Fundamentally Freund: Take that, Karl Marx!

By stubbornly sticking to our faith, we can turn back and defeat all comers.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
Last week, a group of protesters gathered in the center of Moscow to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which brought Russia's Communist regime to power. In a telling sign of Communism's fortunes these days, the gathering drew just a few thousand mostly elderly people, nostalgic for the oppression and tyranny of the defunct Soviet regime. Waving red flags and chanting empty slogans, the band of die-hard Marxist believers called for a return to the good ol' days, when men were men and Siberia was where they sent just about everybody else. Of course, for anyone even remotely familiar with Communism's long list of crimes, the scene could not fail to evoke anything but revulsion. The very idea that there are thinking human beings out there who would like to turn back the clock on freedom and revisit the Stalinist era, is simply too absurd to comprehend. Nonetheless, there they were. But for anyone looking around at the billboards and shops that dot Moscow's streets these days, it was equally as hard not to let a smile slip across one's face. From the Adidas store at Red Square, to the Benetton mega-outlet and the Burberry shop in the city, it is clear who came out on top in the decades-long battle between capitalism and socialism. Take that, Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Though our minds might be focused elsewhere, with the looming threat from Iran, the rise in global oil prices and the war in Iraq, it is worth taking a moment to recall the victory that emerged from the ideological struggle known as the Cold War. SURE, IT was a long and costly battle, both in blood and treasure, and it occasionally risked erupting into open nuclear confrontation. But the danger posed by Communism was roundly defeated, thanks in no small measure to the patience, perseverance and faith of the West and its leadership. And it is precisely those same qualities that will enable the Jewish people to prevail, whether in our current conflict with Palestinian and Islamist terror or in the battle against assimilation, if only we know how to marshal them. Defying calls to mollify their foes, men such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan stood firm, and eventually brought the Kremlin to its knees. They did not choose the easy path of accommodation, because they knew that buying short-term quiet at the expense of a nation's long-term interests was neither responsible nor wise. But do Israel and the Jewish people have such men of strength in waiting, I began to wonder, or are we perhaps condemned to suffer under a series of feeble and corrupt leaders? My answer came soon enough, when I walked into a Moscow synagogue for the early weekday morning service. The interior of the building could not have looked more festive. Colorful bands of blue and yellow stretched from the wooden beams on both sides of the prayer hall, injecting the otherwise sober space with some vivid and youthful energy. At the front, above where the person leading the prayers stood, an enormous blue and white Israeli flag made entirely out of balloons was festooned with the name of a bar-mitzva boy, Denis, appearing in bright, bold red lettering. Meanwhile, dozens of men swayed back and forth, as the hum of whispered Hebrew entreaties flowed softly through the room. Twenty-five years ago, such a sight would have been unthinkable, of course. A public bar mitzva in Moscow? Who could have imagined that we would see such a thing? But there was one person in particular that morning who caught my eye, an older man well into his 80's, who was praying with great intensity. At first glance, there was nothing really out of the ordinary about him. He looked like a typical nice Jewish grandfather sitting in shul. But then I noticed a large block of bars of various sizes and colors pinned to his jacket, and I realized they were military honors and war medals from some distant conflict in the past. The language barrier prevented us from communicating, but it was clear that he had either held some rather important positions, or performed some heroic deeds, to merit a chest full of such martial decorations. But the master he had unwillingly served all those years, the Soviet regime, was no more. All that remained were a few pieces of plastic attached to his coat. By contrast, wrapped around his arm and head were the soft leather of the tefillin, the very same that his forefathers, and those before them, have been donning for thousands of years, and which the Soviet regime had sought to eliminate. Therein lies the power of the Jewish people to vanquish any foe, I thought to myself. By reaching deep into our past, we can find the strength to face the future. And by stubbornly sticking to our faith, we can turn back and defeat all comers. Even a nuclear-armed superpower.