Polish mother and father, who had been murdered as חסידי אומות העולם—righteous gentiles and who are certainly occupying Gan Eden today.

I sat there both numb and cold. Had I not asked Tuvia to come and sit with me, perhaps I would never have learned this story. The last past of the Parsha failed to register as this story enveloped my psyche.

I don’t have any more to add. I remain in shock and awe. What was designated and planned as a standard walk to Elwood Shule, turned into (yet another) momentous privilege which perhaps served to help me place my own stressors into a more realistic context.

Article: “My father, the good Nazi”

I came across an article by Philippe Sands, the first section of which is reproduced below.

Philippe Sands is a writer and barrister who teaches international law at University College London. This article is drawn from research for a book on the origins of international crime, to be published by Alfred A. Knopf

Horst von Wächter: ‘I must find the good in my father. My father was a good man, a liberal who did his best. Others would have been worse’

Haggenberg

Schloss Haggenberg is an imposing 17th-century baroque castle about an hour’s drive north of Vienna and a little short of Austria’s border with Slovakia. Built around an enclosed courtyard, it stands four storeys high, a foreboding stone structure that appears impenetrable aside from the large, double wooden doors at its front. It has seen better days.

For the last quarter century the schloss has been the home of Horst von Wächter and his wife Jacqueline, who live in a few of its many sparsely furnished rooms. Without central heating, the bitter cold is staved off by wood-burning fires and the odd electric heater, improbable under crumbling baroque cornice-work and the fading paint of its walls.

In one room, under the rafters that support a great roof, Horst has kept his father’s library. He has invited me to look around the collection. I extricate a book at random from a tightly stacked shelf. The first page contains a handwritten dedication in a neat German script. To SS-Gruppenführer Dr Otto Wächter “with my best wishes on your birthday”. The deep blue signature beneath, slightly smudged, is unforgiving. “H. Himmler, 8 July 1944”.

The signature’s power to shock is heightened by its context. The book is a family heirloom, not a museum artefact. It was offered to Horst’s father as a token of appreciation, for services rendered. It draws a direct line between Horst’s family and the Nazi leadership.

One floor down, in the main room used by Horst as his study, he has gathered some family photo albums. Horst is equally generous and open with these. They contain the stuff of normal family life: images of children and grandparents, skiing holidays, boating trips, birthday parties. Yet among these unsurprising images, other kinds of photographs are interspersed.

A single page offers the following: August 1931, an unknown man is chiselling around a swastika carved into a wall. Above this is an undated photograph of a man leaving a building under a line of arms raised in Nazi salute. The caption reads “Dr Goebbels” – Hitler’s propaganda minister. Another image records three men in conversation in a covered railway yard or perhaps a market. Under this undated photo are the initials “A.H.”. I look more closely. The man at the centre is Hitler, and next to him I recognise his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, who introduced Hitler to Eva Braun. The third man I don’t know.

Read the rest here.

Nazi Goebbels’ Step-Grandchildren Are Hidden Billionaires

[Hat tip to Ezra]

This article is from Bloombergs. There has been a traditional antipathy towards driving German cars. My father הכ’’מ used to drive one in Berlin immediately after the Holocaust.

My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.
My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.

I asked him why and he said

Because they are my כפרה. They destroyed my youth, I decided that I would דווקא enjoy the best that they had to offer.

I understood this to be “dancing on the grave of the person who tried to murder you”. That was soon after the war. Feelings were mixed and the psyche was scarred. Yet, once in Melbourne, he wouldn’t dream of driving a German car. He always admired “Daatchishe” technology and had no problem buying devices they made. Those devices, however, weren’t “in your face” and were used at home.

It wasn’t for me to make value judgements about his choice. I hadn’t gone through what he had  and perhaps, in time, a public embracement through the aegis of a fancy car was not something that neither he, nor most survivors, were ready to make. Yet, there were and are children of holocaust survivors who bought fancy German cars and drove these cars while their parents were alive. I’ve never understood that attitude. If your parents lived through it and don’t do it, even if they are somewhat inconsistent by purchasing private goods of German origin, why would one feel so “obligated” to דווקא drive a car that their parents wouldn’t dream of driving. Even if my father had given me permission to do so (not that I could ever afford a fancy car) I wouldn’t do it while he was not doing the same. After all, there are alternatives.

