“Hamas Murdered Yuval Roth’s Brother. Now He Helps Sick Palestinians” – Tablet Magazine Headline

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Photo – Handshake at an Israeli-Palestinian Crossing Checkpoint

When I was in Israel last month, I learned of a non-profit organization that is doing extraordinary transformative work called “Road to Recovery –RtR.” RtR’s sole aim is to provide free-of-charge transportation to Palestinians who need medical treatment in Israel.

Every day, RtR Israeli Jewish volunteers pick up West Bank Palestinian patients from various crossing points between Israel and the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, drive them in their private cars to hospitals in Israel, and then return these patients back to the checkpoints to be picked up on the Palestinian side by their relatives and friends.

Begun in 2010, in the past seven years, 3,280 Palestinian patients have been driven to Israeli hospitals by 3,300 Israeli Jewish volunteers in 43,300 patient trips covering 4.38 million miles in 50,000 hours of volunteerism.

The idea for this project grew out of tragedy.

Yuval Roth (60) lost his brother Udi to a Hamas terrorist in 1993 when Udi was returning home from reserve service in Gaza, then controlled by Israel.

Yuval said: “I lost a brother but not my head, and didn’t want revenge. Yes, I was angry, but my anger was directed not at the terrorists that killed my brother but at our leaders, that for generations were unable to solve the conflict.” (see Tablet Magazine – “Hamas Murdered Yuval Roth’s Brother. Now He Helps Sick Palestinians” by Tal Miller and Yoav Sivan, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/192659/yuval-roth-derech-hachlama). Tablet reports:

Roth joined a pro-peace Israeli-Palestinian organization of families who lost a family member in the conflict called “The Parents Circle Families Forum.” He met Mohamed Kabah, a Palestinian from the village Yaabez near Jenin who also lost a brother. Kabah approached Roth with an unlikely request. He had a sick brother in medical care in Haifa who couldn’t get to the hospital. “So I drove him thinking this was no different from what I’d do for a neighbor in Pardes Hanna. Then this friend referred another family from his village who needed help to reach Hadassah Hospital…” One referral followed another, and soon there was too much traffic for one person to handle. “So, I reached out to my circles of friends.”

Mohamed Kabah told Tablet: “Yuval and I met 15 years ago…We both lost brothers in war and shared the conviction that we must do something to bring people closer together…We met with leaders of the PA, and we kept them informed…I think our contribution to peace is greater than that of many leaders. Today, there’s no Palestinian in the Territories who isn’t grateful to Yuval. This organization made us heroes. Still, many say that it’d be too hard to achieve peace. But this is our way to say that the pain of peace is better than the pain of war.”

Yuval Roth said: “The Israeli public doesn’t understand how deep is the Palestinian will for peace. It’s not the reasonable minority but the reasonable majority. The majority of the Palestinian public wants a two-state solution and supports the nonviolent path of Abu Mazen. It will take time for the Israeli public to process this picture, but I have no doubt that is the reality. And although I don’t think Netanyahu has the will to and courage for peace, I believe some processes are greater than any person.”

Yuval acknowledges that the image of Israelis in Palestinian eyes is negative and frightening just as the image of Palestinians in Israeli eyes is rejectionist and unyielding. Palestinians see all Israelis as settlers and soldiers with weapons, just as Israelis see Palestinians as unwilling to compromise. For peace to come both sides must change and evolve.

Yuval said: “We offer a different horizon and help change consciousness…I don’t know to what extent our actions help bring peace but I do know that in the chaos, this is the biggest small step I can make.”

See Road to Recovery website at http://www.roadtorecovery.org.il/

See three videos at https://projectrozana.org/video/ entitled “Road to Recovery,” “Zubin Mehta,” and “Transportation.”

 

 

 

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Jacob’s Dream and His Emergence into a Man of Faith

Marc Chagall’s Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s destiny was set from birth and would come at a price. As his mother Rebekah’s troubled twin pregnancy came to an end and the babies were born, Jacob holding Esau’s heel suggested a strong pre-natal desire to be born first and become the future leader of the tribe. In a clever commentary, Rashi (11th century, France) says that the scene reflects a primogeniture truth, that Jacob was actually conceived first, though he came out second, much as a pebble dropped into a tube first will come out second when the tube is inverted.

Despite being second-born, Jewish tradition asserts that Jacob’s spiritual potential merited his assuming first-born rights, and it also suggests that Rebecca knew that her other son Esau, a hunter, lacked the requisite sensitivity, gentility, vision, and prophetic capacity to lead the tribe, whereas Jacob possessed all those virtues.

Jacob’s dream event that opens this week’s portion Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-22) signals the beginning of a new stage in Jacob’s life. He had just fled in fear from an enraged Esau, was alone in the mountains, unsure of himself and exhausted. He fell asleep and dreamed of ladders and angels.

This dream sequence is filled with powerful religious imagery, suggestion and mythic archetypes. The stones Jacob placed under his head are symbolic of what Carl Jung called the Ego, the limited “I” of Jacob, a man still unaware of the implicate order in the universe that links the material and metaphysical worlds.

The top of the ladder represents what Jung called the integrated Self which unifies the conscious and unconscious into a non-dualistic cosmos.

When Jacob went to sleep using stones as a pillow, we suspect that something unusual is about to happen, that he’s on the cusp of new self-consciousness. Lo and behold, he sees angels ascending (representing his yearning for something greater than himself) and angels descending (representing God’s outreach towards him), Rabbi Heschel’s idea of prophetic empathy and God’s pathos.

