“We were at the forefront of every stage of this fight.”
By RAFAEL MEDOFF
The boasting began before the paint had dried on the sign in front of the new American embassy in Jerusalem.A senior official of one Jewish organization asserted that “for years,” as his group campaigned for moving the embassy, it was “a lonely advocate in an unpopular pursuit.”A rabbi involved in interfaith work insisted that Christian public opinion was the key factor in the embassy decision, and proclaimed that he was “one of the main activists working to build bridges of trust and cooperation” between Christians and Israel.A small American Zionist organization bragged on the envelope of its latest fundraising mailing: “We’ve helped get the embassy moved.” The letter asked for donations based on its claim that the embassy was relocated “in significant part” because of that organization.Anyone who followed the decades-long effort by American Jews to bring about the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem understands that numerous organizations were involved, and that it is impossible to measure each faction’s particular impact. No group was a “lonely advocate,” and no organization can prove the embassy was moved “in significant part” because of its particular resolutions or press releases.The decision to move the American embassy was the result of numerous diplomatic and political factors, congressional efforts, and advocacy by both Jewish and Christian groups. Precisely which factors played the largest role likely will be known only years from now, when the relevant government records are opened to the public.A landmark book such as David S. Wyman’s The Abandonment of the Jews, exposing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s woefully inadequate response to the Holocaust, could not have been written in the 1950s. It was published only in 1984, after Prof. Wyman was able to review newly available documents in government archives and other collections.When the government records documenting the decision to move the Jerusalem embassy eventually become available, we will finally know the real story – and some of today’s boastful Jewish organizations may well end up with egg on their faces.One of the most memorable critiques of Jewish boasting was authored by the late Jewish activist and journalist Meyer Nurenberger. He was reflecting on a conversation he had with Congressman Sol Bloom, whom the Roosevelt administration selected to be part of the US delegation to the 1943 Bermuda conference on refugees.A senior State Department official noted in his diary that Bloom was chosen because the congressman was known to be “easy to handle” and “terribly ambitious for publicity.” The Bermuda conference achieved nothing for Jewish refugees. Yet Congressman Bloom still reveled in the honor of having been chosen as a delegate. He announced that “as a Jew,” he was “perfectly satisfied” with the results.Nurenberger cited a Talmudic anecdote to explain the phenomenon of prominent Jews who are more interested in fame and honor – such as serving on a US government delegation – than in the welfare of the Jewish people. Nurenberger called it the “Mi Berosh [who will be first?] Syndrome.”The anecdote, which appears in tractate Sanhedrin, concerns a Jewish king, Jeroboam, who caused a division of the Jewish commonwealth and even introduced idol worship, yet was given one last chance to repent. The Talmud relates that when Jeroboam died, God said to him, “If you repent, you and I and the Messiah will stroll together in the Garden of Eden.” Jeroboam replied: “Mi berosh?” – who will be the one to walk at the head of the line? When God replied that the Messiah would walk first, Jeroboam responded that he would not repent.Nurenberger added this poignant commentary: “Since the days of Jeroboam, ‘Mi Berosh?’ has been the primary cause of lost opportunities and the greatest tragedies in Jewish history. Who will march at the front? Who will sit on the dais? Who will be Man of the Year? Who will be the leader? Who will deliver the main speech? Who will introduce whom at a meeting? Who will be applauded by the ladies’ auxiliary? ‘Mi berosh?’ How many Jews would have been saved during World War II if it had not been for ‘mi berosh’?”There are an enormous number of Jewish and Zionist organizations in the United States today, many of which duplicate each other’s positions and activities. The only way to justify their existence – and their staff’s salaries – is to make ever louder claims as to what they have supposedly accomplished.“We were at the forefront of every stage of this fight,” the aforementioned Zionist fundraising letter boasted about the Jerusalem embassy campaign. Maybe if egotistical Jewish leaders would stop worrying so much about who is at the forefront – about mi berosh – they might be more effective in fulfilling their responsibilities to the Jewish community.The author is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.