How would MLK respond to the Poway shooting?

Image result for image of martin luther king

One of my congregants posed an interesting question that we ought to consider asking: What would Rev Martin Luther King Jr. have said about the Poway synagogue shooting? It is an important question—not just for members of the Jewish community, but also for the African-American community as well.

Throughout his life, King proved to be a close friend of the Jewish community. He often noted the similarities existing between Jews and African-Americans. Both groups experienced hatred, prejudice, attacks from those wishing to harm them; both peoples worked together to overcome that hatred.

In this short article, I will briefly touch on some of my favorite quotes Martin Luther King Jr concerning what it is the Jewish and non-Jewish community is up against. Simply put, we are fighting for the soul of our nation. Many of King’s quotes highlight the warm feelings he felt for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

King proved to be a relentless foe against anti-Semitism and racism. He observed that the Hitler archetype is alive and well—even in the United States.

  • There are Hitlers loose in America today, both in high and low places… As the tensions and bewilderment of economic problems become more severe, history(‘s) scapegoats, the Jews, will be joined by new scapegoats, the Negroes. The Hitlers will seek to divert people’s minds and turn their frustration and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist, how effectively they reach the minds of the decent Americans to halt this deadly diversion….[1] 

“Some have bombed the homes and churches of Negroes; and in recent acts of inhuman barbarity, some have bombed your synagogues — indeed, right here in Florida.”[2] Three months later, on Oct. 12, 1958, The Temple in Midtown Atlanta was bombed. When I came across this news, I was surprised to see that targeting synagogues is by no means a new phenomenon; it has happened before—many times, in fact.

Because of the Jewish advocacy for civil rights, between November 1957, and October 1958, there were bombings and attempted bombings in seven Jewish communities in the South. North Carolina had two such incidents; there were two more in Florida, and one in Tennessee and Georgia (where Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple sustained almost $200,000 in damages in the last of the 11-month rash of attacks). Alabama synagogues were also targeted—particularly, Temple Beth-El of Birmingham’s was a bombing target on April 28, 1958. Fortunately, weather conditions fizzled the fuse—one minute before it would have detonated. Experts said the explosion would have killed scores of people. The bomb itself was said to be three times more powerful than the one that would kill four young black girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. It could have demolished not only the synagogue, by also several nearby structures.[3]

King respected the danger the Jewish community put itself in for championing civil rights. At the Rabbinical Assembly Convention of 1968, King observed, “Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice.”

On October 27, 1967, at a Civil Rights rally in Boston, King boldly said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

In 1958, King spoke to the American Jewish Committee, and pointed out, “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.”

King loved to write about the Israelites experience in Egypt and its moral message for the African-American individual. For me, one of King’s most memorable sermons he presented a sermon on the subject, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore.” King’s comments vividly portray the flight of Hebrew slaves from Egypt: He observed,

  • Egypt symbolized evil in the form of humiliating oppression, ungodly exploitation, and crushing domination.” But then, the wonderful event occurred, and ‘when the Israelites looked back, all they could see was here and there a poor drowned body beaten upon the seashore.’ For the Israelites, this was a great moment… It was a joyous daybreak that had come to end the long night of their captivity . . . The meaning of this story is not found in the drowning of Egyptian soldiers, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being. Rather, this story symbolizes the death of evil and of inhuman oppression and unjust exploitation.[4]

King observed, “We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”

This last remark is what we need to remember when combatting anti-Semitism. Today, anti-Semitic attacks seem to becoming fashionable once more in our society. We need to root out the intolerance that is affecting our society. This approach offers the best medicine for the hatred we are witnessing in the world today, as Jews in the 21st century experience a resurging anti-Semitism.

Evil people will always exist, but we must do our part to thwart them.

On a personal note, Martin Luther King’s heroism inspired me to decide becoming a rabbi when I was barely fourteen years old.


[1] Cited from Marc Schneier, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish Community (Woodstock VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999), p. 35.

[2] Martin Luther, Clayborne Carson (ed.), The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957-December 1958 (Berkeley: University of California Press; First edition, 2000), p. 408.

[3] https://weldbham.com/blog/2012/09/19/54-sticks-of-dynamite-the-bomb-at-temple-beth-el/

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr, The Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963; Pocketbook Edition, 1964), pp. 71-8

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Book Review: In Good Faith: Questioning Religion & Atheism

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In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism Hardcover
by Scott A. Shay
640 pages
Publisher: Post Hill Press (2018)
ISBN-10: 1682617920

Often the greatest critics of religion offer us a series of criticism about the depth of our faith; they confront us with our hypocrisy. They challenge us to reexamine what it means to “believe.” As a young teenager, I remember hiding Raphael Patai’s book, “Hebrew Myths” in the library because I did not want this book to poison any reader’s mind, even though I thought the author may have “poisoned” my mind by forcing me to take a new look at the Bible and its ancient sources through the prism of myth.

After I read Scott Shay’s remarkable book, “In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism,” I discovered a fellow pilgrim who has thought very deeply about the meaning and the possibilities of religion. I should point out that Shay is the son of Holocaust survivor. Shay and I have that much in common; my father was also a survivor from Auschwitz. His father had developed (like my own), his own concept of God (p. xviii). Children of survivors often become philosophically or theologically obsessed with trying to make sense of the Big Picture, pertaining to God and the Holocaust.

I get it and I have the tee shirt to prove it!

Part I of his book began with a sushi dinner he had with a friend who was a non-believer. Sushi bars (I can personally attest to this fact!) is often a wonderful place for people to have a spirited dialogue about life, God, or just about anything! In this section Shay argues that without the religious dimension that pertains to God, why should Jews bother worrying about preserving a “Jewish identity”?

Shay might have considered the famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth about the purposeless nature of life, “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing”— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28).