When Jacob awoke from the dream and opened his eyes, he was astonished: “Surely God is in this place, va’anochi lo yadati, and I did not know it! … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.” (28:16-17)

The beginning of any religious experience requires us to understand that we know nothing at all. In Hebrew “I” is ani (anochi is a variant form), and when we rearrange the letters – aleph, nun, yod – we spell ain, which means “nothing”). The religious person must transform the “I” of the  ego into a great Self in which we become part of God’s Oneness. Jacob’s sudden awareness results in his newfound humility and is a prerequisite to the development of his faith.

Despite the spiritual potency of this experience, Jacob remains unaware (i.e. he lacks access to his full unconscious) and his faith is conditional. He says, “If God remains with me, if God protects me…, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe … the Eternal shall be my God.” (28:20-21)

One of the consistent themes throughout the Genesis narrative is that in order for the Biblical figures to grow in faith they had to suffer trials. As a protected child of his mother, Jacob had been pampered. However, in being forced to flee for his life from the brother he wronged, Jacob became aware of the shadow (Jung’s term denoting that part of the unconscious consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings and instincts) in which he lived and which would envelop him for the next twenty years. Then he met a being divine and human at the river Jabbok and emerged with a new name, Yisrael – the one who perseveres with God.

From Jacob’s birth to next week’s encounter at the river we witness the patriarch’s evolution from the unconsciousness of his childhood to greater awareness, from a self-centered trickster to the bearer of the covenant. As he progressed he learned to view the world through the eyes of faith as he stood at heaven’s gate.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

President Trump’s Order Discriminates Against Muslims and Harms Members of all Faiths

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I have signed again on with 60 interfaith leaders and religious organizations as part of Amici Curiae, an interfaith group of religious and inter-religious organizations and clergy, who are supporting the plaintiffs-appellees against President Donald Trump to affirm the district court’s injunction restricting implementation of Proclamation No. 9645: “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public Safety Threats,” 82 Fed. Reg. 45, 161 (September 24, 2017).

I have joined with 9 rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism (representing 900 Reform synagogues in America), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (representing 2000 Reform Rabbis), Women of Reform Judaism (representing 65,000 women), the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, The New Israel Fund, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, The American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women (representing 90,000 women) individual synagogues, churches, and a variety of Christian and Muslim Organizations as “Friends of the Plaintiffs against President Donald Trump” because we believe that his misguided order to increase vetting of immigrants to the United States is “intended to target Muslims in particular,” “to harm Muslims,” and “to violate the core Constitutional principle that is critical to the free exercise of all faith traditions in the United States” according to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

This Amici Curiae brief was filed in the Federal Fourth Circuit Court on November 17, 2017.

The following is language written in the brief:

“This order offends the fundamental tenets of all three monotheistic faith traditions including the Golden Rule, the imperative to welcome the stranger, and the belief that every individual has inherent value and dignity by virtue of being created in the divine image. Our faith traditions compel us to assist immigrants, particularly immigrants fleeing unjust persecution.

All our religious traditions have experienced prejudice against us and persecution, and it is out of our historic experience and our moral and religious values and our perception that Trump’s order is deliberately targeting the entire Muslim community that we shout “We protest….

This order recalls the infamous event in 1939 when a ship carrying 900 Jewish men, women and children fleeing Nazi Germany was turned away from our shores. This ship was forced to return to Europe  and more than 25% of its passengers perished in the Holocaust….

All of our Amici understand exactly what the Trump Order is about – an official act of discrimination on the basis of religion. Trump said during the Presidential Campaign of 2016 that there ought to be “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.”  He also said “Islam hate us” and that “we’re having problems with the Muslims….

Trump’s order also has ostracized those who simply want to practice their faith freely and live peacefully as neighbors, students, colleagues, families, and members of their community. It has contributed to an environment in which Muslims are increasingly subject to violence, harassment, and discrimination because of their faith. An FBI report has discovered that while hate crimes have risen by 6% overall in the United States, anti-Islamic bias has increased by 26.5% in 2012….

The Order’s near-absolute ban on entry by citizens of the seven countries it names is entirely contrary to the Golden Rule as well as the religious calling to welcome the stranger. Amici understand that the people barred by the Order are mothers and fathers, children and grandparents; they are clerics, congregants, shopkeepers, and students. Each one’s life is sacred-each a unique expression of the divine and a common member of humanity.”

 

“Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His children and the Millennial Generation” – Reading and Book Signing – November 27 at 7 PM – Chevaliers Bookstore, Los Angeles

Book cover

Chevaliers Books is the oldest independent book store in Los Angeles and is located at 126 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004 in Hancock Park.

I would love to see you there!

“Why Judaism Matter – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove is now available for purchase on Amazon.com (publishing date – October 10). This book is a collection of thirteen letters offering a common sense guide and roadmap for a new generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. It is published by Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing.

Endorsements

“Rabbi Rosove’s letters to his sons are full of Talmudic tales and practical parables, ancient wisdom with modern relevance, spiritual comfort, and intellectual provocation. Whether his subject is faith, love, intermarriage, success, Jewish continuity or the creation of a meaningful legacy, you’ll find yourself quoting lines from this beautiful book long after you’ve reached its final blessing.” – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writer, speaker, social justice activist, author of eleven books including Debora, Gold, and Me: Being Female & Jewish in America, a founding editor of  Ms. Magazine, a regular columnist for Moment Magazine, and a contributor of op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Toronto Star, and LA Times, among other publications.

