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January 27, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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I I I mail:_ ,._ i,_ . I HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 27, 2' Exploiting the m By Menachem Z. Rosensaft NEWYORK(JTA) Itisvir- tually impossible to imagine anything more reprehensible than the recent spectacle of haredi Orthodox Jewish boys wearing yellow stars of David and simulated striped black-and-white concentra- tion camp Uniforms at a demonstration in Jerusalem. Offended by the Israeli au- thorities' efforts to curtail the verbal and physical abuse of women and girls in haredi neighborhoods• the dem- onstrators knowingly and intentionally desecrated the memory of the more than 1.5 million Jewish childrenwhose collective suffering and death will be remembered today at the United Nations' annual Holocaust commemoration. "This protest," said one of the rally's organizers, "reflects the Zionists' persecution of the haredi public, which we see as worse than what the Nazis did." The image of one particu- lar boy at the demonstration raising his hands in mock surrender to re-enact the fa- By David Suissa Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can't get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read haaretz. com regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel's Arab population is living mis- erably under an apartheid-like regime. I certainly understand how reporters are wired to focus on the negative, and that good news is not really news. Reading about Israeli Arabs who might be happy under Israel's democracy and who suffer little or no discrimina- tion is not newsworthy. Abuse of human rights, however, is newsworthy and that's a good thing, because aware- ness is what forces a society to improve itself. At the same time, though, reading only negative stuff can become exhausting and By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News Two weeks ago I began getting calls from friends ask- ing, as one put it in an email. "What the hell is going on in New Jersey?" The firebomb attack on a synagogue in Rutherford. N.J.. was the most serious yet of a series of recent attacks that included arson at Congrega- tion K'hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus. N.J., and spray paint vandalism attacks on synagogues in Maywood, N.J.. and Hackensack, N.J., in December. Bergen County prosecutor John Motinelli said "there was no evidence directly linking" the Rutherford attack to the others--a conclusion I hardly found comforting. When Jew- ish shops and institutions were smashed in a vandalism spree last year, many of us were relieved when it turned out to be the work of one disturbed suspect (Jewish, it turns out). PAGE 5A ernory of child Ho|ocaust victims is obscene mous photograph of a terrified Jewish child being rounded up by the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto struck a very personal chord within me. Sixty-nine years ago, another little Jew- ish boy named Benjamin was living with his parents in the city of Sosnowiec in southern Poland. The previous month he had celebrated his fifth birthday. He was a smart. good-hearted, totally inno- cent childwho had never done any harm to anyone , Only he had already been sentenced to death. President Franklin D. Roos- evelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the other Allied leaders knew full well that Benjamin and virtually every other Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Europe were about to be brutally and systematically murdered• On Dec. 17. 1942. the United States. Great Britain and the USSR had condemned the German government's "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination" of Jews m Nazi-occupied or -controlled Europe. Yet Benjamin's fate and that of other Jewish children like him was not a priority for any government official anywhere. "Suffer the little children to come unto me," said Jesus according to the Gospel of Mark. "Forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." This fundamental Christian imperative was ignored by the U.S. State Department bureaucrats who deliber- ately frustrated any attempt to come to the rescue of Euro- pean Jewry. Even in the midst of World War II. if the United States. Great Britain. Canada. Australia and other Western democracies had announced a willingness to give refuge to Jewish children. Benjamin might still have had a chance. Instead• as Gregory Wat- lance chronicles in his forth- coming book. "America's Soul in the Balance• The Ho- locaust. FDR's State Depart- ment and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy" (GreenleafBook Group Press), after Gerhard Riegner. the director of the Geneva office of the World Jewish Congress. had sent a telegram through U.S. diplomatic channels in Switzerland reportingth killed daily" Poland, and are similarly under dire Secretary o Hull instrucl legation in B similar "priv the future. On the ni 1943. Benjar Auschwitz-] camp with grandparent mously pub his mother. calledher fin my brother: ' by SS men SS man was of the peopL the selectio] movement t was sending