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Never Forget: Iran is the Problem, not Boteach

IMG_6447In a Jewish world desperate for unity, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach succeeded in uniting a broad array of Jewish groups, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, secular and religious, right leaning, and left leaning, centrist and apolitical — to condemn his full-page ad attack against National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the New York Times.

If only that unity could be channeled into publicizing the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to America and the world, perhaps the US Administration would truly recognize the danger that a nuclear armed Iran would be, and reject any deal that would leave Iran within reach of the bomb.

Boteach’s tactics are reminiscent of Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) and his supporters who tried to move the United States to protect the Jews of Europe being slaughtered by Germany during WWII by allowing increased immigration of European Jews into America. Bergson’s group ran shocking full page ads in the Times and other newspapers as part of their campaign to tell the world of the destruction of European Jewry.

Boteach knew that his attack on Rice would be controversial. The establishment’s denunciation only proves to Boteach and his supporters — and he counts the outspoken Sheldon Adelson among them — that American Jewish leadership is incapable of articulating a unified position on Iran.

Details of the Iran deal, currently being worked on in secret by America and Iran, have been leaked across the media for days. By all accounts it allows for Iran to maintain a serious nuclear program.

Yet news that Iran will be on the path from being a pariah state, to a legitimized nuclear power, has not galvanized major American Jewish organizations to protests, mass petition campaigns or to even to take out ads in the Times.

Rather, American Jewish groups are distracted, busy fighting a very public battle over whether Bibi’s speech to congress this week is good or bad for Israel and the Jews.

Boteach, many American Jewish leaders, and the Christian Zionist lobby, believe Bibi’s speech to the US Congress can help to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and make the case for strengthening America’s resolve against Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.

He is not alone. Even the Obama Administration, wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, is afraid that Bibi’s speech to congress could scuttle a deal with Iran.

We can look into the historical record to see who stood against Peter Bergson’s tactics to bring the plight of European Jewry to the pages of the NY Times and in public demonstrations in Washington. We can see their publicly stated positions aimed at defusing any hint the American Jews might be accused of disloyalty to America in favor of foreign Jews.

According to recent scholarship, prominent Jewish organizations tried to have Bergson deported and had the IRS audit his group to try to find irregularities. Likewise nearly every mainstream Jewish organization, including the greatest Zionist leaders tried to discredit Bergson.

In addition to Bergson’s ad campaign, and renting Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and other massive venues for a show he produced called “We Will Not Die”, he organized a March of Rabbis on Washington.

Bergson and the March of 500 Orthodox rabbis on October 6, 1943 did not succeed in meeting President Roosevelt, or in being heard in congress. Instead, the Jewish establishment blocked them any way possible worried that these Jews would increase American anti-Semitism.

When asked about his tactics, Bergson said in 1973, “Why did we respond the way we did? The question should be, why didn’t the others? We responded as a human and as a Jew should.”

Bergson’s March, which included Jewish War Veterans, met the Vice President and a few members of congress. Their pressure helped rescue of some 200,000 mostly Hungarian Jews through changes in the policies of the War Refugee Board.

We see today that those who condemn Boteach’s NY Times advertisement and demand he publically apologize, seem to be echoing the concern Jews have always felt when we have achieved a high level of acceptance within any nation – we are worried that to press for protecting World Jewry, and Israel in particular, makes us vulnerable to the anti-Semites’ claim that Jews are a fifth-column or have dual loyalties.

This fear is burned into our collective memory as a foundational fact of our national story. From the time recorded in the Bible when Pharaoh’s advisors feared that the Israelites would join with some potential invading force and overthrow Egypt, to today’s Zionist conspiracies, our enemies have accused us of treachery. This fear of being accused of disloyalty runs deep in our national psyche.

While Boteach’s tactics — a personal attack on a prominent politician — are very controversial and offensive to most, it’s because Boteach believes the stakes are very high.

