JUST ANOTHER HENRY KISSINGER?
Rabbi David Zauderer
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer
In the early part of the 1900's, Jews typically
were not so "clued in" to world news.
Having come from years of persecution and pogroms
in a Europe which was more often than not hostile to Jews, the main question
most Jews had regarding developing news was one thing - is it good for the
Jews or bad for the Jews?
But what was actually going on on the world scene that didn't directly affect
us as Jews here in America or in Israel was nobody's business!
It reminds me of the old joke: Sophie leans out of the fourth floor window
of her Lower East Side tenement building and yells to her neighbor, "Hey,
Rosie, what do you think about Red China?"
To which Rosie responds, "I think it would look great on a yellow tablecloth!"
Well, we Jews have certainly come a long way. Yet, to a certain extent, something
inside us still compels us to analyze breaking news - and especially something
as shocking as having an Orthodox Jew nominated for vice-president - in a
similar way. Is it good for us as American Jews to have a high-profile Jew
in the White House or not?
I will leave that question for the expert Jewish news analysts in the synagogues
on Saturday morning or at the health club or wherever else Jews tend to
I would like to address a different, yet equally important, point which,
I believe, cannot be ignored: There are some of our coreligionists out there
who are downplaying the entire Lieberman nomination, saying that this is
really nothing new in American (or world) politics.
Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a Professor of Humanities at New York University,
notes that we have already had a Jewish prime minister in England, Benjamin
Disraeli (okay, so he was brought up as a Christian!), as well as in France,
Leon Blum in the 1930's.
What's more, he points out, in this country Henry Kissinger, a German-born
Jew, held far greater sway than any vice president.
Other prominent Jews have made similar points since the nomination this past
Monday. The move by the Democrats, they said, is less a breakthrough than
an affirmation of the relative security that Jews now enjoy.
"There's less Jewish pride," said Norman Podhoretz, editor at large of Commentary
magazine, "than confirmation of the feeling that has become more and more
widespread, which is that Jews have found a home in America to a degree they
never have in any other country during 2,000 years of the Diaspora."
And to these prominent Jewish thinkers I say - true, we have enjoyed a relative
security and mass acceptance into the greater American culture - but at what
cost has that security come?
How many Jews literally threw their Tefillin (phylacteries) and other religious
articles into the East River of New York City as soon as they spotted land
- the "goldene medina"?
How many aspiring Jewish businessmen had to break with the 3,000-year-old
traditions of our people in order to finally "make it" in the companies in
which they worked?
How many "yarmulkes" had to be hidden from the view of the gentile boss in
order for the Jewish professional to climb the corporate ladder, only to
be brought out of hibernation for the occasiona l Bar-Mitzvah or wedding?
No, Rabbi Hertzberg and Mr. Podhoretz, et al, Joe Lieberman's nomination
to the vice-presidency in spite of the fact that he is a high-profile Orthodox
Jew who keeps the Sabbath and lets everyone know it, is not an affirmation
and a natural continuum of the American Jew's acceptance into the mostly
gentile world that he lives in. Because that acceptance which the Jew in
the Diaspora so desperately craved came at the expense of his long-standing
and glorious Jewish religion and traditions, whereas Joe Lieberman has risen
to prominence and yet has remained true to his Jewish roots.
If anything, Joe Lieberman's nomination is a reversal of that unfortunate
trend, but an affirmation of a different Jewish tradition.
SANDY KOUFAX AND THE DECREES OF THE
Vaetchanan Moses warns the Jewish nation: "See, I have taught you 'decrees'
and 'ordinances', as G-d, my G-d, has commanded me, to do so in the midst
of the Land in which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and perform
them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who
shall hear all these 'decrees' and who shall say, "Surely a wise and discerning
people is this great nation!" (Deuteronomy 4:5-6)
Now, to me, this is a troubling verse.
I understand how the "ordinances", which are the laws that govern our
relationship with our fellow man, can make a good impression on the nations
around us. When a Jewish Senator from Connecticut speaks out against the
immoral behavior of the President, the gentile world cannot help but be to
But how can "decrees", such as observing the Sabbath and keeping kosher,
etc., show us to be "wise" and " discerning" among the nations?
When was the last time an observant Jew, walking on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn
on the holiday of Sukkos clutching his Lulav(palm frond) and Esrog(citron),
was approached by a gentile who said to him, "Wow, you Jews are really wise
for doing those rituals!"
I remember when, as a child, I used to go to ball games at Yankee Stadium
during Chol Ha'moed(the Intermediate Days of Passover) with my Matzah and
butter and cheese sandwich, which would crumble into a million pieces as
soon as I bit into it. Not once did an Italian come over to me, chomping
on a sausage, and say "Hey, Jew, what a smart idea! I gotta try that!"
So what exactly does the Torah mean when it says that other nations will
see us observing the Torah's decrees, and will be impressed with our wisdom?
Maybe the Torah is telling us that in addition to being a good person, which
is at the very core of the Torah's commandments, it is when we choose to
place the "decrees" of the Torah, those commandments which are not so easily
understood yet which reflect our submission to a Higher Authority, at the
top of our priority list, that we gain the most respect.
Imagine the powerful statement that Sandy Koufax made when he refused to
pitch on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year! What he showed the world
was, that even when you are on top of the world - when you are a Jew who
has finally "made it" - there is still something even more important than
all that, something which even baseball can't hold a candle to.
