Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Yad Vashem

MARCH 2016 -   The idea of a Zionist memorial to the victims of Hitler's war against the Jews came to Mordechai Shenhavi (1900-1983) even before the dreadful scale of the Holocaust was fully grasped.

In August 1942, Shenhavi, a socialist-leaning member of Kibbutz Beit Alfa in the Jezreel Valley, had a terrifying dream. In it he saw millions of Nazi victims marching toward Zion carrying tombstones on their shoulders. Gripped by this vision, he struggled to persuade the pre-state Zionist institutions to take up the proposal.

.....please go to Israel My Glory  (it is a Christian Zionist magazine) for the complete article.


Book Review:  The Uncompromising Truth About Meir Kahane From the Woman who Knew Him Best  

Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought (1976-1983)
By Libby Kahane
Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane
684 pages
$26. 50  |  NIS 103

The legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane (1932-1990) remains so fraught that to say a sympathetic word -- no matter how qualified-- about any aspect of his career is to invite opprobrium. 

Yet the fact is that Kahane was one of the most influential, selfless, brilliant American Jewish personalities of the post-World War II era. 

In 1968, he founded the Jewish Defense League in New York, and in 1971 after immigrating to Israel he established the political party Kach (outlawed in 1988).

Under Kahane, JDL was a catalyst pressuring the US Jewish establishment to put Soviet Jewry, Jewish poverty, and urban anti-Semitism, higher on its agenda.

Kahane in his original JDL incarnation saved the souls of countless impressionable young Jews from terminal ennui if not outright assimilation.

After his move to Israel he became ever more extreme in his religious views. Maybe that was because the Zionist revisionist establishment spurned him. He was tarred as a racist because he wanted to "remove" the Arabs from Israel. Today, his devotees essentially reject the Herzlian model of Zionism and would replace it with a theocracy led by "Torah-fearing" Jews.

There was no grey in the mature Kahane's worldview. He paid the price for being obdurate. I can't think of another Jewish leader who served prison sentences in both the US and Israel. What other Israeli politician was held in administrative detention? How many went on hunger strikes time and again?

No one of his generation banged out as many fluidly-written, influential, polemical articles, pamphlets, and books. No American-born Jew had so much influence on the Israeli body politic. None could draw a crowd or mobilize young Jews to action like Kahane. His ideas came rapid-fire replete with action plans, blueprints, and milestones.

He was indefatigable and unbelievably creative. One day marching in Skokie against the Nazis the next organizing patrols in Brooklyn. One day forming a think tank another a training camp. One day trying to salvage JDL (which had shriveled when he made aliya) another articulating a platform against what he considered decadent Western culture.

He created front-groups and spin-offs such as the Conference of Jewish Activists, Student Activists for Soviet Jewry, Return [Diaspora Jews to Israel], and the Museum of the Potential Holocaust, to cite just some.
And in 1990, tragically, he was murdered in Manhattan by an Arab terrorist, part of a cabal that would be tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- the forerunner of September 11, 2001 and the Long War we find ourselves in.

Did I say he was charismatic? I found the early Kahane mesmerizing. I first appreciated the enormity of the Shoah because he talked about it when others didn't. Following him into the street from the auditorium of Hunter College chanting "Never Again" and sitting down on Third Avenue and 67th Street near the Soviet UN Mission in Manhattan was like an ecstatic-religious experience for me.
But in his Kach incarnation his ideas sounded reactionary and repugnant. And for most people that is how he is remembered. For saying no to tolerance, no to respect for minority rights, no to religious pluralism, and no to compromise with political opponents. There were red lines. In response to a grenade attack on a 1983 Peace Now demonstration that took the life of Emil Grunzweig, Kahane declared that political violence against Jews was unacceptable.

No surprise then that the second volume of Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought (1976-1983) written by his widow Libby Kahane has met not so much with disapproval as with averted eyes.

This disregard is unfortunate.

Like the first volume, published in 2008, this work presents essential material— and photographs— upon which any future critical appraisal of Kahane's career will likely rely. While far from iconography, his widow understandably writes with empathy and admiration.

That said, Libby Kahane, a retired librarian, has written a lucidly crafted, well-organized, and extensively footnoted narrative. Almost everyone in Kahane's circle is acknowledged. Virtually every documented article and speech is synopsized. True believers will be mesmerized. Historians will be grateful.

