Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Abdicating Their Role

It's not often that I agree with Rav Avi Shafran but, the law of averages being what it must be, sometimes it does happen.  One of those incidents is his latest piece commenting on a recent initiative by the Polish government to make calling Auschwitz and other death and concentration camps from World War II "Polish" a crime.
As Rav Shafran notes, there is a point to their concern with the infamous camps being labelled as "Polish".  Building them wasn't a Polish idea.  What was carried out in them wasn't planned by the Poles.  They weren't in charge of running them either.  But as he cogently notes:
But the justice minister does truth an injustice. In implementing their genocidal program, German forces drew upon all-too-eager-to-help Polish police forces and railroad personnel, who guarded ghettos and helped deport Jews to the killing centers. Individual Poles often pitched in, identifying and hunting down Jews in hiding and then actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.
In his book “The Coming of the Holocaust: From Antisemitism to Genocide,” University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Peter Kenez described Poles of German ethnicity as “welcome[ing] the [Nazi] conquerors with enthusiasm.”
Nor were ethnic Poles unhappy at the prospect of helping the invaders rid their country of Jews.
History Professor Jan T. Gross, who was born in Poland to a Polish mother and Jewish father, published “Neighbors” in 2001, in which he documented that atrocities long blamed on Nazi officials were in fact carried out by local Polish civilians.
Like the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne in July 1941. Mere weeks after Nazi forces gained control of the town, its Polish mayor, Marian Karolak, and local Nazi officials gave orders to round up the town’s Jews – both long-term residents as well as Jews who were sheltering there. Some Jews were hunted down and gleefully killed by the town’s residents with clubs, axes and knives. Most were herded into a barn, emptied out for the purpose and set afire, killing all inside
I find the selective amnesia of Europeans, especially those from the eastern half, interesting.  On one hand, the most horrific crimes committed against our nation since the destruction of the Second Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) occurred in Eastern Europe.  Until the full extent of the Holocaust was made known to the world there was great cultural pride in how Jews had been subjugated amongst the locals.  It was only when the enormity of the Holocaust became infamous that there was suddenly a shock and sense of embarrassment.  Sure they had hated us and taken great pleasure in persecuting us but mass murder?  That they weren't so proud of.
And so a certain sense of denial has taken hold of that culture.  The willingness of Germany to take responsibility for its crimes allowed other countries that had eagerly joined in the Nazi effort to implement the Final Solution to stand back, point and say "It was them!"  Austria, Poland, the Balkans, Ukraine and the rest to this day profess great offense if any suggestion is made that they played a role in the Holocaust.  They vigorously point out all their Righteous Gentiles, hoping we won't remember that there were 100 non-righteous ones for every 1 that endangered his or her life for us.  They point out various interwar initiatives to encourage Jewish emancipation and how great they were at encouraging and protecting Jewish communities in the face of testimonies from all the survivors about how such measures were window dressing and nothing more.
I can understand the need for this amnesia.  As recent history has shown, the core Jew hatred endemic in European culture, currently manifesting as anti-Israel'ism, has not abated despite the fires of the Holocaust.  It simply went underground for a while.  Europe may have been shocked by what happened on its territory but it is most without regret and would like very much to shed a tear over another one, this time in the Middle East.
Yes, the Holocaust was a German initiative and run by them but with willing and necessary help from local populations in western and eastern Europe.  This is a fact that we must not allow to be forgotten, lest the false piety of the children of our oppressors comes back to stab us again.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Conservatism and Judaism

Having discussed conservatism and some ideas to make it a relevant player in the political arena in North America, I would like to now turn to Israel and discuss the role it could play there.
The first thing to understand is that in Israel, right wing and left wing when applied to different political parties has a far different meaning than it does for North America.  In Israel, the labelled seem to be applied almost exclusively based on the party's position on the Jewish-Arab conflict.  Parties that look to accommodate Israel's enemies even at the expense of Israel's security are left wing.  Parties that seek to prioritize Israel's needs are right wing.  For example, let's say that tomorrow the Likud decides to embrace a command economy, increase the size of the civil service by 50% and increase taxes to match but at the same time finally rules out any two-state solution.  Despite the economic platform they would still be called a right wing party.  Labour, on the other hand, has moved far from its origins as a European socialist state that ran the country in its early years in a soft communist style.  Yes, it still coddles the Histadrut and embraces far more state control than the Likud does but why do we see it as a left wing party?  Because of its foreign policy.  Period.
This would suggest that conservatism has ample potential for parties linked to both the left and the right in Israel.  Based on the guiding principle I have been working with, responsibility before rights, both sides of the political spectrum could embrace conservatism.
Consider the idea that the state of Israel is not a country like all others.  Now, this seems obvious given the ample news coverage and the amazing history of the State.  However, what does one do with this fact?  Israel stands for something, although getting two Jews to agree on what that something is might prove difficult.  Is Israel a lifeboat for world Jewry?  Is it the first flowering of our redemption?  Is it the beacon of democracy in the dark Middle East?
Conservatism must step in and state that Israel, being a Jewish state, must identify with Jewish values.  The fundamental Jewish value is that of responsibility over rights, just as I've been saying about conservatism in general until now.  Anyone who learns Torah in a serious way knows that God expects obedience as a result of giving us life and limb.  We are rarely in a position to talk back to Him or question His ways and means.  Our job ultimately is to live according to the mitzvos and even when we hope for a reward, s'char b'hai alma leika.  We have no right to demand recompense for being good in this world.
That's not to say that there's no real payoff for being a good Jew.  A society that runs along genuine Jewish principles, including ones that frum Jews often ignore like chesed, tzedakah and gemilus chasadim, would be a fine one to live in indeed.
This is what conservatism in Israel should be encouraging.  We know that any pressure to morph Israel into a state run al pi halacha would fail.  There would be strong pushback from the secular crowd.  The Chareidi community would refuse to cooperate unless their "Gedolim" were in charge. (Even then, if it wasn't one segment's "Gadol" they'd still refuse to take part)  The animosity that such a push would create would be a chilul haShem.
However, who's to say that a partial push wouldn't be more productive?  Demanding people keep Shabbos will lead to a fight.  Demanding that they give tzedakah would be greeted differently.  A responsible Jewish citizen recognizes his part in society and contributes to it.  The Gemara famously tells us that fortune is cyclical, one generations wealthy may have descendants in the poorhouse.  Responsibility strongly suggests that by contributing to charity a person ensures security for himself and his descendants.  The same argument can be made for gemilus chasadim.  Imagine pushing school children and young adults to find time to perform acts of kindness.  Volunteering in hospitals, working at food banks and gemachs, all of these can be promoted for their Jewish content without any risk of coercion.
What's more, a target of this push could be the wealthy of the State.  It's well known that the gap between  the wealthy and not in Israel is one of the highest in the First World.  A society that cared about improving the lot of its less fortunate through providing economic opportunity as opposed to just tossing out welfare cheques might prove more successful.
Conservatism in Israel could therefore increase the Jewishness of the State in small increments without causing hostility.  This would have the potential to fundamentally change Jewish society in a positive way and serve as a good example for others.