Tag: Holocaust

Don’t Lose Sleep… Stand Up and Walk!

We all lose sleep worrying about things.
For me, it’s about
The health of my parents and inlaws
My kids’ latest challenges
The illness facing a beloved member of our community

Fundamentally though I – like so many other American Jews – rest pretty easily because we know that as Americans, as Jews, and as human beings we are protected by the strength and democracy that is the United States. Most of us don’t have to worry about being battered because of our religions. Being slammed because of our nationality. Being violated because of our gender.

Yet I have memories, vivid memories, of a different experience, born of stories told and shared about the horrors inflicted upon my European Jewish ancestors who, in the midst of World War II, were singled out for violence and murder. Just because they were Jews. And every time I read about the Holocaust or view a video or artifact from that time, I tremble with the burning question: why?

Why were humans so brutal and hate filled?
Why did newspapers, including the New York Times, so willing to bury truths abou the situation in the unread middle of the paper?
Why were American so silent in the face of Jewish suffering?

And I choke down the other, equally horrifying question:
Could it happen again?
To us?
To anyone?

Apparently hate is alive and well worldwide. 
According to Jewish World Watch, the Jewish community’s hands-on leader in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities, in addition to the continuing deteriorating situations in the Sudan and in the Congo, 19 other countries worldwide are experiencing conflicts at high risk of escalating into genocide.

It is too easy to ignore what is happening. It is too easy to allow the baseless hatred to infiltrate across borders and through countries, murdering innocents for fun and political gain. Holocaust survivor and moral voice Elie Wiesel said that “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” 

Na’ama Haviv, Assistant Director of Jewish World Watch, teaches that the opposite of hate is not love, but compassion. And boy, does the Or Ami community ever live with compassion! Thank you for all you do!

Would you make this vow with me?

Whenever I can, I will raise up my voice, and inconvenience myself, to endure that I can go to sleep worried about the first list and not survival of myself and my people.

Walk the Walk with Me
Join me on the Los Angeles Walk to End Genocide, sponsored by Jewish World Watch, on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Team Congregation Or Ami is putting together a huge delegation to again help lead the walk. Sign up today to walk, or if you cannot attend, sign up to to support our team.

Because the Shoah was atrocious.
Because genocide still rears it’s ugly head in far off places like Sudan and the Congo.
Because never again needs to be more than a slogan. It needs to be a way of living. And
Because the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.

U.S. Diplomat Hiram Bingham, Credited With Saving Thousands Of Jews From Nazis, To Be Immortalized On U.S. Postage Stamp

We celebrate the news (thank you Congregation Or Ami faculty member Patti Jo Wolfson for bringing this to my attention) that Hiram Bingham IV, the U.S. diplomat credited with saving more than 2,000 Jews and other refugees in France from the invading Nazis, has been immortalized as part of the U.S. Postal Service’s set of “Distinguished American Diplomats” commemorative postage stamps.

As the Philadelphia Jewish News reports:

In 1940 and 1941, as vice consul in Marseilles, France, Bingham issued visas and false passports to Jews and other refugees against official U.S. policies, assisting in their escape and sometimes sheltering them in his own home. Artist Marc Chagall, philosopher Hannah Arendt and novelist Lion Feuchtwanger were among the refugees he rescued. 

Bingham came from an illustrious family. His father (on whom the fictional character Indiana Jones was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca City of Machu Picchu, Peru, in 1911. After Hiram Bingham entered the Foreign Service in 1929, his postings included China, Poland, and England. Following the fall of France in 1940, the armistice required the French to “surrender on demand all Germans named by the German government in France.” Civil and military police began arresting German and Jewish refugees the Nazis marked for death. Several influential Europeans tried to convince the U.S. government to issue visas to allow the refugees to leave France and escape Nazi persecution.

The USA was then neutral and, not wishing to annoy Marshal Petain’s puppet Vichy regime, President Roosevelt’s government ordered its representatives in Marseilles not to grant visas to any Jews. Bingham found this policy immoral and, risking his career, did all in his power to undermine it. 

In defiance of his bosses in Washington, he granted over 2,500 USA visas to Jewish and other refugees, including the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of the writer Thomas Mann. He also sheltered Jews in his Marseilles home, and obtained forged identity papers to help Jews in their dangerous journeys across Europe. He worked with the French underground to smuggle Jews out of France into Franco’s Spain or across the Mediterranean and even contributed to their expenses out of his own pocket. In 1941,Washington lost patience with him. He was sent to Argentina, where later he continued to annoy his superiors by reporting on the movements of Nazi war criminals. 

Among those helped by Fry a few of the notables were:

  • Hannah Arendt, Philosopher
  • Andri Breton
  • Marc Chagall, Artist
  • Max Ernst
  • Lion Feuchtwanger, Novelist
  • Heinz Jolles
  • Wilfredo Lam
  • Wanda Landowska
  • Jacques Lipchitz
  • Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel
  • Andre Masson
  • Otto Meyerhoff
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Franz Werfel
  • Heinrich Mann

Former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, gave a posthumous award for “constructive dissent” to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV. For over fifty years, the State Department resisted any attempt to honor Bingham. For them he was an insubordinate member of the US diplomatic service, a dangerous maverick who was eventually demoted. Now, after his death, he has been officially recognized as a hero.

