Tag Archives: Judaism

This Day in History 3/31: Ferdinand and Isabella issue the Edict of Expulsion

Copy of the Spanish edict of expulsion

The 1492 Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion. Image via Wikipedia

The last thing I would want is to live in a place where everyone was exactly like me.

So it seems both funny and tragic that two industrious European monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, had no problem with this.

The push for homogeneity, for sameness, does often lead to traquility and a life of familiarity.   However, the overzealous iron fist of sameness can cause irreparable damage, both for the majority and for the minority that is now outcast.

This was the case on March 31, 1492, when the Catholic monarchs of Spain issued a decree that would reverberate over three continents.  Less than three months after vanquishing the last vestiges of Islamic Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella issued what was called the Alhambra Decree, later called the Edict of Expulsion.  It declared that the Jews of Spain, a community that thrived on the Iberian peninsula since Roman times, had four months to liquidate their belongings and leave the country.  Those who did not would face death.

For centuries, Jews had lived in communities in present-day Spain, first under the Romans after the Third Jewish Revolt of the 2nd century, and subsequently under the Visigoths and Islamic Moors.  Jewish Spain flourished most under Muslim rule: the caliphs of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) saw the Jews as fellow “People of the Book.”  They were given special status, allowed to operate businesses and own land, and especially to worship with little interference from Muslim authorities.  Since the Jews were an ethnic as well as religious group, there was little fear of the conversions and evangelization with Christian communities.

Even as the Christian kingdoms of the peninsula gained prominence, Jews continued to live their life and worship, providing massive contributions to Iberian culture.  Often, Jewish communities were the most literate, and local princes and sultans employed Jewish scribes that produced reams of edicts, writs and decrees–often in Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew.  Jewish bankers and merchants helped keep the warring kingdoms solvent with trade and loans (often to the irritation of local religious zealots who saw Jews as mere usurers).  Spanish Jews excelled in diplomacy, art, literature, science and philosophy through luminaries such as Maimonides, Solomon ibn Gabirol, and Yehuda Halevi.

However, little by little, attitudes towards Jews in Spain began to change.

Once in a while, even during the Muslim period, occasional massacres and banishments of Jews occurred, as rulers (who often could not–or would not–repay their loans to their Jewish creditors) placed Jews under more intense scrutiny.  Land would eventually be taken away.  Jews would be restricted to certain neighborhoods in certain cities.  Jewish businesses were ransacked, synagogues were defiled, and pressure to convert or emigrate became ever greater.

Then came Ferdinand and Isabella.

The dynamic duo of medieval Iberia came with an agenda: unite the peninsula under one crown, one language, and especially one “true” Catholic faith.  As the military might of Castile and Aragon brought the neighboring states to heel (a movement known as the Reconquista), the Catholic Monarchs had to contend with large populations of minorities, especially Jews.  There is no exact number of Jews that came under Spanish rule: estimates range from 250,000 to almost 900,000.  The Christian Spaniards viewed these people with suspicion and contempt, especially since they were portrayed as collaborators to the Muslim caliphs–a gross misinterpretation since the caliphs also engaged in occasional anti-Semitic abuse.

Thousands of Jews sought to escape persecution through conversion to Christianity.  These conversos often resumed their original status with the veneer of Catholic baptism, which infuriated local Christians.  Also, many conversos were suspected of not being genuinely loyal to the church, but rather of keeping their Judaic religious practices in secret.  These crypto-Jews, known as marranos, were seen as an even bigger threat, a Fifth Column that undermined the unity of the new Catholic Spain.

Starting in 1480, the Spanish Inquisition was instituted to solve the problem of the conversos.  Headed by Tomas de Torquemada, the Inquisition’s mission was to root out heresy, including any suspected secret Jewish activity on the part of the newly converted.  Reams have been written about the horrors and abuses of the Inquisition, yet it needs to be said that not a single out-and-out practicing Jew was targeted.  The Inquisition was not concerned with Jews who stayed true to Judaism, but rather those who wanted to be Catholic out of “convenience.”

Ferdinand and Isabella would take care of the observant Jews personally.  For lack of a better pun, the Edict of Expulsion was their “final solution” to their Jewish problem.

