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?
This past week I was invited to speak to fifteen soon-to-be-ordained rabbinic students at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. I was joined by two long-time friends and colleagues on a panel and we were asked to share what has kept us excited, inspired, passionate, and creative in our work as congregational rabbis (I am now in my thirty-eighth year of service).
This question, however, isn’t only a question for rabbis. It’s also for everyone who works hard, takes pride in their work, seeks excellence, wants to make a contribution, and hopes to maintain a healthy balance in their lives.
It so happened that the Torah portion this past week was Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36). At the beginning of the portion there appears a relevant verse to the question we were asked to address:
“The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept burning on it.” (6:2)
The English translation that appears in most editions of the Bible, however, is incorrect. Here is the relevant Hebrew of the final phrase of the verse: “V’esh ha-mis’bei-ach tukad bo – The fire of the altar burns in it [It does not read “tukad alav – burns on it”].”
Since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple by Rome in 70 C.E. when all sacrifices ceased, many Jewish commentators have interpreted the sacrifices (korbanot) as metaphors. The altar can refer to the human heart, and the fire that burns in the altar can refer to the fires of excitement and inspiration that burns also in the heart.
We were asked – What keeps our inner fires burning in service to the Jewish people?
I was moved by the question and took it to my congregants who study Torah with me on Friday mornings, and to my family and friends at our Seder. I asked the question more broadly: “What sustains you in your life and in your work?”
Here are some of their responses:
- Many of the men who learn Torah with me each week say that engaging with the ancient, medieval and modern texts ground them in who they are as Jews, as human and spiritual beings, and as inheritors of 3600 years of Jewish engagement with God, ethics, practice, culture, and history;
- My Seder family and friends said that whenever they read fine literature and poetry and then write themselves, or when they listen to and play musical instruments, visit museums or galleries and create art, work in their gardens and cook creatively, the embers in their hearts are stoked;
- Two people mentioned that the mastery they have attained in their work inspires them to learn more, teach others, publish, and carry on the work;
- A recovering alcoholic said that daily prayer and meditation brings her back to her best and most natural self;
- Many said that helping others and engaging in social justice work connect them to community and to higher ideals that inspire and sustain them;
- Several said that sitting quietly in a favorite place renews them;
- Many spoke of the love they feel for their spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, extended family, and friends as the embers that feed their inner flames.
This is a season to ask ourselves this fundamentally important question – What feeds your inner flames?
I wish for you all more inner light that burns from your deepest embers.
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!
I offer this d’var Torah at the end of a week that for me has been exceptionally disturbing in the wake of the President’s dishonesty, self-centered heartlessness and bullying tactics along with the Republican congressional leadership’s efforts to make good on its promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, rather than correct its problems, and thus take health insurance from twenty-four million poor and older Americans over the course of the next decade.
I have found myself these past eighteen months since the presidential campaign began and especially since 11/8 and 1/20 to be in constant need of a mental, emotional, and spiritual corrective to the corrosive spirit that has taken over so much of this country.
Learning Torah has always been for me such a corrective endeavor. And so, I offer here an edited d’var Torah that I posted originally three years ago concerning Betzalel, the master architect and builder of the Tabernacle.
God instructed Moses to choose Betzalel to design and build the Tabernacle that would carry the tablets of the law (Exodus 38:22-39:31). On the face of it, these verses describe a matter-of-fact building of a physical edifice. But this isn’t merely an architectural plan for an ancient structure. It’s a description of the highest aesthetic vision of the ancient Israelites that would impress itself upon the hearts, minds, and souls of generations of Jews to come.
Not just any craftsman could design and build this sacred structure. Only someone with extraordinary qualities of heart, mind, spirit, and skill could do the job.
We learn that Betzalel was endowed with wisdom (chochmah), insight (binah), and understanding (da-at). Rashi suggests that chochmah refers to the wisdom we learn from others; binah is the understanding we acquire from life experience; da-at is mystical intuition.
Though Betzalel was apparently the right choice, God asked Moses if he himself believed that Betzalel was suited to perform this sacred task. Moses replied: “Master of the universe! If You consider him suitable, then surely I do!” Not yet satisfied, God instructed Moses: “Go and ask Israel if they approve of my choice of Betzalel.”
Moses did so and the people replied: “If Betzalel is judged good enough by God and by you, surely he is approved by us, too.”
The rabbis emphasized that Betzalel was not only God’s and Moses’ choice but the people’s choice.
This simple story of Betzalel’s selection teaches that Judaism regards a person’s devotion to God, Torah, and the people of Israel to be the key virtues of a Jewish artist.
Mark Chagall went further when he wrote: “The artist must penetrate into the world, feel the fate of human beings, of peoples, with real love. There is no art for art’s sake. One must be interested in the entire realm of life.”
The story of Betzalel and the commentary that was written over time are reminders that each one of us, the artist and non-artist, ought to train ourselves to continuously direct one of our eyes heavenward and direct the other eye upon human affairs thereby drawing us nearer to one another in love and support and to the cosmic core of the universe.
This is an orientation that can serve each of us well and, I suggest, can help direct the leadership of our country to fulfill the higher purposes towards which American democracy has sought to fulfill.
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.