PACKERS CORNER: Time to Legalize Havat Gilad

Tonight is the Yahrzeit of my Grandfather, of beloved memory, Huna Leib (Lionel) ben Aharon (Packer). Anything good that comes from this installment is dedicated to the spiritual elevation of his precious soul. He was a wonderful man and an even better Grandfather!

Speaking of death, the carnage in northwest Syria continues and seems to only be getting worse. While the Turkish army is making slow but steady progress against the Kurdish defenses, it seems more attention should be focused on the Syrian “rebels”. They are not only fully participating in the fighting, but many videos and pictures have emerged of terrible atrocities they are committing. If this surprises you, I suggest you move from Antarctica to somewhere with access to some form of worldly information. Its difficult to envision the Kurdish forces hanging on, but we can hope and pray. No country is currently more involved in attacking the Jewish Presence in Jerusalem than TURKEY! That my surprise some folks, but evidence is everywhere here in the Old City.

The saga of officially recognizing Havat Gilad as a legal community continues for another week. Now the Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, promises there will be a final cabinet vote on Sunday. To help understand the significance of this potential move, I have included a picture of a map of the area. If one looks closely, Havat Gilad sits in between the Jewish communities of Kedumim and Yitzhar.

On this specific map and in most “peace plans”, the yellow and black line is that of the proposed security fence/possible future Israeli border. Kedumim in inside the line, but Havat Gilad and Yitzhar are outside. By recognizing Havat Gilad, everything gets closer to Yitzhar. Yitzhar sits on the north side of the arab village of Huwara. This is quite a hostile area for Jewish motorists to traverse to get to the nearby Jewish Communities of Yitzhar, Bracha, Itamar and Elon Moreh. Similar to the Hevron area farther south, there is no real possibility for a contiguous “palestinian state” if the Jewish presence remains in this area. The current Israeli Government has promised to build a bypass road around Huwara. If that happens, based on previous similar examples (think/google Tekoa and the “Lieberman Road”), development should skyrocket. Starting to understand why Havat Gilad is so important? If not, pm me. I love the attention.

Investigations of the Prime Minister continue and the Government Coalition remains obscenely stable.

This week, Poland is claiming not to be historically anti-Semitic and not to have been involved in the killing Jews in the Holocaust. Not really sure what to say about this other than to simultaneously think of every dumb polack joke I have ever heard. Those folks got a real talent.

Finally, there’s a whole to do about the planned upcoming deportation of African infiltrators from Israel back to Africa. Personally, I don’t see why the black hebrews can’t be thrown in (out) as well. In short, people who live far away from and are not personally affected by them think we should let them all stay, because why the hell not?  And those who live with/interact with them, vehemently want them to go. Seems to be a recurring pattern. I would like to make a suggestion: those advocating for the infiltrators to stay should threaten to go to Africa with them, in real solidarity, if they get deported. Even better, they should sign legal paperwork guaranteeing it. Or would they prefer to wax self-righteous all the while preaching from their exclusively ashkenazic high income ivory towers. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what they decide.

Crossing Paths with Professor and Writer Elie Wiesel

Freud observed that to mourn and to move on you have to know what you have lost or mourning can turn into a permanent melancholy.

I have never seen any photographs that connected my mother to the extended family she so often talked about. I was frightened, confused, and also ashamed that I did not believe her. In order for my child’s mind to reconcile something I could not comprehend, I had decided that my mother had made this family up, that those people never existed.

As a child I remember my mother, mourning her five nieces and nephews. “So young and innocent, they should be among the living,” is what she repeated, often. Growing up with this made me a witness to what had happened. For my first twenty years, I went from feeling sympathetic to feeling nothing but contempt. I was angry and also overwhelmed for being connected to my mother’s ongoing grief.

We were living with the ghosts of my mother’s vanished family. Her decision to run away from Warsaw after the German invasion haunted her all her life. A young woman of twenty-two, she said good-bye to her entire family, thinking she would be back in a few weeks. To stay alive, she had to keep going east into the unknown on trains crammed with other refugees. She found herself deep in Stalinist Russia, far from home and family, full of remorse and regret. But this decision saved her life.