 “John Rosove does what so many of us have struggled to do, and does it brilliantly: He makes the case for liberal Judaism to his children. As Rosove shows, liberal Judaism is choice-driven, messy, and always evolving, “traditional” in some ways and “radical” in others. It is also optimistic, spiritual, and progressive in both personal and political ethics. Without avoiding the hard stuff, such as intermarriage and Israel, Rabbi Rosove weaves all of these strands together to show the deep satisfactions of living and believing as a liberal Jew. All serious Jews, liberal or otherwise, should read this book.” Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and a regular columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

“Rabbi John Rosove has given a gift to all of us who care about engaging the next generation in Jewish life. The letters to his sons are really love-letters from countless voices of Jewish wisdom across history to all those young people who are seeking purpose in their lives. From wrestling with God, to advocating for peace and justice in Israel and at home, and living a life of purpose, this book is a compelling case for the joy of being Jewish.” – Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.

“Rabbi John Rosove gets it. Here is a religious leader not afraid to tell it like it is, encapsulating for his audience the profound disaffection so many young Jews feel towards their heritage. But instead of letting them walk away, he makes a powerful case for the relevance of tradition in creating meaningful lives. In our technology-saturated, attention-absorbing age, Rosove offers religion-as-reprieve, his fresh vision of a thoroughly modern, politically-engaged and inclusive Judaism.” – Danielle Berrin, columnist and cover-story journalist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, commentator on CNN and MSNBC, and published work for The Guardian, British Esquire, and The Atlantic.

 “If you’re a fellow Reform millennial, give yourself the gift of John’s insights. This book is written in a breezy, gentle, readable style that is welcoming without losing sharp insight. It was so enjoyable and refreshing to read and persuasive without ever being pushy. Rosove managed to do what only a truly worthy slice of kugel or chance viewing of Fiddler has done for me; reactivate my sense of wonder and gratitude about being Jewish. I’m a huge fan of WJM.” – Jen Spyra, staff comedy writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS), former senior writer for The Onion, actress, and stand-up comedian. Jen’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, and The Daily Beast, and has been featured by The Laugh Factory Chicago’s Best Standup Show Case.

“Rabbi Rosove has written a wonderful book, a love letter to his children, and through them, to all our children. Prodigiously knowledgeable, exceedingly wise, and refreshingly honest, Rabbi Rosove has described why Judaism Matters. It should serve as a touching testament of faith, spanning the generations for generations to come.” – Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Senior Rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in NYC, former Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America-World Union for Progressive Judaism, author of One People, Two Worlds: A Reform rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi explore the issues that divide them with Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman.

“Rabbi Rosove has written a book of the utmost importance for our time. It is an imperative read for all those who struggle with the changing and evolving attitudes towards belonging, behavior and belief.  His analysis, stemming from deeply personal contemplation and decades of rabbinic experience, offers clear yet sophisticated approaches to tackling the challenges facing this generation and those to come. This book offers a treasure of wisdom through the lens of Jewish texts – both ancient and modern – which help to frame life’s major issues taking the reader from the particular to the universal. Israel is one of the most complicated of issues and he bridges the divide between Israel’s critics and staunch supporters and moves beyond the conversation of crisis for the millennial generation.” – Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America

“John Rosove’s letters to his sons based on his life, philosophy, and rabbinic work address what it means to be a liberal and ethical Jew and a lover of Israel in an era when none are automatic. He writes in an unassuming personal style steeped in traditional texts as he confronts conflicts of faith and objectivity, Zionist pride and loving criticism of the Jewish state, traditional observance and religious innovation. He is never gratuitous and invites his readers into his family conversation because what he says is applicable to us all.” – Susan Freudenheim, Executive Director of Jewish World Watch,  journalist, former managing Editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, and a former editor at the Los Angeles Times.

See 11 Reader 5 Star Reviews at Amazon.com

Filling My Children’s Cups – Toldot

 

Kiddush cup - Shevach shevach Jerusalem

I am Isaac / Tradition doesn’t esteem me / as my father and son.

To our people’s cynics / I’m a passive placeholder / set between two visionaries / one hearing God’s voice / the other communing with angels.

To them I’m the do-nothing / dull-witted middle-man / neither here nor there / coerced into submission by a father / tricked by a son / abandoned by God / who willed me slain / to test my father’s faith / thus becoming history’s most misunderstood near-victim.

My father was driven by voices / left home on a promise / and journeyed to a Place he’d never seen / a low-lying mountain shielded round about / by a cloud / beneath heavenly fire.

My son dreamed of angels / ascended ladder rungs / from land and form / into spirit and spheres.

Tradition diminishes me insinuating / that I merely built a worldly fortune / on my father’s wealth.

Dear ancestors / I’m more than this / the wellsprings I uncovered / are more than you know / greater that waters deep, calm, cool, and tranquil / their streams flow to the Source of souls.

I dug anew my father’s wells / the same the Philistines / with stopped-up hearts / and clogged souls / filled in when he died.

I and my servants dug / our thirst unquenchable / passions unleashing / hearts expecting / souls soaring / on angels’ wings.

After our digging / we found the well / and the spring / flowing in earthly and heavenly wetness.

The inflowing fountain never dries up / The well is replenished continually / and whoever drinks from its waters / merges into Oneness through supernal faith.

The wells I dug / are the same as my father’s / That is our gift to you!

I yearn that you / pour the waters into your cups / dig anew / and pour the same / into your children’s cups.