The edict gave Jews about four months to sell all their belongings and leave Spain.  Any non-Jew who aided in hiding a Jewish person was punished by confiscation of property and rescinding of privileges.  Jews who did not leave were put to death.  During the four-month preparation period, Jews were under royal protection and could take their belongings except “”gold or silver or minted money.”

Expulsion of Jews in Europe 1100-1600. Image via Wikipedia

Of the 200,000 to 800,000 Jews who left in 1492, many settled in North Africa.  Some went to neighboring Portugal, only to be expelled five years later.  The Spanish Jews would then find refuge in Italy, in the Balkans, in Greece, and eventually in England, the Netherlands and the New World of the Americas.  In the case of the Americas, the Inquisition often followed the Jews into Latin America, thus further forcing other migrations into North America and Canada.

So what did Ferdinand and Isabella gain in this act?  Though Spain would remain a predominantly Catholic country for the rest of its history, it is a homogeneity fed by theft, torture and murder–and the loss of two rich, sophisticated cultures in the process.

There were still conversos to consider, and their allegiance would remain suspect for centuries.  The missionary zeal of Torquemada would stretch into Spain’s new colonies in America; leaving men such as Bartholome de las Casas to document the tragic results.  The property, businesses and riches of the expelled Jews mingled with new gold and silver from Mexico and Peru in the royal coffers.  Synagogues were transformed into churches.  Hebrew texts were destroyed.  In the early 1600s, it was the Muslims’ turn, as thousands of moriscos, or Islamic converts to Christianity, would go down the same dark path as the Jews.

So what happened to the expelled Jews?

Like their kindred spread across numerous continents, the Jews of Spain provided far more than they received from the countries that hosted them.  In England, Jews welcomed under Oliver Cromwell would help cement England’s maritime power.  In the Netherlands, Spanish Jews would rise in the tolerant society of the Dutch Republic, and help spread trade and ideas to Asia and the New World.  In the Americas, Jews would gain a foothold and create among the most free societies on the planet.

Baruch Spinoza, Benjamin Cardozo, Benjamin Disraeli, and many others made great advances in philosophy, in law, in politics and government.

Yet the great lesson of the Expulsion is not what was lost or gained, but what survived.  In the end, Ferdinand and Isabella failed in their xenophobic quest to rid Christendom of “heretical” influences.  They failed because the heresies–namely Judaism and Islam–are still alive and well.

The Jews were not crushed, they were not annihilated–and not for lack of trying.  They survived, and their culture survived to enrich and progress humankind even today.  None other than the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote the following:

“What is the Jew?…What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!

The Jew – is the symbol of eternity. … He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

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Mosques, Churches, Temples: History’s Most Used (and Abused) Religious Real Estate

Cathedral of Seville, early 16th Century. The Giralda, or bell tower was once a minaret for the mosque that was there previously.

Whenever the neighbors have their friends move nearby, you know the neighborhood is changing.

In most urban (and suburban) areas, this has been a pattern for the last half century: people move in, other people move out, for various reasons.  Then another group displaces the last group.

Religion has also played such a real estate game over the past few millennia.

The recent controversy over the proposed mosque near the Ground Zero site had us at the Neighborhood thinking about how religion played a role in the use of real estate.  I, for one, am not convinced that the proposed mosque in that location is a good idea.  There are better, less confrontational areas to erect a mosque and promote understanding (isn’t the whole project about avoiding confrontation, anyway?). 

Yet this is not the first time buildings and religion has collided in controversy. 

Here is a sampling of other sites around the world that have changed religious hands, sometimes multiple times.  Some resorted to violence, while others simply entered a space vacated by someone else.  There were many others to choose from, but these are my favorites:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece (447-431 BCE)

Like a Times Square callgirl, this old broad has had a rough life.  The Parthenon was designed as a temple to the goddess Athena, the protector of the city of Athens.  It replaced an earlier Parthenon that was destroyed by the Persians, and also served as the city treasury.  Later, under the Byzantines, the Parthenon became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, while the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque in the early 1460s.  After a Venetian bomb exploded the powder stores inside it in 1687, and Lord Elgin made off with the choice goods in 1806, the Parthenon was better used as a backdrop for every Greek diner from Astoria to Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Temple Mount [Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall], Jerusalem, Israel (957 BCE-692 CE)

