On April 19, 1943, under the command of SS General Juergen Stroop, Nazi tanks entered what remained of the Warsaw Ghetto to search out, arrest, and send the final 750 Jewish survivors to the death camp at Treblinka. However, the might of the Nazi death machine came up against one of the greatest acts of resistance by the Jewish people during World War II.
It took one month for the Nazis to put down the uprising and completely destroy the Warsaw Ghetto officially ending the uprising on May 16, 1943, though we know that a few Jews escaped to tell the full story through the sewers of the city.
In the history of the Warsaw Ghetto recorded in real time by Emmanuel Ringelblum, we read:
“Whomever you talk to, you hear the same cry: The resettlement never should have been permitted. We should have run into the street, set fire to everything in sight, have torn down the walls, and escaped to the Other Side. The Germans would have taken their revenge. It would have cost tens of thousands of lives, but not 300,000. Now we are ashamed of ourselves, disgraced in our own eyes, and in the eyes of the world, where our docility has earned us nothing. This must not be repeated now. We must put up a resistance, defend ourselves against the enemy, man and child.” (“Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum,” ed. and translated by Joob Solan. NY: Schocken Books, 1958, p. 326.)
Henrich Himmler had ordered the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto on April 19, 1943, one day in advance of Hitler’s birthday. When the Nazis entered the ghetto with their tanks, however, the 750 Jewish resisters attacked and burned their first tank. The Nazi soldiers were stunned and retreated.
I encourage you to read the complete story of the ghetto uprising in David Kopel’s article published on October 10, 2015 in the Washington Post, “The Warsaw ghetto uprising: Armed Jews vs. Nazis” (Opinion).
Temple Israel of Hollywood will commemorate Yom Hashoah this coming Sunday, April 23 from 4:30 PM to 5:45 PM. We welcome two survivors and a college student who grew up in our congregation who together participated in the Los Angeles Bureau of Education’s “March of the Living”.
As part of our commemoration, survivors, children of survivors, and grandchildren of survivors will kindle 6 flames in memory of those who perished.
The community is invited.
On March 26, I posted a blog announcing the publication of a new Haggadah “A Jubilee Haggadah Marking the 50th Year Since the 1967 War” that brought together thirty Israeli and American Jewish peace activists (including me) who offered commentaries on aspects of the traditional Haggadah. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/
I opened the blog announcing that
“A new Haggadah has just been published by SISO (“Save Israel – Stop the Occupation”). It is called the Jubilee Haggadah because it marks the 50th year since the 1967 War, a turning point in the history of the modern State of Israel that the writers and editors conjoin with the biblical Jubilee commandment – “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” (Leviticus 25:10) – and with the celebration of Passover, the festival of liberty.
The Haggadah is part of a new initiative begun by prominent Israeli individuals and organizations in partnership with Jewish leaders around the world who believe that the prolonged Israeli military occupation poses a very real threat to Israel’s safety and well-being, and undermines the moral and democratic fabric of Israel and its standing in the community of nations. See SISO’s website – https://www.siso.org.il.”
I received a thoughtful and friendly reply in Hebrew from Dr. Zioni Ben Yair (I do not know him) that said (translation is mine):
“I certainly sympathize with the need to break free from the corruption of the occupation [of the West Bank] because it contradicts the Torah and Haggadah and it’s making us an undemocratic apartheid state. Nevertheless, I believe we must continue to use the Haggadah as it is without changing even a single letter. The Haggadah has been read during all 82 years of my life, in different situations, in different countries and under different and unique circumstances, and in many cases, there are no proper reasons for change and new formulations….We need to be able to continue to read the Haggadah literally as we are used to doing from time immemorial.” (See Dr. Ben Yair’s original Hebrew letter: https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/#comments
This past week in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg wrote a piece he called “Is Passover Broken Beyond Repair?” in which he discusses a plethora of new Haggadot written over the decades that is a fitting response to Dr. Ben Yair’s comments – see http://forward.com/opinion/israel/368555/is-passover-broken-beyond-repair/?attribution=author-article-listing-2-headline.
Once you read JJ’s article, I suggest asking who is right – The traditionalists who wish not to change a word of the traditional Haggadah, or the innovators of new Haggadot who seek to apply the historic Jewish experience of victimization and liberation to others?