 

Poem composed by Rabbi John Rosove – The Kiddush Cup was created by Shevach Silversmiths of Jerusalem (Mamilla Mall)

 

 

Twinship

The following are the thoughts of Rabbi Jacob J Weinstein (z’l) whose daughters Judith and Deborah were identical twins. I return every year to his reflections about his daughters during the week of Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9), the story of two other twins, Jacob and Esau.

“Job said that there were some things which he could not understand: the way of a ship upon the sea, a coney on the rocks, and the way of a man with a maid.  How then can I understand the super mystery of twinship?  A Rabbi — like other carers of souls —becomes a chameleon and takes on the coloration of the confessor, and I have sometimes felt the kick of the child in the pregnant woman who comes to relate her fears of childbirth. But I have never been able to enter into that very special intertwining relationship which governs twins. Where does one find a scalpel keen enough to sever an invisible umbilical cord?

Your description was about as close as any I have heard in capturing the inwardness of that shifting half-separation and rebounding amalgamation which takes place between the Jacobs and Esaus, the Judiths and Deborahs of our world.

You both will find it hard to realize that separate parachutes may be the only means of salvation at certain times — that there must be spaces in our togetherness, that the oak tree and the cedar do not grow in each other’s shadow.

While this may be a constant source of danger and will require a degree of special awareness, the compensations are more significant. Your twinship will have reduced to a minimum that fear of relatedness, that reticence in sublimation, that inability to put yourself into another’s shoes, or skin or heart or mind—which accounts for so much of the alienation, divisiveness, frigidity and uncommunicativeness in our society. I know that you recognize Mother’s and my wisdom in deliberately placing separateness in your togetherness, even as we recognize how wisely you have disciplined yourselves.

I know that having learned to respect each other’s differences and each other’s need to follow the compulsion and vagaries of your individual hearts, you will both be ready for that most crucial laboratory of relatedness, which is marriage. While you have at times condemned each other and bitterly pointed out faults in each other, you have never allowed these criticisms to dampen your affectionate acceptance of each other, and you have always and at times savagely resented attacks from any outside source (including your parents). If you can transfer that “acceptance” to your mate, you will have it made.”

From “Letters from A Father” – by Rabbi Jacob J. Weinstein, pages 10-11. These letters were privately published by his children, Ruth, Daniel, Judith and Deborah Weinstein in 1976 in Berkeley, California. 

Note: Judy and Deborah both became psychologists. Each was a remarkable woman. They died of cancer two years apart at the age of 48 and 46 respectively leaving husbands and 3 children between them.

Deborah was among my wife Barbara’s and my dearest friends. She was a force of nature, brilliant, passionate, socially conscious, a strong feminist, and kind. She loved us and we loved her. We miss her still nearly 24 years since her death. We knew Judy less well, but she was no less extraordinary. They adored each other. Witnessing them interact revealed the complexity that comes with the closest sibling relationships and  the joy that comes with the deepest intimacy.

 

 

 

 

A love story – Rebecca and Isaac

To be alone in shifting wheat / On rocks in the sun / Beneath stirred-up clouds / And singing angels / Audible in the wind.

I’m alone / Like my father/ When he went out / Leaving what he knew / For a place he’d not been / That God would show him.

My father broke my heart /  Betrayed me / Stealing me away / Before my mother awoke / To be an offering to his God.

When Mother learned / Her soul passed away / Out of the world.

How she loved me / Filling me / With laughter, love and tears.

Bereft in this field / Compassionate One – Do You hear me / From this arid place / Of snakes and beasts?

From afar / a caravan appears / Camels, men and a girl / Like sticks standing in an oasis / That Isaac does not see.

Sitting still / Meditating in the afternoon sun / Beneath swirling clouds / And singing angels / That he does not hear.

‘Who is that sitting in the field?’ Rebecca asks.

My master Isaac, / Your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry / And birth new worlds.’ Eliezer says.

Then she fell from her camel / Shocked and afraid / Onto the hard ground.

She veiled her face / Bowed low her head / Together they entered Sarah’s tent / And Rebecca comforted him.

 

Poem by Rabbi John Rosove

 

 

Kristallnacht, a small Torah saved from the fires – a Personal Account by Ruth Nussbaum z’l

 

Nussbaum Torah

The small Torah, known as “The Nussbaum Scroll” (above) written on parchment no more than 12 inches wide in very small but exquisitely beautiful k’tiv (writing) was taken from the Berlin synagogue served by Rabbi Max Nussbaum as it burned on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938). Max and Ruth smuggled it out of Germany in 1940 as per this account by Ruth Nussbaum. The Torah now occupies an honored place in the Temple Israel of Hollywood Sanctuary Ark.

The following account is that of Ruth Nussbaum, the wife of Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who served as Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood from 1942 to 1974. Ruth died in 2009, but she wrote a memoir and her account of of what occurred in Berlin on the 8th, 9th, and 10th of November 1938 during “Kristallnacht” is personal and riveting. It appears in an unpublished memoir in a chapter called “The Fire by Night and the Cloud by Day” (All rights reserved, 1985). The photo of the small Torah is in Temple Israel of Hollywood’s Nussbaum Sanctuary Ark.

“It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and we had piled pillows on top of the phone to muffle the sound, but to the group of people huddled in our quiet Living room it sounded shrill and startling enough. 

We let it ring a few times, then I picked up the receiver silently, listening. A voice came over the wire, artificially eerie and hollow, repeating over and over in a slow, droning, melodramatic monotone: “Vorsicht, Vorsicht – caution, careful, watch out, watch out, watch out…”. 

