Did Jewish Values Die with the Six Million?

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How can you be a Jewish state when you have no Jewish values? Do we need to quote Tanach and Talmud to remind ourselves of the Jewish values that have been ingrained on our souls since we were tykes? Don’t we do that every week in the synagogue? Is anyone listening? Isn’t Israel supposed to be, you should forgive the expression, the Mecca of Diaspora Jewry?

So why is it that fewer and fewer Jews care about Israel? Maybe it is because they don’t like what they see in a host of Israeli policies, from making nice with some of the vilest governments in the world to treating refugees from genocide like criminals. It is something that is hard to wrap your head around. As hard as trying to understand how rabbis in New York refuse to let victims of child abuse dial 911 without their permission.

Who are the people throwing rocks through black-owned shop windows in Tel Aviv and setting fire to Eritreans in Jerusalem? People who were educated in the Land of Yad Vashem? How many billions did we spend trying to teach people how to live together and prevent genocide? As Jews and as a Jewish community, we yell “hate crime” every time someone looks at us cross-eyed, denies the Holocaust, or paints a swastika on a wall, including at Yad Vashem in early June. In the meantime, we Jews treat each other, our children, and the strangers among us like we are less than worthless.

Did the Six Million die for nothing? They had faith in a free, democratic and ideal state of Israel that would be the salvation of the world. Ani Mamin they sang in the Ghettos and camps. Hatikvah was on their lips together with the Shma as they went to the gas. We sing those songs on Yom Hashoah along with the Partisaner Hymn and Kaddish.

Where is that land of Israel, the land of Jewish values and ideals? Today it’s a place where Israeli government officials tell the big lie about North Africans, and prevent their own people from protesting peacefully. Government officials said that these refugees from genocide are raping Israeli women, giving them AIDS, and are a cancer on Israeli society. And they are deporting them back to their countries of origin with ugly rhetoric and violence reminiscent of Kristallnacht.

The ideal Israel in our souls, the Israel of blue skirts and embroidered blouses, of campfires and idealism, only exists in our imaginations. As a student of history, not bubbeh mayses, the story of the birth of Israel, the story of how the Jewish community behaved before, during and after the war in Mandate Palestine, in Europe, in America, in community after community–except for a handful of people who put themselves on the line in the attempt to rescue Jews–is not a pretty story.

The fictional Ari Ben Canaans of Exodus and the Rabbi Michoel Wiessmandls were rare characters. The Israeli right wing murdered the man who saved my mother and thousands of others during the Holocaust. To this very day, the behavior of the established Jewish communities in the secular and denominational world is shameful–from the treatment of the North Africans, including Ethiopian Jewry and women in Israel and everywhere else where they are forced to sit in the back, not drive, not go to school, etc.(in the organizational Jewish world there is equal work, not equal pay and glass ceilings) to the decades of covering up child abuse and domestic violence everywhere. And if anyone tells you that women in Judaism are free, look them in the eye and say “Agunot.”

The typical American Jew looks on, aghast, as Israel self-immolates in front of Diaspora Jewry, and Diaspora Jewry faces its own house of horrors. So much for being a light unto the nations. So much for the lessons from the Holocaust. So much for Jewish values. How the hell did we become the monsters we teach our children not to be. How can we, just four generations after the Holocaust, remain silent in the face of our leaders’ moral bankruptcy? How can we tolerate it when a Jew calls another Jew a Nazi? How can we tolerate it when our own people behave the way they do?

Maybe Jewish values died with the Six Million. Maybe that’s when Jewish leadership died. Elie Wiesel once said, “Jeanette, don’t wait for leaders. Be your own leader.”

Listen to Wiesel. Speak truth to power. If you don’t like what you see in the Jewish community, don’t wait for someone to lead you. Pick up a phone, post something to facebook, make your voice heard. Protest and demand the end of hypocrisy. Be your own leader.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Marisa Elana
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 08:58:07

    Jeanette, I felt this way all week – I was at a three-day educators conference at Yad Vashem, and not once did any of the presenters speak about the African asylum seekers, much less about Holocaust survivors in Israel who can’t afford decent food or housing. I spoke to a handful of other participants about this, and the only ones who both knew about these issues and cared about them were Europeans, most of whom were not Jewish themselves. SO painful.

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