Shay perceptively observed that many of his friends feel, “The Bible is just so primitive and obscure, it is no longer relevant to educated adults.” Shay added, “These people believe that the book Religion for Dummies should have been titled, Religion Is for Dummies.” (p. xvii)

After reading the introduction, I felt interested enough to read the rest of the book. In Good Faith: Understanding Religion and Atheism” is very well researched, and it covers a vast area of interesting interlocking topics, from the various scientific areas, quantum theory, relativity, and the new miracles of molecular genetics and so on.

To his credit, Shay shows a willingness to engage the modern atheistic writers in an honest and thoughtful manner. The list includes Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and (my personal favorite!) Christopher Hitchens. While Shay could agree with their critique of religious dysfunction, he differed with their carte blanche rejection of religion.

Shay believes it is not fair or accurate to blame monotheistic religions for the most violent crimes perpetrated in its name. According to Shay, the real enemy of society is idolatry. In the hands of an ancient shaman, the power of idolatry gave the ancients considerable power; this pattern can be seen in the long line of 20th and 21st century dictators, and Scott identifies these leaders as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jung-On.

In terms of freedom vs. determinism, Shay agrees with the writer Balshevis Singer, who said, “We have to believe in free will—we have no choice.” A world without such freedom would be undesirable. “Everyone would have to behave the same. There would be no need to teach children to be moral, no need to teach adults the path of justice” (p. 241).

Shay is correct—up to a point. I would only add that a Maimonidean approach to the problem reveals that idolatry often hides under the guise of “believing monotheists.” This point would have strengthened Shay’s overall thesis. And this point is more relevant because of the emergence of religious totalitarianism we have witnessed in many of the Muslim countries today (and in Israel today, I might add), who wish to destroy the separation of Mosque/Church/Synagogue and State. Maimonides more than anyone of his time, and probably afterward, understood the danger in monotheistic religions that promote retrograde images of God that reflect human depravity.

Shay does not deny the horrible record organized religion has in the history of human civilization in perpetuating human suffering. Yet, he counters that religion has also civilized humanity. He contends, the Torah limited the number of cases that could result in capital punishment—in fact, any court that executed a single person once in seventy years was considered a murderous court. Shay is correct. The nation’s religious leaders largely inspired the Abolition movement of the 19th century.

Yes, religion can be a healing force in the world. Shay’s book reminds me of an old Jewish story that has been told countless times over the years.

Once a rabbi had a discussion with a soap maker who did not believe in God. As they were strolling down the street, the freethinking soap maker asked the rabbi, “There is something I cannot understand. We have had religion for thousands of years. But everywhere you look there is evil, corruption, dishonesty, injustice, pain, hunger, and violence. Religion has not improved the world at all. In all earnest, please answer me: What good is it?” The rabbi listened and did not reply. They continued their walk. Eventually, they approached a playground where children, covered in dust, were playing in the dirt. The rabbi said, “There is something I don’t understand,” the rabbi said. “Look at those children. We have had soap for thousands of years, and yet those children are filthy. What good is soap?” The soap maker replied, “But rabbi, it isn’t fair to blame soap for these dirty children. Soap has to be used before it can accomplish its purpose.” The rabbi smiled and said, “Aha, aha! That’s exactly the point—you have to use religion if you want it to better the world.” 


This book is full of wonderful ideas that will make you rethink what it means to be a Jew who embraces faith in an age of unfaith such as ours.

It is a book well worth reading, discussing, and sharing with some friends.

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“Twas the night before Christmas . . .” The Origin & Significance of “Nittel Nacht”

Chabad Florida Tefillin Santa closeup 12-2013

This past week, a newspaper featured a picture of a Lubavitcher rabbi putting tefillon on Santa Claus. It reminded me of a story from Eli Plaut’s book, Kosher Christmas. Once mentions how an old Ukrainian Jewish immigrant dressed up as Santa Claus and spoke Yiddish. When speaking to Alan King, he quipped, “Men Mahk a leben,” which means, “A man has to make a living!” (p. 135).

Chabad and Christmas seem like an odd combination. Yet, Jewish history is full of unusual anecdotes and customs. Pious Jews have their own way of distinguishing Christmas from other days of the year, but not quite in the manner that you might think.

“December 25th is universally celebrated by non-Jews, as the birthday of that person upon whom a dominant non-Jewish religion was founded and who had the Halachic status as a Jew who lures other Jews to idol-worship. A spirit of impurity, therefore, prevails on that day. (Additionally, there was a period when members of that religion used to celebrate this eve by attacking Jews, which led to an enactment against keeping the Yeshivas open during the eve of Dec 25th).”

Note that Chabad never refers to Jesus by his proper name. Simply put, Chabad considers Jesus to be a non-person.

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950) explains concerning this Hassidic tradition of Christmas Eve, “It is our custom to refrain from studying Torah on Nittel Nacht until midnight. The reason, as the Previous Rebbe heard from his father, the Rebbe RaShaB (Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a.k.a., the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe), is so that one will not add spiritual vitality to that person [Jesus], and those who presently follow his views [i.e., Christians everywhere]. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (quotes his father in the popular Hayom Yom (Teves 17), ‘I am not fond of those students who begrudge these eight hours and cannot tear themselves away from Torah study!’” [1]

Incidentally, most ultra-Orthodox Jews, like the Lithuanian and Sephardic communities, disregard this custom; for them—the study of Torah is of primary importance. They continue their studies on Christmas Eve as well.

HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN OF THIS CUSTOM?

To understand a Jewish custom, sometimes it pays to have the curiosity and determination of a Sherlock Holmes. Most of you reading this Hassidic instruction might be wondering: “What in the world are they talking about? Why should we finish Torah study before Christmas Eve?”

The answer is more complex than most of us realize.