Throughout my childhood I saw never any evidence that my mother’s family actually existed. I tried to understand how they could have vanished, Adek, Sala, and Anja, their 5 children. I grieved with my mother, although in truth, I could not comprehend how her family could have just disappeared. I had never seen any photographs to prove they had existed. I was ashamed that I did not believe her. I decided that my mother had made those people up.

I was frightened by my mother’s stories about surviving the bombing of Warsaw and the six years of war. Overwhelmed, I looked for ways to feel safe. I focused my attention on what I perceived to be my mother’s incredible adventure in Russia. I tried to picture her living in exotic, interesting places: the beautiful cities of Saratov and Moscow where she even experienced romance and love. She lived in Uzbekistan, in the desert, under a hot sun, and ate exotic food. I never allowed myself to see her hungry or sick. My mother was heroic and strong, splendid and beautiful in her tailored black coat. From those early childhood stories, I decided I wanted to be like her, to travel, to go to unusual and faraway places. I remembered that when I was still a child all I ever wanted was to follow in my mother’s footsteps. After all I was my mother’s daughter. I inherited her spirit. We saw the world through the same set of eyes. When I traveled to Israel, to study ancient and present cultures, it was like revisiting the landscape of my childhood. I got to work under the hot sun, live in a tent, ride a camel and like my mother did in Uzbekistan eat exotic food. I excavated in the desert at Tel Beer-Sheva. I observed the lives of Arab men and women, evoking my mother’s stories of strange lands.

Professor Elie Wiesel was instrumental in my translating, researching and eventually publishing my book, based on my mother’s journals.

But my awakening to the dark period in the chapter of our Jewish Polish history happened earlier, in 1971-1974, at City College of NY when our paths crossed while I was taking his classes at the department of Jewish studies. Here the things that bewildered me as a child growing up in communist Poland in the shadows of the Holocaust aftermath started to make sense. When Prof. Wiesel introduced us to his experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps, I started to understand my parents. Reading his books made me realize that although my parents were survivors, that in losing their entire families, they could not escape their past. I was already in my late twenties when I first understood the importance of the stories my mother passed on to me throughout my childhood. When I told Wiesel about my mother he said, “Your mother must write her story. Future generations must know. You must help her to do it.

In the words of Elie Wiesel “silence is never an option.” So at great risk to her sanity and her health my mother agreed to commit her memories to paper and I was left with a greater understanding which in turn allowed me to confront the ghosts of my childhood.

Throughout my life I was torn between letting go and staying connected to my complicated history, somehow I continually found myself being pulled back into my mother’s world despite myself. My conscience would not allow anything else. And with my mother’s death, memories became sacred. On the day my mother died and for the next six years I entered my mother’s world and confronted my childhood in Poland. And Wiesel’s words would never leave my consciousness. “Not to be afraid of the journey ahead.”

I was born in communist Poland after the war, where I lived with my family until the late 1960s. Before leaving for America, I attended High School, Szalom Alejchem in Wroclaw. I graduated from CCNY with a BA in Anthropology. I received my MA in Archaeology from UCLA, and was awarded a grant, allowing me to conduct research and travel to Poland and Israel. Meeting professor and writer, Elie Wiesel, through the Department of Jewish Studies at CCNY, I realized the importance of Holocaust survivors’ stories. I insisted my mother write down her incredible accounts she shared with me throughout my life. Ultimately, I addressed the trauma of growing up in the shadows of Holocaust aftermath and how this trauma is transferred between generations. For me, the 2G, I had no way of knowing, but the seed for writing “Memory is Our Home” was planted in my childhood. Looking back in time, I know now that my entire life was a preparation, to be “a memorial candle”. I assumed the burden of my parents’ emotional world and I became the link between the past and the future. This history is embedded deep in my memory, my soul, it is part of my DNA.

My book, Memory is Our Home was published April 2015:

Opting Out of Freedom

During the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, a young woman found herself traveling on a packed tram. She was Jewish but living in hiding and pretending to be a non-Jew so as to save herself and the few people in her family who were still alive. The tram was not only packed to the brim, but also filled with German officers, raising the risk of her being caught.