The Jewish Establishment has proven the point that Boteach has set out to prove — that there is no unified voice on how to combat a mortal enemy of the Jewish people, but only on trying to make the Jewish community not seem ungrateful for everything that Susan Rice and the US Administration have done for Israel.

As in Bergson’s day, it appears to some Jews in America who have taken to Boteach’s defense, that the Jewish Establishment is more concerned about losing its good access to the White House than the threat of Iran with the Bomb.

If history can be any kind of teacher, then the lesson must be: If Iran is allowed to build a nuclear weapon, to regain its standing it the world and lose its pariah status, it doesn’t matter how many good deeds Susan Rice and the President have done for Israel. They will have given Israel’s mortal enemy the ability to slaughter Jews by the millions.

One cannot help but take note of the state of affairs in American Jewish life when the Jewish Establishment agrees to roundly condemn a fellow Jew. The unified criticism aimed at one well-known Jewish American is unprecedented in recent times. Public and strident Jewish critics of Israel, whose names are respected, and whose current criticisms are simple reiterations of poisonous anti-Zionist rhetoric, have never received such treatment. The danger of their Jewish attack on Israel’s right to exist does not seem to galvanize anyone, let alone the diverse groups now condemning Boteach.

Boteach has been aiming to be a player in politics since he started at Oxford. Kosher Sex was never his end game. He won’t leave the issue of bilateral Israeli American relations to others, because he and his backers believe their voices need to be heard at the table. While Boteach had a following before, thanks to this avalanche of derision, Boteach now has a bigger platform. He can summon a NY Times ad with a few phone calls. He has a larger social media imprint than all the major Jewish organizations that condemned him — combined.

Boteach is the son of an Iranian Jew. He knows what happened to his family and the other Jews of Iran when the Islamists came to power in 1979, and he as well as every other Iranian Jew, distrust Iran more thoroughly than any other segment of our community.

Boteach is not a unifying figure. That is not his operating guideline. Neither was Bergson. Boteach is out to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and he’ll use all his political capital, connections, as well as the negative attention he can get to bring the issue into the public sphere.

Instead of turning on Boteach, the Jewish establishment needs to turn on Iran, publically, verbally, unashamedly, without fear of an anti-Semitic backlash.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that has been supplying weapons, money, and training to Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy war on Israel for decades.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that is responsible for the deaths of more Americans that ISIS by many fold.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran that blew-up the Jewish community building in Argentina.

Remember, never forget, it is Iran has consistently lied to the world about its nuclear ambitions and hidden major parts of its nuclear program deep underground.

Remember, never forget, that it is Iran that has called for the repeated destruction of Israel

As we approach Purim, a Jewish holiday which commemorates our salvation from a Persian plan to destroy our people which was already set into motion, the world’s superpowers sit across the negotiating table from a murderous Iranian regime sworn to destroy Israel, and who have killed hundreds of Jews and Americans around the world.

Our sages created Purim to remember – and to never forget – that to ensure our survival as a people, it will take a unified community and holy chutzpah. Esther risked everything for her people.

Boteach has unwittingly unleashed some Jewish unity using some serious chutzpah. Can the American Jewish establishment use that to launch a major campaign against Iran reminiscent of the Soviet Jewry Movement or the Bergson group’s Emergency Committee?

I pray so.

Remember, never forget, Iran is the problem, not Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to congress and not Shmuley Boteach’s ad in the New York Times.

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#JeSuisJuif

As we read this past Shabbat in synagogue from Parsha Shemot, God says to Moses, “I will be THAT I will be.” Rashi teaches that God wants Moshe to reassure the Jewish people that “I will be with you during this time of distress in Egypt and in future times of distress.” Moshe isn’t so happy with this. Why bother them with the news that there will be still other times of distress after this slavery!? “You’re right, says God, tell them…”

Moshe didn’t want us to hear the news then, and it is hard to hear the news now.

Our hearts grieve as one over the tragic deaths of our brothers and sisters, and a dozen others in Paris in the last two days.

You know what? God is also heartbroken. So heartbroken. Just as God promised to Moshe, God is with us in our distress now.