Ironically, we now have the expose below about BMW. I’d imagine some Jewish BMW owners are now squirming in their warm leather seats.

Harald Quandt, Magda Goebbels’ son by her first marriage, center back stands in uniform with his step-father Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, bottom from right, his mother Magda, third from left, and the couple’s children, Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun in 1942. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the spring of 1945, Harald Quandt, a 23-year-old officer in the German Luftwaffe, was being held as a prisoner of war by Allied forces in the Libyan port city of Benghazi when he received a farewell letter from his mother, Magda Goebbels — the wife of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The hand-written note confirmed the devastating news he had heard weeks earlier: His mother had committed suicide with her husband on May 1, after slipping their six children cyanide capsules in Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin.

“My dear son! By now we’ve been in the Fuehrerbunker for six days already, Daddy, your six little siblings and I, to give our national socialistic lives the only possible, honorable ending,” she wrote. “Harald, dear son, I want to give you what I learned in life: Be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country!”

Quandt was released from captivity in 1947. Seven years later, he and his half-brother Herbert — Harald was the only remaining child from Magda Goebbels’ first marriage — would inherit the industrial empire built by their father, Guenther Quandt, which had produced Mauser firearms and anti-aircraft missiles for the Third Reich’s war machine. Among their most valuable assets at the time was a stake in car manufacturer Daimler AG. (DAI) They bought a part of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) a few years later.

Lower Profile

While the half-brothers passed away decades ago, their legacy has endured. Herbert’s widow, Johanna Quandt, 86, and their children Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, have remained in the public eye as BMW’s dominant shareholders. The billionaire daughters of Harald Quandt — Katarina Geller-Herr, 61, Gabriele Quandt, 60, Anette-Angelika May-Thies, 58, and 50-year-old Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo — have kept a lower profile.

The four sisters inherited about 1.5 billion deutsche marks ($760 million) after the death of their mother, Inge, in 1978, according to the family’s sanctioned biography, “Die Quandts.” They manage their wealth through the Harald Quandt Holding GmbH, a Bad Homburg, Germany-based family investment company and trust named after their father. Fritz Becker, the chief executive officer of the family entities, said the siblings realized average annual returns above 7 percent from its founding in 1981 through 1996. Since then, the returns have averaged 7.6 percent.

“The family wants to stay private and that is an acceptable situation for me,” said Becker in an interview at his Bad Homburg office. “We invest our money globally and if it’s $1 billion, $500 million or $3 billion, who cares?”

Wartime Profits

Together, the four sisters — and the two children of a deceased sibling — share a fortune worth at least $6 billion, giving each of them a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. They have never appeared individually as billionaires on an international wealth ranking.

See the new interactive Bloomberg Billionaires Index

Becker declined to provide the exact figure the holding manages for the four sisters. The siblings declined to comment for this account, said Ralf-Dieter Brunowsky, a spokesman for the family investment company, in an e-mail. He said the net worth calculation was “too high,” declining to be more specific.

The rise of the Quandt family fortune shares the same trajectory as Germany’s quest for global domination in the 20th century. It began in 1883, when Emil Quandt acquired a textile company owned by his late father-in-law. At the turn of the century, Emil passed the business to his eldest son, Guenther.

The younger Quandt saw an opportunity with the onset of war in 1914. His factories, already one of the biggest clothing manufacturers for the German state, quadrupled their weekly uniform production for the army, according to “Die Quandts.”

Weapons Production

After Germany’s surrender four years later, Quandt put the company’s wartime profits to use. In 1922, he bought a majority stake in Accumulatoren-Fabrik AG (AFA), a Hagen-based battery manufacturer. Six years later, he took over Berlin-Karlsruher Industriewerken AG (BKIW), a Berlin-based manufacturer that made sewing machines and silverware. The factory, once one of Germany’s largest weapon producers, had been forced to retool as part of the country’s disarmament agreement.

“The Quandts’ business grew in the Kaiserreich, it grew during the Weimar Republic, it grew during the Second World War and it grew strongly after the war,” Rudiger Jungbluth, author of “Die Quandts,” said in an interview at a Bavarian restaurant in Hamburg last November.