And when Joe Lieberman is on top of his game, he has reached the second highest
political post in the country, and all we hear about in the media (and in
the chat rooms) is how he plans to keep the holy Sabbath at all costs, (short
of a national emergency, of course), one cannot help but to be impressed
at the discernment and wisdom and good sense of priorities that this Jew
and all Jews who do likewise must have.
The message Joe Lieberman's choice of lifestyle sends out each day is that
G-d and our connection to Him is the most important thing; everything else
is just commentary. And that's a very wise message.
As Joe Lieberman's own rabbi in Georgetown,
Rabbi Barry Freundel, put it, "[Joe's]
not afraid to put life's most important things in front of politics."
I therefore suspect that Joe Lieberman is more Sandy Koufax than Henry Kissinger.
And if the non-Jewish world is (or, at least, should be)impressed by this
display of proper priorities on the part of Joe Lieberman, we Jews should
certainly follow his lead.
We, too, can proudly wear our Judaism out in the open. We, too, can regularly
attend synagogue on Saturdays (and if the future V.P. can walk it, then so
can we!). And even if we sometimes think that by wearing a "yarmulke" out
in public, people will be staring at us (and they will, especially in the
South), we should remember that, ultimately, we will make an very strong
impression on those watching us. We will be conveying to them the "Joe Lieberman
message" - that there are some things in life that are more important to
us, such as our Judaism, than the occasional looks we might get from the
Truth to tell, Joe Lieberman is only continuing what has been the tradition
of our people since time immemorial - to put G-d and His Torah first - before
politics, before our families, before even life itself - as the following
A TRUE HOLOCAUST STORY
It was the end of 1939, and the Nazis had begun
to sweep through Poland, spreading fear and terror wherever they went.
After entering the thousand-year-old city of Krakow, the Nazis began a systematic
roundup of all the Jews. They were to be shot in the forests, and their money
and prized possessions were to be confiscated by the Nazi beast.
On the morning of the second day of the Nazis' military action in the various
Jewish neighborhoods of Krakow, they focused on Miodowa Street, where numerous
synagogues, a well-known Reform temple, and some large apartment houses abutted
a spacious square.
The Nazis ordered all the Jewish men to empty the synagogues of their holy
scrolls, the ornaments, the heavy silver crowns, and the priceless candelabra.
An area of the square was designated as the gathering point for the booty.
There were already a few Torah scrolls there, some shining in beautifully
embroidered white silk, others clothed in gold or purple velvet embellished
with golden thread, others still adorned with silver crowns.
Now the Nazis dragged out little Yisrael, Srulik the barber. "Come on, dirty
Jew!" they screamed. "Hurry up, you lazy swine, there's a lot of work to
do. Gather all the silver and gold in one pile, the candelabra and candlesticks
in another. They're nice and heavy. It took a lot of money to buy all these
holy things, you filthy Jews, ha ha ha! Now put all the crowns in another
"Now undress those fancy Torah scrolls. We can use the silk and velvet. You'll
see they're not so holy after all; they'll strip off their clothes," the
leading Nazi laughed sarcastically.
Srulik went to synagogue only on the High Holidays; a simple, hardworking
man, he did not attend daily services. But he knew how to give respect to
the Holy Torah. He knew the love and awe with which the worshippers took
off its mantle and kissed the scroll before reading the weekly portion.
Srulik used to hear the worshippers in the synagogues on every side of his
house singing and dancing on Simchas Torah, and he would go and join them
in their ecstasy. It was then that he, too, got to hold the Holy Torah. He
clutched her close to his heart; for those moments she was his, and he danced
with her, rejoiced in her.
Now what did they want of him?
"Are you dreaming, you filthy Jew? Didn't you hear me?" the brute yelled.
"Undress your holy scrolls."
Srulik stooped and picked up the one with the white silk mantle, prostrate
in the dust, still dressed with majesty and glory for the High Holidays.
He lifted the Torah to his heart, hands shaking, heart pounding; now she
is all mine. He hugged her with all his strength, kissing her with awe and
"Now undress it and spit in its face!" the beast roared. "Do you hear me?
Step on it; kick it!" Srulik was oblivious to the obscenities all around.
He hugged his Torah closer and closer.
"Do as I command or I'll kill you!" the thug bellowed.
"How can you tell me to disgrace her, you stupid Nazi?
Don't you know us?" Srulik embraced his beloved Torah and danced with her.
He hugged her with ever-increasing strength, leaping ever higher, whirling
with joy. Closer, closer, faster, faster he jumped with his Torah. Hundreds
of anxious eyes watched from the windows, hundreds of trembling hearts prayed
for a miracle. He was good-hearted and simple, this Srulik, and everyone
Two shots pierced the air and the onlookers' hearts: one for Srulik the barber,
another for his Torah. Still embracing, they fell atop the other holy scrolls,
Srulik and his betrothed, united in an everlasting union of love.
This story comes from a phenomenal book about young Jewish girls who
showed great faith and courage during their terrible ordeal in the concentration
camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The book is called "To Vanquish the
Dragon," written by Pearl Benisch, and published by Feldheim Publishers.
It is available at your local Jewish bookstore or by calling toll-free
877-758-3242 or online at
Rabbi David Zauderer is a
card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.