In my response to Dr. Ben Yair, I noted that the traditional Haggadah is a compilation of Midrashim, commentaries, stories, rituals, and symbols that entered the Haggadah over the centuries for specific reasons. A prime example is the custom of opening the door for Elijah, a relatively “recent” addition to the Seder (500-600 years ago) that was introduced during times of anti-Semitic persecution and violence provoked by the blood libel accusation.
Jews opened their doors to show Christians who were sensitive to the New Testament’s deicide accusation against the Jews who happened to be passing by that nothing horrific and sacrilegious was taking place in Jewish homes.
I suggested to Dr. Ben Yair, whose letter shows his concern about the corrupting effect of the occupation on West Bank Palestinians, on the soul of the Jewish people and State of Israel that for the Seder to remain meaningful today, in our generation, its themes of liberation, justice, and compassion must be applied not only to our own Jewish conditions but to the injustices suffered by peoples everywhere.
What do you think?
The Haggadah is an exilic document. For Jews, as long as the world is filled with injustice, cruelty, violence, and war, our work is not done.
Judaism teaches that the messianic era will come only when justice, compassion, and peace characterize relationships between individuals, peoples, and nations, when the hearts of parents turn to their children and the hearts of children turn to their parents (Malachi 3:23-24).
Through intention, determination, righteous deeds, and moral activism, our Jewish mission and the essential message of the Passover Seder is, through remembrance that we were once slaves, to address every injustice, every act of cruelty and every insensitivity to bring nearer the day when the prophetic admonishments will no longer be necessary.
My poem “Maror-Bitterness” that follows, is one in a series of d’rashot (commentaries) published this week in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal by a number of Los Angeles rabbis who reflected on the symbols of the Seder (“Rabbis Dish on the Seder Plate – April 7-13, 2017. Pages 36-38 – jewishjournal.com/culture/religion/passover/217641/rabbis-dish-seder-plate/). I recommend them all.
The Almighty called to the children of Jacob:
“I have taken notice of you / And seen your suffering / And sent to you my prophet / To relieve you of your maror-bitterness.
I carried you on eagles’ wings / And shielded you from the pursuers’ arrows / So that whenever you taste the maror / You will remember / Who I am / And who you are / And why you are free.
As I took notice of your ancestors / I call upon you today / The descendants of slaves / Who know the heart of strangers / And their fear and desperation / And do for them as I have done for you / And liberate them / The oppressed and the tempest-tossed / The poor and the discarded / The old and the lonely / The abused and the addict / The victim of violence and injustice / And everyone who tastes daily the maror-bitterness / That you know so very well.
As you sit around your Seder tables / I call upon you to act / With open, pure and loving hearts / On My behalf / And be My witnesses / And bring healing and peace into the world.”
Poem by John L. Rosove, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles
As we contemplate the massive refugee crisis and the bigotry and fear that Trump has stoked in his efforts to exclude these tempest-tossed human beings from entering the United States, and as we remember that 36 times (double chai) the Hebrew Bible reminds us that we were strangers in Egypt and therefore (per Jewish tradition) that we must resist becoming cruel, this poem by the African American poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992) speaks powerfully to the heart and soul of every compassionate human being:
“Speak proudly to your children / Where ever you may find them / Tell them / You are the offspring of slaves.”
Exodus 6:6-8 is the basis upon which the rabbis determined that 4 cups of wine are to be consumed during the Passover Seder. Each cup corresponds to one of the 4 verbs that describes how God freed the Israelite slaves from Egyptian bondage:
“… I will free you (ho-tzei-ti et’chem) from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you (v’hi-tzal’ti et’chem) from their bondage. I will redeem you (v’ga-al-ti et’chem) with an outstretched arm … And I will take you (v’la-kach’ti et’chem) to be My people, … I will bring you (v’hei-vei-ti et’chem) into the land…”
Wait! There are 5 verbs, not 4, and so we have to wonder why we don’t drink 5 cups of wine.
Some explain that Elijah’s cup is the 5th cup and is the most important of all because it symbolizes the future messianic era when justice, compassion, and peace will characterize all human affairs.
Others say that since the Haggadah is a Diaspora text (the first Seder was held in the middle of the night in Egypt), from the perspective of the Haggadah the 5th verb points to a state of being that has not yet occurred because the people have not as yet entered the land of Israel.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, some Israelis identify the 5th cup of wine as the “Zionist cup” representing the fulfillment of the Zionist project in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg (President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America – ARZA) suggests that perhaps there ought to be an additional cup of wine, a 6th cup symbolizing the need of every Jew to understand, acknowledge and reconcile the differences that characterize Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, political right-wing and political left-wing Jews, young Jews and old Jews.