Nazi Connections

In 1918, Guenther Quandt’s first wife died of the Spanish flu, leaving him a widower with two young sons, Hellmut and Herbert. He married Magda Ritschel in 1921, and the couple’s only son, Harald, was born later that year. Hellmut died in 1927, from complications related to appendicitis.

Quandt and Magda divorced in 1929. Two years later, she married Joseph Goebbels, a member of the German parliament who also held a doctorate degree in drama and served as head of propaganda for Germany’s growing Nazi party. After the Nazis took power in 1933, their leader, Adolf Hitler, appointed Goebbels as the Third Reich’s propaganda minister. Hitler was the best man at the couple’s wedding.

Guenther Quandt joined the party that same year. His factories became key suppliers to the German war effort, even though his relationship with Goebbels had become increasingly strained.

“There was constant rivalry,” said Bonn-based history professor Joachim Scholtyseck, author of a family-commissioned study about their involvement with the Third Reich, in a telephone interview. “It didn’t matter that Goebbels didn’t like him. It didn’t have any influence on Quandt’s ability to make money.”

Forced Labor

In 1937, he earned the title of Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer, the name given to members of an elite group of businessmen who were deemed beneficial to the production of war materials for the Third Reich. During the war, Quandt’s AFA manufactured batteries for U-Boat submarines and V-2 rocket launchers. His BKIW –which had been renamed Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken AG in 1936 — produced Mauser firearms, ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles.

“He was one of the leading industrialists in the Third Reich and the Second World War,” Scholtyseck said. “He always kept a very low profile.”

From 1940 to 1945, the Quandt family factories were staffed with more than 50,000 forced civilian laborers, prisoners of war and concentration camp workers, according to Scholtyseck’s 1,183-page study. The report was commissioned by the family in 2007 after German television aired the documentary “The Silence of the Quandts,” a critical look at their wartime activities.

Released in September 2011, the study also found that Quandt appropriated assets from Jewish company owners and that his son Herbert had planned building an AFA factory in which slave laborers would be deployed.

Army Volunteer

“Guenther Quandt didn’t have a Nazi-kind of thinking,” said Jungbluth, the family biographer. “He was looking for any opportunity to expand his personal empire.”

Quandt’s youngest son, Harald, lived with his mother, Goebbels and six half-siblings. In 1939, he joined the German army after the country’s invasion of Poland, volunteering for the army’s paratrooper unit one year later.

During the war, Harald was deployed in Greece, France and Russia, before being shot and captured in Italy in 1944, and taken to the British Army-run POW camp in Benghazi where he received his mother’s farewell letter.

His stepfather also sent him a goodbye note.

“It’s likely that you’ll be the only one to remain who can continue the tradition of our family,” wrote Goebbels, who served as Chancellor of Germany for one day following Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945.

Denazification Hearings

After the war, Guenther Quandt served in an internment camp in Moosburg an der Isar for more than a year, before being judged a “Mitlaeufer” — a Nazi follower who wasn’t formally involved in the regime’s crimes — in denazification hearings in 1948. No repercussions followed.

“He was lucky that he wasn’t as prominent as someone like Flick or Krupp,” said Scholtyseck, referring to the German industrialists Friedrich Flick and Alfried Krupp, who were sentenced to prison terms at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Guenther died in 1954 while vacationing in Cairo, leaving his business empire equally in the hands of his two surviving sons, Harald and Herbert. Most notably, the assets included ownership of AFA and Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken — renamed Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe AG after the war — and stakes in Daimler-Benz and potash miner Wintershall AG.

Sovereign Wealth

Herbert managed the stakes in the battery, car and potash firm, while Harald oversaw the interests in the industrial companies, according to Jungbluth’s biography.

Over the next decade, the brothers increased their stake in Daimler; Herbert saved BMW from collapse in the 1960s after becoming its largest shareholder and backing the development of new models.

Harald died in 1967, at age 45, in an airplane crash outside Turin, Italy. The relationship between his widow, Inge, and Herbert deteriorated after his death. Negotiations to settle the estate by separating assets commenced in 1970.

The most valuable asset that the Harald Quandt heirs received was four-fifths of a 14 percent stake in Daimler, according to the biography. In 1974, the entire stake was sold to the Kuwait Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, for about 1 billion deutsche marks, according to a Daimler-Benz publication from 1986 celebrating its centennial.

