Friday, November 12, 2010

Kristallnacht: Be vigilant against state sponsored terrorism today

Kristallnacht November 12, 2010
I was at a meeting the other day discussing this weekend’s events at the congregation with a group of congregants. One of them looked at me and asked, “Are you doing anything for Kristallnact?” I said no explaining that it just was not on my radar screen this year. In other words there just was not time and other things more important were on my mind.
I thought about it and fairly quickly realized that it was not a thought that would go away until I addressed it. So I want to thank my friend bill who inspired the idea and served as my moral compass on this matter.
Yes, today commemorates the Night of Broken Glass where on this day in 1938, the Nazis had instigated and planned a series of nationally organized riots that led to the desecration of synagogues and Jewish stores as well as mass arrests of German Jews who sent to places like Dachau  concentration camp. The night of broken glass served as a trigger that unleashed the beginning of the end for Germany’s Jews and served as the harbinger for the forthcoming storm that would spell doom for rest of Europe’s Jewish population.
What the world witnessed in Germany is now called state sponsored terrorism against the state’s own population today. We observe countries around the world like Iran and Rwanda, Serbia (in the 90’s) and many other countries perpetrate these kinds of outrageous crimes. What makes Kristallnacht still relevant today is that this episode in Jewish history teaches us a lesson about how countries betray their own citizens.   Kristallnacht has its own meaning to us as Jews. We have documented the stories and we have meticulously researched all that Hitler, Goebbels and their henchmen did to stir up the Germans and plan that horrid action. Let no one doubt whether or not a Kristallnacht could happen again. Of course it could and has happened against us and other nations. That is why Kristallnacht deserves to be cited as an example in our day to be vigilant condemning any political leadership of a nation that uses the states’ power to attack its own citizens.
How ironic that we pay respects to America’s men and women who serve in our nation’s defense with the holiday of Veterans Day. We honor those who protect us and defend us here and abroad. They deserve our respect. Yet when we see how a nation’s political leadership can turn against one group of people based upon religion or race or political viewpoint we know that we must speak out where we see the abuse of power. May God protect our people who volunteer to serve this great nation and return them safely to their families.
Finally Let us not forget the Night of Broken Glass, Kristallnacht, for what it represented as the turning point in Hitler and Germany’s war against the Jews. With the privilege of remembering comes the responsibility of not letting it happen to us or others again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A visit to the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church

Visit to the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church
Last night about 16 members of the congregation joined me as we went over to the Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. We sat and watched their hour of study of Christian Scriptures and then joined them for a spaghetti and meatball dinner.  The food for the soul was as delicious as the dinner and fellowship we had with their congregation.
Some of our people came earlier and watched their hour of prayer and music. The ladies sang old Negro spirituals and one tall retired marine about forty two years old got up and gave a stirring sermon in song. He had a deep resonate voice that consumed the entire sanctuary. The reverend Ben Williams  watched  as one of his disciples led the study portion of the evening. He taught us the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians.  The primary theme was faith and belief in Jesus.  The ideas repeated themselves that the Christian way of life enabled the believer to find eternal life. Yes, there is a struggle and today’s Christian need s not to be afraid to reject some of the temptations in the modern society. Yet, that will not preclude the believer from having a joyful life.  This is the way to find true joy. Another theme is the duality of body and soul. This comes directly from Paul who is the central figure in Corinthians.
They also had wonderful discussion about the meaning of the text when it describes that God is a “terrible God.” Some took it literally meaning that God will exact retribution if we sin. Others understood it as a metaphor in the sense of God as awesome rather than terror. How does a god of love be also a god who is terrible? I really liked that discussion and the intellectual effort that they put into clarifying this descriptive about their view of God.
At the end of the study hour Reverend Williams got up to thank everyone and acknowledged the presence of our congregation. He asked me to speak to both groups.  I tried to emphasize that one religion studying another and deriving inspiration from their enthusiasm and insight into their scriptures does not diminish our own faith.  In fact it can move us to go back to our own practice of study with renewed vigor.  I quoted from Genesis the first question that God ever asked a human being. That is the story of Adam after God catches him eating from the forbidden fruit. He asks him “Ayeka?” Where are you?” That is one of the fundamental questions of humankind. Where are we in this world? What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Where are we in the journey of our lives?
Our next step is to invite the church to our congregation for an hour of study with dinner afterwards. I believe our congregants enjoyed themselves and hopefully broadened their horizons that Jews and African American Baptists can study and commune together with a sense of mutual respect despite our differences. I say we have forgotten the ecumenical movement. We need to reach out more. Jews, in particular, need to form partnerships and support other faith traditions especially if they want support and understanding from the religious community. Everyone grows and feels good about these kinds of experiences. We cannot live only in our own spiritual world.  We ought not to be hesitant to reach out to others.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