The origin of Nittel Nacht in modern rabbinic literature is one of the more fascinating chapters of Jewish history and folklore. “Nittel ” actually comes from the Latin, “Natalis,” or, “Nativity Night.” It is truly ironic that 99% of all the Hassidic Jews who follow this observance, haven’t the foggiest idea that Nittel Nacht means, “Nativity Night.” It is also possible that Nittel Nacht may be a corruption of the Latin dies natalis, “birthday,” i.e., the “birthday” of Jesus.[2]

While Christmas is a joyful holiday for billions of people, historically, during the medieval era and the centuries that followed, Jews were forbidden to appear on streets and public places on the high Christian holidays under penalty of severe punishment; hence the schools and synagogues were closed on those days. [3] Young and old, who were compelled to remain at home, enjoyed themselves with a variety of games; consequently, the meaning of the word Nittel received the folk etymological explanation as being an abbreviation for “Nit Iden-Tore-Lernen” (“Jews must not study Torah”).

Of course, the time of Nittel Nacht will vary depending on whether one is a Greek Orthodox Christian or not, for they celebrate the holiday on January 6th. Some Hassidic Jews, Ilan mentions, will not study Torah on New Year’s Eve either for the same reason.

In the final analysis, is there a place for Nittel Nacht today? Emphatically, “NO!!!” Not unless you purposely set out to insult our Christian neighbors. While there are a number of customs that originated during the most depraved times of medieval history, when our people suffered from Christian persecution, it behooves us to let go of our medieval attitudes.

We need to change our attitude about our Christian neighbors. 

As modern Jews, it behooves us to cultivate a relationship with our Christian neighbors and friends based on the principle of mutual respect. Jewish leaders often insist that Christianity purge itself of its anti-Semitic attitudes and this is indeed necessary. In some ways, we need to start a process promoting reconciliation by doing the same. After all, we are no longer living in the 19th century. 

Reason dictates that the custom of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve ought to be discontinued by any person in promoting a healthier Jewish and Christian relationship.  But this cannot be done so long as we hold on to the old ideas that should have been discarded long ago in the dustbin of history. Simply put, we need to stop clinging on to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Today, even Orthodox Jews across the world and especially in the Land of Israel are beginning to explore interfaith dialogue for the first time in recent memory. We are no longer living in an age of religious polemics and religious intolerance. American society, for the most part, is definitely far more tolerant than the world our ancestors left long ago.

No religion is immune to the dangers of promoting religious prejudice; or as they say, “A pig with lipstick is still a pig.” Prejudice and intolerance should not be quietly accepted as if it is normal–because it is not! Unfortunately, the ghetto is more than just a historical space–-it is an unhealthy state of mind that we must leave behind.

When I think about this subject, the thought occurs to me that as rabbis, we need to preserve the embers of our ancestral faith—and not its ashes. Life is a series of rebirths. What you were yesterday is different from who you will be today or tomorrow. Abrahamic religions who identify with the patriarch Abraham need to find a better path that will promote peaceful relations. The only way to cure the problems we see today is for all of us to let go of the symbols and metaphors of religious hatred and intolerance that still unconsciously clings to members of our own faith communities.

I want to wish all of my Christian brothers and sisters a very Merry Christmas to you all!

 

=====

Notes:

[1] Anonymous, HaMaaseh Hu HaIkar (Brooklyn, NY: 2006), 10-11. I would also add that the Rabbis of Lubavitch have never referred to Jesus by name, but always through the pejorative designation of, “that man.” In biblical and rabbinic literature, to be without a name is to be condemned to virtual non-existence.

[2] Curiously, but erroneously, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson attempts to provide a Hebraic basis for the word’s etymology, “The word  nittel implies ‘lack,’ or possibly ‘suspended.’ In Latin, natal means  “born,” i.e.,  ‘the time of birth’” (Letter dated 9th Kislev 5735, printed in Likutei Sichos Vol.15,  554)

[3] The earliest Halachic reference of this custom dates back to R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638-1702) in his Mekor Chaim of the Chavat Yair OH:155

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TBS Memorial Service in Memory of the Tree of Life Synagogue Victims

Clergy, officials turn out for vigil at Beth Shalom

Posted on 03 November 2018.

Rabbi Samuel (center) with pastors and public officials at a memorial service for the 11 Jews slain in Pittsburgh at Shabbat services


By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — On Thursday night, Nov. 1, almost 140 gathered at Temple Beth Shalom to participate in a special ecumenical memorial service for those murdered in last week’s Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Synagogue, located in the Squirrel Hill Jewish area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child. I recall going with my siblings to visit family and enjoy Kosher deli there.It is hard to believe this little Jewish community should become the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

 

Several ministers of the local churches participated at the Beth Shalom services, including: Pastor Paul Davis of the Chula Vista Presbyterian Church, Father Thomas Wilson of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Chula Vista, Pastor Victoria Freiheit of United Church of Christ of Chula Vista, Pastor Bryan Parceo, United Methodist Church of Chula Vista, Rev. Soliven Placido Fee, of Amazing Grace Church, and Pastor Iglesia Embajadores, Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista. In addition, almost the Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and her council representatives all came in a show of solidarity.

Famous ethical and inspirational remarks from Albert Schweitzer, Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Talmud, and Martin Buber peppered the services. Each of the clergy members shared  reflections on the tragedy.  Pastor Victoria Freiheit said, “I remember an America where we could talk to our neighbor over the back fence without getting angry if he disagreed with us. An America of mostly law-abiding citizens, where we can be civil with each other. No–more than civil–we can disagree and still be friends.”

Father Thomas Wilson said, “Pray for those who died in Pittsburgh, for those who were injured, for their family and friends. Pray for the Tree of Life congregation, and all congregations who have experienced gun violence and acts of bigotry. Pray for the first responders and the health care workers and all who are ministering to those affected by this shameful act.”