Inge Quandt, who suffered from depression, died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1978. Her new husband, Hans-Hilman von Halem, shot himself in the head two days later. The five orphaned daughters, two of them teenagers, were left to split the family fortune.

Family Meetings

The estate’s trustees had started overseeing the daughters’ money in 1974. An active investment approach commenced with the founding of the family investment company in 1981.

“It’s different if you work for a family than a corporation,” said Becker. “You can really invest instead of fulfilling regulation requirements.”

According to “Die Quandts,” the siblings try to get together a few times a year to discuss their investments. Gabriele Quandt lives in Munich. After earning a master’s degree in business administration at Insead in Fontainebleau, France, she married German publishing heir Florian Langenscheidt, with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in 2008.

Katarina Geller-Herr owns Gestuet Waeldershausen, an equestrian center in Homberg (Ohm), Germany. She sponsored Lars Nieberg, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping.

Jewish Conversion

Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo is a jewelry designer who runs a studio and showroom in Hamburg. She converted to Judaism in New York at age 24. Her first marriage was to Michael Rosenblat, a German-Jewish businessman, whose father survived a concentration camp. The couple divorced in 1997. She remarried Frode Mo, a Norwegian journalist.

“We live with both religions and also celebrate Christmas,” Rosenblat-Mo said in “Die Quandts.”

Anette-Angelika May-Thies lives in Hamburg, according to the Harald Quandt Holding shareholders list filed with the German federal trade registry. Her first marriage was to Axel May, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) international adviser for private banking, who managed the family’s investments for about 25 years.

The siblings are also majority owners and investors in five financial services companies, all of which pay dividends, according to Becker. The firms were founded to manage the sisters’ wealth and subsequently opened up to third parties.

Private Equity

The six companies combined manage $18 billion in assets, according to the family investment company’s website. Becker said the majority of the money controlled by these firms is invested for third parties. One-fifth of the family fortune is managed by trustees for the two children of the youngest Quandt sibling, Patricia Halterman, who died in July 2005, four days before turning 38. Her townhouse on the Upper East Side of New York City sold for $37.5 million in 2008.

Auda International LP serves as the sisters’ New York-based private-equity unit. It manages almost $5 billion and was founded as their U.S. office in 1989, said Becker. Real Estate Capital Partners LP started the same year and has invested about $9 billion in real estate, according to its website. Both companies are owned through HQFS LP, an offshore entity based in the Cayman Islands.

Family Fortunes

In Bad Homburg, HQ Trust GmbH serves as a investment management company for about 30 families with fortunes ranging from 50 million euros to 500 million euros. Equita Management GmbH invests in small and mid-cap companies in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. HQ Advisor GmbH provides accounting and controlling services.

Only one sister, Gabriele, carries the family name, and none are active in the day-to-day business of the family office, said Becker.

Their uncle, Herbert Quandt, died in 1982. His fortune was divided between six children from three different marriages. BMW, his most valuable asset, was inherited by his third wife Johanna Quandt and their children, Stefan Quandt, 46, and Susanne Klatten, 50. The three billionaires hold 46.7 percent of the Munich-based car producer, according to the company’s 2011 annual report.

After Scholtyseck’s study was published in 2011, cousins Gabriele and Stefan Quandt acknowledged their family’s ties and involvement with the Third Reich in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

‘Sad Truth’

“Magda killed her six children in the Fuehrerbunker. Our father loved his half-siblings very much. And when, like me, you have something like this in your family history, you think: It can’t be any worse,” Gabriele Quandt said in the interview. “It’s a sad truth that forced laborers died in Quandt companies,” said Stefan.

The acknowledgment didn’t prompt a public distancing from the men that made their family Germany’s richest. The families’ offices in Bad Homburg are named after Guenther and Harald Quandt, and the Herbert Quandt media prize of 50,000 euros is awarded annually to German journalists.

“They have to live with the name. It’s part of the history,” said Scholtyseck. “It will be a constant reminder of dictatorship and the challenges that families have to face.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David De Jong in New York at ddejong3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net

Ed Koch ז’ל story

I haven’t read this story before, nor had I heard about the globe (or I’d forgotten). I think it’s well worth sharing. It’s from aish.com

Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away Friday at the age of 88, understood that all Jews are connected. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel tells the story.