…my husband shrugged: “Nothing really, just a crank call.”

It was the night of mass arrests of German Jews, the night of November 10, 1938. The place was our flat in the Lietzenburger Strasse of Berlin – West, and it had been a long day. 

It had started with another phone call, at five o’clock in the morning. The Shammess (sexton) of the “Friedenstempel” (Temple of Peace) – the synagogue closest to our home – had awaked us: “Come quickly, Rabbi,” he had whispered breathlessly, “our Temple is burning.”

Rabbi Max Nussbaum was a young assistant to Rabbi Leo Baeck, the titular head of the liberal rabbinic community in Berlin from 1936 to 1940.

“We dressed hurriedly, and rushed through the still dark streets of the quiet Westside of Berlin, down the Kurfeuerstandamm toward the Markgraf-Albrecht Strasse where the Temple was located. The sky seemed to show the first tinge of daylight – so we thought until we realized that the reddish, flickering glow spotting the sky over the city here and there was nothing as innocent as the dawn: it was the reflection of flames. 

… we saw the Friedentempel, our Temple of Peace, on fire. Clouds of black smoke fringed with red were billowing from broken windows and from the skeleton of the roof. A cordon of Stormtroopers and firemen were trying to put out the fire? Certainly not. The fire engines were idle, and the water hoses, unused as yet, were trained on the neighboring houses to protect their Aryan roofs from being ignited by a Jewish spark. No, unbelievable as it seemed, they were only trying to hold back the people who had rushed to gawk at the scene. 

There were crowds of people, in spite of the early hour. Neighbors, jovial burghers of Berlin, mostly women, wrapped in shawls against the morning chill, many of them holding small children in their arms or by the hand. We stopped among them – there was nowhere else to go – and unthinkingly I said to no one in particular something like “How horrible!” subconsciously expecting to get an echo from whoever was next to me, a normal human reaction to a disaster, like: “Yes isn’t it awful?” Or: “What a crime!” But no, not a word! 

Only then did I turn and look into the woman’s face, …; she seemed happy and excited, obviously having the time of her life. Surely this must be a case of singular human callousness.  

The expressions I saw in this moment of horror I shall never forget: they were all simply and honestly delighted, full of glee, thrilled by the spectacular entertainment, radiant with a kind of triumphant vengefulness, approving, applauding, lifting up their children so they would not miss this historic occasion: “Look here, Karle, look, they’re burning down that Jew-Church… Wake up. Frieda, come, take a good look, that’s the least you can do since Momma took you specially to see it…” 

I didn’t believe it. We had lived under Hitler for five years and not like some other people with our eyes closed or in a fool’s paradise. We had no illusions as to his and his cohorts’ capacity for evil. Nevertheless, I had preserved some of my innate faith in the basic humanness of the average person. Well aware that under terror he might easily turn into a dehumanized fiend I never thought he would do so on his own, by choice, voluntarily as it were. That moment against a background for which a Rembrandt might have mixed the colors out of fire and night with the weird palette of a Hieronymus Bosch supplying the faces, – that brief moment taught me differently, – a lesson never to be forgotten. 

“Wait here for me,” my husband said suddenly, very softly, barely moving his lips. “No, better go slowly toward the Kurfeuerstendamm. Wait for me at the corner. I’ll just be a few minutes.” He gave my arm a reassuring squeeze and slowly moved away from me, melting into the crowd. I was apprehensive but knew that any protest would have been futile and dangerous. 

After the twenty longest minutes of my life we met at the appointed corner. It was daylight now, the greyish, gloomy light of a November morning in Berlin, – and it was drizzling. We held hands and walked home, without looking back at the fire nor at its admiring audience.

We walked automatically, not thinking, not talking, and only came back to reality when something made a crunching sound underneath our shoes. We were stepping on broken glass. The shops we were just passing were some of the small number still owned by Jews, and sporadic looting had just started, although none of the perpetrators were in sight. Some windows had been smashed, window displays were gone, and shelves and racks inside looked suspiciously empty. 

The drizzle turned into light rain, and we walked as fast as we could without actually running. We were out of breath when we finally let ourselves into our flat; I locked the door behind us and leaned against it, exhausted and bewildered. 

Hannele, my child, burst out of her room and ran up to us, wanting to know where we had been. Our combination housekeeper – friend – and nanny had taken care of her and was about to take her to nursery school, so we hugged her and promised her a story for later on and sent her off. 

There was coffee waiting for us, and we sat down at our breakfast table, going through familiar motions, as if nothing had changed, knowing full well that everything had changed. 

Then Max told me: he and the Schammes had managed to rescue the smallest of the Torah scrolls from the Sanctuary. “How did you do it – and where is it?” I was incredulous. “Mr. N. seemed to know the guard at the rear entrance, – that’s how we got in. And he is going to bring it over to us later, for safe keeping…” 

It was about 9 o’clock then, and after a few phone calls and having listened to the official radio announcement, the enormousness of what had happened began to dawn on us: most of the synagogues of the German Reich had been burnt down during the preceding night (267 of them)…”due to the people’s indignation at the cold blooded murder on November 7th of a German consular attaché in Paris, a certain Herrn vom Rath, at the hands of a Polish Jew.”  

This was the gist of the official version. 

Added of course were the standard phrases always used to cover up acts of atrocity…: “Schlagartige Einzelaktion auf Grund der kochenden Volkssseele,” meaning … “Spontaneous, single acts caused by the righteous wrath of the soul of the people,” and not a master plan instigated and mapped out in Dr. Goebbels’ office.  