Pastor Iglesia Embajadores and Bryan Parceo each stressed the importance of Jews and Christians working together to create a better society where mutual acceptance is universal. Pastor Paul Davis pointed out the Pittsburgh shooting incident marks the most serious attack on the Jewish community since the inception of our country, but that such tragic events have occurred with terrible irregularity in the Christian churches and Muslim mosques. Rev. Fee said, “Declaring, ‘All Jews must die!” he revealed a heart that stands opposed to God’s heart. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Woe to those who call evil good” (Isa. 5:20). The gunman said he was “going in,” believing his action was good; but it was a cowardly and graphic display of wickedness. We Americans uphold the victims, their families, and everyone affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. We know that their lives have been changed forever.”

The ministers all spoke eloquently. They also spoke the truth. The history of Jews living in Europe was always different, but not anymore.

As the organizer of the event, I decided to speak about the question God posed Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”

After Cain kills his brother, he attempts to cover up his crime by burying him. But later that day, God confronted Cain with one of the most important questions found in the Scriptures: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” The purpose of the question is not for informational purposes, but to stir Cain’s guilty conscience, “to prove his soul,” so that he might freely confess his crime and begin his long journey toward repentance. At first, Cain denies responsibility. He asks: Am I my brother’s keeper? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”

Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to cite the verse, “Where is Abel your brother?” whenever he engaged leaders of the Lutheran community to assist in rescuing the Jewish people from the Nazis. To his chagrin, he felt bitter over the bishops’ lack of nerve. Bonhoeffer often quoted the verse, “Who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” (Proverbs 31:8). Consequently, Bonhoeffer felt compelled by God to be the voice defending the Jews in Nazi Germany—a price he ultimately paid for with his life.

Today’s eleven victims also cry out for our country’s suffering. Their souls cry out for healing and justice. We must do a better job of limiting people’s accesses to dangerous military-style assault weapons—especially those who have a long history with mental illnesses

All the ministers pointed out each faith needs to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

One participant, Rachel Donsky, a member of Temple Beth Shalom, also spoke among after the clergy. She said, “We have reached a critical point in our human and spiritual evolution—the stakes are being raised. We are now being asked to look within ourselves for a deeper truth and a deeper understanding of that which has divided us and created a hurting and crying world. We are not faced with evil so we can endlessly suffer and be told we are victims; we are faced with evil so we can dig under the surface of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, to uncover and heal our common human pain, fear, and insecurity. The biggest mistake we make is to conclude that the threat to our existence is external and outside of our control- it is not. The darkness within us that allows us to commit violent atrocities must be brought to the light and healed . . .”

All the ministers and community participants pointed out all faiths need to do its part to promote a better understanding and acceptance of their neighbors. Acknowledging our ability to confront the inner demons we have as a nation requires courage, honesty, and faith—if there is to be community healing at the micro and macro level. Indeed, the radicalism from the right and from the extreme left are both very dangerous. We must all work together if our great country is to grow and thrive.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

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Abbas’ Removes His Persona

FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas heads a Palestinian cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Issam Rimawi/Pool/File Photo

The world is full of surprises. I was stunned to read about a New York Times condemnation of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. The name of the Article was, “Let Abbas’s Vile Words Be His Last as Palestinian Leader.”[1]

Abbas went on record saying that the Nazi genocide of European Jews in the Holocaust was “the result of the victims’ financial activities, not their religious identity and anti-Semitism.” We should not be surprised that Abbas made such an outlandish claim. After all, did he not write his Ph.D.  thesis on this topic back in the 1980s? Abbas has been a Holocaust denier for several decades and it is interesting to see him at age 82, admit, that there was a Holocaust—but that the Jews brought it all upon themselves! Yet, in 2003, Abbas admitted, “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind.”

The New York Times seemed to be genuinely surprised by Abbas’ offhand remark.

But for most of us who have studied Abbas’ modus operandi, this was not a great revelation. It has been staring at us in the face for decades–even the NY Times, but they chose to ignore it.

Abbas merely took off his persona.

In Jungian psychology, the word “persona” was originally a mask worn by actors in the ancient Greek plays that indicated the specific role they played. But Jung added that the persona can sometimes function as a protective covering when dealing with other people. As with any mask, however, once the mask comes off—only then can you see the real person.[2] In the case of Abbas, he has always known—as have many of us—that projecting a “civilized” persona is the only way to get what one wants in terms of money, power, influence, and prestige.

The duplicitous Abbas exposed himself to the world. Unmasked, we can now recognize him for the Jew hater he has always been.

I suspect that Abbas’ casual way of deceiving others has a deep psychological component that has been a part of his religious upbringing and personal history.

When I think of Abbas and Arafat reminds me of an old story I once heard from a Catholic friend of mine while I was working on my doctoral degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Once a famous missionary spent decades spreading God’s Word to a tribe of cannibals. After he retired, they made a large banquet in his honor. Someone asked him, “Did the cannibals under your influence really give up eating human beings?” The old missionary said, “Well before I arrived the savages used to eat with their hands; after I worked with them, they would wear suits and ties, and eat with forks and knives instead!”

The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is that Abbas has mastered the niceties of appearing “civilized,” whereas Arafat could care less what people thought about his demeanor. Both of these men deserve to be remembered as savages.

In the final analysis, Abbas has still failed to grasp that the Holocaust did not occur ex nihilo; it was the result of a poisonous pedagogy that began with the inception of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in Late Antiquity. This is why attempts to rewrite or sanitize the villains responsible for producing the Holocaust, or any kind of downplaying, or flat-out denying it are dangerous. Civilized leaders in our 21st century and beyond have a moral duty to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate conspiracy theories that wish to deny it.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/abbas-palestine-israel.html

[2] Carl G. Jung, CW, “The Persona as a Segment of the Collective Psyche,” op. cit., ibid., pars. 245f.

 

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A Memorable San Diego Yom HaShoah Program

Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto (häftad)

 

April 23rd, 2017

This year’s San Diego Yom HaShoah presented one of the finest programs I have experienced in many years since arriving in San Diego almost eight years ago. The musical selections were excellent; the theme of the program was “Memory and Morality” and featured Roberta Grossman, who is the director and producer of new Holocaust film, “Who Will Write Our History?” Her movie is based on upon Samuel D. Kassow’s book, Who Will Write Our History? (Vintage Press, 2009). The book is a compelling read and I hope to have more to say about this remarkable testament to history in the weeks to come. Although Grossman was not a survivor or even the child of a survivor, I admire her iron determination in directing a new film that every person needs to watch, witness, and learn.