Years ago, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau visited his brother in New York. The two brothers were in Buchenwald together, and miraculously survived while the rest of their family was wiped out. Rabbi Lau, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, became a rabbi, continuing his family’s unbroken chain of 38 generations of rabbis. His brother, Naphtali Lau-Levie, became a noted author and was appointed Israel’s consul general to New York.

Ed Koch, New York City’s brash, outspoken, overtly Jewish leader, asked Naphtali to introduce him to the great Rabbi Lau – then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv – if his illustrious brother was ever in town.

Rabbi Lau visited New York and Naphtali arranged a meeting. When Mr. Koch walked into the room, he announced to a surprised Rabbi Lau, “I’m a Holocaust survivor too.” Rabbi Lau turned to his brother in puzzlement; this was not the information he’d received about the American-born Koch.

Mr. Koch explained. He was born in the Bronx, and grew up an American. He only went to Europe for the first time as a GI.

Years later, though, after he’d been elected mayor, he had the chance to travel to Germany as part of an international delegation of mayors. There he met with officials in Berlin and was shown various artifacts. One piece made the greatest impression on him: a globe that had once belonged to Adolph Hitler.

This globe was special. Hitler asked his assistants to determine the Jewish population in every country on earth, and to write this number under each nation’s name on his globe.

Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria…. The Jewish population of each country was recorded, waiting – in Hitler’s twisted mind – for extermination. There was even a number 1 written under the city of Tirana in Albania, Ed Koch told Rabbi Lau. That lone Jew in Tirana was offensive to Hitler; even he was worthy of being remembered and targeted by the Nazis.

Ed Koch also saw a number under the “United States.” It was a special number, Mr. Koch remembered: 6,000,000.

“I was recorded in that number,” Ed Koch said to Rabbi Lau. “I was one of Hitler’s intended victims too.”

Ed Koch not only acknowledged and felt their pain; he realized that their pain was his pain too. In his mind, there were no distinctions between him and other Jews.

Rabbi Lau realized that Mr. Koch was right – he was one of Hitler’s intended victims; he was a survivor of the Holocaust too.

Ed Koch wasn’t just an onlooker; he was a survivor. He saw himself as part of history, as a vital member of the ongoing narrative of the Jewish people. One way to honor his memory is to follow his example, to look at our fellow Jews not as foreigners divided by language, religious observance, geography or time. Like Mr. Koch, let’s try to look at other Jews around the world and see ourselves.

Murderous mengele: another Melbourne conjunction

We have all regrettably heard about the infamously cruel and barbaric Nazi murderer, (Dr) Josef Mengele, ימח שמו וזכרו. This low-life “drew a line on the wall of the children’s block 150 centimetres (about 5 feet) from the floor and children whose heads could not reach the line were sent to the gas chambers”.

In Melbourne, we know that the Weiss sisters, Eva and Marta were subjected to Mengele’s experiments and have retold their stories. They were not alone.

The purpose of this blog post is to retell a story that has not (to my knowledge) been told. I know the story because a Doctor of a particular survivor recently related it to me. The survivor had submerged the experience throughout his life and had only shared it with his wife and the Doctor. He related his experience to the Doctor because of the oath of confidentiality meant that it would stay a secret. The survivor’s directive was that it remain confidential until he passed away. Sadly, the survivor is no longer with us.

This survivor, let’s call him Kadosh, was sent to Auschwitz. Like others, he stood precariously between life and death. Unlike others, however, his face was recognisable. He had been a World Champion in a certain sport, and had competed at the Olympic Games. The Nazi guards recognised him immediately, and considered that it would be a good idea if Kadosh taught them the finer parts of the sport. Kadosh was, after all, a world-renowned expert. Jews were just disposable commodities, and this one had some extraneous value. It would enrich their leisure time.