There is also a compassionate humane reason not to ignore this work.

Kahane never made money by being a "professional Jew." His family never enjoyed the accoutrements of middle class Jewish life. He sought to keep his family out of the limelight. Yet as fate would have it, Libby Kahane lost not only her husband but also a son, Binyamin Ze'ev, to Arab terror. The younger Kahane and his wife Talya were murdered in 2000 while driving early one morning on Road 60 in the West Bank during the second intifada. They were apparently random victims of PLO shooters. The couple's young children sitting in the back of the car came away, mercifully, physically unharmed. 

Misfortune continues into the next generation: Libby's grandson-- her daughter Tova's son Meir Ettinger-- a leader of the so-called Hilltop Youth was arrested on suspicion of vandalism against Muslim and Christian properties.


Volume II picks up in 1976 with Kahane's second attempt at running for the Knesset. 

His first effort in 1973 garnered nearly 13,000 votes about 3,000 short for that year's electoral threshold. 

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, spiritual leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, was not altogether unsympathetic to Kahane's first Knesset run even though most of Kook's followers would presumably have voted for Mafdal (the National Religious Party). The book concludes on the eve of his election in 1984 to the 11th Knesset. A third and final volume is planned.

Blocked by establishment organizations and many synagogues from public speaking, Kahane developed workarounds. There was his Jewish Press newspaper platform. He was also a first-class propagandist (in the pre-social media era) coming up with catchphrases that had instant resonance: "Not One Inch," "There is No Palestine," "Jewish Blood Is Not Cheap." 

He sought confrontation -- engaged in the propaganda of the deed. For instance, he had no compunction about advocating the destruction of the Muslim shrines atop the Temple Mount.

In his 1977 Knesset campaign, Kahane— now bearded— espoused a bellicose far-right Orthodox platform on conversions to Judaism, abortion, and religious pluralism. He was visceral in his attitude toward intermarriage and interpreted the presence of non-Jewish volunteers in Israel as a mortal danger.

Some of Kahane's positions are almost too painful to recount because he didn't begin his career as a religious fanatic. But once he became one there would be no wiggle room for compromise. That was no less true on politics. He vehemently protested against Menachem Begin for cutting a deal with Anwar Sadat at Camp David that led to Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai. Others did too, of course, but on military and strategic grounds.

What you don't get in this book is a handle on Kahane the man, husband, and father. The couple married in 1956 and had four children. Now a great-grandmother, Libby offers only a few vignettes about their personal life -- a bar mitzvah planned while Meir was in prison or a throwaway line about how much he missed the children. She seems determined to protect the privacy of a very public man. I hope in the final volume she will say more.

Had Kahane lived he would today probably be leading an opposition faction in the Knesset. I abhor the messianic, demagogic, and apocalyptic positions he espoused as leader of Kach. Israel's broken political system needs reform to bolster centrist and moderate elements. That said, it's indisputable that the existing system treated him shabbily. Rather than face up to the ideological challenge Kahane posed he was stifled. The same system that abides Arab Knesset members who relish the chance to incite would not tolerate Kahane's incitement.
Today those who carry the torch for Kahane's ideas are rudderless. Some may see this as a blessing. But the fact that they basically have no legitimate outlet for their views may do more harm than good. To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson: It would probably be better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

Elliot Jager is a Jerusalem-based journalist, senior editor at The Jerusalem Report, and author of 'The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness' (The Toby Press). You can follow him on Twitter @JAGERFILE.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is Being Spiritual Enough? What do we in the Judeo-Christian world mean when we speak of being religious?

IT TAKES NOTHING away from God to presume that religion is man made. 

Religions come and go and evolve. Fewer Americans are in the pews yet more say they feel spiritual, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. There are people "across a wide variety of religious identities who say they often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe," Pew reports.

You could think of spirituality— the capacity to look beyond ourselves and to speculate about the purpose of life— in psychological terms. If spirituality is broadly synonymous with emotional health then being soulful could be rooted in hormones, genetics, nurture, and luck.

Religion is off the radar for more and more Americans. In the 21st century it's a lifestyle choice not a prerequisite for membership in society. That may be unfortunate. It takes the virtues of discipline and devotion to practice religion. To be spiritual merely requires feeling; to practice religion entails prayer, ritual, community, time and money. The best, I suppose, is when you can combine the two. A sense of deep spiritual peace and contentedness is particularly common among evangelicals where ecstasy is an element of the church service.