 Kassow narrates the tragic story of Ringelblum and his heroic resolve to utilize historical scholarship in preserving the memory of the endangered Jews of Warsaw. Her soon to be released film is scheduled for January 2018 and it offers a remarkable glimpse into the world of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which took place in the summer of 1942.

While many cinematic presentations of the Holocaust often portray Jews acting passively during the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising tells a different story that is seldom ever told—Jews taking their destinies into their own hands by organizing armed resistance against the Nazis. They did this by smuggling weapons and improvising homemade weapons. Actually many Jews in the ghettos across Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1943 formed over one hundred Jewish battalions against the Nazis. The Warsaw Ghetto was by far the most famous of these efforts. That year in 1942, over 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka, Poland, where between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were exterminated. When the Warsaw Jewish residents in Warsaw heard about this, a young 23 years-old heroic figure named Mordecai Anielewicz, called upon Jews to resist going to the railroad cars. With the weapons they smuggled, they fired upon the Nazis—and they retreated.

Grossman pointed out how the resistance against the Nazis took an unusual form—a group of Jews prior and during the uprising in 1940  knew that they would not survive, but they nevertheless got together to create an underground archive that would preserve their memories as a people. The man who created this archive was named Emanuel Ringelblum. He began formed a secret “sacred society” he called, “Oyneg Shabes” (literally, “Joy of the Sabbath,” as members often met on Saturday). Its purpose was to create a comprehensive archive of life in the ghetto, “to meld thousands of individual testimonies into a collective portrait.” Ringleblum’s archives present a realistic picture of what the people were like and he minced no words in telling a future audience about the heroes, villains, bystanders and the perpetuators’ stories. He instructed them to collect everything they could. Some were artists, thinkers, intellectuals, teachers, factory workers, and so on.

In one story, Ringleblum’s life was also saved by Poles, who also resisted the Nazis. Indeed, many Poles took considerable risks saving Jewish lives. Yet, in his chronology, he also wrote about how other Poles chose to do nothing for their Jewish neighbors. He expressed the hope that someday Jews and Poles would come together and honestly share their stories. His description reminded me of a story I had heard from my father, whose life was saved by a young Pole. In one of the ghettos, the Nazis went on a wild shooting spree, and my father was with his Polish friend. His friend was shot, and knew he was going to die. To save my father, he hit in the head and knocked him out. The Nazis thought he was already dead. Were it not for the gratuitous kindness of this Polish young man, I would not be writing about his heroism.

On another personal note, in my rabbinic career, I was privileged to know a woman named Esther Avruch, whose petite presence survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. She too recalls how some of the Poles could act just as cruel as the Nazis; some would beat the Jews and seize their meager rations of food and water. Yet, other Poles exhibited profound humanity toward her and her family. Starving for food and drink, simple Polish peasants, like a miracle from God, shared their food with the family. They were friends of Esther’s father’s business partners. They acted morally and with compassion.

Ultimately, on September 18th, 1946, Jews and Poles dug through the rubble of the remains of a former school located on Nowolipki St. What they discovered were three buried caches of the Oyneg Shabes archive. Some of the records suffered from decay and decomposition from moisture that seeped in the documents.

Eli Wiesel once told his Nobel Peace Prize audience when he delivered his acceptance lecture in December 1986. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history, “Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered. New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, is also called Yom Hazikaron, the day of memory. On that day, the day of universal judgment, man appeals to God to remember: our salvation depends on it. If God wishes to remember our suffering, all will be well; if He refuses, all will be lost. Thus, the rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.”

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Giving the President a Chance

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

There is a good reason why politics and religion may be compared to the mixture of meat and milk. Milk by itself is a very nutritious food. Meat by itself is also a source of protein and vitamins, yet when we mix the two together, they both become a forbidden mixture. Politics is a field of endeavor that has the potential to be beneficial for society. The same may be said about religion, yet the mixture of religion and politics has often produced many of the world’s most disastrous genocidal evils in human history. 

Rabbis must resist the temptation to speak ex-cathedra about policy opinions based upon current political trends. In the spirit of fearless inquiry, there is no reason why a rabbi and his congregants can’t have an honest difference of opinion regarding the political realities de jure. In any free society, people can have some dialectical tension. The appearance of unanimity has never been something desirable in Jewish history or law. 

The pursuit and process of questioning for the sake of veracity and relevance is not only desirable but necessary. Disputations, raucous debates, and the polyvalence of interpretation have animated Jewish intellectual discourse since the days of Late Antiquity. Jewish tradition also teaches us that it is not what people argue about that matters—it is how they argue and why they argue that matters. Arguing a point in any area should not be personalized to the point where friends become adversaries or enemies. Yet, quite often that is what occurs when people cannot respect to differ. 

With this thought in mind, I must take serious issue with Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is an Open Orthodox rabbi of Phoenix, Arizona. To show his disdain toward President Trump, he decided to change the ‘mat’bea shel Tefilah” (a rather unorthodox move that breaks with Orthodox tradition) regarding the traditional prayer that we say for the leaders of our country. 

Instead of using a generic prayer, the rabbi decided to reword the prayer: 

• We pray that the decrees from the Executive office do not harm the innocent. We pray that any policies that are meant to harm the vulnerable in prioritization of the powerful and privileged will be quashed. Should there be plans that will merely benefit the most privileged Americans, but not all of humankind and the planet we call home, may they fail. May our nation not consort or conspire with totalitarian despots but reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy. Grant us the strength to demonstrate spiritual resistance, to imbue our sinews with the highest integrity. Give us the wisdom and courage to do what’s right to protect the most powerless and defenseless in society.