A 6th cup of wine can be a reminder that the unity of the Jewish people must be a principle goal for us all. The concluding verses in the Prophetic Book of Malachi, the Haftarah portion read on this Shabbat Tzav, present both the challenge and the consequences of failure in stark terms:
“Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord. He [Elijah] shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.” (3:23-24)
May your Seders be filled with understanding and light, renewal and optimism, meaning and significance, good food and wine, loving family and friends, joy and hope.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Pesach sameach!
The international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is deeply disturbing to Israelis and Jews around the world because it unfairly singles out Israel while ignoring all other nations that commit far greater human rights violations. However, BDS has become a significant distraction from the real existential threat confronting the State of Israel, the occupation of the West Bank and a lack of resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This past month Israel’s Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan brought the BDS fight home for the first time. He has sought to expand his ministry’s recently launched intelligence division that is collecting information on foreign BDS activists by compiling a database of Israelis working with the BDS movement.
The editors of the Israeli daily Haaretz reacted strongly against Erdan’s efforts:
“With frightening speed, Minister for Public Security and Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan is becoming the Israeli heir to notorious U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.” (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/1.778768)
Haaretz also reported that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht have voiced their opposition to Erdan’s efforts and stated that the Public Security Ministry has no legal authority to gather intelligence and maintain a database on Israeli citizens.
The Editorial went on: “The struggle against the Israeli occupation, whether from Israel or abroad, is legitimate, just and moral – and every person of conscience is entitled to participate in it. Moreover, the means of struggle in question, boycotts and nonviolent sanctions, are legitimate in view of the illegal status of the settlements.”
Minister Erdan shot back: “A newspaper that calls on Israelis to oppose the struggle I am waging against the boycott against Israel and the BDS, apparently does not really understand what is happening here…Instead of Haaretz simply admitting that they support a boycott of Israel, they launched an attack on me, …I will continue to act so that those who want to bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish state will pay a price for their actions, and those who get bent out of shape, you already know what will happen to them.” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/227148
Haaretz described ominously the significance of Erdan’s attack on sympathizers with BDS: “Databases on political activists have always been a hallmark of the darkest regimes. It is there, under the darkness of tyranny, that authorities gather information on regime opponents and compile blacklists. With his actions, Erdan is aspiring to have this sort of regime in Israel.”
I believe that Haaretz is right. However, lest I am misunderstood, I oppose BDS because too many of the groups that support it are out to delegitimize the State of Israel. I also oppose BDS as it is applied against only West Bank settlements because I don’t believe BDS can be successful as a non-violent political tactic in ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
BDS is a significant challenge, as Don Futterman, the Director of Israel’s Moriah Fund, noted this past week in “The Promised Podcast.” But BDS is not an existential threat to the State of Israel, though it could become one in ten or twenty years when large groups of western young people who have been influenced by the BDS movement come into power and influence in their respective countries. https://tlv1.fm/full-show/promised-podcast/2017/03/30/the-bds-and-the-rat-bastard-conundrum-edition/
Focusing too much of our attention on BDS obfuscates the real existential challenge facing Israel – the occupation and the continuation of the status quo that will end Israel as a Jewish and/or a democratic state.
Those who place the settlement movement as more important than Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic nation are the greatest threat to Israel’s future, not BDS.
Note: I speak only for myself and do not necessarily represent the views of my synagogue or any other Jewish organization.
A new Haggadah has just been published by SISO (“Save Israel – Stop the Occupation”). It is called the Jubilee Haggadah because it marks the 50th year since the 1967 War, a turning point in the history of the modern State of Israel that the writers and editors conjoin with the biblical Jubilee commandment – “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” (Leviticus 25:10) – and with the celebration of Passover, the festival of liberty.
The Haggadah is part of a new initiative begun by prominent Israeli individuals and organizations in partnership with Jewish leaders around the world who believe that the prolonged Israeli military occupation poses a very real threat to Israel’s safety and well-being, and undermines the moral and democratic fabric of Israel and its standing in the community of nations. See SISO’s website – https://www.siso.org.il.