Of course, the search to explain the mysterious – something that occupies both religion and science— remains intrinsic to human nature. For some, spirituality may be a way of exploring the mysterious within the bounds of 21st century sensibilities.
Pew found that just 39 percent of Jews said they experienced "spiritual peace and well-being" on a weekly basis and about 42 percent expressed "a wonder about the universe." Just to put these numbers in perspective: Some 54 percent of atheists expressed wonder about the universe. Roughly 64 percent of Christian believers say they achieve weekly spiritual peace and well-being. 
Such comparisons may be misleading.

For Judaism is not just a religion it is a civilization. Judaism encompasses believers and non-believers, those who seek out spirited, joyous, song-filled Friday night Kabbalat  Shabbat services (called "Carlebach minyans") and those who prefer a night at the opera. Jews have their mystics and Hassidim, but also those who express their Jewishness by watching Curb Your Enthusiasm or voting Democratic. There is no catechism in Judaism. Indeed, Jews can't agree on "who is a Jew" or how the Sabbath should be observed. There are Orthodox Jews who engage in ritual without giving a thought to theology, and progressive Jews who forget that ritual can instill deeper meaning to their ethos of repairing the world (tikkun olam).

But let's put nomenclature aside.

Dominic Johnson's God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human makes the point that, "Our brains are wired such that we cannot help but search for meaning in the randomness of life." He continues, "Humans the world over find themselves, consciously or subconsciously believing that we live in a just world or a moral universe where people are supposed to get what they deserve."

In the West, moral relavatism has been taken to an extreme leaving random individuals to decide what is right. The paradigm that moral order emanates from a Creator strikes modernists as outmoded. Yet Johnson argues (and not necessarily because he is a believer) that only belief in God can help humans triumph over their own selfishness. Belief in a supernatural God is a practical evolutionary adaptation. Put another way, Religion and its belief in punishments encourages cooperation and stifles selfish behavior.
In this way, religion and life within a religious community can be a force for good.

It is easy to lose sight of this basic truth in a world torn asunder by religious violence above all within Muslim civilization. Islamist forces are also at war with Western notions of modernity, tolerance, and respect for minorities. Alas, internecine Muslim bloodletting in places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is a struggle between different shades of dark.

Judaism and Christianity may have their own corrupters, but they have gone through their evolutions, adaptations, and reformations. Islam has not.

Like fire and water, religion can warm our souls and quench our longing for purpose. It is essential to the human operating system even if religions—some more than others— become corrupted and require critical patches and updates.


Elliot Jager is author of The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness. He is a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report specializing in the Jewish world. 

Please visit The Pater's Facebook page for more information.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Haaretz Watch - Friday Jan. 1, 2016

Friday's weekend Haaretz offers insight into what animates Israel's left -- and it is not liberalism.

The top story is an attack on Education Minister Naftali Bennett's decision to remove an Arab-Jewish Romeo and Juliet love story from the high school reading list. 

Personally, I have no strong feelings on the issue. 

But the paper's shrill treatment of the issue –claiming that the book is being banned – seems way out of proportion to me. There are lots of local school system's that make decisions about what is and what is not appropriate reading for teens.

And, need it be said -- no Muslim school (though funded by the State of Israel) would allow the book in question to be on its reading list.

The non-liberal left is no less upset that Bennett wants to push for a minimal level of Jewish literacy among students in the secular school system.

It is tragic that parents must decide, when their children enter first grade, whether they will get an Orthodox education or one almost entirely bereft of Jewish literacy. Either/Or.

Why can't the focus for all be on Jewish civilization with modules that would familiarize students with Jewish prayer, ritual, and tradition? Why should not every Israeli Jewish child become familiar with the canon? With how Judaism is practiced in the Diaspora?

David Ben-Gurion knew his bible as well as any rabbi. Did that make him any less left?  Why do people of the left these days disdain Jewish literacy?  Why not enable students to understand Jewish civilization so that they can make informed choices?

Paradoxically, Haaretz's other Big Story on page 1 Friday was headlined: "And Then the Boarder Police Raked My Wife's Car with Bullets." 

Readers familiar with Gideon Levy's byline could roll their eyes and turn the page. 

But what about innocent readers (especially those who see the paper in English and on the web) who might misconstrue Levy's unlabeled page one dropping for news? 

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