Archive for category Culture
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller, the Germany clergyman who authored these words, was one of the few who did speak out against Adolph Hitler in the early days of the Nazi party. While the majority of Germans traded conscience for convenience by closing their eyes to the atrocities perpetrated upon their own countrymen, his solitary cry for reason still echoes amidst the silence.
For his troubles, Martin Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and eventually interred in Sachsenhausen and Dachau until his eventual liberation in 1945. He lived until 1984, a voice of penance among the German people.
Among lesser known heroes is Irena Sendler, who risked her life to save some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto between 1942 and 1943. Working secretly as a member of Żegota, the Council for Jewish Aid, and using her position as an administrator for the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, Irena first tried to divert food, clothing, and medicine to Jews in the Ghetto, subsequently going door to door offering Jewish parents a chance to save their children’s lives.
“In my dreams,” she said, “I still hear the cries when they left their parents.”
One by one, Irena smuggled the children out in ambulances, gunnysacks, and body bags, finding families of Polish gentiles willing to take them in. She recorded the name of every child and hid her lists in jars she buried in a neighbor’s yard. After the war, she dug up the names and attempted to reunite the children with their families, most of whom had perished in the death camps.
On October 20, 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo, who broke her legs and feet trying to force from her the names of the families who harbored the Jewish children. Refusing to divulge her secrets, Irena eventually escaped imprisonment and lived out the remainder of the war in hiding.
In 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Irena as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was awarded that year to Al Gore for his movie on global warming.
Few people had heard of Irena Sendler until 1999, when a high school history teacher in Kansas came across a passing reference to her in U. S. News and World Report. Three students began a research project that culminated in their award-winning play, Life in a Jar, which has since been performed hundreds of times across North America and Europe.
Authentic heroism arises from intolerance for evil, from an unwillingness to stand idly by in the face of injustice no matter how improbable the odds and no matter how dire the consequences. Like Moses, who struck down the Egyptian he found beating an innocent Jew, a person of conscience may at any moment find himself facing a critical decision between common sense and common decency, where action appears pointless but where inaction amounts to an alliance with evil. A true hero is one who recognizes that such a choice is no choice at all.
“I could have done more,” Irena said. “This regret will follow me to my death.”
For more information about other unsung heroes, visit the Lowell Milken Center.
The moment the rabbi walked through the door all the students jumped to their feet… and I looked about desperately for a way out of the room.
The rabbi wore a long coat, a wide, antiquated black hat, an untrimmed beard, Coke-bottle spectacles and, incredibly, sidelocks. I knew — I just knew — what was going to happen next: the rabbi would lecture us in a thick German accent and tell us we were all damned to hell. There was no way I could sit through such an ordeal.
Read the whole article here.
The Israelites have been showered with benefits — and now the complaints begin.
The Jewish people are in possession of a perfect and comprehensive system of laws which is destined to have a tremendous positive influence on their spiritual, intellectual, and cultural development. Livelihood is no problem; all their physical needs are provided, and their food descends miraculously from the heavens daily. And then “it came to pass that the people were like complainers, evil in the ears of G-d.”
The verse doesn’t specify what their complaint was; in fact it implies that they didn’t say anything specific. They were “like complainers,” murmuring discontentedly under their breath, showing vague feelings of dissatisfaction. They felt what they had was no good anymore; they wanted more, although they themselves had no clear idea of what “more” exactly they wanted. Whatever the case, this state of mind indicated a lack of gratitude, giving rise to a sense of deprivation. To put it bluntly, they were whining.
What caused them to whine? The Sages’s answer is incisive:
“They weren’t complaining; rather they were resentful. They were looking for an excuse to break away from G-d” (Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar 732).
Several verses later, we see another outbreak of grumbling:
“And the riffraff among them started having strong cravings.”
Again, we aren’t told what they craved. They were experiencing discomfort; they felt something was lacking, but didn’t know what. One thing was clear: they were not satisfied.