The woman was sitting next to a Polish peasant woman who was in town to sell produce. At one point during the ride, an insane impulse grabbed hold of the woman, and she suddenly reached out and pinched the peasant’s leg, right there, in the middle of the packed tram, crawling with Germans.

This could have been the end of her. The Nazis could have grabbed her and snuffed out her life, as they did with millions of others. The reason I know she did not meet her end is that I would not be here to tell the story if she had: The young woman was my grandmother.

What happened? The peasant woman did not scream out in pain or curse my grandmother. She kept still, quiet and unresponsive to my grandmother’s unprovoked violence. The tram continued on its bumbling way, and my grandmother, perhaps drawing a long breath, was saved by the peasant woman’s grace.

I have thought about this story countless times over the years. My grandmother never gave a straight answer to why she acted in this manner, putting her life at risk on a whim. The more I thought about it, however, the more I came to realize that my grandmother’s act was not necessarily meaningless, even if it was extremely reckless.

I have come to believe that her act — a rather reprehensible act of violence — was an impulsive act of defiance. It was a way of punching fate in the face, as it were, and challenging it to a fight at a time of extreme oppression and total absence of freedom. Showing her hostile and ruthless surroundings that she was there, too, not just a shadow hiding from extinction, but a living being forced to spend her every breathing moment guarding her life from extinction.

But why did the peasant woman keep quiet? She did not know my grandmother and she could have screamed and cursed her, drawing the attention of the German officers. My guess is that this rare woman, stoic as she was, instinctively realized that any pinch from my grandmother was a caress compared to the pain that the Germans would have unleashed and she would have no part of it. She saved herself, most likely, along with my grandmother.

After the war, the occupier’s flag changed and instead of the swastika came the hammer and sickle as the Soviets mercilessly snuffed out any brief euphoria. Eastern Europe was a place bereft of freedom, where the thought police controlled all avenues of communication and the only accepted speech was that parroting the communist slogans of the Soviet politburo.

My grandmother continued her life in this “communist paradise,” where there was no freedom from communist orthodoxy — although conditions in Poland were far from being the worst among the countries behind the Iron Curtain — and where, in the words of George Orwell, if you wanted to keep a secret, it was best to keep it hidden even from yourself.

Having been inoculated against any and all versions of communism and socialism from a very early age — a natural consequence of having felt the effects of those ideologies in real life and not just as “beautiful” theories — I often marvel at the speed with which history is forgotten.

It has only been a quarter of a century since the United States conclusively won the Cold War against the Soviets, yet I often ask myself whether the Soviets aren’t metaphorically jumping for joy from their place in hell, considering how political correctness has permeated public discourse in the United States and Western Europe.

After all — and tragically very few people know this — the standard tropes of political correctness, especially in Israel-related discourse, were conceived by the Soviets. When young people think they are fighting for social justice and freedom, they are often repeating Soviet tropes that would have made Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev proud. It was he who, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, told Yasser Arafat that the invasion amounted to “the same genocide against Palestinians that the Nazis committed against other people during World War II.”

The terrible accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is also a Soviet invention, which has refused to die even after the demise of its inventors. There is a certain irony in the fact that young college-age Americans, who in the old days would have been fighting the Soviets, are now reciting Soviet slogans.

I wonder at the ease with which perfectly free people throw away their freedom of speech in favor of living up to the expectations of political correctness, rigid as they are in all their reductionist groupthink. Living in free societies, they are seemingly incapable of appreciating how precious that freedom is, and how easily it can be snuffed out. Not by invading armies of the totalitarian kind, but by the equally totalitarian impulse to adhere to a particular rendition of reality.

Current generations living in the West have never gone through the experience of being reduced to complete silence, desperately communicating their anger by pinching total strangers on trams. They have the entire world at their feet and still they choose to narrow it to its smallest components, censoring themselves and others who disagree with them, until all that is left is the embarrassing sight of shrunken, small minds, fearful of sticking out in the crowd.