And so it unfolded. Kadosh was training the guards and improving their game. This kept him alive. The arrangement continued until one day, the dreaded Mengele eyed Kadosh. Kadosh wasn’t a twin and had no particular interest to Mengele from a “medical” or “anthropological” perspective. No, perhaps unknown to many, Mengele was a molester, a molester of young males. Mengele took a liking to Kadosh, and each day sexually forced himself on Kadosh. This was another example of the self-contradictory nature of the “superior race”. The Nazis persecuted homosexuals, and yet, for his own sick sexual gratification, the murderous Mengele, hypocritically and perversely “gratified” himself by repeatedly raping Kadosh in his office.

Kadosh was also given other duties. I won’t describe them here for a number of reasons.

There was a period of two weeks when Mengele didn’t force himself on Kadosh. One day, in front of the officers, Kadosh had enough and resisted by cursing Mengele, and telling him “Go kiss my backside”. Mengele instructed the officers to give Kadosh a beating that he would not forget but to make sure that Kadosh didn’t die. When he recovered from the beating, Mengele resumed raping Kadosh.

Kadosh eventually immigrated to Australia and married. His wife moved to an old age home after Kadosh died. She only had one wish which she relayed to the same Doctor

Please, when I die, make sure they don’t bury me in a white casket”

The significance of a white casket is like that of a white bridal dress. It signifies a certain virginal purity. Alas, Kadosh had never been able to physically consummate his marriage. Kadosh was affected for life. His wife silently accepted the life-long psychological curse that transformed her husband into a virtual eunuch.

Kadosh’s wife wasn’t Jewish.

The story shook me up and once more infused me with perspective. Next time you are feeling low, think of Kadosh and his “life”. Think of the lady that looked after him all those years. In fact, think of him at other times, too. It’s the least we can do.

Let Eliyahu decide our questions

The Talmud, when faced with a conundrum that cannot be solved, uses the phrase

יהא מונח עד שיבוא אליהו

Let the issue rest until Eliyahu HaNavi comes (back) and advises us of the Halacha

or

תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות

ֵEliyahu (HaTishbi) will answer all the questions.

The question is asked: since Moshe Rabbenu was our greatest teacher, why do we wait for Eliyahu (who never died) to answer the questions, surely we should wait for Moshe (who will be resurrected when Mashiach comes) and ask Moshe Rabbenu to Pasken/decide the Halachic conundrums.

Rav Yissacher Shlomo Teichtalהי’’ד

R’ Teichtal הי’’ד

in his celebrated אם הבנים שמחה, explains that to be a Posek, a Halachic decisor, a Rabbi needs to be immersed in the world. A Rosh Yeshivah, for example, who only interacts with the surreal world of his Yeshivah, is not equipped to be a Posek for the masses. All his answers are designed for the שומר נפש, the Yeshivah or Kollel Jew, for whom being יוצא לכל הדעות, acting according to all stringencies, is the norm. Accordingly, since Moshe has not been interacting in our world for thousands of years, he is not suited to be the Posek when the Mashiach comes. Eliyahu HaNovi, however, who did not die, and lives amongst us, so to speak, is more suitable to answer our questions.

It is also for this reason that the משנה ברורה was not considered as acceptable to normative Psak, as the ערוך השלחן. The Chafetz Chaim was considered like the Rosh Yeshivah who lived in his world, and his method of Psak certainly was biased towards accommodating as many opinions as possible. The ערוך השלחן however was also someone who interacted deeply with his community, and for whom the sight of a woman brandishing a chicken to discover whether there was an issue of Kashrus with that chicken, was not unusual. Similarly, although R’ Chaim Soloveitchik ז’ל also known as R’ Chaim Brisker

R’ Chaim Brisker ז’ל

was considered the genius of his generation in terms of learning and innovation, R’ Chaim wasn’t a Posek. When people came to R’ Chaim to ask a question, he referred them to R’ Simcha Zelig Reiger ז’ל,

R’ Simcha Zelig, Av Beis Din of Brisk

the Dayan of Brisk.  (Incidentally, R’ Hershel Jaeger once told me that some descendants of R’ Simcha Zelig live in Melbourne).

Rav Teichtal, takes this one step further. He considers it immaterial that earlier Gedolim, such as the Satmar Rav or R’ Elchanan Wasserman had a negative view of an en masse Aliya to Israel. Rav Teichtal claims that they, like Moshe Rabenu, were not there to witness the changes in the world, and so their Psak, for today, is irrelevant.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman, May God avenge his murder