Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, January 20, 2022
In This Moment, January 20, 2022: Who Betrayed Anne Frank? Is Attending Services an Act of Courage?
But Oxford's other definition of courage fits perfectly: "strength in the face of pain or grief." It should be life-affirming to associate with a synagogue community, rather than a source of fear. That connection should strengthen our resolve, especially in the face of life's greatest challenges. A visit to a synagogue (real or virtual), especially in the act of communal prayer, should not feel like a routine visit to a bar or supermarket, or even to a JCC; but rather it should be an acknowledgement that being a Jew is a fragile and precious gift, and an affirmation that this gift imbues our lives with purpose.
Even the first Oxford definition of courage is illuminating here: "The ability to do something that frightens ONE." For Jews, there is never just one. When we have a minyan, when we stand with community, there always are at least ten. That's why, even for those who have trouble accessing prayer, the connection with community - with ten - can be deeply meaningful.
At times like these, with Covid again spiking (hopefully peaking), we are all feeling life's fragility. The Colleyville captives touted their security training for saving their lives, particularly regarding the use of chairs. We've done those sessions too, and we plan to do another one soon. Meanwhile, see above a quick Krav Maga training film on the use of chairs for self protection. Leave it to Israel to come up with ways for people to fight back against hate.
We are deeply relieved and grateful for the Colleyville escape, and it's fitting to recite the traditional prayer thanking God for releasing captives (see below, third blessing down). Still, despite our gratitude, we know that, save for quick thinking, some timely training and a handy chair, we would all be grieving this week.
Mazal tov to Sylvie Rosenberg, who becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning. Because strict Covid protocols will limit the in-person seating, I encourage people to join us on Zoom. On Friday evening at 7, exclusively on Zoom, TBE congregant and world renowned authorSarah Darer Littman,whose book, "Some Kind of Hate," will be published this fall, will weave her work into the topic of the moment: “After Colleyville: Weaving our Jewish Reality into Fiction?”
Also, join us this evening (Thursday) at 7 for the first session of our Interfaith Council's Midwinter Series on the book of Jonah (see flyer at bottom, and click here to join the session). We are hosting this one, and given the importance of fostering interfaith relations at a time like this, the more TBE'ers on the Zoom screen to welcome our neighbors, the better! (See this article on how the interfaith community came together in Colleyville).
Anne Frank's hideout was revealed by a fellow Jew, according to a new book, discussed on 60 Minutes last week. That may be true - or not - but it should not be a surprise. In fact, though, she was betrayed not by any particular person, Jew or non-Jew, but by the entire society. And all Jews, including the supposed traitor, were similarly betrayed.
Those who ignored the rise of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and America during that time - failing to understand that even the smallest stereotype can lead to much bigger things, as we saw this week in Colleyville:
Akram wanted the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman serving an 86-year sentence in federal prison in Fort Worth for trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. And he apparently thought the Jewish worshipers assembled for the Sabbath could make that happen — drawing upon centuries-old antisemitic tropes and conspiraciesthat Jews secretly control the moves of politicians and manipulate world events to their advantage...“This was somebody who literally thought that Jews control the world,” Cytron-Walker said. “He thought he could come into a synagogue, and we could get on the phone with the ‘Chief Rabbi of America’ and he would get what he needed.”
It's unusual to reopen a cold case after 75 years. But even if it turns out that this revelation is true, Anne Frank's murder is not somehow cheapened or the murderers' guilt lessened if she was turned in by a Jew. It only highlights the impossible moral choices so many victims had to make in order to increase the chance of saving their own families.
What's most important here, perhaps, is how potent a symbol Anne Frank continues to be. That was mentioned in the 60 Minutes broadcast:
But is it really who we are? Or who we wish to be? Are we worthy of comparison to Anne Frank, when so many let her down?
Who else betrayed Anne Frank?
The Dutch government, the police, the neighbors, the conductors on the trains, President Roosevelt....
It took a village to raise her, and it took a global village to kill her.
But still she represents who we wish to be, the best of humanity's potential. Because she was killed as a still-innocent teen, she was never muddied and creviced by life's grinding pressures. So we'll never know if she would have remained true to that childlike innocence.
But we do know this. By ignoring the signals bulleted at the top, as they are reappearing today, we are in the midst of betraying dear Anne all over again.
It's Hard Out There for a Rabbi
How tough is it to be a rabbi these days? According to the Forward, the heroic rabbi at the center of last weekend's drama has been at the center of another, all-too-typical drama within his congregation.
The Texas rabbi celebrated around the world as a hero for freeing three congregants and himself from a gunman in an 11-hour synagogue siege is set to leave the community in June, the Forward has learned.
Backstory: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker resigned in November amid debate about whether his contract would be renewed. Rabbi Ben Sternman of Adat Chaverim in Plano, Texas, part of a foursome of area Reform rabbis including Cytron-Walker that meets weekly, said “he showed up for lunch one week and he was looking very upset.” He is on the market for a new pulpit and the synagogue was in the midst of searching for an interim rabbi when Saturday’s hostage situation occurred.
This is an awkward time for a transition, but I noticed signs of a search process on the synagogue's website and wondered whether someone who seems so exemplary (and, according to congregants that have been quoted, so beloved and "quite simply a mensch,") could be looking for a new position now. And indeed he is. I'm sure he will be fine, especially now, but it just points out the embarrassing strangeness of American Jewish life. The article goes on to say that synagogue leaders were upset that he had been critical of Israel and that he would not allow people to bring their guns to services. You can read the rabbi's response to those accusations here.
The plot thickens, with the Forward also revealing that: Beth Israel’s leadership moved to end his tenure, shocking many congregants who adore him. “There was an enormous outcry when the email came in,” one member, Stephen Yarus, said in an interview. The congregation had, several years ago, overwhelmingly voted to override another board move to oust Cytron-Walker, and Devorah Titunik, another member, said the rabbi told her he wanted to avoid another such vote for fear “it might split the congregation.”
Gotta love our people! I know these things happen to all faith communities But one wonders if a good man was run out of town unnecessarily because of a combination of a hyper-critical and unforgiving "gotcha" culture ("Rabbi, why were there only four people there last Shabbat?" ) and a Covid fatigue that has simply driven people crazy-angry.
It reminds me of the old joke of how Moses, called "Our Rabbi" (Rabaynu) by the rabbis, would certainly have not been hired by any synagogue. His rap sheet (including a murder), a history of anger issues and his speech impediment alone would have sealed the deal. Oh yes, and his age - 80 at the time of the Exodus. Thank you, Mr. Rabaynu...Neeext!
Whatever the underlying causes of this Lone Star Soap Opera - and outsiders can never know the whole story - it adds a sad coda to an already heartbreaking saga.
TBE Scales Kilimanjaro!
We celebrate the feat of the feet of two TBE members this month, Cheryl Wolff and Nicole Zussman, who scaled a peak even higher than Mount Sinai! Mazal tov to them!
I always like to end on a "high" note!
And to an another note of inspiration, among the stories revolving around the life of the great Sidney Poitier after his passing last week was one involving an elderly Jewish man who taught him english - an act of selfless courage that changed the course of one man's life, and thereby changed us all. One act of kindness can save the world.