I wonder whether all of his synagogue agrees with R. Yanklowitz, but if his congregation is anything like most other rabbis and synagogues, I suspect they probably differ on a variety of religious and political issues. 

He presumes that Jewish supporters of Trump represent an “embarrassment” to the Jewish people.” Not only is he insulting people of conscience who have a right to their own political views, his statement comes across as smug, self-righteous, and I dare say “fascist.” 

President Trump deserves a chance like any other president we have had before. During President Obama’s tenure, I found many of his views morally questionable—yet as my President, I did not speak disrespectfully of him. His position on Iran, for example, I felt represented a reckless endangerment of Israel and could lead to nuclear proliferation in the most dangerous part of the world—the Middle East. During the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, President Obama failed to give a scintilla of support for the courageous Iranians who died defying the theocratic leadership of their country. Nor did he do anything to help recognize or prevent the genocide of Christians in territories held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Granted, those statements are only one rabbi’s opinion—mine. Honestly, I do not expect my congregants to agree with me on all these matters—nor should they, if they feel certain positions violate their conscience. Frankly, having spirited discussions about the issues of our day ought to be celebrated and not condemned. Demonizing people who differ violates the tenor of Jewish history. As mentioned earlier, debates are nothing new in Jewish tradition. Perhaps R. Yanklowitz should spend more time reading the disagreements of other Rabbis in the Talmud. Their arguments were very animated—even raucous at times.  

On the other hand, some of President Trump’s ideas aren’t so bad. His recommendation about evicting hardened criminals and murderers who come from foreign countries is really a good idea. Turning away people from Muslim countries who idealize ISIS or the Muslim Brotherhood is also prudent given their movement’s involvement with Hamas and their vicious attacks against the Coptic Christians in Egypt. For Jews to welcome people who are hell bent upon their wholesale destruction of their enemies seems very shortsighted and foolish. 

President Trump’s ambition to destroy ISIS is off to a good start so far with today’s capture of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Trump’s desire to eradicate this terrorist organization is something every Jew—and “Open Orthodox” rabbi ought to applaud and support. A President who wants to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is another thing every Jew ought to celebrate. Wanting to defang Iran is yet another policy Jews ought to welcome.

The President has a demanding job and instead for praying for his failure, he should be praying for his success. If Bernie Sanders and even Chuck Schumer can agree with Trump at times, maybe R. Yanklowitz can reconsider his position too.  

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We Need an Islamic Reformation–NOW!

Credit: Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

Reformations are good for the soul. They keep the religious leaders and faiths in check. In the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, people began to read the Bible critically for the first time without having the local priest spoon-feed it to  them while they sat on their Church pews. Of course, the spread of literacy made a huge difference—thanks to the Gutenberg’s printing press. It impacts these technological innovations can probably be compared to the impact that computers and digitalization of literature are having on our society today. The Reformation underwent numerous schisms. Lutherans, Calvinists sprouted up everywhere, and the Baptists were not far behind. Pietist movements, Reformers created enormous conflict—even wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, as recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written by John Foxe in 1563; he narrated the tortures Catholics and Protestants did to one another in lurid detail.

Yet, Europe managed to survive its birth pangs of a new and more tolerant Christianity. The Catholic Church no longer dominated people’s lives. People wanted not just the freedom of religion, but also yearned for the freedom from religion.
While Orthodox Jews lament the birth of the Reform Movement in Judaism, the Jewish Reformation led to many significant changes that even the Orthodox movement benefits from having. For example, the Bat Mitzvah is one example of a change (introduced by R. Mordechai Kaplan of the Reconstructionist Movement) that is widely observed even in some of the most Orthodox Jewish communities—all over the nation. Often, young women will read to a mixed audience from the Megillah on Purim, or from Megillat Ruth on Shavuoth. These are dynamic changes we have witnessed in our time. The emergence of woman scholars in Halacha threatens to expand the discussions concerning traditional Jewish texts such as the Talmud. A woman’s voice is not only heard at the traditional Orthodox Shabbat tables or at the young women’s yeshivot, women are adding their voice to the formation of modern Halacha.

So what about Islam? Is Islam ready for a Reformation within its own ranks? As outsiders, do we have the right to encourage and even demand that Muslims consider this option and take the steps to implement it?

President Sisi of Egypt is a remarkable man in the Arab world.  He says it best last December when he urged reform of Islamic discourse and called on Islamic scholars to send Christmas greetings to Christians. In the televised speech to Islamic scholars, President Sisi stated, “We talk a lot about the importance of religious discourse… In our schools, institutes and universities, do we teach and practice respect for the others?” He continued, “We neither teach or practice it.”
Egyptian Streets quoted President Sisi during the speech, stating, “God did not create the world for the ‘ummah’ [Arabic for ‘nation’ or ‘community’] to be alone. [He didn’t create it] for one community, but for communities. [He didn’t create it] for one religion, but for religions.” President Sisi continued, “Can I impose upon someone pressure, physically or morally, to change their religion? Would God accept this?… What are we afraid of? Are we custodians of people’s minds or choices? No, we are not. In religion specifically, no. Each of us will be judged independently… and [people] will have to answer [for their choices and what they choose to believe].” [2]
To admit that Islam needs a Reformation might sound like heresy, but without it, not only will Islam as a religion completely implode, it may implode the rest of the civilized world along with it.
While there have been relatively peaceful relations between Islam and the West, there have been atavistic forces within Islam that wish to relive the good old days of the 7th century.
In Europe, we are witnessing retrogressive religion at its worse attempting to bring back the burqa, rape squads, sexual slavery advertised on the Internet and Twitter of thirteen year-old girls. The violence of atavistic Muslim young men who enslave and gang rape young girls continues to be ignored by the press. If you turn on your television, chances are you will not see progressive women march down the streets of Berlin or Paris, Stockholm or London protesting in mass against the seventh-century male mentality that defines considerable part of today’s Muslim world, who wish to make Sharia the law of the West.
Many Muslim countries are very concerned about the radical Islamicists that promote Sharia and ISIS, and a host of other arcane early 7th century Muslim practices—such as child weddings, female circumcision, stoning married women who cannot produce four witnesses that she was raped.
The apathy  or moral indifference of these crimes against humanity stem from their craven fear of being labeled “Islamophobic.”
There is nothing “racist” in criticizing the origins of religious intolerance in Islam, for Islam—like Judaism and Christianity—are predicated upon a belief system and is not based upon color.