17 charged in $42 million fraud at Claims Conference

17 charged in $42 million fraud at Claims Conference
If we want to use the word shanda meaning disgrace and an embarrassment then the indictments by the US Attorney’s office in New York of individuals who committed fraud and stole over $42 million from the Claims Conference that disperses funds (from the German government) to elderly Holocaust survivors fits that description.
The fact that the professional staff of the Claims Conference alerted the FBI to the fraud in 09 thus enabling the FBI to conduct their investigation was the correct thing to do.  The evidence appears to be that most of the crime surrounded the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. Russian Jewish immigrants were a large part of the fraud including members of the professional staff of the Claims Conference.
Who knows the extent that some were recruited and duped into falsifying documents as they did? Surey some were bribed for kickbacks to the staff. It is a disgusting thing we witness and a stain on our community. I pray that justice will be swift and harsh for those who the district attorney is able to convict of these morally repugnant crimes.
And of course we know that anti-semites will exploit this issue. It comes down to greed. But it also comes down to the Claims Conference as well. What controls and mechanism should they have in place to protect the funds so that they go to the proper victims? When the Claims Conference staff says that the $42 million represented only a small percentage of the overall amount of money dispersed over the years, they are trying to excuse themselves and minimize the enormity of this crime. I simply cannot accept that kind of reasoning. Given the accusation that staff members of all levels in the organization participated in this fraud there has got to be an investigation of all levels of the Claims Conference
Whether this fraud extracted one percent or more makes no difference. It is a despicable crime and an embarrassment on us. Shameful! This fraud was going on since the 1990s! The justice system should take care of the criminal actions. But the Jewish community should conduct a thorough investigation to ferret out the incompetency of the leadership that enabled this kind of activity to go one unabated for almost two decades.
The professional staff and those who supervise them own this problem and are responsible for putting in place the proper mechanism to demonstrate why this could never again happen. That is the right thing to do. It is an act of Teshuva (repentance) that is needed now. It affects us all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Israel suspends ties with U.N. body over the cave of Mahpelah

Israel suspends US Ties with U.N. body 11/9/2010
Once again the UN continues to make it impossible to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation between Arabs and Israelis. Their decision last week to declare the venerable Cave Of Machpelah in Hebron as a Palestinian Holy Site only serves to inflame passions rather than build a foundation of peace. Besides the fact that only today Hebron is primarily an Arab city, the cave still is one of Judaism’s most sacred sites. It is the burial place of our patriarchs and some of our matriarchs whose names we intone every day when we pray to the “God of our fathers and mothers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rachel and Leah.
How is it possible to rewrite history in a way that delegitimizes the historic and theological connection of the role of the patriarchs and matriarchs from Judaism? What does the UN mean when they say the site is Palestinian? Is that a national term or religious? The point is that it doesn’t really matter what they mean by the designation. Time and time again we see in the never-ending propaganda wars  the Arab countries’ influence in the U.N. and the erosion of the U.N.’s moral stature. In addition there is the same impact as well as in the perception of the countries who support these counterproductive measures.  When the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization make these vain and political volatile proclamations, they cross over the line of neutrality and overstep their mandate. They try to undermine Israel’s historic legitimacy in the land and to its holy sites. Finally, what the UN does is hammer away at Israel’s moral compass in the world. Jews and Israelis see through this chicanery but I am not sure our gentile friends always get it.
I never give up on the hope for peace in the near future between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Political leaders, not the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, will  argue over how to preserve holy sites including access to them by all faiths. The Cave of Mahpelah is sacred to Judaism and if it is sacred to Islam and Christianity then solutions will have to be worked out to acknowledge the spiritual value of the cave to all faiths. Declaring a holy site to be “Palestinian,” moves us farther away from the discussion between the real partners in this protracted debate who have the duty to find a lasting peace framework they can all live within.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The assasination of Prime Minister Rabin-15 years later and lessons learned.

The 15th year yahrtzeit of Yitzchak Rabin
I remember when I was a new rabbi in Sacramento the news of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.  I was giving a program when someone brought the word to me. I was shocked. Fear gripped me. My gut emotions compelled me to have a community wide service on the Saturday night of that week. The leadership of the Temple rallied together. We invited the Governor at that time which was Pete Wilson. I thought it was appropriate because he knew Rabin personally from his days serving in the U.S. Senate. We had over 1000 people attend that rally. It was an amazing night. We gave comfort to the community. We initiated the process of giving expression to the emotions and the fears and the solidarity that was desperately needed then.
Of course there were politics inside my temple. The ardent democrats were angered that I would invite Governor Wilson. All they could see was hatred for him due to his sponsorship of Proposition 187 which was the anti-immigration bill.  Even back then I experienced how deadly and destructive partisan politics were in the face of a catastrophic event like Rabin’s assassination. How ironic that our own people could not get beyond their own hatred of Wilson’s politics forgetting he was the governor of the state of California.
There are times when we have to take the moral high ground and suspend our disagreements even with our own co-religionists or with other elected officials. That is what is missing in the society today. We are Balkanized in so many ways. We are consumed in our anger and unable to rediscover the value of compromise and mutual respect. I saw an irony in my discussions with these shortsighted congregants given that Prime Minister Rabin was able to transcend his own feelings towards his adversaries in order to see the possibilities of peace.
Remember it was fanatical Jew who murdered Rabin. How many times do we have to learn that no matter how right we know we are in our politics, we cannot lose sight of the need to fashion a culture that enables fruitful and passionate dialogue without demonizing the other side.