But we cannot afford to be silent, to sit in sorrow or fear in the darkness, because now is the time to turn on the light and bring blessing and goodness to the world.

Outpourings of kindness, mitzvoth, love for one another are needed. And prayer. Pray with all our hearts to God to protect our people around the world, in Israel, and bless us with peace.

God, you took us out of Egypt, to be your people. Don’t forsake us and don’t abandon us. Please comfort our mourners, and do not let their deaths be in vain.

#JeSuisJuif

No Justice, No Meat: Polish Parliament Reaffirms Antisemitism

polish meat storesWith great chutzpah and an undercurrent of antisemitism the Polish Parliament has rejected a bill proposed by the government to permit Kosher and Halal ritual slaughter. As has been the case in other European countries that have banned kosher slaughter, the process is deemed “inhumane”. All this has happened during the saddest days on the Jewish calendar and has led to Poland’s esteemed Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, the architect of post-Communist Jewish revival and a lifelong vegetarian, to threaten resignation. Having helped Rabbi Schudrich to reestablish kosher slaughter in Poland in the 1990’s through the importation of a ritual slaughterer form Hungry, and personally supervising kosher meat production, this ban is particularly personal.

As with most Jewish communities, the vast majority of Polish Jews do not keep kosher. Yet, the news that the ban on Kosher meat production in Poland will continue indefinitely is of profound symbolic importance. For a country that is trying to revive its image as being hopelessly anti-Semitic, where a small, nascent Jewish community is rebuilding itself, the renewal of the ban on kosher slaughter is just the latest sign that perhaps Poland has not really changed.

Ironically, Poland is a major supplier of kosher food around the world, including a growing export of kosher meat to Israel. The OU, the largest supervisory agency for kosher products worldwide, certifies production in over two dozen Polish factories. Products under supervision include, bakeries, vegetables, fish and milk and more.

The Polish parliament for its part is going against the obvious economic benefits pertaining to the production of Kosher food, and especially meat. A constitutional court has upheld the ban on kosher slaughter which echoes back to the days during pre-war Poland when a full-blown economic assault was waged against its Jewish citizens. The ruling by most accounts goes counter to the Polish constitution. With this one move Poland’s parliment undermines its relations with the world-wide Jewish community.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk’s enemies are capitalizing on a right-wing shift in the countries political climate. The unpopular Prime-Minister is being hounded by the opposition who have seized upon his weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is his pro-Jewish stance. In addition, the opposition have decried the export of Polish meat which should stay in Poland and not be exported to Israel and to Muslim countries. With unabashed chutzpah, Tusk’s opposition is using the issue of Kosher and Halal slaughter as part of their campaign to wrest control of a government.

Not all of Poland’s politicians are bending. Poland’s agricultural minister for example has decried the decision in sharply worded term calling the ban unconstitutional infringement on the rights of minorities in Poland. However, the Prime Minister stated that the government will not attempt to introduce new legislation making kosher and halal slaughter permitted.

The decision of the Polish Parliament coincides with the days of sorrow for the Jewish communities. This period of national mourning called the “Nine Days” leads up to the largest day of national mourning, Tisha B’Av. These days are known for sorrow and persecution. From the times of the destruction of the Second Temple until today, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), World War I (1914), and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942).

While the decision to ban kosher meat production and ritual slaughter are not on the scale of these tragedies, its timing could not be more profound. At a milestone in Polish Jewish and Christian rapprochement, the completion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in the heart of Warsaw, Poland has found itself once again a flashpoint of intolerance. This is not to lessen the intolerance and racism found in other European countries that have enacted a similar bans on kosher and halal slaughter. Yet, because of Poland’s unique history as having the largest Jewish community in the world prior to WWII, and the country that suffered the largest percentage of annihilation of its Jewish community during the war, this turn of events is highly unfortunate.