The bully pulpit of the Presidency is remarkably silent whenever it comes to criticizing Islamic abuse of women and religious minorities faced with genocide. Yet, the progressive voices who could make a difference are deliberately silenced.

Sister Diana Morneka is probably a name you have never heard of before. She is a Catholic nun from Iraq who wanted to come to the United States to speak about the persecution of women and religious minorities of her country. One would think that the United States of all countries would allow this courageous champion of human rights to come and speak to our Congress, yet, inexplicably, our State Department will not give her a visa.
“Sister Diana represents tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, forced to convert or die or flee their homes. She’ll tell us the truth about what’s happening,” U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) May 7.  “Like thousands of other Christians in the region, Sister Diana is a victim of ISIS,” Collins said in a May 5 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “She has devoted her life to helping other victims and advocating for them.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has won numerous human rights awards for speaking up for women’s rights in Muslim countries. In 2004, she collaborated with the artist  Theo van Gogh (before some radical Muslims killed him) who produced a film called, Islam, which documents the oppression of women living under Islam. She is one of many moderates calling for a Reformation in Islam. Ali has also won numerous awards in various European countries. Yet, she has yet to be invited by the Congress or by the President.
If we want Islam to embrace a 21st religious sensibility, then it behooves us to add our voices demanding that such a change take place. Denying the voices of progressives who have lived or grown up in Muslim countries only serves to keep Islam locked up in the shackles of the 7th century.
Isn’t it about time that our President start inviting progressive voices like Zahudi Yasser, President Sisi, Ayann Hirsi Ali, or Sister Diana to the White House to help present an image of Islam that is introspective and self-critical? These are the kind of voices our country needs to hear, instead of gangster rappers, or people like GloZell, who eats cereal out of a bathtub.
As moral people concerned about the human condition, we need even at the risk of being called “politically incorrect,” to address the issue of modern day Islamo-fascists threatening Christians, Yazidi, and Jewish lives in the Middle East today. Just the other day, an Iranian general boasted how Iran has over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
Why in the world would we ignore their threats to complete the job started by Hitler?
Yes, we need an Islamic Reformation—and we need it now!

*

Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com. Comments intended for publication in the space below MUST be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the United States.)

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Why Liberal Jews Should NOT Ignore the Genocide of Christians and Yazidis….

A distraught father in Syria holds the lifeless body of his decapitated daughter, executed by milita

Recent discussions on the Internet deal with the moral question concerning asylum for Syrian refugees. This issue is especially a matter of concern for the European countries as well.

More specifically for Jews, is the comparison between Syrian of today and the German Jewish refugees analogous? In 1938, Jews of Europe had a horrific time trying to gain entry into the United States, which feared the new Jewish refugees might take jobs away from Americans who were just starting to recover from the Great Depression. With today’s struggling economy and dwindling wealth, we hear similar arguments as well.

Some politicians and segments of the population even feared that the Jews might be secretly working covertly for Hitler—of all people! Many Americans did not realize there was a genocide in Europe that the Nazis had initiated. Bear in mind, the world did not have the benefit of Facebook or Twitter, or other media outlets as we do today.

Advocates for the Syrian refugees claim that this xenophobia exists today. President Obama  argues this past week in Manila, “When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing,” he said. “When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values.” I think the American people know more about “political posturing” than the President realizes…

From this writer’s point of view, I concur there is a real need for us bring Syrian refugees over to the United States. In fact, the analogy to the 1938 racial laws that existed in the United States may be a fair analogy—at least superficially. Understandably, Jews have a long memory for the discrimination our parents and grandparents experienced. That is fine and good.

The problem with this observation is that for the few years, the Jewish community has been remarkably blind, deaf, and dumb to the genocide of Yazidis and the Christians who are being massacred for rejecting Islam. The Yazidis are one of the oldest religious communities of the Middle East, whose faith includes elements of Zoroastrianism and some forms of the ancient Mesopotamian religions that probably preexists Islam by at least a thousand years.

In one CNN interview reported later by Catholic Online, a Chaldean-American businessman named Mark Arabo, reports “ISIS have beheaded small children and placed their heads on a stick and have them in the park.” He has begged the White House and American politicians to rescue the Chaldean-Christian and Yazidi communities, numbering at least 300,000 people who have tried to flee the ISIS invasion of their country.

We have seen ISIS instruct their children how to play kickball with Christian and Yazidi severed heads. Sometimes ISIS will starve a mother for several days, and give her a lavish meal made from the bodies of her children.

Radical Islam “almost” makes Nazism look civilized; whereas the Nazis believed they were the “master race,” Radical Islam believes they possess the “Master Religion.”

Now this is a comparison that resembles the Holocaust of 1930s and 1940s. Yet, I have not heard the demand from American Jews to do something to bring these people to safety.

So, I ask you the reader—why do you think this is so? Such a probing question is bound to elicit a number of uncomfortable responses. Perhaps many Jews don’t know what is going on in the areas controlled by ISIS. Is it possible that many of our most liberal-minded Jews don’t care to address this problem since our President has refused to come to the aid of these Christians? In other words, liberal Jewish fealty to the current Administration is more important that saving the Chaldean  and Yazidi lives. Perhaps some of our brethren do not wish to confront the dark side of Radical Islam. Denying it a name means denying it a reality. Hence, we will look the other way rather than choose to act ethically.

