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.
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
In This Moment: Oct. 7 and Nov. 9 - When the Unimaginable Became the Inevitable
In This Moment
"The Dignity of All Creations"
I encourage you to sign up for this three session seminar that begins tomorrow (Thursday) evening - see flyer at the bottom of this email, and register by clicking here. Over the summer, when I worked with Rabbi Tuchman to plan this class, the world was a very different place. Little did we know then how the events of October 7 would change everything. Paradoxically, with hate and insecurity abounding, the topic of this class - human dignity - became even more important; but at the same time, our lives have become so crazy that signing up for an adult ed class not directly addressing the crisis has become a luxury many of our calendars can not accommodate.
The fact that the first session will take place on Kristallnacht makes it even more timely and important.
Rabbi Tuchman is a superb teacher - we saw that when she spoke on Pride Shabbat. And adult ed has always been an important part of what we do.
I hope you will click below to register.
Praying for peace and safety in Israel and everywhere, a safe return of the hostages, and a world where every human being will. be valued as befits one created in the image of God.
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
One lesson from Nov. 9
is positively terrifying after Oct. 7
"What had been unimaginable has now become inevitable."
Eighty five years ago tomorrow, on November 9, 1938, the world faced a massive turning point. A dress rehearsal for mayhem proved that a war could be waged against innocent Jewish civilians, where the nations of the world would not raise a finger to stop it. What happened on Oct. 7 was astoundingly similar. A meticulously coordinated campaign of violence was directed against the Jews, only this one even more destructive than Kristallnacht, and the nations of the world, including the Jews' very own highly militarized state, were powerless to stop it. And after only a few days, the world was ready to tolerate what happened as if it had been just another skirmish - and to move on, with almost no repercussions for the perpetrators. Nothing to see here.
Oct. 7 was way beyond the pale and was utterly unique, but it didn't happen without a long period of incubation. For decades terrorists have been scaling up attacks on Israelis, each one just a little more lethal and outrageous. I can recall the days when a single rocket sent by Palestinians across the Lebanese frontier could lead to massive retaliation - even a war in 1982. There was a time when a few rocks thrown by teenagers were called an Intifada and Rabin swore to break their bones. Saddam Hussein's 42 scuds over the course of a few weeks in 1991 were considered a massive war crime. By 2023, Hamas was shooting off that many rockets at civilian targets in the time it takes to order a falafel.
But even from the standards of the most recent Israel-Hamas wars, Oct 7 was a huge leap. And now it has established a new baseline, a precedent. The pot with the frog is now boiling. What had been utterly unimaginable has now become inevitable. Once it has happened, it can easily happen again, as Hamas leadership has already boasted. We have a new benchmark for evil. And as in 1938, the world did not do more than send a round of condolence cards. Some have done more, like the US, but even they are now being pressured to roll back their support. Unless the IDF is able to finish its work, a new cycle of violence will have been started, one starting at Defcon 3, and from there it will only intensify. On Oct 7, Hamas declared Open Hunting Season on Jews, and Jewish blood was spilled across the world, even in L.A.
We've seen this movie before, in black and white, in1938.
Historian Alan E. Steinweis writes:
The Kristallnacht was a monumental development in Nazi anti-Jewish policy for several reasons. It was the single instance of large-scale public and organized physical violence against Jews in Germany before the Second World War. It unfolded in the open, in hundreds of German communities, even those with very few Jewish residents, and took place partly in broad daylight. It inaugurated the definitive phase of so-called Aryanization: the coerced expropriation of German-Jewish property… [It was] the culmination of a brutal trajectory.
Despite this massive pogrom, the world stood by and the German people acquiesced. Paris, London and Washington DC condemned the riots, but took little action. Some ordinary Germans backed the pogrom while others were indifferent. There were also some public condemnations of Kristallnacht (to the extent that such things were possible in Hitler’s Germany). But by that point, the people were powerless to mount significant resistance.
Ultimately, all that happened in response to this deadly pogrom was that America recalled its ambassador after hesitating for four days. That was the strongest international gesture, despite all the front-page headlines. As evil as the Nazis designs were – and as deadly as they would turn out to be – to this point there had not been massive physical violence directed toward the Jewish population.
Kristallnacht changed all that. I'm not suggesting that Oct. 7 will necessarily be the prelude to another Holocaust. But on Oct. 6, who could have imagined Oct 7? After October 7, one can easily imagine November 9. And it's staggering to realize that after Kristallnacht, despite a virulent antisemitism all over the world, including America, there were no anti Jewish rallies of the sort we've seen post Oct. 7.
The world has muscle memory for Jew hatred. Spurred on by Kristallnacht, it metastasized into something much more dangerous and violent. The same muscle, put on ice for 80 years, has been exercised once again.
Was Oct. 7 an aberration that led to the elimination of Hamas and a sudden eruption of sanity? Or was it the moment when the world allowed the unimaginable to become inevitable?
Kristallnacht as the Culmination of Nuremberg Racist Policies
Kristallnacht was the beginning of the most violent chapters of the Holocaust, but it could not have happened without several years of systematic degradation and humiliation of the Jews living in Germany. In his Substack posting today, Steve Schmidt focused on the meaning of Kristallnacht for our times. He listed the Nuremberg Laws to demonstrate the dehumanization that needed to take place before actual physical attacks began against Germany's Jewish population.
Hamas has been delegitimizing the Jewish presence - in the land of Israel and on this planet - for decades. As with Germany's process, no nation has seen a need to step in and question where this all might lead. It led to October 7, just as Goebbels' plan led ot November 9.
Here is Schmidt's listing and introduction:
Nineteen thirty-five saw the passage of the Nuremberg Race Laws. Let it be known forever that among America’s greatest shames is the undisputed fact that the Nazis based these laws on the most odious miscegenation laws of the deep American South.