Sure, people fought over the Parthenon, but never was the fight as fierce as for the Temple Mount.  According to Biblical scholarship (since archaeological digs are forbidden on the mount), the first Temple of Solomon rose at that sight around the mid 900s BCE.  It was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians, and then rebuilt by the Persians in the early 500s BCE.  Herod the Great expanded the Temple Mount in 19 BCE, only to have it destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.  A temple to Jupiter arose from the site in the 130s BCE, starting another Jewish revolt and banning Jews from the city (are you getting all this?).  In 325 CE a Catholic church arose on the mount, followed by more churches, and culminating in the building of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Umayyad caliphs in the late 600s-early 700s.  Three religions considered the place sacred, and the true ownership and usage rights are still in dispute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (532-537 CE)

You got to give Kemal Ataturk credit here.  The first president of the secular Republic of Turkey needed to do something with a building that charged emotions among Christians and Muslims.  The building was created by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I and served as the eastern headquarters of Christendom, later the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Following the Ottoman conquest of 1453, Mehmed II had Hagia Sophia converted to a mosque, adding minarets, a mihrab, a minbar and also covering up or removing the more Christian aspects of the place.  In 1935, Ataturk decided everybody can use it—and nobody can use it, either.  He had the place restored and converted to a museum, and no religious group can use it as a place of worship.  Since Ataturk controlled the voting bloc that had machine guns, his edict settled the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Mosque of Cordoba [Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption] Cordoba, Spain (784-987)

I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Mosque, or Mezquita as its known in Spanish, and it is truly a wonder—even if the Spanish managed to shoe-horn a Renaissance chapel smack-dab in the middle of the thing.  Originally a Visigothic church stood on the site where Emir Abd al-Rahman I decided to build a grand mosque.  Using the original church as a template, the mosque was enlarged and decorated over the centuries.  It became the cultural, political, social and economic center of Muslim Spain, known as Al-Andalus (today’s Andalusia).  When the Christian kings of Castile took it back in the mid 1200’s, the Mosque became a church again.  It’s amazing how much of the original Islamic structure was relatively untouched; that is, until you find the gleaming golden Catholic interior chapel.  Even I find it a little garish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synagogues of Spain: El Transito, Toledo and Old Main Synagogue, Segovia (1300s-1492)

The Catholic Reconquest of Spain (1200s-1492) ended the thriving Muslim culture in Al-Andalus.  It also shattered the other thriving minority culture in Spain: Jews.  There had been Jews in Spain since the Roman period, and they had risen to high places in politics and business.  Yet with the Reconquista, and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition meant to homogenize Spanish society under one church, the Jews were now a pariah and a threat.  Both the Synagogue of El Transito and the Old Maine Synagogue in Segovia defied Christian laws meant to keep Jewish houses of worship small and unadorned.  In fact, both were grand and highly ornate: in the style of the people that tolerated them the most, the Muslim Moors.  After the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, both became churches or parts of Catholic institutions, although now El Transito is a museum documenting the history of Toledo’s Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babri Mosque, Ayodhya, India  (1527-1992)

In 1992, a mob of 150,000 rioters, mostly Hindus, settled a centuries-old debate by destroying a mosque that was built over 400 years earlier.  In 1527, Babur I, first Mughal emperor of India, built this mosque on the site of an earlier Hindu temple.  According to Hindu mythology, the area around the Babri Mosque was the birthplace of the god Rama—even Babur acknowledged this in naming the mosque Masjid-i Janmasthan, or Mosque of the Birthplace.  By the 1980s, a new militant Hindu nationalist movement had agitated to purge the area of Muslim influences, culminating in the 1992 riot.  A commission released a report in 2009 that blames Hindu nationalists and members of the Indian government for the demolition of the mosque.  It didn’t settle matters:  the debate over the mosque’s history and significance, known as the Ayodhya debate, rages today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick Lane Mosque, London, England, UK (1743)

All those other stories were so morbid, so let’s end on a good note.  In London, particularly in the working-class East End, communities have come and gone over centuries, and 59 Brick Lane in the Spitalfields neighborhood of east London has seen them all.  It began as a Protestant chapel for French Huguenots, and it serviced this French exile community for over 60 years.  In 1809, it became a Wesleyan chapel for a group ministering to London’s Jewish community.  This didn’t last long, as it became a regular Methodist church in 1819.  Russian and Eastern European Jews, funny enough, did take over the building in the late 19th century, becoming the “”Machzike Adass” or “Spitalfields Great Synagogue.”  As these Jews migrated to north London, the building was eventually abandoned in the mid 20th century.  In the 1970s, an influx of immigrants from Bangladesh settled in Spitalfields to find work in factories or textile mills.  The now-empty 59 Brick Lane then became the Brick Lane Mosque in 1976, which stills serves the Bangladeshi community of east London today.