Critics will argue that this Haggadah does not provide adequate historical context nor, in the words of one of its contributors, Professor of Jewish History at Ben Gurion University Haviva Pedaya, a “political outline of how to bring about a solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dr. Pedaya acknowledges:
“Nor is one party alone guilty for the complex situation. In broad visions, the discussion about the concept of the victim and the subjugator is most complex. But those people who ate potato peels on Seder nights, who recited by heart the Haggadah in the concentration camps, like those people who ate the manna in the desert or those slaves whose children drowned in mortar and were built into the pyramids – those people come to us with the demand: turn the face of the brother to the other and to responsibility.”
So many Jews and lovers of the State of Israel have come to accept what seems to be a historical inevitability, that Israel will forever occupy another people. This Haggadah addresses the moral consequences of failing to advocate for the only solution that can best assure Israel’s Jewish and democratic character – a two-states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
SISO’s editor and publisher describe the Haggadah in these words:
“Thirty authors, artists, and thinkers from throughout the Jewish world have joined together — in commentary, song, and moral outcry — and proposed contemporary interpretations to the Haggadah.
From Amos Oz to Sarah Silverman, Achinoam Nini to Leon Wieseltier, Anat Hoffman to Carol Gilligan, in this fiftieth year, we are proclaiming liberty throughout this land for all its inhabitants.
The Haggadah is edited by Dr. Tomer Persico. The texts are rich, nuanced and diverse, and together with the original artwork and design (by leading Israeli graphic designer Michal Sahar) make this a beautiful work that invites reflection and conversation.
I am honored to be among the thirty contributors (page 4 – item 1). I offer a few commentaries to evoke the spirit of this Haggadah. The entire text that can be downloaded at nif.org/sisohaggadah:
“We were not born to be people of masters… We are condemned now to rule people who did not want to be ruled by us… The shorter the occupation lasts, the better for us, because an occupation is inevitably a corrupting occupation, and even a liberal and human occupation. I have fears about the kind of seeds we will sow in the near future in the hearts of the occupied. Even more, I have fears about the seeds that will be implanted in the hearts of the occupiers…” (Amos Oz – Davar, August 22, 1967)
“We must care for each other. We must see each other clearly… as equal under God … We must recognize each other’s humanity, aspirations, rights, emotions … at the end of the day, the only way to be saved by God from whatever ‘Egypt’ is enslaving you, is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Achinoam Nini – Noa – Israeli singer and peace activist)
“Now that we have returned to the land by the grace of God, and are privileged to move through all of the land of Israel and to settle in it, we have to protect ourselves and to safeguard our security – but not to base our existence on life by the sword. We are tested by our ability not to rule another people by ‘force,’ but to live here by ‘My spirit.’ In other words, to build a model society. If in Egypt we became foreigners who were denied all rights to existence, liberty, and the land, and in this lay the root of our subjugation, we must not do to others what we ourselves hate. The Palestinian people that lives among us also needs its land, its existence, and its liberty…. Only through a brave conjoining of all the children of Abraham who dwell in this land will God’s blessing to our forefather Abraham, and ‘all of the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him’ come true for us.” (Rabbi Michael Melchior, Jerusalem thinker, activist and former Israeli government minister)
“Of all people, Jews know the bitterness of being oppressed – and not being in our own country. That’s what makes the occupation so ironic. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between right and wrong, the situation is complicated and scary, but I’m guessing oppression will always prove to be on the wrong side of history.” (Sarah Silverman, comedian, and actress)
“The quarrel between Israel and Palestine has been a bleeding wound for decades, a wound that is hemorrhaging and is full of pus. You can’t keep waving a big stick and beating a bleeding wound again and again so as to scare it and make it finally stop being a wound and finally stop bleeding. A wound has to be healed. And there’s a way to gradually heal this wound.” (Amos Oz, January 2017)
I recommend downloading the entire Haggadah and using whatever commentaries you choose during the course of your own Seder.
There are increasingly more people who are giving up on a two states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are, instead, supporting a one state democracy that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
In my view, this represents for the Jewish people a defeat of historic proportions.
The State of Israel was founded on the basis of it being a Jewish state that is democratic in character and affirms the principles of justice and equality for all its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike.
As time passes and the Jewish settlement enterprise continues and as the status quo is maintained a one-state reality becomes more probable. If that is the end result, the question remains as to what kind of state it will become.
The Arab and Jewish populations between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea including Gaza are nearly equivalent (5.5 million Israeli Jews and 5.5 million Arabs of which only 1.5 million are Israeli citizens and the remainder live under occupation in the West Bank or are ruled by Hamas in the Gaza Strip).