The Nuremberg Race Laws stripped citizenship from Jews, and took away every legal right and status with the stroke of a pen. The laws were passed.
Marriages between Jews and citizens of German or related blood are forbidden. Marriages nevertheless concluded are invalid, even if concluded abroad to circumvent this law.
Annulment proceedings can be initiated only by the state prosecutor.
Extramarital relations between Jews and citizens of German or related blood are forbidden.
Jews may not employ in their households female citizens of German or related blood who are under 45 years old.
Jews are forbidden to fly the Reich or national flag or display Reich colours.
They are, on the other hand, permitted to display the Jewish colours. The exercise of this right is protected by the state.
A male who violates the prohibition under Article 2 will be punished with prison [Gefängnis] or prison with hard labour.
Any person violating the provisions under Articles 3 or 4 will be punished with prison with hard labour for up to one year and a fine, or with one or the other of these penalties.
The Reich Minister of the Interior, in co-ordination with the Deputy of the Führer and the Reich Minister of Justice, will issue the legal and administrative regulations required to implement and complete this law.
The law takes effect on the day following promulgation, except for Article 3, which goes into force on 1 January 1936.
Reich Citizenship Law
The Reichstag has unanimously enacted the following law, which is promulgated herewith:
A subject of the state is a person who enjoys the protection of the German Reich and who in consequence has specific obligations toward it.
The status of subject of the state is acquired in accordance with the provisions of the Reich and the Reich Citizenship Law.
A Reich citizen is a subject of the state who is of German or related blood, and proves by his conduct that he is willing and fit to faithfully serve the German people and Reich.
Reich citizenship is acquired through the granting of a Reich citizenship certificate.
The Reich citizen is the sole bearer of full political rights in accordance with the law.
The Reich Minister of the Interior, in co-ordination with the Deputy of the Führer, will issue the legal and administrative orders required to implement and complete this law.
Schmidt concludes his posting with this ominous warning (his specialty):
"Fascism did not thrive on the 1930s because it was strong. It thrived because the democracies were weak. We must understand that in this moment of grave danger."
Given that November 9-10 is also the anniversary of Donald Trump's election in 2016, that warning is timely. The fact that Trump - given all the indictments and testimony and given public reporting of his dictatorial plans for a second term - actually leads in polls for the presidency at this moment, this is a terrifying thought.
What makes his reelection so plausible is that it has already happened. People have pulled that fateful lever before. Just as with Nov. 9, 1938 and Oct. 7, 2023, we have the muscle memory of Nov. 9, 2016 to remind us that the unimaginable can become inevitable.
If the current front pages aren't there yet, try again later.
Interesting developments, according to Marc Schulman: Hamas appears to have lost complete control over the Gaza population. Today, 70,000 Gazans disregarded Hamas's directives and began to move South, as Israel advised, with Hamas unable to prevent their departure. ...A conceivable option for securing the hostages’ return could mirror the 1983 Beirut scenario —i.e., allowing Hamas leaders to escape abroad in exchange for the release of all the hostages. This scenario remains possible. So far, predictions of high operational costs (IDF soldiers lost) have been proven wrong. This strategic advantage is partly due to Israel's methodology of collapsing tunnels from above and, as I've noted before, deployment of new technology in Israeli armored vehicles that protects against assaults from RPGs and missiles. Rocket attacks from Gaza have been minimal today. Hamas’s rocket supply is dwindling and being destroyed. Furthermore, their command-and-control system/structure/hierarchy is barely functioning.
Schulman on Rashida Tlaib: I don't take issue with Tlaib being pro-Palestinian, and not aligning with our narrative — especially considering her Palestinian heritage. If I were Palestinian, I might not support us either. However, her use of the phrase “From the River to the Sea,” in both her video and subsequent tweet is genuinely concerning. While a US college student might misunderstand that term, her assertion that the phrase only signifies a quest for freedom between the sea and the river — rather advocate for the elimination of Israel and, by extension, my people — is patently ludicrous. She's too intelligent actually to believe that the phrase is merely a metaphor. Notably, Tlaib has become the 25th member of the House ever to be censured.
Brandeis bans controversial student group, plunging into free speech debate (Boston Globe) - The president of Brandeis University banned a pro-Palestinian student group on Monday over social media posts that defended Hamas, provoking condemnation from a free speech advocacy organization and thrusting the school into the maelstrom of public disputes over what kinds of expression a private institution must tolerate.The group, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, made a series of online posts in recent weeks that president Ronald Liebowitz viewed as celebrating or defending the Oct. 7 attack whenHamas fighters stormed into Israel and murdered families in their homes, massacred concertgoers at a festival, beheaded civilians and soldiers, and kidnapped more than 240 people, including children.
How to Oppose Pro-Palestinian Antisemitism (Peter Beinart) -And the first, and maybe obvious, thing is that people who are supporters of Palestinian rights need to show absolutely no tolerance for people who take out their hostility towards Israel and the actions of the Israeli government on Jewish people or on Jewish institutions. And I just want to give an example of kind of what that looks like. It actually comes from Iyad el-Baghdadi, a guy for whom I have enormous respect, who was our guest last Friday, a Palestinian who lives now in Norway. This is what he tweeted just a few days ago: ‘I am saying it again as a Palestinian. If you see antisemitism, you need to shut it down. If someone takes a stage to spout something antisemitic, pull them down from the stage. Do not tolerate antisemitism. It’s poison. You do not support Palestine by being racist against Jews.’ It seems to me that if everyone were to take his advice, and that activists across the country and across Europe were to do that, then it seems to me that the number of antisemitic attacks would go down.