Eventually, he was forced out of the American diplomatic service completely. Bingham died almost penniless in 1988. Little was known of his extraordinary activities until his son found some letters in his belongings after his death. He has now been honored by many groups and organizations including the United Nations and the State of Israel. 

At Congregation Or Ami, we teach our Kesher and Mishpacha religious education learning program students to be “upstanders.” An upstander is one who says Hineyni – Here I Am, to do whatever is necessary to help others. An upstander takes serious the mitzvah (religious obligation in Leviticus 19:16, Lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa, do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds. Simply put, when we see someone who is in need of our help, we should help him or her. Sometimes this means taking risks for other people.

From Moses who saw the Egyptian taskmaster beating the old Jewish slave and stepped in to save the man, and Queen Esther who stepped up to save the Jews from Haman, we learn that if we do not do something to help those in need, we are just as guilty as those who have put them in that position. Modern Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “In free society, few are guilty but all are responsible.”

Interested in More Information about Hiram Bingham?
Those interested in Bingham’s activities in Vichy France ought to read Varian Fry’s memoir of the period. Fry, an American correspondent, undertook to help Marc Chagall and others find the paperwork and funds to escape the Vichy zone. See his book Surrender on Demand.

Midor lador: The Next Generation Becomes Witnesses to the Holocaust

I’m sitting here in Or Ami’s sanctuary as about 100 teenagers – 7th to 11th grades – and a handful of parents sit in silence, listening to Rita Lurie tell the story of surviving the Holocaust. In commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass which began the Holocaust, we committed our young people to become witnesses.

Rita was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic. Her brother, then her mother died before her eyes. Through the attic window, she saw an uncle shot before their eyes. Then, her surviving family spent five years wandering through Europe, waiting for a country to accept them.

We tried to help our teens understand the significance of this moment. I recalled the moment that half of them stood on this bimah with their parents and grandparents as Torah was passed down midor lador, from generation to generation. Each of them remembered the moment they held our heavy sefer Torah, Torah scroll, heavy both because it was physically heavy but moreso because it was a heavy burden they assumed. They were now responsible to carry Torah and its values into the world and to pass it onto the next generation.

Today, I told them, they assume another burden. They become witnesses to the tragedy, the fiery hell called the Holocaust. Reminding these young people that within ten years there will be very few survivors still living, I urged them to listen carefully. In ten years, when people lie and suggest that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that 6 million didn’t die, or that just a few were killed, there will not be survivors to tell the truth. These young people sitting in our synagogue need to remember this story and become the witnesses, the truth-tellers about the Holocaust.

With her daughter Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, Rita co-authored Bending Toward the Sun, a Mother and Daughter Memoir. A beautifully written family memoir, Bending Toward the Sun explores an emotional legacy—forged in the terror of the Holocaust—that has shaped three generations of lives. Leslie Gilbert-Lurie tells the story of her mother, Rita, who like Anne Frank spent years hiding from the Nazis, and whose long-hidden pain shaped both her daughter and granddaughter’s lives. Bringing together the stories of three generations of women, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust lives in the hearts and minds of survivors and their descendants.

I am not sure which moved me more: the horrifying story of the reality Rita experienced hiding from the Nazis, or the rapt attention our young people gave to Rita as she told her story.

Will they remember the story? Do they understand what really happened in the Holocaust? Can they stand as witnesses?

Only time will tell. We do our part making sure the stories are told, that the witnesses are heard. Then we hope and pray.

May the memory of the six million Jews and the five million others be for a blessing.

Get Over It, suggests Kula, to Pope’s Critics

So the Pope revoked the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. So the Jewish defense world was up in arms. Wall to wall criticism, as JTA’s Telegraph blog puts it. It is easy to get worked up about this. Holocaust denial is one of those hot buttons that necessarily must evoke a response. But does the Pope’s action require such a stern response?

As the Telegraph reports, in On Holocaust-denying bishop, a voice of dissent,

Rabbi Irwin Kula has produced a dissenting opinion that, in a nutshell, amounts to this: Get over it.

The Jews overreacted, Kula writes in the Huffington Post. They haven’t labored to understand this through Catholic eyes. They don’t understand what it must be like to run a spiritual community of more than a billion people. The bishop is irrelevant and lacking power anyway, a crotchety old uncle. And given that the Catholic Church has condemned Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism and showed great respect for Jews in recent decades, the rantings of an unknown bishop really shouldn’t matter that much.
Kula writes:

Something is off kilter here. Is it possible that the leadership of Jewish defense agencies, people with the best of motivation who have historically done critical work in fighting anti-Semitism, have become so possessed by their roles as monitors of anti-Semitism, so haunted by unresolved fears, guilt, and even shame regarding the Holocaust, and perhaps so unconsciously driven by how these issues literally keep their institutions afloat, that they have become incapable of distinguishing between a bishop’s ridiculous, loopy, discredited views about the Holocaust and a Church from the Pope down which has clearly and repeatedly recognized the evil done to Jews in the Holocaust and called for that evil to never be forgotten.

Moreover, writes Kula:

Finally, when the Pope as well as key Vatican officials said within a day that Williamson’s views are “absolutely indefensible” and that in the Pope’s own words, the Church feels “full and indispensable solidarity with Jews against any Holocaust denial” where was a little humility in response? Wouldn’t it have been interesting, yet alone ethically compelling, for those who initially lashed out to have acknowledged that perhaps they did overreact and that they do know that the Church and specifically this Pope are very sensitive to these issues.

Gives you pause for thought…