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Mr. D’s Guide to the Holidays # 2: Chanukah/Hanukkah

“When you compare Christmas to Chanukah, there’s no comparison. Christmas is great. Chanukah sucks!… First night you get socks.   Second night, an eraser, a notebook. It’s a Back-to-School holiday!” – Lewis Black

Chanukah, the red-headed stepchild of holidays, gets a bum rap, especially from the likes of one of my favorite comedians, Lewis Black. 

True, it is eight days, but the good stuff usually only comes on Day One.  You save on electric bills as your Gentile neighbors make their wattage meters spin like records on a turntable.  Yet you’re still jealous that your house is the only one enshrouded in darkness.  Christmas means all the Chinese food and movie palaces are for the taking (unless you live in Five Towns on Long Island, where you fight for spots with the rabbi’s family with 15 children), but nary a single Chanukah special on the tube to compete with Charlie Brown or the Grinch. 

Is it me, or does the Grinch story seem a little anti-Semitic?  He does, after all learn, that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store.”

Maybe a closer look at this holiday would provide a better appreciation—or simply a further excuse to push it to the margins.

It still surprises people that outside of the United States, Chanukah is a very minor holiday among Jews, even in Israel.  It celebrates a dubious miracle following a victory chronicled in a highly controversial appendix to the Hebrew Scriptures.  The victory in battle is very much a pyrrhic one, as Israel would be conquered yet again within a century, never to see the light of independence until the 20th century.  In fact, the warfare was probably not a freedom fight at all, but rather a civil war between different factions of the same faith. 

Today’s Guide to the Holidays has little to do with dreidels, gelt, latkes or Adam Sandler.  Rather, let’s look closely at the event—and the source material—that spawned this winter celebration.

Here’s the story in a nutshell:

The Selucid Empire of Syria, a Hellenized former client state of Alexander the Great, had ruled Israel since the 3rd Century BCE.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of Syria, ordered that an altar to Zeus be erected in the Temple of Jerusalem, and that pigs would be sacrificed to the Greek deity.  To a Jewish population that had seen a steady stream of persecution since Antiochus’ coronation, this was the last straw.  Mattathias, a Jewish priest, assembled his sons, including Judah Maccabee (which means “Judah the Hammer”), to lead a 2-year revolt against the Syrians.

The revolt was successful, and the Temple was rededicated in 165 BCE.  But according to the story, there was a problem.  There was only enough olive oil in the menorah, the candlestick in the Temple, to burn for one day.  Miraculously, it burned for eight days before new supplies were found.  Hence, the Festival of Lights is born.

One of the great misconceptions of this story is that it’s Biblical.  It isn’t really.  The Maccabee revolt of the second century BCE is chronicled in the books called First and Second Maccabees.  These books, along with a set of others, are a set of writings that have puzzled biblical scholars for centuries.  Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians label them the Deuterocanonical books, meaning that they are important, but not that important to become full parts of the Bible. 

 Jews and Protestants are more blunt—they call them Apocrypha, which literally means “unknown.” They don’t know where these books fit in the grand scheme of things, nor can scholars agree on their origin or authenticity.  Some say they were written in Hebrew, others in Greek.  Saint Jerome claimed they were written in Hebrew AND Greek, using transliterated Aramaic with Greek characters. 

Yet for all its dubious history, 1 and 2 Maccabees has a glaring omission: what about the miracle of the oil in the menorah?

That story is left largely to the Talmud, the great post-diaspora Jewish commentary on scripture, and one of the great masterpieces of religious scholarship in history.  Like so many parts of Judaica, the menorah miracle comes with debated, detailed instructions on how to celebrate the holiday.  It is, to be sure, the only complete depiction of the Chanukah celebration as we know it.

Now that the source material is out of the way, on to the historic event itself, the Jewish revolt.  This leads to a somewhat less rosy view of the Maccabees today: less George Washington, and more Ayatollah Khomeini.

Many modern scholars do not view the Maccabee revolt as a freedom struggle against an oppressive monarch, but rather a civil war between orthodox and reformist factions of the Jewish religious establishment.  It begins with Alexander the Great.  His conquest of Israel resulted in a Hellenization of Jewish society.  Greek architecture, Greek philosophy, Greek culture, even Greek names were permeating throughout Israel, as they did to other areas touched by Alexander’s iron fist. 

Even the Hebrew alphabet, its difficult characters notwithstanding, has an all-too-familiar connection to Greek.  Letters such as Aleph (Greek=Alpha), Bet (Beta), Gimel (Gamma), Dalet (Delta), Lamed (Lambda), etc. show a tight connection, even if the derivation is up for debate.  It’s probable that Greek and Hebrew developed from a common linguistic ancestor, such as Semitic or Phoenician.  Or, as some would argue, Alexander’s Hellenizing machine further Greeked up the Hebrew alphabet as many elite started to Hellenize their own lifestyles.

Mattathias and the Maccabees were not happy about this.

At first, in keeping with Alexander’s customs, Antiochus IV allowed religious freedom, and did his best to mediate a middle path between the Hellenized Jews and the more traditionalist Jews of the Maccabee faction.  Yet when the traditionalists staged open rebellion against the Syrians (BEFORE the 167-165 BCE revolt), Antiochus openly supported the Hellenist Jews, suppressing traditional religious practices and relaxing certain restrictions—especially the dietary laws.  Look at the story of Hannah and her sons in 2nd Maccabees, and you’ll never look at a pork chop the same way again (2 Macc 6:18–7:42).

Hence, the Maccabee revolt can be seen as a fundamentalist backlash against the intermingling of Greek and Hebrew cultures that happened so easily in other parts of the Hellenistic world.   The Greekness of the new society—which also pitted rich against poor, young against old—led more conservative Jews like Mattathias and Judah Maccabee to see this change as a path toward damnation.  It’ll hurt when some Jews read this, but it sounds a lot like the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s. 

So does all this mean Jews shouldn’t celebrate Chanukah?  Of course not. 

It simply means that under all the manic craziness, the fights of latke recipes, the drawing straws as to who’ll light the menorah, even little boys roughhousing over a dreidel, lies a complex, often controversial story that’s important, but not as important as holidays with more religious and historic meaning—the High Holidays and Passover.

It’s just the damndest luck that the Festival of Lights had to occur at around the same time as your Gentile neighbors stringing their lights for Christmas. 

Tonight, however, is your night.  Have a happy Chanukah—and save me some gelt.

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Who “owns” the Holocaust? – The delicate nature of genocide

Sometimes it’s probably best to not lead with a picture, and today is one of those days in the Neighborhood.

Few subjects have as many landmines in the popular discussion as the Holocaust.   It is often extremely difficult to think about this horror in an objective way, and with good reason.  Many people today–Jews and non-Jews, friends, relatives and acquaintances–still have primary knowledge of those horrific years.  My own great-uncle was sent to a concentration camp in Austria during the war.  Another relative was sent to the Russian front, never to be seen again. 

My mind returned to those dark times through a recent Daily News article.  Apparently, the Holocaust Memorial Park in Brooklyn is about to get a facelift by the city Parks Department–adding five new markers to commemorate the non-Jewish victims of Nazi Germany, such as Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.  The local Jewish community is in an uproar over this, stating that the city acted unilaterally and that the additions undermine the Jewish nature of the memorial.  The city is defending the addition as a way to “reinforce its educational purpose to remind us of the historical circumstances of the Holocaust.”

What struck me the most was Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s remark.  Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is an orthodox Jew, represents a heavily Jewish district and is descended from Holocaust survivors.  At a news conference to draw attention to the memorial, Hikind mentioned that “The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish event.”

The fact that the Holocaust is a major, if not the major, even in modern Jewish history is beyond dispute.  Yet to label it as “uniquely” Jewish seemed rather off-putting.  After all, how much should an ethnic group–even one with such a tumultuous history as the Jews–take ownership of a tragedy that imperiled their very existence?

To be fair, in terms of sheer numbers, Jews can easily claim the Holocaust as a tragedy that specifically targeted Jews.  6 million Jews–roughly 60% of the Jewish population of Europe–perished in the slaughter, slashing the worldwide Jewish population by a third. 

Yet other groups also suffered at the hands of the Nazis.  2 million non-Jewish Poles also succumbed to the tragedy.  13.7 million Russians cannot be discounted, either.  There were also 1-1.5 million Gypsies who died, 250,000 physically or mentally challenged people, 50,000 homosexuals, 200,000 Freemasons, 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and thousands of Communists, trade unionists, pacifists, dissenters, and Christian clergy of every denomination.

Most of the actual planning of the “Final Solution” had the Jews in mind as a “storage problem,” as borne out in the transcripts of the 1942 Wannsee Conference in Berlin.  Other groups, however, also sustained persecution in a systematic manner.  Homosexuals had been targeted even before the Nazi period, through imperial Germany’s anti-sodomy law, Paragraph 175.   The T-4 euthanasia program, which targeted the mentally and physically handicapped, became the basis for the methods used in the death camps of the east. 

None of this is meant to belittle the experience of Jews in the Holocaust.  Rather, it is meant to place the suffering of the Holocaust in a broader context, especially in showing the universal nature of Nazi hatred.  It wasn’t just Jews that stoked their fire–ANYONE who wasn’t the Aryan ideal had to be out of the picture, else they ruin the facade.  This is probably the rationale of the city in placing the five new markers.

There is also this problem of “owning” the Holocaust, making it strictly a Jewish experience.  The problem with placing ownership–even if it is deserved–is that it sometimes places an implicit value judgement on another person’s experience.  Yet this is not always the case.  Often, I have found that actual Holocaust survivors are the most empathetic to others who have suffered the horrors of genocide, such as Bosnians, Armenians, and Tutsis.  It is those generations that succeed the survivors that sometimes grips to ownership, that often compare every event to the Holocaust such that no other group could have suffered like they did.

It’s amazing that the more removed we become from the experience, the less objective we can become about it.  In most instances, it’s the other way around.  Much the same problem happens with another sticking point–policies toward Israel.  My Israeli friends tend to take a fairly open-minded, balanced approach to the problems of their country.  Yet many who have, at best, a remote connection to Israel are ready to defend it against any real or perceived slight, often while distorting or ignoring factual information.

As bad as genocidal situations can be, we must often take a step back to look at the facts from a different perspective.  Believe me, looking at any lens, the suffering of Jews and other oppressed minorities in the 1930s and 1940s is a catastrophe beyond compare.  It is a shame that we often have to use rhethoric to drown out the loud, clear voice of fact. 

So if I had to counter Assemblyman Hikind, this is what I would say:

“Assemblyman, I understand your pain and ardor at an arbitrary and unilateral change to a monument in your community.  The fact that community leaders were not consulted is truly reprehensible.  However, your claim that the Holocaust is a ‘uniquely Jewish’ event belittles the suffering your ancestors endured, as well as the suffering of so many more.

Let me be clear: your mother was a hero.  I feel all survivors of the Holocaust are heroes.  Yet you speak as if you were there with them.  You were not, nor was I.  Let us not claim a heroism that doesn’t exist.

As much as the pain of the Holocaust still dwells in Jews across the world, we are now at a point where we can–and should–see these events through a different lens.  Those lenses are the eyes and ears of the millions of other victims who were persecuted simply for who they were.  To label the Holocaust as ‘uniquely’ Jewish diminishes their suffering and demeans the memory of Jewish survivors and victims–survivors like your mother.

The Holocaust–by spirit, and by numbers–is a tragedy shared by many people, Jew and non-Jew alike.  Nothing can diminish its evil; the numbers are simply too staggering to even contemplate.  Yet keeping ownership of this catastrophe does diminish the good that the Holocaust can teach to others.  Future generations have to learn that prejudice and bigotry, in ANY form and against ANYONE, is immoral, unjust and against the tenets of every major religion.  Don’t diminish the suffering of others in glorifying your own.”

Mr. Hikind is more than free to post a response on this blog, if he so chooses.  I’m looking forward to his, any other, responses.

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