Germany tells Jews to take off their yarmulkes

As antisemitism now begins to spread throughout the world, we in the Jewish community should be aware of our own trauma of seeing it all reappear.

June 25, 2019 23:11
GERMANS IN European flags enjoy a peaceful day.

GERMANS IN European flags enjoy a peaceful day. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

OSWIECIM, Poland – I visited Birkenau last week for the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Elie Wiesel to Auschwitz. I accompanied his son, Elisha, for the special commemoration. Each of us brought our 13-year-old sons for what was an unforgettable occasion.

It’s always difficult to determine to what extent children should be exposed to the Holocaust. I have visited Auschwitz many times over the past few years alone. Still, it scars and numbs me every time. And I’m an adult immersed in the literature my whole life.
Over the last two summers, I have taken my family to the death camps and killing fields of Europe and wrote up our trips in a soon-to-be-published memoir called Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. Toward the end of a multi-week trip that included Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, the Lodz Ghetto, and Mauthausen, among many others, my older children began to rebel. Why was I subjecting them to this living purgatory? In Israel, they said, they experienced a vibrant Jewish nation and they felt the warmth of God’s comforting presence. In Europe they saw a vast Jewish cemetery where God was seemingly absent.

I explained: The six million victims of the Holocaust were our brothers and sisters, our children and parents, our wives and our mothers. They cry out from the grave to be remembered. We will never forget them, regardless of how empty or barren it makes us feel and regardless of how it affects our relationship with God.

At Sighet, Elisha Wiesel gave a masterful speech – an instant classic – about the simple triumph he seeks as the son of a survivor to lead a normal life, raise healthy children, preserve a loving marriage, incorporate Jewish tradition into daily living, and honor the murdered victims of his family. Right after he spoke a young woman whose grandparents had likewise been deported from Sighet to Auschwitz spoke of the PTSD she had suffered as a third-generation Holocaust survivor. She spoke of how a therapist had helped her identify the trauma of being the grandchildren of survivors and how she has learned to cope.

As antisemitism now begins to spread throughout the world, we in the Jewish community should be aware of our own trauma of seeing it all reappear. That we must fight it is clear, but how we explain to our children is not as evident.

Should we tell our children to take off their kippot when they visit Germany – as a German government official shockingly suggested this week – in order to fend off attack? My son and I visited the Normandy landing beaches in France this week, also in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We wore our kippot from the moment we landed in Paris. Are we misguided enough to make our children self-conscious and uncomfortable with their Jewishness?

In Krakow, just after visiting Auschwitz, we came to an outdoor market where paintings were sold. Krakow is a city where Pope John Paul II is literally a saint, so it wasn’t surprising to see paintings that captured the pontiff’s piety in prayer. But what was shocking was seeing the paintings right next to him of rabbis surrounded by money, holding gold coins – even holding bitcoins! – rather than praying or studying. It was a disgusting display of antisemitism, so vulgar that had I not posted the pictures on my Facebook page no one would have believed it. But even as I protested this overt display of anti-Jewish prejudice, I was careful to show my son Dovid Chaim – who had just had his bar mitzvah in Israel – that he dare never shirk in public from being a proud Jew. I tried to show him the same as we walked the streets of Nice and Marseilles in France last summer, even as the local Jewish community told us how dangerous it was to wear yarmulkes.

WE SHOULD not put our children in danger, but should we not also factor in the psychological harm of being too self-conscious, rather than acting natural, as Jews? Is fearing antisemitism not its own form of PTSD?

I believe we have to confront the slow creep of antisemitism just as soon as it starts making tracks. We must fight antisemites like Rashida Tlaib who shockingly said that she has a “calming feeling” when she thinks of the Holocaust because, she claims, the Palestinians provided a “safe haven” for Jews in Palestine “post-the Holocaust.” Aside from the disgusting juxtaposition of the words “calming” and “Holocaust” appearing in the same sentence, Tlaib is a brazen liar.

The truth, of course, is that the Jews escaping Hitler who made it to British-mandated Palestine were met with pogroms against Jewish communities, revolts against Jewish immigration, Arab support for Hitler’s Holocaust, and a determination on the part of Israel’s Arab’s neighbors to launch genocidal wars against the Jews which have not abated till today.

During the Holocaust, Arab leader Haj Amin Al Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, was a staunch ally of Hitler, and after launching a failed Nazi-backed rebellion against the British, he fled to Berlin at the führer’s invitation. During the war, he helped recruit Muslim soldiers from the Balkans for the SS and exhorted the Arabs to “kill the Jews.” After the Holocaust, Arab armies partook in an attempted genocidal war against the fledgling State of Israel. Six Arab nations invaded Israel with the stated goal of “driving the Jews into the sea” – hoping for a second genocide of the Jews just three years after the first. This time, however, a Jewish army repulsed the invasion.

But as we battle the Tlaibs and Ilhan Omars of this world, let us be careful never to trivialize the Holocaust.

Recently, in my own city of Englewood, New Jersey, I attended a hearing of the city council that is being asked to spot-zone land directly across from me for a large, for-profit CareOne facility for the Elderly. The argument being made by the company to totally rezone an area of single-family homes is that the facility will administer to the needs of the Orthodox community. But I was nearly floored when a rabbi from a local synagogue got up to support the for-profit idea of a company owned by one of his congregants by invoking the Holocaust, depicting Englewood as a city with Holocaust survivors roaming the streets without a home. What made it even more bizarre is that one of the five council members is Michael Cohen, East Coast director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who heard this invocation of the Holocaust for a for-profit center without objection.

This immediately provoked a response from an African-American resident who got up and spoke of the much worse “endless” Holocaust of African-Americans that continues until this day, and compared to which six million is a small number. He quoted the “honorable” Louis Farrakhan. I got up and responded that Farrakhan was an antisemite whose poisonous hatred of the Jews directly contradicts that of Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps the greatest American of the 20th century, who said that all of God’s children are created equally in His image.

So there it was, at a hearing over a construction project at Englewood, New Jersey, the Holocaust had been invoked for a commercial project and in a rebuttal, both for and against. This just goes to show that choosing our battles in the never-ending fight against antisemites, and being careful never to trivialize the Holocaust, is vital.

The writer, ‘America’s rabbi,’ whom The Washington Post and Newsweek call ‘the most famous rabbi in America,’ is the bestselling author of 32 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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