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness, and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better,” George Orwell wrote in his satirical book “1984.” Political correctness, and all the ills of intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice that flow from it, can only become as pervasive as it is when the majority prefers happiness over freedom.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom. 

Shame On You Poland

The Polish national anthem, in a glass-half-full kind of way, solemnly declares, “Poland is not yet lost.” These optimistic words, which do not actually sound very cheerful, especially when performed to the anthem’s depressing tune, were written by Jozef Wybicki in 1797, two years after the third and last partition of Poland between the great powers of the day: czarist Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

Poland, once an empire in its own right, never recovered. It did not become an independent state again until 1918, and then enjoyed independence only briefly, until Nazi Germany invaded it on Sept. 1, 1939, and proceeded to occupy and destroy it, aided by the Soviet Union. After the war, Poland, which had been reduced to rubble by the Germans, was once again devoured, when the Soviet Union occupied it and made it a satellite state, cut off from the non-communist world by the Iron Curtain. Only after the end of the Cold War did Poland re-emerge as a self-determining state.

As reported by Israel Hayom, the governing Law and Justice party in Poland has embarked on a strategy to promote certain glamorous episodes in Poland’s history, such as the anti-communist resistance after World War II, while aiming to suppress the discussion and research into less convenient topics, particularly how Poles helped massacre their Jewish compatriots during the Nazi occupation. The current nationalist government’s revisionist historical policies should be viewed in the light of the above history, which has informed how Poles have seen themselves and others throughout the centuries.

One obvious aspect of Polish history, which cannot be emphasized enough, is the prevalence of a virulent antisemitism that continues to haunt the country today. After World War II, the few Jews who had been left alive out of a pre-war Jewish population of over 3 million were met by Poles who had moved into their houses and overtaken their valuable possessions — many of which have not been repatriated to their rightful owners to this day, since communist Poland subsequently expropriated many of them. On top of all that, the Poles rained fresh pogroms on the heads of the Jewish concentration camp survivors, such as the terrible pogrom in Kielce in 1946.

Jan Tomasz Gross, the historian who more than anyone has revealed the extent of Polish war crimes against Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation, is being demonized by the current Polish government, with the president even threatening to strip him of a national honor bestowed upon him 20 years ago. The truth hurts, no doubt, but Gross has not relented, claiming that Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans during the war, which is not an unreasonable claim at all, given the speed and ease with which Germany occupied Poland and the zest with which Poles threw themselves into killing Polish Jews, as documented by Gross in his book, Neighbors.

Antisemitism flared up again after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Poland decided to take the Soviet dissatisfaction with Israel out on the country’s remaining Jews — around 13,000 of them — by firing them from jobs, denying them the right to study at university, and various other forms of harassment. Consequently, nearly all the remaining Polish Jews left Poland between 1968 and 1972.

Yet, even in a country largely bereft of Jews — albeit with a burgeoning Jewish cultural industry, which profits from the country’s wealth of Jewish history — antisemitism persists like a plague for which there is no cure. In November 2015, a protest against taking in Muslim refugees at the western city of Wroclaw ended with the burning of an effigy of an ultra-Orthodox Jew holding the flag of the European Union. Antisemitic graffiti is not uncommon and even the Polish language has traces of it with some Poles using the expression “to Jew” as a way to communicate all things unsavory.

Polish society is very formal, and communication is always polite, with men being addressed as “sir” and women as “madam.” Not that long ago, it was still common for men in polite society to greet women with a symbolic kiss on the hand in the old-fashioned French way, from where Polish culture has traditionally taken many of its cues. So much more disturbing is the primitive undercurrent of antisemitism, which exists just under the polished veneer, as it has indeed done throughout history in all European societies.

Before embarking further upon the jingoistic course of historical enhancement, the Polish government might want to reflect on the tremendous debt it owes to the Polish Jews, for everything they brought into Polish culture and for the murderous way in which the Poles ultimately repaid them. They ought also to ask themselves if Poland itself is served well by glossing over the crimes that were committed in order to communicate a picture post card to the younger Polish generations. Viewed from Israel, the question that inevitably comes to mind is this: How dare they?

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom