Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reclaiming "Zionism" - Part I

Over 60 years ago, when the Jews were a beaten and broken nation, Zionism resotred pride to the name "Jew". To be a Zionist was a source of inspiration, to be associated with a little David state fighting an enormous Arab Goliath, the people that had returned to their ancient homeland and against all odds, made her blossom and bloom. Unfortunately, today, the term "Zionist" is often villified and smeared. The slander directed towards Zionism is absolutely disgusting and must be refuted by all decent and good-hearted people.

Zionism is the most natural expression of a Jew to return to his homeland and to control his own destiny with a sovereign state of his own. After suffering 2000 years of wandering, exile, oppression, degradation and outright extermination attempts, the Jew resolved never again to exist on the sufferance of the gentiles, but to live as a free people in his own land. The exiles by the rivers of Babylon lamented, "How can we sing the song of the Lord on foreign soil?" Truly, Judaism in exile was incomplete, missing its glorious redemptive component. Only in the Land of Israel can the Jewish people attain their full potential and develop its culture, religion and language. In a majority gentile society, Judaism is under constant threat from the twin demons of anti-semitism and assimilation. It is only in an independent and free Jewish state where these fears disappear.

Any attempt to make a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism is artificial and contrived. Since its inception, the national component of Judaism has been essential to its theology and beliefs. Especially today, when most Jews no longer follow the traditional Jewish faith in its authenticity, the identification with the people of Israel has grown more important. Somebody who denies the legitimate right of the Jewish people to their land, claiming to simply be anti-Zionist, is an enemy of the Jewish people. The singular reason for the denial of this principal right of self-determination which is accorded to all other peoples of the world is anti-semitism. Let every opponent of Israel who claims not be an anti-semite realize that the only final result for the Jews of Israel, upon Israel's (G-d forbid) destruction, will be nothing other than death. Many hold the mistaken worldview of a Zionist imperialism threatening the peace of the region. This view is unfounded and the complete opposite of reality. Zionism is a national liberation movement with the intention of impowering an oppressed people. It is opposed by a very poweful and violent Arabic and Islamic imperialism dedicated to cleansing the Middle-East of non-Arabs and non-Muslims. Any person who claims to be a liberal and support the rights of indigenous peoples against aggression should rally to the cause of Israel, the only nation in the world to be living, 4000 years later, in the same country, called by the same name, speaking the same language and following the same faith.

When so many defame and accuse Israel of the most vile of things, it is our duty to defend her. Just as Zionism once restored pride to the title "Jew", every Jew must restore pride to the title "Zionist". Zionism and Judaism are inseperable, being conceived at the same time. Judaism was created when G-d called our forefather Avraham from Haran and Zionism came into being when He promised his descendants the entire Land of Canaan. Zionism has contributed so much good to the world, from scientific advances to democracy and tolerance. It is faced by the cruel and genocidal forces of barbarism and savagery. Should Israel fall, the rest of the civilized world will shortly follow.

Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard and Jewish Vengeance

Monday, May 26, 2008

Arrival in Israel and Jerusalem

May 8th

But a few short hours ago, we were at the gates of death, Treblinka. I sit in the rebuilt Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Driving into the city, it is clear that the Holocaust did not mark the end of the nation of Israel. As dawn broke, we made our way down the holy streets until we reach the Kotel. My heart swelled at the sight of the last remnants of our Holy Temple. I prayed with all my heart and marvelled at the beauty of our city.

The contrast between here and Treblinka is amazing. In Poland, I was an unwanted stranger, a foreigner, someone hated and loathed. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, I am home. This is where I belong. The sound of Hebrew and the familiar sight of living, breathing Jews makes me giddy. For a week I had seen nothing but traces of a glorious Jewish past and scars of a terrible destruction. The nation of Israel lives.

Kibbutz Ramat Rachel is set in the scenic Jerusalem mountains. A full Israeli breakfast awaits us. I almost cried with joy at the Israeli salads, eggs, borekas, teats, veges, etc. After a week of eating packaged deli meats in Poland, fresh food is a mechayeh.

Still early, we drove to the Dead Sea. I floated, took a mud bath, tanned, swam in the sulphur pool and showered. The sun on my skin is such a great feeling. We ate the most delicious grilled pita pizzas.

That night was Yom HaZikaron. On a hill overlooking all of Jerusalem, we had a memorial ceremony. It was extremely touching to realize that the only reason why I can walk freely in Jerusalem is because of the sacrifice of these young soldiers. Their ages were astonishing. So many feel so young and now lie coldly in the ground just so I could raise my head proudly as a Jew. This legacy of both pain and pride is written on the face of every Israeli.

