Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Politicizing a Tragedy

Member of the Knesset, Michael Oren (Times of Israel)
I have always been a fan of Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. I generally agreed with his political perspective. But not this time.

I find his latest comment - made less than 24 hours after Jews in Pittsburgh were slaughtered - offensive!

In light of that tragedy Oren has called upon his government to recognize liberal Jewish denominations. From the Times of Israel
Deputy Minister Michael Oren said Sunday that in light of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Israel must recognize liberal Jews as a way of strengthening relations between the Jewish state and the Diaspora.
“Liberal Jews were Jewish enough to be murdered, but their stream is not Jewish enough to be recognized by the Jewish State,” Oren tweeted. 
It didn’t take long for the tragic mass murder of Jews - slaughtered for the sin of being Jewish to be politicized and used to forward a political agenda.

Jewish enough?! The murdered Jews were not only Jewish enough, they were holy. They are no different than the 6 million Jews that were slaughtered in the Holocaust who are all correctly referred to as Kedoshim.

When a Jew is killed because of his religion, he is considered a martyr who sanctified God’s name. He is thus assured a place in the world to come. It doesn’t even matter whether or not he was observant during his lifetime. And it certainly doesn’t matter to which denomination he belonged. Or even if he didn’t belong to any! He is a Kadosh – a holy Jew having died ‘Al Kiddush HaShem’.

But none of this legitimizes liberal denominations. That an Israeli public official tries to use this tragedy to push forward a political agenda to recognize liberal movements is disgusting. Their denominations have nothing to do with their holy status as martyred Jews. Nor does that have anything to do with the grief that my brothers and sisters of any denomination anywhere in the world are going through right now. I stand together with them in their moment of grief.  

I also have nothing but praise for the way Jeffrey Myers, the Conservative rabbi of that synagogue behaved under such terrible circumstances. He has been called a hero for saving lives that day and yet said that he will carry regret the rest of his life because he didn’t do enough. He believed that he could have done more to save lives. He was interviewed by a reporter this morning and his words could have almost been said by any Orthodox rabbi. 

In many ways this sad event has generated moments that make me proud to be a Jew. Those who were killed have been described as exemplary human beings in so many ways.  Ways that made an obvious Kiddush HaShem. And the responsible reporting by the mainstream media was as respectful as I have ever seen it. They noticed and pointed out the remarkable nature of each of those that were killed. They were struck by the irony of such exemplary human beings being killed by a man who believed them to be the children of Satan.

This was certainly no time for me as an Orthodox Jew - to point out my differences with liberal denominations. It was not my intention to do so. I am upset that I feel obligated to do so now under these circumstances. But Michael Oren has hastily opened up that door - I feel that I have no choice but to respond.

The sad truth about the demise of liberal denominations can be seen by the age of the victims. It is no coincidence that all of the victims were over 50 years old. In fact, aside from the 2 special needs brothers (ages 54 and 59) they were all over 65! In that light, it is hard to overlook a 2013 survey conducted by the highly respected Pew Research organization noting that a great many young Jews today do not belong to any synagogues and do not identify with any Jewish denomination. Many of them  have even abandoned their religion entirely. 

They apparently have no interest in joining a synagogue. No matter how liberal it may be. Nor do they care if they marry a Jew or even if their children are Jewish. They do not see any real value in being a Jew. The positive values preached by their clergy are not particularly Jewish. They are secular values too. 

What is the point therefore of being Jewish? You can be a great human being and contribute mightily to society without being a Jew.  Intermarriage has become so common that it barely rates mention in the media any more. Except to highlight the fact that if liberal denominations want to survive they better start excepting them as members.

Another thing that struck me was the following from CNN:
Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life congregation, said three congregations -- Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash -- would have been holding simultaneous services in the building on a typical Saturday.
I have no way of knowing the reasons for that.  However, that Eitz Chaim houses three separate congregations might very well be indicative of the shrinking nature of liberal synagogues. It is quite possible that these 3 congregations were once independent - each with a building of their own but have lost so many members that they can  no longer each financially maintain their own building.

This sad fact does not in any way reflect on the sincerity of the martyred Jews that belonged to that synagogue. I honor their memory and envy their place in Olam HaBa.

It pains me to even bring any of this up.  As I said, I had no intention of doing so - as it is grossly inappropriate.  But now that politics has reared its ugly head I needed to respond. The tragedy in Pittsburgh does not minimize the other tragedy. Which is the trend towards the abandonment of Judaism by what seems to be an increasing number of non observant American Jews.

If there are reasons for Israel not to recognize liberal denominations, their imminent demise is among the better ones. Their stated mission (especially as it pertains to Conservative Judaism) to ‘conserve’ Judaism in America has been a dismal failure.The unfortunate facts of which are painfully evident to me and underscored by the above-mentioned observations... EVEN as the tragic spillage of Jewish blood itself overrides any discussion of it. Or at least it should have.

I only wish that Michael Oren hadn’t opened up the subject. Now is not the time to discuss Jewish politics. It is certainly inappropriate to use a tragedy of this magnitude to promote a political agenda. Doing so while the bodies are still warm is an unfair and  pretty disgusting tactic to use if you ask me. But I could not let a comment like his go unanswered.