“The fire departments” so we heard on the radio, “had done their best, but alas, had not been able to prevent the partial or total destruction of most synagogues. Regrettably, but understandably of course” – so the radio version continued – “The boiling soul of the German people had then turned against the Jewish-owned shops, and much damage to property and decorum of the city streets had been done – all the direct result of the fiendish deed perpetrated by the Jewish conspiracy in Paris. It was obvious – and the Fuehrer in his wisdom would see to it – that the guilty party, namely the Jews of Germany, would pay in full for the damage done.…” 

Synagogues burnt, Jewish shops smashed and looted, and Jews to pay for the damage…It seemed the pinnacle of insanity.  

… the Jews of Germany were to pay the German Government immediately the sum of one Billion Riechsmark. … mass arrests were taking place all over the country. Jewish men were seized, rounded up and placed under “Shcutzhfat” – protective custody, a euphemistic term meaning jail or concentration camp. 

Now it was night again, and our living room was filled. … my husband was not a German citizen but had a Rumanian passport. Therefore our apartment was something like an asylum, offering just a little bit more security than the homes of most of our German-born friends and colleagues. 

About eight or ten of them had come to us that night, some couples who were lucky enough to be still together and at liberty… 

Earlier in the evening our good friend Louis Lochner, chief of the Associated Press office in Berlin, had stopped by…to give and get information and to offer help … He was one of those gallant Christians who constantly used whatever influence he had with German or American authorities on behalf of Jews in Germany. He often risked his position and his own safety by befriending us – a man whose courage equaled his kindness. 

On that night, our plea to him was mainly to discover the whereabouts of those who had been arrested and to find out, if possible, how much longer this wave of arrests would continue… 

I poured coffee. Voices were hushed for the walls had ears and we had good reason to suspect that the telephone was tapped… 

Ruth and Max Nussbaum - Wedding Day July 13 1938 in Berlin

Rabbi Leo Baeck had just officiated at the marriage of Rabbi Max and Ruth Nussbaum on July 13, 1938 in Berlin. Ruth told me that the Gestapo had permitted their marriage as a “wedding gift” to them. They are seen leaving the synagogue immediately following their marriage.

We were all tired and enervated…Max stood up, stretched, and yawned. “Time to turn in” he said. “Why don’t’ you all relax and spend the night?” 

…an uneasy quiet settled over the makeshift dormitory on the third floor of a quiet apartment house, in the heart of the capital of Nazi Germany. 

…the previous nights… proved to be the beginning of the liquidation of German Jewry… 

…the following morning…dispelled some of the dread of the night before; fortified by the irresistible combination of fresh coffee and hot crisp “Kneuppel” (“sticks”) as the Berliner calls his famous breakfast rolls…our friends left quickly, one by one, for their homes or offices. 

They had not been gone long – I had just bundled up all the linens and, luckily, sent them off to the laundry when the doorbell rang. A look through the peephole revealed an unmistakable Brown uniform.  

My husband was at the moment soaking in a hot bath, a therapy prescribed by me as an unfailing cure for a stiff and aching back which was the aftermath of a night spent on or rather between two equally stiff chairs. 

I opened the door and faced not one but two brown uniforms. Two young guys, probably not much older than me, Hiel Hitlered me smartly and one of them, studying a paper in his hand, asked: “Is Mr. Nussbaum at home?” I smiled my best drama-school-smile, thinking very very fast ‘this is no good, – how do I handle this?” trying to look honest but a little bit honestly confused – so I blushed – I know I blushed, I did it easily – and said: “Frankly I’m not sure. He may have gone out while I was out taking my little girl to nursery school.” 

…I saw they had their feet already in the door, so I smiled again and said: “Why don’t you come in?” figuring by invitation was better than by invasion. 

They seemed a bit perplexed – this …was not in their script – but after wiping their shoes carefully on the doormat they followed me into the living room. I left them there, while I aimlessly pretended to search the apartment, opening doors, closing doors, all the while talking very loud – so my husband could hear me and understand – “No, he is not here, I hope he’ll be back soon” – which on that day, when thousands of men had been rounded up and taken to concentration camps – might have been understood by them as the devout wish of a Jewish wife – – or not. 

…I had asked them to sit down…with this nice looking young woman who could have been a schoolmate of theirs a few years ago. I had gone to the kitchen and came back with some coffee and coffeecake.  

“These are some schnecken, my Mom baked them yesterday.”

“O your Mom makes them too?”

“Aren’t they delicious?” They were obviously bewildered, but they went for it. 

[Ruth then took the SS soldiers on a tour of her apartment avoiding the bathroom where Max was hiding and deeply afraid that Max would burst out “to rescue me.”]

“Na, alright Frau Doktor,” one of the guys finally said in his best Berliner accent, “must have been a false alarm.”  

They clicked their heels and clattered down the stairs. 

“I have a gambler for a wife,” said my husband. “How did you dare do it?”  

I denied it. We actually had nothing to lose, nor did I have any choice. Had they found him, all hell would have broken loose, so my way was our only chance. And it worked because I knew these kinds of boys. I knew how their dirty little minds worked; I spoke their language and could act the role of the “girl next door”, so yes, maybe it was a gamble, but a small investment for very high stakes! 

It had been an inconsequential incident, compared to the massive historic tragedy of taking place around us at the same time. But then our life under the Nazis was a succession of such insignificant incidents; fate did not deal us only the unspeakable and deadly blows which have become synonymous with the Third Reich but also aimed a steady barrage of tiny poisoned arrows at us – the pinpricks of destiny, the thousand-and-one chicaneries that beset us in every phase of our daily lives in those years.” 