There are essentially three options:
- Two states for two peoples (Israel and Palestine) with established borders, Jerusalem as a shared capital, Palestinian refugees enjoying the right of return to Palestine and not Israel, Palestinian acceptance of the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel and Israeli acceptance of the legitimacy of the State of Palestinian, and assured security;
- A one-state democracy in which all citizens share equal rights including the right to vote in national elections and to serve at the highest levels of government;
- A one-state undemocratic Jewish State of Israel in which Arab citizens do not share equal rights with Israeli Jews.
The first option preserves the Jewish and the democratic State of Israel.
The second represents the end of Zionism.
The third ushers in a new form of Apartheid in which Israel ceases to be a democracy and risks further international isolation, the weakening of the American-Israeli relationship, and the alienation of large segments of world Jewry from Israel.
Yesterday (March 2, 2017) in the Israeli daily Haaretz there appeared an interview with Member of the Knesset Ahmed Tibi (of the Arab List). The interview offers a realistic glimpse into what a one-state non-Jewish democracy might look like (see link to article below)
A few highlights of Mr. Tibi’s comments:
“I belong to those who support the two-state vision, have fought for it and continue to fight for it. I think it’s the optimal solution for the existing situation. The international community wants it and the majority on both sides wants it, even though that majority is diminishing according to the surveys I see, among both Palestinians and Israelis. And with 620,000 settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and two separate judicial systems, there’s a reality today of one state with rolling apartheid.” …
“[In a one-state solution] We will annul the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence and in its place write a civil declaration that represents all citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze. The entire public. It’s untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish.” …
“That [the Jewish right of return] would automatically be annulled because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today. The single state will not resemble the present-day State of Israel. It will be something different. Why should Jews be able to return here and Palestinians not?” …
“…With one, equal state, the State of Israel in its present format will not exist. All its symbols will change, and the narrative will be different. The unifying element in one state will be different from what it is today because it will be a state of everyone, not a state of the Jewish collectivity in which there is a tolerated minority that is thrown a bone in the form of gestures like new roads and the establishment of well-baby clinics. In an equal, single state, equality is a supreme value.”
Those who support the status quo in effect are supporting option #3.
According to American Middle East envoy Martin Indyk who spoke at the recent J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C., the status quo might seem to be sustainable in the short term, but in the long term “there will be an explosion.”
If that happens, the dream of the founding generation of the State of Israel will be lost.
Earlier this week, I was asked to participate with two others in a press conference in Washington, D.C. on behalf of J Street which was convening in its 6th Annual National Conference.
I joined Dr. Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor of European and Eurasian Studies of Johns Hopkins SAI, a former state department consultant and Holocaust survivor, and Dylan Williams, Vice President of Government Affairs for J Street. I was asked as a former co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street and now as the national chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.
We were being questioned about President Trump’s nomination of David Friedman to be the next United States Ambassador to Israel. All three of us were strongly opposed to the nomination.
We oppose Friedman because of his long-standing support of the settlement enterprise, his public opposition to the two-state solution, and his assaults against large segments of the American Jewish community that support the two states for two people’s resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We said that Friedman’s policy positions run counter to the long-held positions of every American President in the last 25 years who have supported the two-state solution, his slander of J Street supporters as “worse than kapos,” his charge that the ADL is led by a bunch of “morons,” and that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are anti-Israel and anti-Semites.
These positions and statements ought to disqualify Friedman’s appointment to any position in the government, let alone as the chief American diplomat in one of the most sensitive regions in the world.
I was asked by Al Jazeera English whether or not I accepted Friedman’s statements at his Senate hearing in which he recanted virtually every position he ever held and every statement he ever made vis a vis Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I said that I do not accept anything he said in the hearings as reflective of his true beliefs and as an indication of how he would conduct himself should he be confirmed by the Senate in the next few days.
In particular, I was moved by Dr. Charles Gati. He was ten years old when the Nazis invaded Budapest in 1944 and ordered the expulsion and murder of all that city’s Jews. Charles was spared being shot and thrown into the Danube River due to pure luck.
His opposition to Friedman was based not only on his policy positions and ill-temperament but because Friedman showed how woefully ignorant he is of Jewish history and the history of the Holocaust when he callously used the word “kapo” to describe J Street supporters.
After hearing Dr. Gati, I told him and Dylan Williams that meetings ought to be arranged this week one-on-one between Charles and every reasonable Republican Senator. I am certain that Charles would persuade any reasonable leader to oppose this nomination.