Only after this mood of discontent spread, encompassing a larger portion of the people, did their demands take on a definite form:
“And the Israelites, too, sat down and wept, and they said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’”
At that moment, the craving for meat became the central goal, the be-all and end-all for the people of Israel, those same people whom G-d lifted out of Egypt in order to bestow a unique, eternal legacy. But they talked themselves into a craving, and to fulfill that craving, they needed to agitate with all their might. This became their raison d’être, revealing their weak nature.
The craving for meat distorted their mental function; it clouded their memories, causing them to make claims that a person would be ashamed to voice under normal conditions. What were they saying?
“We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
What sort of mechanism was at work here? Is there a logical explanation for their behavior?
The secret of all this is found in the world chinam – “free.” It was a Freudian slip, pointing to what was really bothering them on a deeper level, the real complaint they were ashamed to talk about. The truth was that they were complaining about the yoke of Torah and mitzvos that had been placed on their shoulders, a yoke meant to restrain their wild human impulses, which had run riot in Egypt, even as they were being enslaved and oppressed. The transition from external subjugation to a state of freedom that required character training and self-restraint was too much for them. It made them feel rebellious and conjured up fanciful memories of the delights of Egypt and the fish they ate there for free.
Yes, it was absurd of them to be demanding meat when they had manna from the heavens, offering them the taste of every food in the world. But when the source of their rebellion, the subconscious rationale underlying it, is revealed, then their behavior becomes comprehensible — and considering where they came from, even understandable.
Perhaps we can see something of ourselves here, something of the permissive society that never stops demanding meat, and destroys all that is good in our world.
Read Rabbi Grylak’s full article here.
Thank you, Glenn Garvin, for paying attention. The Miami Herald columnist reports what the rest of us were too preoccupied to notice:
In an order to the University of Montana that they labeled “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” Obama’s Justice and Education departments created a sweeping new definition of sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct.”
(Or, as those more familiar with the English language call it, speech.)
Who gets to define “unwelcome”? The listener and the listener alone — no matter how high-strung, neurotic or just plain pinheaded that person is. The feds’ letter is quite explicit: the words don’t have to be offensive to “an objectively reasonable person” to be considered harassment.
Given that standard of guilt, it’s perhaps not very surprising that the government says anybody accused of harassment can be punished even before he or she is convicted.
Mr. Garvin goes on to identify a partial list of authors whose provocative works stand in danger of censorship under these new edicts: Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and Anne Frank, to name a few. He then continues:
But surely, you say, surely nobody will take the letter of the law to such absurd extremes. And surely you are wrong: They already have. Brandeis University went after a professor for uttering the word “wetback” during a lecture — no matter that he was criticizing its usage.
A janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was disciplined for reading a disapproving book on the Ku Klux Klan. Marquette ordered a graduate student to remove a “patently offensive” quotation by Dave Barry from his door: ”As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”
So what do we have here? If someone takes offense, even where any “objectively reasonable person” would see no cause for offense, the perpetrator is guilty without recourse to due process or appeal.
In a land of political correctness run amok, feelings are the ultimate currency of social interaction. Reason, logic, intellectual discipline, objective reality — none of these mean a thing if there is the slightest risk of hurt feelings.
Or perhaps there is a deeper fear. Not the pain of hurt feelings, but the pain of having to think, the pain of developing a work ethic, the pain of personal accountability. Apparently, the truism of no pain, no gain applies only in the gym and not in the halls of academe.
Is this really what we want for our children? Is it really what we want for ourselves? Or are those questions simply too painful to think about?
Read Glenn Garvin’s full article here.
Rabbi Yechezkel Fox was the heir-apparent to his father’s expanding kosher empire. But that path remained forever the road not taken. Instead, his quiet fishing expeditions and leisurely walks through the British countryside left his mind free to ponder the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. One day he told his traditional parents he was going to Israel to study in yeshiva. Like so many others, they thought he had gone mad.
He would spend the rest of his life pursuing his passion for learning Torah, teaching others and inspiring them to return to the traditions of their people.
Read my tribute here.
Zebadiah Carter describes himself living in “an era when homicide kills more people than cancer and the favorite form of suicide is to take a rifle up some tower and keep shooting until the riot squad settles it.” In 1980, this remark by the main character in a Robert Heinlein novel sounded like the science fiction that it was. Now it echoes like a prophecy.
