Holocaust Denial and the White House

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For the first time in my memory, a key tenet of Holocaust denialism has been put forth by an official White House spokesman.  Remember please that Holocaust deniers argue that concentration camps were not killing centers, and that there is no evidence that Jews were gassed. (They argue that Jews died from disease, as in any war, and the numbers are greatly exaggerated).    As you undoubtedly now know, Sean Spicer, Press Secretary for our President, has stated that “Hitler did not use gas on his own people”.  After multiple attempts to explain his statement, he has finally apologized, but only after pressure to do so.  The fact that a key tenet of Holocaust denial has been put forth by the official spokesman for the White House should be a cause for concern for every Jewish American, indeed, any American at all.  Recently Dr Gil Kahn of Kean University spoke at my synagogue.  He is a strongly pro-Israel, right leaning politically conservative academic and writer, and an expert on anti-semitism.    He is frankly terrified that for the first time, there appears to be the malevolent presence of neo-Nazi ideology in the highest office in our land.



Bowe Bergdahl proves its time for everyone to serve their country


One of the comments I encounter every day regarding the Bowe Bergdahl release is that “the Israelis do it all the time”-that is releasing countless terrorist prisoners to get one soldier back.  Absolutely true.  However, even in Israel, this act is not without controversy and anguish.  I was in Jerusalem the summer just before Gilad Shalit was released by his Hamas captors in a prisoner swap.  Gilad’s parents had organized a tent protest in front of the Prime Minister’s office and had orchestrated marches in support of their son.  I was there at the tent when Gilad’s parents sat outside in the blazing heat and greeted well wishers.  But there were those who opposed the swap.  Even in Israel, there were many who questioned the decision to negotiate an exchange of violent terrorists for one man.

However here is the difference.  In Israel, most adults have children who serve in the military.  The decision to seek the release of a prisoner echoes in the hearts of every Israeli parent-,up to and including the prime minister.  The “reaction” to Bergdahl’s release in some American quarters, including death threats and the need to cancel a welcome home, indicates to me that before those who refuse to serve send other parent’s kids to war again, it is time to institute required military or civilian service-no exceptions, no exemptions, no deferments.

Let All Who Are Hungry Come and be Exploited

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Being the Boxing Rabbi means that I only train in authentic boxing gyms.  No upscale health clubs for me.  Currently, I train in a gritty part of Orange, NJ, about 25 minutes from my home.  Orange is part of the decaying sprawl that begins in Newark, and ends abruptly in the gilded communities of Short Hills, West Orange, and Livingston.

Every morning on my way to the gym, I pass an intersection that is lined with decaying and closed storefronts.  Milling in front of the shuttered buildings are dozens, sometimes hundreds of Latino men, dressed in work clothes, vying for the few hardscrabble jobs that day.  Every so often a contractor’s truck drives up, workers dash to the window, and after a few minutes a couple of men pile in and drive off.  There is often a cop on the next block, but whether due to laziness, corruption, or compassion he does nothing to halt this activity.

Yesterday, I witnessed something that still disturbs me.  As I was idling in traffic, a powder blue late model Jaguar XK pulled up to the curb in front of the men.  A middle-aged blonde woman leaned over and beckoned to a few of the men.  After some talk, two of them got in the car and drove off.  Clearly, one of the affluent residents of a nearby town decided to cut out the middleman and simply hire  day workers herself.  How thrifty!  How clever!  How her husband must beam with pride as she boasts of driving over to the rough part of town and saving themselves a few bucks by hiring the gardener herself!  Just like those contractors!

This is America in 2014.  A small percentage  enjoy lives beyond imagination, excellent education, food and healthcare, while so many labor in poverty and hardship, with little hope of advancement. There is no indication that anything will change soon.  At the Passover we say, “Let All who are Hungry Come and Eat”.  In America we say,  “Let all who are hungry, come and be exploited”

Men for No Seasons


I am surprised that no one has yet quoted Robert Bolt’s famous monologue from A Man for All Seasons in light of the government shutdown.  In the play, Thomas More risks (and ultimately sacrifices) his life for the principle of the rule of law.  When questioned by a younger man, he responds with these famous lines: “ …And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”  

In the end, this is what the showdown that has crippled our government is about.  A small group of vandals have decided to no longer support the rule of law.   The President has no choice but to stand firm in support of the idea that we are a government of laws.  This may be the worst constitutional crisis since secession, and the media treats it as a game.