Historically, we made the same kind of moral mistake when we failed to confront Roosevelt for not letting Jews come in to the United States. In WW 2, we had great heroes who stood their ground and openly challenged the President to act morally.  Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968) proved to be one the greatest rescuers of European Jewry during the Holocaust. He is credited with saving many thousands of Jewish lives. Early on in 1939, Silver was one of the founding fathers of the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee), where Silver was appointed as its president. He was instrumental in rescuing the cream of European rabbinic leaders, who along with Rabbis Aaron Kotler, Abraham Kalmanowitz marched up Pennsylvanian Avenue on October 6, 1943.

While standing in front of the White House, the large Jewish entourage of over two hundred rabbis recited the Psalms and announced, “We pray and appeal to the Lord, blessed be He, that our most gracious President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recognizing this momentous hour of history and responsibility that the Divine Presence has laid upon him, that he may save the remnant of the People of the Book, the People of Israel.”

Shortly afterward, the Jewish delegation met with Vice President Henry Wallace and a congressional delegation to make their case for European Jewry. Later, at the Lincoln Memorial, a special memorial prayer was said on behalf of the martyred Jews.  Finally, the five rabbis went to the White House to meet with the President, where the President made his famous backdoor exit rather than meeting with them. Although they did not meet with the President, the publicity of the march led to the eventual formulation of the War Refugees Board, which opened the doorway to over 100,000 Jews. When one considers how many of these survivors went on to have children–not to mention grandchildren–Rabbi Silver really saved millions of lives!

Today’s liberal Jews would never think of challenging Obama for similar reasons. And for this reason, we need responsible Jewish leaders to demand that the Chaldean Christian and Yazidi communities be granted rescue given the imminent threat of danger they face.

I feel ashamed to say that some of my rabbinic colleagues havet taken the cowardly way out. Meanwhile, the ISIS film all of their latest atrocities, adding to their heinous legacy of murder; now, they even harvest the organs while their victims are yet alive, to raise income for their murderous cause. Radical Islam is the new and improved Nazism of our time and I believe we as a Jews have a moral obligation to help the Chaldeans and the Yazidis.

Otherwise, history will remember us for the moral cowards we really are. Not only did we fail to learn any wisdom from the Holocaust, we have repeated the same mistakes made by Europe and the United States in the turbulent years of WWII.

With respect to the Syrian refugees, our first priorities ought to be directed toward, and then the women and small children. The young Muslim men need to wait their turn. They are not endangered because of religious persecution and genocide. We should follow Canada’s course of action and allow only the most vulnerable members of the Muslim Syrian population for the time being.

More importantly, we cannot allow one of the oldest Middle Eastern religious communities to be savagely slaughtered.

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Holocaust Book Review for Children: A Walk With Esther

 

 

Deb Bowen and Cassie Brown, A Walk With Esther – Contact the  Jewish Federation of Quad Cities to order:

Publisher: Never Forget Publishing 2015

Many years ago, while I was serving a congregation in Rock Island, IL, I was privileged to work with a number of Jewish and Christian professionals in designing one of the country’s best attended Yom HaShoah programs in the nation. Every year, we would bring a Holocaust survivor to share his or her story. We used to attract anywhere between 500 to 800 people depending upon the year.

This program inspired a woman named Deb Bowen of Aledo, IL., who one day had the  most remarkable idea: having children write short children’s stories about the Holocaust. This vision originated in 2002 from a meeting she had with three local Jewish survivors from her area, each one bore the name Esther.  To keep their stories alive, she collaborated with the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and area teachers. Survivors shared their story in local schools and students were asked to write and illustrate their stories in a simple children’s storybook form.

Along with Jewish stories, books have been written about Christians who risked their lives (Righteous Gentiles) and prison camp liberators. Over 60 books have been written to make the series called “A BOOK by ME”; six of those books were printed and distributed to local schools. The larger version of all these stories are recorded in her recent self-published 2015 book, A Walk with Esther, which contained several stories about Holocaust stories of survivors of the Rock Island Jewish community, whose names happened to be Esther.  While I was there, I knew  each of the three women and their stories about survival demonstrated the power of the human spirit to triumph over all obstacles.

While I was in the Quad-Cities, in one interview,  I sat with Debra and told her all about my father’s story, which she ultimately produced called, Leo Samuel: The Tailor’s Life.” What makes Bowen’s project so powerful is that she has young teens write the stories and illustrate them as well. I wish we had more educators as talented as Deb Bowen. What is so remarkable about Deb Bowen is the fact that she is not Jewish.  Yet, her passion is evident in every little booklet she has produced.

Throughout the years, I maintained contact with the authoress. When   Deb Bowen came to San Diego, I immediately introduced her to Ruth Sax, one of the finest Jewish women you will ever meet, who came from a village in  Czechoslovakia that was very close to where my father grew up.

Ruth is a Holocaust survivor.

I introduced her one of our members Luke Chabner and his two daughters, Shlomit and Aliana, who is doing her Mitzva Project for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Together, Ruth told Deb her story and with the Shlomit and Aiyana’s help, they will be writing the story book about Ruth Sax—one of the truly great narratives of this series.   In all my years as a pulpit rabbi, this best mitzvah projects is one of the best I have ever seen.

There is no better way to teach children about the Holocaust than sharing stories of survivors who live or lived in their midst.

Deb Bowen is married, a mother of six, a grandmother of five and a ‘host mom’ to twelve exchange students. She represents high school age exchange programs helping young leaders from many countries spend an academic year in the USA. Bowen is an ordained minister, a motivational speaker, freelance writer and serves as a member of The Holocaust Education Committee of the Greater Quad City Area.

In short, let me conclude by saying that one of the hardest subjects to teach young people is the subject of the Holocaust. As someone who has visited numerous Jewish and public schools over the last thirty five years, the challenge of making the Holocaust is daunting and oftentimes frustrating because there is so much information to teach. Purchasing this book for your children may be one of the best gifts you ever give them.

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