May 9th

We started the day off at the by saying the Shehecheyanu prayer overlooking Jerusalem. I am so thankful to G-d that He has preserved me and brought me to this moment. Afterwards, we explored the ancient Jewish Quarter. Spending so much time in Poland, it boggled my mind to see a city entirely designed for Jews, and suited to our unique needs. There were kosher restaurants, synagogues, mezuzot and all the Jewish paraphernalia everywhere. We searched for shawarma and devoured it with great gusto.

At night, we had a ceremony marking the end of Yom HaZikaron and the beginning of Yom HaAztmaut at Mini Israel. The transition was overwhelming. We went from the depths of sadness and loss to complete joy. We danced and sang, celebrating 60 years of Israel’s existence and miraculous accomplishments. We took part in the largest simultaneous anthem singing ever, joining Jews all over the world in singing HaTikvah.

May 10th

Today is Yom HaAtzmaut. We celebrated by marching through the streets of Jerusalem. It began with a concert in the square outside of Jerusalem’s city hall. We then proceeded, accompanied by music, down the streets, around the walls of the Old City and finally to the Kotel. Imagine how many thousands of generations of Jews only dreamed to see Jerusalem and how I have been privileged to fulfill their aspirations. While our first march between Auschwitz and Birkenau was solemn, this march celebrated our survival and thriving.

We visited Latrun, the tanks museum and military memorial. It was extremely interesting. We had an MOL mega-event with 6000 people. It was an outdoor concert and show in an amphitheatre. Shai Gabso, one of Israel’s most popular singers, performed. It was so much fun.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Never Again?

Having posted my experiences in Poland, before I post about Israel, I feel that it is important to draw some lessons from the horrors of the Holocaust. Clearly, the Holocaust was the worst crime ever perpetrated by humanity. It is our duty to ensure that it never occurs again, either to the Jewish people or to any other nation. Did we learn anything? Is the world any different? Is there hope?

As Hitler intensified his persecutions of the Jews, culminating in the pogrom of Kristallnacht in 1939, the world decided to close its doors to those who needed asylum the most. During the war, when Allied intelligence reported the extermination of European Jews, the world still chose to keep silent. Allied airplanes even bombed a factory attached to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex yet didn't feel that bombing the gas chambers or crematorium was an important goal. There was a conspiracy of silence against the Jews: half of the world tried to wipe us out, while the other half prefered to sit silently and watch. Only once the war was over did world leaders open their eyes to their complicity and began to realize how they could have prevented such a tragedy. If only we had known before! If only we saw! Never Again, they cried as they cried crocodile tears for the murdered Jews. They beat their chests in anguish and pledged never again would they be apathetic in the face of hatred and genocide. Unfortunately, 63 years since the end of the Holocaust, their words ring hollow.

Since 2003, Arab janjaweed militia backed by the Sudanese government have been systimatically murdered, raping, torturing and killing black Darfuris. They have massacred entire villages and destroyed food and water sources to exacerbate the drought and famine. About 400 000 thousand lives have already been lost. While some may claim (erroneously) that the Holocaust was hidden from public knowledge, no such thing can be said about Darfur. The horrors of ethnic cleansing, massacres and rape have happened in full view of the international community. Endless parades of diplomats, world leaders and officials have visited Khartoum with sporadic, unclear and incoherent messages. Diplomacy has failed the people of Darfur as thousands are slaughtered each day. We are our brother's keeper. It is not enough to build museums and monuments after the genocide, but to stop it or prevent it from happening in the first place.

Neither has the world learnt the dangerous and deadly results of unchecked anti-semitism. In recent weeks, violent attacks against Jews have taken place in Los Angeles, New York and London. In LA, a 58-year old man wearing a kippah was attacked by two men who called him a "dirty Jew" before punching him and beating him down. The police report a steep rise in anti-semitic attacks, including vandalism and a improvised bomb at a Jewish community center. In Germany, an Arab man was sentenced to three years in jail (only?!) for stabbing a rabbi repeatedly. Walls, shops and sidewalks outside four synagogues in northeast London Clapton Common and Stamford Hill neighborhoods were desecrated with anti-Jewish graffiti last week. The slogans called for 'Jihad to Israel' and 'Jihad to Tel-Aviv'. A 16-year old Jewish boy was severely beaten and mugged last week. A Jewish man living in Ireland last week had his home defaced with Nazi symbols and swastikas, with the slogan "Go Home, Jew". In fact, anti-semitic incidents are up almost 400% worldwide in recent years. It is actually the most worrisome increase in attacks since the Second World War. Violent attacks and desecrations of synagogues and cemetaries is commonplace in much of Europe. Jewish communities, such as those of Paris and London, feel as if under siege and live in constant danger. In Western Europe, fanatical imams incite their flocks against the Jews and the Zionists, the source of all of their problems. In the East, where the Muslim population is insignificant, neo-Nazi groups are undergoing a revival. During the first year of the commemoration of Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, it was defaced with swastikas five times.

This anti-semitism is not only the workings of hateful individuals or fringe groups. For the first time since Hitler, there is a world leader publically calling for the destruction of the Jewish people. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced his intentions to "wipe Israel off the map" and called the Holocaust "a myth", even holding a conference to spread his poisonous denial. Ahmadinejad threatened, on Yom HaAztmaut, that Israel will soon be destroyed. "The Zionist regime is dying," said Ahmadinejad during a speech in northern Iran. "The criminals assume that by holding celebrations ... they can save the sinister Zionist regime from death and annihilation... Nations of the region hate this criminal fabricated regime [Israel] and will uproot this fabricated regime if the smallest and shortest opportunity is given to them." His terminology is very reminiscent of Nazi speech as he dehumanizes Jews and demonizes Israel, calling it a "cancer" and insisting on its demise. These are not the mere rantings of a lunatic. Ahmadinejad is rapidly advancing his country's nuclear arms program which he will certainly use as a weapon to bring about his hoped-for destruction of Israel. Iran is responsible for arming Hizbullah and supporting them during their war with Israel, two summers ago. Hizbullah's leader, Nasrallah, an Iranian pawn, made very clear his genocidal intent when he said that "the Jews should all gather in Israel to save us [Hizbualllah] the trouble of going after them worldwide." Just as people prefered to do nothing as the Jews chocked to death in the gas chambers or burnt in the ovens, thinking that Hitler was "just a Jewish problem", the world does not condemn Ahmadinejad for his incitement to genocide. Quite the contrary- he was even invited to spead before the UN, granting him worldwide legitimacy.

Once Iran bombs Israel, G-d forbid, the world will be quite to realize its fault. Leaders will beat their chest in sorrow and cry bitter crocodile tears at their willful blindness. Surely, monuments will be built to commemorate the now-extinct Jews. International money will pour in to build museums to memorialize the tragedy and people will use this blood money to atone for their collective guilt. No! This is not enough! Now that there is still a chance, Ahmadinejad must be brought to justice for inciting hatred against the nation of Israel. We do not want another Yad VaShem or a Holocaust memorial day. What we want is for the world to wake up and to make good on its promise of never again. As Jews, we must know that the world will never realize until its too late and that we cannot go once more like sheep to the slaughter.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka

May 6th

After a 3 hour bus ride from Lublin, we finally arrived in Warsaw. We visited the immense cemetery of Warsaw which dates back to medieval times and contains hundreds of thousands of people. The richness of the ancient city’s Jewish community is outstanding. The cemetery is full of old monuments and tombs of famous rabbis, scholars, professors and writers. We toured the cemetery and read the incriptions, until we noticed a large empty space marked by black lines. The tour guide explained that this is a mass grave for those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. 70 000- 80 000 bodies are buried in that little space, without even a tomb marker. They are nameless, without monument or identity, unmourned with no kaddish or shivah. I was asked to recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer and a surge of emotion came over me as I pleaded with HaShem to remember and have mercy on those poor souls who died.

Later on, we toured the ghetto, little of which is left. Only a few fragments of the walls survive. The ghetto best captures my feelings in Poland: constricted, restrained, trapped. I am not wanted here.

Walking into Umchlagplatz, the train depot from which 300 000 Jews were sent to Teblinka, I was in awe. It was the last stop for hundreds of thousands before the gas chambers, and I could walk out freely. I cried when the madrich said that we would not be going to our deaths but priviliedged to fulfill the dream of thousands: going to Eretz Yisrael.

It is astonishing to see Poles living in formerly Jewish areas. Next to the remaining ghetto wall are apartments and the Poles living there yelled at us for trespassing. At the heart of the ghetto, the Poles felt the need to erect a huge crucifix in honour of one of their saints, and a huge church sits on the main street. Not only were the Jewish bodies desecrated but the Jewish soul is spat upon. Cable cars with Kitkat advertisements run on the same haunted tracks as cattle cars used to. Have the Poles simply forgotten or chosen to forget? I think the little Jewish figurines holding money bags, sold at the hotel giftshop, answers my questions.

One final ceremony with all of the Canadian delegates was held at the Warsaw University. A righteous gentile who saved 25 Jews, and a few others were honoured. I am eternally grateful to their heroism. The Holocaust survivors also spoke. They are filled with such courage and inner strength. They suffered such horrors yet they have returned to the land of their torment to teach us. After that, 300 delegates sand Hebrew songs and danced, bringing Jewish music back to the city where it was extinguished 63 years ago.

May 7th
A short 3h drive from Warsaw is Treblinka- death, destruction, torture. There is nothing left of the camp as the Nazis tried to hide all evidence. It is surrounded by a lovely forest, growing from the ashes of murdered Jews which the Nazis used as fertilizer. At Treblinka, there is a stone monument representing the train tracks to oblivion. Stones stretch as far as the eye can see, representing communities that are no extinct. Over 17 000 communities were wiped out at Treblinka. Where the gas chambers used to stand, there is a large monument with engraving of chocking Jews in their last moments.

Treblinka means death. It is but a short distance from the trains to the gas chambers. Arrivals were greeted by an orchestra and were given postcard to send to their loved ones. Deceived, they were sent to the gas chambers.

We sang Ani Maamin like so many did in their last moments. We then proceeded to walk out alive from that factory of death.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Majdanek and Shabbat in Lublin

May 2nd

In the morning, we drove to see the medieval Jewish cemetery of Lublin. It is filled with rabbis, mystics, scholars, etc. Lublin was once considered the Jerusalem of Poland, with an extremely strong and vibrant Jewish community. It was the site of the famous Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin. What is incredible now is that unless one knows to visit a Jewish cemetery or synagogue, one would have no idea that Jews ever lived there. A mezuzah, a kippah, or a kosher restaurant will not be found.
Smoke and ashes. This entire civilization vanished in the gas chambers and torture of Majdanek. Majdanek is hell on Earth. In that evil place, tens of thousands of people were brutalized, dehumanized, sadistically tortured and murdered. They lost everything. All that is left of them is a mound of ash. This accursed camp sits but a few minutes from the heart of Lublin, not hidden away in some remote area. On its edges, there are homes which have stood there since the day when its furnaces burnt human flesh.

We began our day at Majdanek at the huge monument of 6 scarred pillars, symbolizing the 6 million, with steps leading down through a valley of jagged rocks, representing the valley of the shadow of death. We then took the same path as the inmates of Majdanek took upon entering. The accursed villa of the commandant stood mocking the pain adjacent to it. We read testimony of survivours describing it as a lovely house, complete with a white picket fence, a garden, pets and a loving family. The banality of evil shocked me.

At the entrance to the camp, with a sign reading “Bath and Disinfection”, are the experimental gas chambers. When we entered the gas chambers, where so many went to their deaths, I broke down. The walls are stained blue from the Zyklon B and covered in scratches. I touched the walls and jumped back from shock. I was crushed by the pain of those gasping for their last breathe of life. The cruelty of our enemies is outstanding. Amazingly, as we left the gas chambers, alive, unlike thousands, we were hugged and comforted by our survivours.

In one barrack stood thousands upon thousands of shoes taken from those who were killed. Who wore them? They sit silently, eternally forlorn. Among the multitudes of grey, I noticed one pair of red shoes. Did the bearer believe herself to be going to a safe haven and wore red to celebrate? I will never know.

At the end of the camp, we saw the prime gas chambers. And inspiring site was yarzheit candles lie on the dissection table where Jewish prisoners were forced to search the bodies of the murdered, and a survivor recited kaddish over it. The evil commandant’s bathtub build next to the crematorium and heated with the suffering of our people, glared wickedly. The crematorium was ablaze once more, but this time not with human corpses, but with yarzheit candles.

The last sight was the enormous mountain of ashes, in a domed monument outside. I cried as I thought of how many people vanished into smoke and dust, leaving nothing but ashes in a mound. They have no tombstone, no yarzheit, no name. Nobody sat shiva for them or recited kaddish for their souls. Tearfully, we said kaddish for them and sang the Shemah, indicating that the Jewish faith has not died.

“Shemah Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad!”