The Archbishop Strikes Back

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In an unusually vituperative letter that my Archbishop, John Myers, ordered read in his parishes over the weekend, he attacked all those who have accused him of harboring and protecting pedophiles, both in my diocese and in his previous diocese of Peoria.   My favorite part is the conclusion, in which he proclaims his love for his enemies, but he is sure that God will get them in the end.  By the way, in the Hebrew Bible this punishment is known as karet, extirpation at the hands of God. (on a side note, why can’t guys like him be more creative? He attacks the usual suspects-the media, “political correctness”, “anti-Roman Catholics” renegade priests and clergy, and anyone who is to the left of him. Since I can’t seem to find anyone to the right of him, this is a big group.) He also defends the gifts that a certain pedophile priest gave him, saying that they are no different than the other gifts given to Bishops by priests (who knew?) The fact is that his protection of pedophiles has been well documented.
Here is why I am writing about this- The parish priests that it has been my privilege to know, both here and in my previous communities, are some of the most loving, caring, and devoted souls that exist on God’s earth. They are Holy Servants and caring pastors. They comfort, love and teach their parishioners, and at the end of their lives they have amassed neither fortunes nor personal families-all they have are the thousands of souls they have touched. They deserve better. Also- you are the titular Catholic leader of MY community my colleague, so this is personal. And yes, Archbishop Myers, as you say God will probably punish me for my sins-of that I have no doubt-but the sin of silence will not be one of them.

The Boxing Rabbi Meets the Bedouin

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At the last minute I made a decision to join a small group that was journeying into the Negev today to explore the crisis regarding the Israeli Bedouin.  Our leader and guide was Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a classmate of mine and director of special projects for Rabbis for Human Rights.  Rabbis for Human Rights was founded almost two decades ago by a man I greatly admire, Rabbi David Forman z’l who died just a few years ago.  RHR is dedicated to the proposition that Jewish values should infuse the actions of the Jewish state, and so they have tirelessly and bravely fought for the rights of minorities in the State of Israel, as well as for underprivileged Jews. In recent years, they have worked tirelessly to advocate for the cause of the Bedouin of the Negev.

As some may know, the Bedouin of the Negev, who are Muslim Arabs, were awarded citizenship in the State of Israel following the War of Independence in 1948.  Many young Bedouin have served in the Israeli Army, most often as trackers.  (Some may remember a shameful incident a few years ago when an Israeli Bedouin soldier, killed in Gaza, was the subject of right wing Jewish protests when the Army wanted to bury him in an Army cemetery).

In recent years, the government of Israel has tried to move the Bedouin off their lands into designated cities and have restricted the ability of the Bedouin to remain on lands that the Bedouin have claimed have belonged to their clans for decades.  A recent bill in the Knesset, sponsored by Benny Begin (son of the Prime Minister) would remove 40,000 Bedouin from their homes and relocate them into cities.  This recent proposal has resulted in protests by the Bedouin, as well as vocal protest from some Israeli Jews, most notably Theodore Bikel (Tevye) who compares the removal of the Bedouin to the forced removal of the Jews from Anatevka.

Today we met with the Sheik of one village that has been razed to the ground by the I.D.F.  We met in his Bedouin “tent” (made of tarps and metal) and were served traditional Bedouin coffee while he showed us deeds to the land dating back to the Ottoman Turks.  We then visited a Bedouin village, (located next to  chemical plant) that is under threat of being moved due to the expansion of an Israeli Army base.  We also met with activists from the  Bedouin community.    Many Israelis see the Bedouin as squatters who are making spurious claims to the land.  As a result, the Army has demolished Bedouin homes deemed illegally built.  (remember, these are citizens of Israel).  The Begin bill has had a single reading in the Parliament, and its future is uncertain.  All in all, a distressing day and one which challenges us to balance our nationalism with our commitment to our sacred Jewish values of loving and caring for the stranger.



Is this how we respond to the epidemic of Gun Violence?

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In the wake of the horrific massacre in Newtown, our country for a brief time, reflected on the epidemic of gun violence in America.  All too predictably, our political leaders retreated in the face of overwhelming opposition from gun manufacturers and lobbying groups and failed to pass any national legislation to curb unfettered access to weapons.  Gun regulation, for all intents and purposes is entirely left up to the states and their legislatures.  Like most everything now, there is a pronounced geographic divide.  The Northeast and California have strict gun laws, the West and South make access to guns laughably easy.  Studies have demonstrated clearly that easy access to firearms leads to a direct increase in gun deaths but such statistics are meaningless in our post-rational, post factual world.  For the foreseeable future, our country will be awash in guns.  So, is it any wonder that someone has figured out how to capitalize on parents’  fears of increased shootings in elementary schools?  Simply provide our kids with bulletproof backpacks.  As the saying goes, only in America- and I say that with despair.