Postscript – Rabbi Max and Ruth Nussbaum remained in Berlin to assist the members of their synagogue community in attaining visas until 1940 when they got word that the Gestapo was coming to arrest them. In the middle of the night, Ruth and Max left their young daughter Hannah with Ruth’s parents (they had no visas so they could not leave all together), took the small Torah that Max had saved from his burning synagogue ark on the night of Kristallnacht, and fled to Amsterdam. From there they journeyed to New York. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise had secured a position as rabbi for Max in a small synagogue in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Before going there, Rabbi Wise had arranged an interview for them with the New York Times to describe the situation in Germany. Ruth spoke English. Max would learn the language in Oklahoma.  They met as well with Secretary of the Treasury Hans Morgenthau in Washington, D.C. who arranged passage for Hannah and Ruth’s parents who would join Ruth and Max in Oklahoma six months later.

In 1942, Temple Israel of Hollywood invited Rabbi Max Nussbaum to be its rabbi and he happily accepted bringing distinction to our congregation for the next 32 years. The small “Nussbaum Torah” (as we affectionately call it) remains in our Sanctuary ark, an icon of a memory of a story that can never be forgotten, thanks to Ruth.

 

 

 

The Kotel Agreement and the Conversion Law – A Report from Jerusalem

Tzachi Hanegbi at Kotel - November 2017

Tzachi Hanegbi above. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism is standing behind Minister Hanegbi and to his left. My photo.

I just returned from meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel (BOG of JAFI) and the Zionist Council of the World Zionist Organization (Vaad HaPoel of the WZO) that met this past week in Jerusalem. (See historical notes below about these two national institutions of the Jewish people).

Two items were prominent on the agenda of JAFI – The Kotel Agreement compromise reached by the government of Israel in January 2016 (19 months ago) and the Conversion Law introduced before the Knesset by the ultra-Orthodox religious parties.

Re: the Kotel Agreement compromise – This agreement was reached after nearly four years of negotiations. If implemented the agreement would create an egalitarian prayer space in the southern Kotel plaza that would be equal in size and accessibility with the traditional Kotel plaza. Whereas the traditional Kotel plaza would continue to be controlled and supervised by the ultra-Orthodox Administrator of the Wall, the new southern Kotel plaza would be controlled and supervised by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Women of the Wall. There would be a common entrance and both the traditional and southern plazas would be visible from that entrance. The new southern Kotel plaza would include egalitarian mixed-gender prayer.

Prime Minister Netanyahu had asked Natan Sharansky in 2013 to find a compromise agreement that would calm the tensions that had developed as a consequence of the monthly prayer minyanim observed by Women of the Wall in the back of the women’s section for the last 25 years, and would address the concerns of many Israelis that the entire Kotel plaza had been turned into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Non-religious ceremonies had once been conducted in the plaza by the State of Israel including the induction of soldiers into the IDF. Whereas the plaza represented the modern State of Israel as a national heritage site, it had been taken over by the most extreme religious forces in the state.

Natan Sharansky and the committee representing all interested parties (including the ultra-Orthodox Administrator of the Wall) succeeded in reaching a compromise. Should the agreement then be implemented as intended, it would have marked a victory for religious pluralism and democracy as stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

However, on June 25, 2017, the Prime Minister abandoned the agreement when the ultra-Orthodox religious parties in his ruling government coalition threatened to leave the government should the compromise agreement be implemented. This action infuriated Natan Sharansky, the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel that Sharansky now chaired, and the leadership of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world.

Also on June 25, 2017, the ultra-Orthodox parties submitted a bill to the Knesset that would restrict authority over all conversions in Israel to the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. This means that 350,000 Israeli citizens who are not Jewish according to traditional Halacha (“Jewish law” defines a Jew as someone born of a Jewish mother) must convert according to the most rigid and strict standards as determined by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. The 350,000 Israelis are primarily immigrants and children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who either do not have a Jewish mother or who are spouses and family of Jews who would like to convert to Judaism but who would prefer to study with Reform or Conservative Rabbis and to live their Jewish lives according to Reform and/or Conservative standards and practices. Many would also choose to live their Jewish lives as does the vast majority of Israelis who practice Jewish tradition on Shabbat and the Holidays but are not Orthodox.

These non-Jewish Israelis, by the way, serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, speak Hebrew, pay taxes, and in every way identify as Israeli citizens. Many have been living in Israel for decades. But, they cannot marry in Israel unless they convert to Judaism. The Conversion Bill would make it far more difficult for them to ever convert. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate converts only a few hundred individuals each year. If this bill were to pass it would take 1167 years to convert all 350,000 Israeli citizens. The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are willing and able to convert thousands of individuals who seek to live their lives as Jews.

The Conversion Bill also rejects for purposes of Aliyah under the Law of Return any Jew converted in Diaspora communities by rabbis not approved by the Chief Rabbinate. This means that no Reform and Conservative rabbis, no modern Orthodox rabbis, and even many Haredi rabbis are not approved by the chief rabbinate as authentically Jewish.

The Kotel Agreement and the Conversion Law dominated our meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency this past week.

In response to the outrage of the members of JAFI, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked his close political and personal ally, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi (see photo above), to meet with us and explain the government’s position. The American Reform movement led by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Israeli Reform movement led by Rabbi Gilad Kariv, and the American Conservative movement led by Rabbi Steven Wernick expressed to Minister Hanegbi emphatically our demand that the original Kotel agreement be implemented immediately and that the Conversion Law be withdrawn from consideration permanently. PM Netanyahu had tabled the Conversion Law for six months and that period expires at the end of December.