Random acts of mass violence in the United States still horrify us but no longer shock us. We’ve heard too many stories, seen too many pictures. And too many of them are depressingly the same.
Read the whole article here.
In his letter of resignation to the Superintendent of Westhill Central School District in Syracuse, New York, vetern teacher Gerald Conti describes a litany of problems arising from the unwillingness of administrators to defend educational values against the relentless pressure of ideology and political correctness. But the problem does not begin with administrators; it begins with parents, parents with egos so utterly dependent on the perception of success that they prefer to cripple their children for life rather than hold them accountable for living up to standards that will prepare them for genuinely successful lives and careers.
It is difficult to fathom the lengths to which people will go to tear down educators and their institutions when, by doing so, they can deflect from themselves responsibility for their children’s poor performance, attitudes, or behaviors. No form of malicious gossip, character assassination, or outright slander is taboo, even from individuals occupying the highest levels of communal leadership.
History offers tragic examples of the damage inflicted on individuals and whole communities through irresponsible speech. Innuendo, exaggeration, and outright lies, repeated often enough, seep into the consciousness of even the most well-intentioned people, until the damage eventually becomes irreversible.
Read the whole article here.
At first glance, the soggy, green downs of Ulster bear little resemblance to the parched and craggy hills of Israel. But a gentle tugging at the cultural fabric of either place unravels an unmistakable common thread: two peoples, impossibly close geographically, impossibly distant ideologically, with more than enough fuel for hatred between them to burn until the coming of the Messiah. Tromping over hills and through city streets, however, first in one place and then in the other, I discovered a more compelling similarity: the bitter struggle of humanity in exile.
“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in Belfast.
She dutifully pointed out the Shankhill neighborhood on my map, cautioning me to steer clear of it. I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly.
Read the whole article here.
What would you ask of a time traveler from a hundred years ago? And if you traveled a hundred years into the future, what would you want to tell the people you found there? Perhaps it would sound something like this:
What did you do to handle the overpopulations we predicted? How did you protect the seashores? What did you do to keep the ozone layer intact, the energy supplies, the trees? Have you eliminated ignorance, brutality, greed?
There might be no better way to discover unexamined truths about ourselves then by composing a letter to our grandchildren’s grandchildren. This was certainly on the mind of award-winning essayist Roger Rosenblatt a quarter century ago when he penned his deeply thoughtful Letter to 2086.
Read the whole article here.
Hat tip: David Rich
From Beyond Twelve Gates by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason:
Our persistent need to rank events and people has led to the proliferation of year-end ‘Best of the Year’ lists; Top 10 Sports Moments of the Year, Top 10 News Stories of the Year, Top 10 Gefilte Fish Recipes of the Year (well, maybe things haven’t gone that far …yet). However, an intriguing year-end list, put forth by the Times of Israel, was ‘ Gentiles of the Year 2012.’ One name relatively unknown on this list was Istvan Ujhelyi. Unfamiliar with Mr. Ujhelyi? His name is worth knowing.
After a far-right Hungarian politician called for Jews to be screened as potential security risks, Istvan Ujhelyi, the deputy speaker of Hungary’s parliament, led colleagues in wearing yellow stars as a sign of solidarity with the country’s Jewish community. While presiding over a parliamentary session, Ujhelyi, bedecked in his own yellow star, said, ”One of our fellow deputies stepped over a line that I thought until now could not happen in the halls of the Hungarian national assembly. As far as I know I do not have Jewish ancestry, but should (someone) uncover that I have such roots, I will be proud of them.” Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including a third of the victims who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Hungary’s Jewish population is estimated at 100,000 today, and while physical attacks are rare, an elderly rabbi was insulted recently near his home and Jewish and Holocaust memorials have been vandalized.
Istvan Ujhelyi’s action and words brings to mind the teaching of Hillel (Ethics of the Fathers 2:6) “…..and in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” There are times when circumstances in life require that we go against the tide. Even when no one else has the wisdom or courage to do the right thing, even when everyone else has become part of the faceless crowd, we still must rise to the occasion.