May 3rd

Shabbat in Lublin was an interesting experience. Our hotel was located directly opposite the seat of German occupation government during the War. We lit Shabbat candles Friday night and then had dinner. Spontaneously, we broke out in song and dance for well over an hour. Broken from our morning visit to Majdanek, we all somehow felt the need to greet the Shabbat with joy.
Shabbat morning, we had an upbeat service in a room above the lobby, ironically looking out on the building where the cruel plots against our nation were hatched. 63 years later, we prayed with all our might and sang the Shabbat praises. As one of our Holocaust survivor was called to the Torah, I felt a wave of emotion. The Torah is still alive.
After Shabbat lunch, we made our way to the famous Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin. It is quite ornate although tragically silent. Its libraries which one held thousands of seforim were empty. When the Nazis conquered Lublin, they made a bonfire of all of the holy texts, outside the Yeshiva walls. To hide the bitter weeping of the Jews forced to watch, they had an orchestra play. In the yeshiva, we studied Talmudic texts and then sang Jewish songs of life, in order to drown out the wicked music of the Nazis. “Coincidentally”, one guy had been studying a daf yomi and completed the tractate that day. We held the siyyum in the yeshiva and the sound of Torah once again returned to Lublin.
At night, we had a beautiful havdallah with participants all from all over Canada.

One thought that kept running through my mind is how Jewish life in Lublin simply vanished. It breaks my heart to think of the hassidim who no longer sing and dance, the yeshivot that sit silent, that Torah scrolls that grow dusty and the synagogues that will never again see another bar mitzvah or wedding. Even though we still live, the shtetl culture and the Yiddish language have been murdered. Did the streets of Lublin really once teem with Jews? Was it really the Jerusalem of Poland? It seems impossible, like a dream. It surely disappeared in the ashes of Majdanek.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Krakow, Placzow and Auschwitz-Birkenau

With the goal of perpetuating the legacy of the Holocaust and of describing the incredible miracle that is the State of Israel, I will share excerpts from my journal. I will post some more every few day

April 31st, 2008

We landed in Krakow late morning. We drove to the Placzow labour camp in the outskirts of the city. Nothing remains of this torture facility and mass grave. Across the streets from this place of evil are restaurants and shops. Without the stone monuments commemorating the murder that went on there, the Polish sunbathers might tempt you into believing that this is nothing but a lovely park. One of the survivors who accompanied us on our trip, told us about her experiences in Placzow and how her little cousin of 6 was shot by the Nazis on the very ground on which we sat, and how his resting place is unknown. It was extremely moving.

We toured the Kazimicz region of Krakow, the Jewish Quarter. We saw the synagogue of the Ramah, and the medieval cemetery attached to it, full of legendary rabbis. The stories told of the amazing feats and miracles that they performed were quite amazing. Krakow had such a rich Jewish history; everything remains he same, with lovely synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish symbols- except there are no more Jews. It is incredible to this that an entire community of tens of thousands of people just vanished, gone. We saw the remains of the ghetto and were witnesses to how this most vibrant community was forced into such a small area. Jewish life in Krakow has disappeared. And the Poles continue to live, unabated.

May 1st

Auschwitz, the most evil place on Earth, is a museum. Gone are the trains, the snarling dogs, screams, ashes rising from the chimney. It is cleaned up, sanitized, almost plastic. It was very difficult to imagine the horrors that went on there through the crowds of marches and giggling girls. Auschwitz left me cold as we rushed from exhibit to exhibit with barely time to process. It was very disturbing to see a place that was literally hell on Earth, behind glass, with signs and displays.

The March itself was not what I expected. It was hard to maintain the mood because of the enormous mass of people. It was inspiring, though, to see 15 000 Jews draped in Israeli flags marching the same march of death between Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Birkenau was an unsettling sight. One enters the accursed gates to see a line of trees, train tracks, barracks and ruined chimneys. At the end of the camp, we had a ceremony with survivors, the IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, chief rabbi of Tel-Aviv, HaRav Meir Lau, and a choir. Ashkenazi, as head of the IDF, vowed that never again will Jews be weak and powerless and that never again shall we allow Jewish blood to be spillt cheaply. The chazzan led us in a moving prayer and I’m sure that he pierced the heavens with his cries.

Finally, we stood in a cold and dark barrack and lit yarzheit candles. Survivors shared with us their experiences. It was chilling to be in the very place where they endured such torment. Afterwards, we prayed a quick minchah in the barracks at Birkenau. Imagine the beauty and absurdity of the scene: Jewish prayer continues in a place where our foes tried to wipe us out but 63 years ago.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I just got home at 4 in the morning. I'm exhausted but I had the best time of my life on MOL. I'll post later.