In the same week when we celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917) in which the British government declared its support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, it was shocking to confront the reactionary response of the Netanyahu government concerning the Kotel and Conversion Law.

These issues in and of themselves are important, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The wider and deeper issue at stake is whether Israel will remain religiously pluralistic and democratic.

By his actions, the Prime Minister has created a serious rift between the government of the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, so much so that for the first time in history an Israeli Prime Minister was not invited to address the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. For the first time in my memory as well, the Prime Minister will not attend nor address by video the General Assembly (GA) of Jewish Federations, the most important American Jewish body taking place next week in Los Angeles.

We of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency convened at the Kotel last week in a demonstration of our support for the original Kotel agreement. It is important to note that there are those in the JAFI BOG leadership who would take whatever we can get from the government now and continue to fight for the implementation of the rest of the original compromise agreement. There are others including our Reform movement leaders who argue that the negotiated agreement reached in June, 2016 is already a compromise and should be implemented without changes.

At the Kotel, after Minister Hanegbi tried to reassure us of the Prime Minister’s good intentions on behalf of the entirety of the Jewish people, I asked him an obvious question:

“It seems to much of world Jewry that Prime Minister Netanyahu is more concerned with holding his position as Prime Minister and keeping his governing coalition together than he is concerned with the best interests of klal Yisrael, the entirety of the Jewish people. How do you respond to this widely held belief?”

Minister Hanegbi said that this was not true, that the Prime Minister has political challenges to consider, and that he still believes that a compromise is achievable.

No one I know standing there at the holiest site in Judaism believed that PM Netanyahu would become a “profile of courage” and risk his government on this issue or, for that matter, on any issue. But, I for one would be thrilled if he did so and would earn my deepest respect.

What is the take-away for us as progressive Zionists?

First, it is our duty as Diaspora Jews to continue to support the State of Israel as the national home of the entire Jewish people and not walk away from her. We need Israel and Israel needs us.We need to learn the history of the state of Israel if we don’t already know it, and stay engaged with her.

Second, it is our obligation as progressive Jews and Zionists to align ourselves with progressive democratic forces in Israel that advocate for religious pluralism, democracy, and human rights. After all, that is the vision expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

The following day, the 120 members of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors went to the Knesset and met individually in groups of four with thirty-four MKs. Our message was simple – We asked the government to implement the original Kotel Agreement and to reject the Conversion Law.

After our individual hour-long discussions, we met in a large Knesset Conference room and many MKs spoke to us including members of Likud, the Zionist Union, Kulanu, Yesh Atid, Bayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Meretz.

To a person, each supported our agenda and said so forthrightly and without equivocation. We did not meet, however, with any members of the extremist ultra-Orthodox parties or the Arab List.

Historical Notes:

JAFI and the WZO are two of the three national institutions of the Jewish people. The third is Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (i.e. KK’L – or JNF).

Theodor Herzl, the Father of Zionism, founded the WZO in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland. It is called “the Parliament of the Jewish people” and includes representatives from every major Israeli political party and all world Zionist organizations.

David Ben Gurion founded the Jewish Agency for Israel in 1935 and served as its first Chair. He was also the chair of the WZO before the state was founded. Today, Natan Sharansky serves as chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.

JAFI’s purpose is to “inspire Jews throughout the world to connect with their people, heritage, and land, and empower them to build a thriving Jewish future and a strong Israel.”

The WZO’s purpose “… aims at establishing for the Jewish people a legally assured home in Palestine.” Today, the WZO includes the World Zionist Unions, international Zionist federations, and international organizations that define themselves as Zionist, such as WIZO, Hadassah, B’nai Brith, Maccabi, the International Sephardic Federation, the three religious streams of world Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform), a delegation from the Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e. the former Soviet Union), the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), and more.

Both national institutions bring the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora together to debate the great issues facing the Jewish people, to promote the Jewish people’s general welfare, and to fund programs and projects that support world Zionism and the connections of world Jewry to the State of Israel.

Additional note: I serve as the national Chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), the largest American Zionist organization representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews. ARZA’s President, Rabbi Josh Weinberg and other members of our ARZA national board were present in Jerusalem for these meetings, along with the leaders of Israel’s Reform movement, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judasim, the international Reform movement called ARZENU whose President is Rabbi Lea Muelstein from Great Britain, and Rabbi Daniel Freelander, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and his top leadership from Canada and around the world.

History as prophecy?

Chilling as it is, you need to watch this 6-minute video of the 1939 event in Madison Square Garden when 20,000 American Nazis Descended Upon New York City.

Now that Richard Spencer is holding rallies in the name of white supremacy & Trump is revving up his ultranationalist base, those pre-war crowd numbers may be predictive. Like the Nazis 78 years ago, today’s neo-Nazis fan the flames of hatred with the memes of patriotism.

The 1939 event was called, “Rally for America.” Their stage showcased George Washington and the Stars & Stripes. The crowd says the Pledge of Allegiance and sings the national anthem. Without a trace of irony, the German-accented speaker shouts: “Our country must be returned to the American people who founded it.”

Thanks to Letty Cottin Pogrebrin for bringing this to my attention.

https://www.theatlantic.com/…/marshall-curry-nazi-rally-ma…/

A documentary filmmaker exposes a story America wants to forget.
theatlantic.com