In the early 1990’s, when we were able to resume the production of kosher meat in Poland, it was sign that Poland’s Jewish community had a future. In a country that prides itself on meat dishes, the availability of Kosher meat to the Jewish community was another step in the direction of communal rebirth. While a vegetarian at the time, I was keenly aware that a lack of readily available kosher meat was critical to a sense of self-sufficiency that is part of the Polish psyche. No longer was it necessary to import canned meat from Israel for use in the Jewish soup kitchens. No longer did families have to settle for un-kosher meat to create Friday Night Dinners, Passover seders, and holiday meals.

With the resurgence of Polish anti-semitism, the reemergence of Polish Jewish life has been dealt another serious setback. On these days of introspection and mourning, the Jewish world has been dealt another blow. We should not look at this as an isolated infringement on Jewish religious practice on a small Jewish community, but as a global Jewish community issue and a harbinger of the winds of change.

How the Jewish Community can Forgive Delmon Young

The power of teshuva can turn this hurtful incident into a one that teaches compassion and love.

Delmon should keep swinging the bat in a Tigers uniform because Judaism believes in the God of second chances. Judaism instructs us that we must give everyone the opportunity to make amends. In fact, I have a few suggestions that can make Delmon one of the most popular players in the Jewish community today.

When Young was arrested on April 27th, and charged with misdemeanor aggravated harassment and assault, Motown, the baseball world, and the Jewish community cringed in disbelief. Some called this the end of his short career.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who is happens to be Jewish, suspended Young for seven days without pay. With a $6.75 million dollar salary, that added up to $258,000 in lost wages. The Tigers were prohibited from further disciplinary action because of baseball and the players’ association labor agreement.

Young issued an apology to his friends, family, team and the community, and confessed that the whole incident was related to an alcohol problem that he will now address.

In a press conference before Saturday’s game after the end of his suspension, Young said, “I made a lapse in judgment, but I can tell you that I am not an anti-Semitic. I wasn’t raised that way, came from a good family, and we weren’t taught any of that, especially growing up in a diverse area.”

In fact it seems that the hardest part of the ordeal for Young is being branded an anti-Semite.”Me branded being racist or bigoted, that’s not me,” he said. “I have a lot of diverse friends; I live in a diverse area; that’s just not me or my character.”

And while there is part of me and I am sure many other Jewish fans, who, every time that Delmon Young is going to approach the plate for the foreseeable future, will be reminded what happened, that doesn’t have to be the case.

The entire essence of the Jewish High Holidays challenges us to seek out those that we have wronged and ask forgiveness. We ask God for forgiveness for what we did against God, and we ask friends and family to forgive us for how we let them down or hurt them in the previous year.

The Days of Awe compel us to believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Does this forgiveness extend to Delmon Young? You bet.

While the hurt in me thinks that Young and his number should be ejected from baseball, on further contemplation, that would be wrong.

Rather, let’s give Young a chance to learn from his mistakes, become a spokesperson for tolerance and most importantly, let him become an ally of the Jewish community.

The power of teshuva can turn this hurtful incident into a one that teaches compassion and love.

Young knows that one apology can’t convince people that he’s not an anti-Semite and said, “I know it’s going to take a while. I can’t smooth this thing over and convince anyone after one speech, but just go out there every day and be a positive influence.”

Delmon, if you sincerely make amends now you will be forgiven in an instant.

Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Immediately make a donation to the Michigan Museum of the Holocaust – where children learn about the importance of tolerance
  • Offer to visit Jewish institutions in the off-season – letting the Jewish community get to see who you really are off the field
  • Make a visit to Israel – your faith will be inspired and it will give you more strength to fight your addiction
  • Take some classes on Judaism

Delmon, I am sure that you can become not only a friend to the Jewish community, but that you can become a shining example of the power of teshuva, the power of the individual to transcend their shortcomings and become great.

We as a Jewish community will forgive you, and make sure that you are remembered as a great friend of the Jewish people.

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Rabbi Yonah is an Oxford educated rabbi who loves music, Israel and runs Jewlicious. You can follow him on twitter.com/rabbiyonah