Throughout history and over thousands of years, there always seems to be someone or some group or some government that desires to wipe us out. The startling reality of that fact was recently demonstrated by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein during a Discovery program at the Scottsdale Hilton. He pointed out that the two oldest existing calendars belong to the Jews and the Chinese. A few thousand years ago, both Chinese and Jews numbered approximately 11-14 million people. Today, there are approximately the same number of Jews while there are now approximately 1.5 billion Chinese. While our enemies have not succeeded in totally destroying us, we have been prevented by evil perpetrators from becoming as multiple as the stars, as promised in the Torah.
I believe most people would agree that the current biggest threat of Jewish destruction comes from Iran, which repeatedly threatens to obliterate Israel and kill all Jews. The current and ongoing nuclear deal with Iran seems to have brought out the best and the worst in our American Jewish communities and its rabbinic leaders. The reaction to perhaps the most serious existential threat to the Jewish people since Hitler has been quite stunning.
In 1940, Pastor Martin Neimoeller, a German priest, recognized that his failure to speak out against the Nazis eventually resulted in his own demise. As reported in the Jewish News, some 340 rabbis across the country signed a letter supporting the Iranian nuclear deal. Shocking, since even President Obama has acknowledged that it’s a “relevant fear” that in year 13, 14 or 15 of the deal the “breakout time” for Iran to get a nuclear weapon “would have shrunk almost down to zero.” The decision of these rabbis appears to be naive and flies in the face of Israel’s Knesset, which despite daily ongoing inability to find agreement between competing political parties, unanimously opposes the Iranian deal. It doesn’t take much to understand why the Knesset is suddenly – and maybe for the first time – unified, since the Iranian deal clearly poses an existential threat to Israel and all of its inhabitants. These 340 rabbis obviously chose to ignore the wishes and needs of Israel and the Jewish people, but as bad as that was, at least they had the courage to speak out and take a position.
Worse was the stated position of the Reform movement’s Union for Reform Judaism, which essentially abstained by taking the position they were neither for nor against the nuclear agreement. Why they adopted a sit-on-the-fence (I would say, cowardly) position I cannot say, but presumably it may have been political, based on extensive disagreement among its rabbis, or, perhaps a belief that because we are in America, the Iranian threat really doesn’t affect us here. Regardless of their reasons, they clearly do not comprehend the words of Pastor Neimoeller, and the lessons of history. If we don’t speak up against those who seek to destroy us, we could be destroyed. Sitting on the fence demonstrates nothing but weakness.
I cannot say that a unified front by American Jews would have made a difference. Probably not, since we are all aware of the enormous effort by AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) that did not succeed. However, it seems that so many rabbis have either forgotten or are uninterested in k’lal Yisroel. Some of these same rabbis complain about the Pew studies, yet fail to acknowledge their responsibility in speeding up the assimilation of our people by encouraging and participating in interfaith marriages, teaching that Jews don’t have to believe in G-d, downplaying the importance of the Torah, etc. Yiddishkeit, in so many Jewish communities, is now nonexistent.
Our enemies do not care about denominations, nor should we. To them, a Jew is simply a Jew that must be dealt with. We must stick together. While I am realistic and know that many rabbis will not rise above themselves and actually do it, I would hope that all rabbis would subscribe to k’lal Yisroel. And for those who support the Iranian nuclear deal or are sitting on the fence, I hope you can learn from a young boy.
Franta Bass was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia on Sept. 4, 1930. He was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp on Dec. 2, 1941, and was murdered in Auschwitz on Oct. 28, 1944.
As one of Terezin’s children, Franta wrote the following poem at age 12, which I believe was divinely inspired.
I am a Jew
I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.
I will always fight for my people,
Even if I should die from hunger,
on my honor
never will I submit.
I will never be ashamed of them;
I give my word.
I am proud of my people,
how dignified they are.
Even though I am oppressed,
I will always come back to life.
A 12-year-old boy, doomed to be murdered, understood that we must always fight for our people.
Rabbis, learn from this young boy. He had more wisdom than you. He was in the clutches of those who had the ability to destroy him, yet still demonstrated this courage, while you sit in the comfort of your homes here in America, away from the people who are directly affected by your ill-advised positions on this deal that threatens our existence.
The preservation of our people should always come first, ahead of politics or anything else.
Chaim Jablonowski was born in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons Camp and came to the United States with his family in 1951. He resides in Scottsdale, with his wife, Randi.