Rebbetzen Kramer and Auschwitz

Someone once said to a Holocaust survivor, “It must have been so horrible in the camps.” The survivor replied, “It wasn’t horrible,” to which the person asked, “How could it not have been horrible?”. The survivor said, “Of course, horrible evil happened in the camps. However, there, people were unable to do most mitzvos, and yet they tried so hard to do whatever they could. In the world today, people are free to do pretty much all the mitzvos, and they choose not to do them, they don’t care, or they don’t even know the mitzvos exist at all. That is worse”.

I read the above on a forum for Jewish women today, and found out that the exert was taken from a book about Rebbetzen Chaya Sarah Kramer- a woman who survived Auschwitz and lived to inspire millions. And as I read this passage, once, twice, three times, I stopped and I thought. Pretty much any Holocaust survivor is an inspiration to me. Simply because, from my point of view, anyone who has been through the horror and darkness that was the Shoah, and come out the other side, is worthy of praise- worthy of listening to and learning from. Some of them tell us they survived because they had no choice. Others tell us that it destroyed them and they wished they hadn’t lived through it. And then we have this quote, telling us that the spiritual state of the world today is worse than what happened in the camps.

I’m just not sure.

I’m not sure how anyone could say that and mean it- how anyone could be on this level- and I’m sure that those of you who read this will provide me with scholarly quotes to back up Rebbetzen Kramer- an inspiration who needs no backing up, as I am in awe of her and am in no way arguing with her. But as I sit here, my mind is thrown back to the quote I posted here yesterday, from Anne Frank. I wonder, if Anne had lived, would she have been a Rebbetzen Kramer? Perhaps, despite her early death, she was anyway. Maybe we can all be Rebbetzen Kramer.

Anyone who lives through something horrific- even if it isn’t the Shoah- and survives when they don’t know how to, in some unfathomable way, going on to try their very hardest to share some sort of light, is just like Rebbetzen Chaya Sarah Kramer to me. Those of us who did not live through the camps can barely imagine what we went through- and yet we can make up for the darkness she faced by spreading light in this world.

Free Speech and Hate Speech

The following article, written by Rabbi Schochet of Mill Hill shul in London, addresses one of the most pressing topics of our time. What is included in our right to free speech, and what crosses the border into hate speech? As religious Jews, where do we stand when it comes to this extremely sensitive discussion- and how do we work out what is and isn’t acceptable?

When Larry David Lost the Plot

I’m a big fan of Larry David. Some might find that inappropriate for a Rabbi to say, but for all his crassness and his crudeness, he calls it as he sees it, and chooses the non-politically correct path in life. Like it or not, he’s a man after my own heart.

But there’s a big difference between being non-politically correct and downright offensive. Featuring recently on Saturday Night Live, Larry made some pretty pathetic holocaust jokes, trying to imagine how he might pick up a girl in a concentration camp. My mother lost a lot of her family in those camps. She herself was spared a similar fate on account of being one of the “hidden children” in Holland. How anyone can make light of one of the greatest atrocities known to mankind, beggars belief.

It comes back to the age old line from Justice Holmes in Schenck v. United States, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” By definition, freedom of speech must be tempered with responsible speech. There is an inherent paradox between the legality of “freedom of speech” and the illegality of “incitement toward religious hatred.” Freedom of speech should never be unbridled. There has to be an element of restraint. Otherwise we can have one freedom or the other but not both.

Whether David realises it or not, his Holocaust “joke” is incitement toward hatred. We cried foul when the Canadian Holocaust Memorial absurdly omitted any mention of Jews. We called out President Trump for neglecting to reference Jews when speaking about the Holocaust. We readily condemn anyone who dares tread on the sacred blood-soaked earth of the various camps, whether verbally, through caricature or outright denial. David might think he could get away with it because he’s a Jew. He neglects to recognise that it is precisely because he’s a Jew, his so-called humour is fodder for Holocaust deniers and an own goal in the battle against Anti-Semitism. The video has gone viral. Internet trolls are rearing their ugly heads using Larry as a stick with which to beat Jews all over social media.

The argument goes that a black man can make jokes about black people just as a Jew can make jokes about Jews. Were one to make a joke about the other they would be deemed racist. No one dares to make light of disabled people, but I have watched wheelchair bound veterans or cerebral palsy sufferers make fun of themselves. There’s something endearing about being able to see the lighter side of one’s own life or identity. By that logic, a Holocaust survivor – not Larry David – might be able to get away with making jokes about the concentration camps. But that’s just the point. No one ever did. It’s no laughing matter. Can you imagine a survivor of a terrorist attack in which others lost their lives, make light about getting blown up?

Arguably, more disturbing than Larry’s grave mistake was the reaction from the audience. To laugh as they did only proves the danger of humour and how it can desensitise groups of people; this, in a day and age when Holocaust education is being strongly encouraged to counter the very ignorance and insensitivity that Larry unashamedly demonstrated. It occurs to me that he could benefit much from some of that same education.

To use your words Larry, your remarks were “Pretttttttty, pretttttttttty, pretttttty ignorant, stupid and downright offensive.” You owe those who perished in the past and every remaining survivor today an apology.
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Thanks to Rabbi Schochet for allowing me to share this article.

Do All You Can

As Yom HaShoah draws to a close, I ponder once again how we can commemorate such a tragedy.

Over the past twenty four hours, I have read numerous inspirational quotes; gazed upon hundreds of stark images; and sat transfixed as survivors recounted the horror of the Shoah. Amidst this horrifying sea of pictures and words, one quote in particular rises to the top of my mind.

I’m handing it over to you. Do all you can.

The Rebbe zt”l uttered these words, and Chabad.org posted them. Is it a coincidence, I wondered, as I gazed at the sepia picture of the Rebbe and read those ten powerful words. Is it a coincidence that this was posted today, of all days?

It’s not.

Silence speaks a thousand words, as I wrote yesterday. But actions speak even louder. And so, we remember those who suffered and those we lost; those who fought and those who died; and as we vow ‘never again’, we also resolve to act. To do something. To do the right thing. To do all that is within our power to prevent something so horrific from happening again.

Do all you can.

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah.
It’s on this day that we remember the Shoah- the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered simply for being Jewish. These Jews were tortured, taken to concentration camps, gassed. Families were split up, and babies were snatched from mothers’ arms as elderly men and women were forced to dig their own graves, then shot. Amidst all this horror, this unspeakable treachery, humanity seemed to be lacking. Kindness seemed to be nonexistent. The promise of new life, a new start, seemed to vanish before our eyes.
But one thing refused to disappear.
Hope.
We can survive for three weeks without food, and three days without water, but we cannot survive for three seconds without hope. So said a famous Holocaust survivor as he kindled the menorah in Auschwitz. But despite our collective hope for the future, no amount of hopeful words seem to commemorate the Holocaust. How can we respond to such a tragedy? How can we remember it? As we think of the six million who perished, no platitudes seem appropriate.
And so, we mourn in silence.
Silence- a silence heavy with unspoken words. But silence alone is apathy. Silence alone is inadequate. Our silence must be accompanied by a resolve, a sheer, unbeatable resolve. A resolve to never forget. To never let it happen again. And to never lose hope.