People who’ve been at our family’s Shabbos meals will attest that I’m not an avid practitioner of tying in currents events to some allusion in that week’s haftarah or the like, especially when the connection is a bit strained (or reliant on a gematria that, in order to work, requires adding in the mispar hakollel, the mispar katan, and the milui osiyos…). These “Zohar of the week” insights, as I call them, often can be traced back to the Internet rather than the words of an actual sefer, and although they’re long on dazzle, they sometimes fall short when it comes to contributing to real spiritual growth.
But that sort of thing is very different from seeing connections between disparate events taking place in the world and mining those for potential significance. Indeed, the very fact that Hashem interacts with His world by means of middah k’neged middah facilitates discovery of the meaning embedded in current events and enables us to make use of it in our lives.
A very current example: What follows swiftly on the heels of the Great Heterodox Prayer Site Hoax? Another fraud of equal magnitude, involving a site just yards away — the Great Temple Mount Metal Detectors Hoax. Just days after the heterodox movements and their Jewish media allies tried creating an international uproar over the Israeli government’s cancellation of the Kosel agreement, the Arabs embroiled Israel in another worldwide crisis, one that hasn’t abated even with the removal of the detectors.
Walter Russell Mead, writing in The American Prospect, notes that “the Palestinian response is being driven by unsubstantiated paranoia about Jewish conspiracies to overturn the Temple Mount status quo.” “Overturn the Temple Mount status quo” — now, where have we heard of people trying to do something like that?
Mead writes that it would be difficult to imagine a less sympathetic grievance to attract Western support to the Palestinian cause. In fact, the Palestinian response will appear contemptible to anyone who bothers to read even the basic facts of the matter. Israelis can’t go into shopping malls and bus stations, let alone visit the Western Wall, without passing through a metal detector.
He’s right, of course; the whole Palestinian fuss over the installation of metal detectors makes no sense, until one understands that it’s a make-believe claim dressed up as a religious plaint, serving as a convenient smokescreen for a political agenda seeking exclusive control of Har Habayis.
Hmm. A controversy over the entranceway to a religious site that’s really not about religion — because no one’s religious freedom is being curtailed — but about larger political ambitions and exclusive control… Why does that sound so familiar?
As I wrote several weeks ago, the Israeli cabinet’s cancellation of the agreement did nothing to deprive the heterodox of access to their prayer site. All it did was a) scuttle the plan to change the entranceway to the Kosel so that all Jews, whether going to daven at the Kosel or to do their thing at the other site, would enter through the same entrance; and b) cancel the plan to give a committee of heterodox and secular Jews exclusive decision-making power over their site. Both would have advanced the heterodox political agenda of full official recognition.
Of course, no one is comparing heterodox leaders, wayward Jewish brethren, to Palestinians. But it just may be — and this is just a personal musing — that when Jews turn a place from which the Shechinah has never departed into their personal battleground to further political goals in the guise of religious passion and try to rile the world in the process, what results is the sight of Palestinians riling the world against Israel in the very same way and in the very same place.
MUSEUM FOR LIFE, NOT DEATH
It’s so refreshing when a secular Jew writing about the Orthodox community makes the effort to understand and appreciate its very different way of looking at things. That’s the case with Noa Gutow-Ellis, a college student and self-described “Reform-turned-secular alumna of a pluralistic Jewish day school,” who writes in Tablet of her visit to the Amud Aish Memorial Museum and Kleinman Holocaust Education Center, located temporarily in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, but opening permanently in Boro Park later this year.
Intrigued by a Wall Street Journal article about the museum, she visited it and was surprised to find it “more resonant” than any number of other Holocaust-themed museums she had been to. The Holocaust had been part of both her school and synagogue experiences from a young age, making her part of the 73 percent of Jews who, as reported by the 2013 Pew survey of American Jewry, consider the Holocaust an essential part of being Jewish.
But in Brooklyn, Ms. Gutow-Ellis was exposed to a different kind of education about the Holocaust. She contrasts her elementary school Jewish-studies teacher, who took students to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington for “Jewish identity-building” with Miryam Gordon, the Amud Aish school-visits coordinator, who said to her, “the Holocaust is not my Judaism.”
How does the Orthodox perspective differ? For one thing, the horrors of the Nazi era are seen as “but one part of a much larger history of persecution including the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms.” Moreover, Rabbi Sholom Freidmann, the museum’s director, explained, Orthodox Jews are “not so concerned with what persecution occurred and what the perpetrators were doing as much as how was the Jewish community responding in that point in history.”
That’s why, unlike the Washington museum, which displays numerous guns used in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, there are no guns in sight in Amud Aish, nor, for that matter, pictures of mounds of corpses, because, as Director of Education Julie Golding explained, “this is a museum about life.” Those visiting the museum already know enough about the persecution and its perpetrators; there they learn about the Jews who were determined to live on in spite of it all.
The museum’s focus is on the resiliency and will to survive of Europe’s Jews, particularly as expressed through spiritual resistance and the dignity and humanity they retained in the face of unspeakable evil. It’s also about the responsibility of today’s Jews to rebuild and carry on their legacy. She writes that the “question that [the Amud Aish] tour guides leave all their tour groups with is: ‘What are you going to do for Klal Yisrael — for the community, the people of Israel?’ This is in direct contrast to the way the US Holocaust Memorial Museum visit ends. The featured take-away slogans in D.C. are: ‘Think about what you saw,’ or ‘What you do matters,’ or ‘Never again.’ ”
The writer sees the Washington and Brooklyn museums as imparting vastly divergent lessons, with the dominant lesson of the former being, “fear. Fear that something like this will happen again. Fear for the security of ethnic and religious groups. A disturbing call to action. And the other lesson, at the Amud Aish Memorial Museum, is one of continuity and survival and religious rebirth.”
And she understands the larger implications for Jewish continuity: whether Jews are taught about a Judaism centered around life or one obsessed with fear and death. She writes:
By the time I got to college, I knew far more about the intricacies of the annihilation of European Jewry than I knew about the Tanakh. I could distinguish the Einsatzgruppen from the Gestapo, yet distinguishing Ruth from Naomi was beyond my scope.
For many years, I had been asked to align my Jewish identity with the death of other Jews. From remembering [Nazi victim] Fani Volf at my bat mitzvah, to school trips that revolved around visiting Holocaust museums and sites — from L.A. to D.C. to Poland — as opposed to thriving areas of Jewish life and culture. Amud Aish showed me how different an education can be — and it’s sticking with me.
Who would have thought a Holocaust exhibit could be a vehicle for bringing estranged Jews closer to their Father in Heaven? But with eloquent spokespeople like Noa Gutow-Ellis, who hopes Amud Aish will put a dent in the 73 percent of American Jews who say the Holocaust is the most essential part of being Jewish, it could happen.
Originally posted by Eytan Kobre at Mishpacha.