the right an€ ... Men were in January 1943 ,t 6,000 Jews "are tt one location in Romanian Jews being murdered circumstances. f State Cordell edtheAmerican rn not to accept te messages" in ght of Aug. 3-4. linarrivedatthe irkenau death 1is parents and . In her posthu- ished memoirs. our mother• re- 1 moments with Wewere guarded nd women. One ;tanding in front ; and he started L With a single f his finger, he some people to some to the left. separated from women. People with children were sent t O one side, and young peopl were separated from older looking ones. No one was allqwed to go from one group t o the other. Our 5 1/2-year-old son went with Jews, Arabs, dolphins demoralizing. Maybe that's why it was so refreshing to sit with 250 people the other night at Laemmle's Music Hall the- ater in Beverly Hills to watch the Israeli documentary film "Dolphin Boy." The film was presented by The Jewish Journal's Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and its executive director, Hilary Helstein. as a preview to our annual festival, which kicks off on May 3. "Dolphin Boy" tells the true story of an Israeli Arab boy who disconnects from humanity after suffering a vi- cious beating. The boy, Morad, was assaulted not by Israeli soldiers, but by his neighbors in his Israeli Arab village, who misinterpreted a text message Morad sent to the sister of one of the neighbors. The beating was so trau- matic that when we first see Morad, in a doctor's office. he is zombie-like and can- not utter a word. His doc- tor. an Israeli Jew who is a world-renowned expert on I9ost-trauma care. develops a deep personal and profes- sional attachment to the boy. Over several months• the doctor tries every treatment in the book to get Morad to speak and express himself, but nothing works. Finally, before committing the boy to a mental institu- tion. the doctor recommends a radical treatment: dolphin therapy (with the state picking up the costs). Meanwhile, one of the endearing stars of the film, Morad's father, decides to leave his job and accompany his son to the dolphin reef in Eilat. where Jews--and loving dolphins--will help Morad undergo a miraculous three- year process of recovery. The film challenges more than one stereotype. Of course, there's the one that Jews and Arabs don't get along. Even if that is true in many cases, in this story, all On the safe side Are the attacks in Bergen County the work of one person or perhaps copycats? Are they random or organized? This is very scary stuff. I live in Bergen County, in a community dense with syna- gogues. Jewish homes proudly wave Israeli flags, cars flash pro-Israel bumper stickers. and boys and men wear their yarmulkes in the streets. I take these casual, outward displays of pride and faith for granted. Of course I am wary of the violence. But I am even more worried that we'll let these kinds of attacks para- lyze us as communities and force us to change behaviors developed in an atmosphere of tolerance. There's a tendency to look at these attacks and see them as the snakehead of some larger movement or trend, when they often turn out to be the work of a lone wolf. We read the annual surveys of anti-Semitic acts from the Anti-Defamation League and mutter, "It can happen here," while we forget or ignore the freedoms and tolerance that are the more telling indicators of Jewish real- ity in 21st-century America. Those indicators include the complete absence of barriers in schooling, professions. neighborhoods and commu- nity institutions. They include the evangelical communities' embrace of Israel and the general public's willingness to elect a record number of Jewish politicians. They also include, like it or not. the overwhelming willingness of non-Jews to marry Jews (and the blended Jewish-gentile families that result). If we ignore all these signs of Jewish acceptance and privilege, we end up handing tremendous power to a mali- cious teen with a spray can. And for every act of anti- Semitism, we overlook the unequal and opposite reac- tion. In the wake of the Bergen attacks, local politicians and law enforcement officials have been rushing out statements you see are Jews and Arabs treating one another like hu- man beings. There's also the stereotype that Arabs live for revenge and justice. In fact, early in the film, Morad's father is tempted to take revenge against the Arab neighbors who attacked his son. Some friends even suggest it. But in a defining scene, with a few friends playing the drums around a campfire, the father gets up, starts to dance and decides that he will devote every ounce of his being to saving his son, because, as he says, "His blood runs through my veins." You can't be human and not be moved by these expressions of love the love of a father for his son, the love of a doc- tor for his patient, the love of workers in a dolphin lagoon for a traumatized boy they help bring back to life. It is this very celebration of life symbolized by the play- of solidarity and vows to catch and punish the perpetrators. Sen. Menendez called for a De- partment of Justice investiga- tion. Gov. Christie asked State Police. the Attorney General's Office and Homeland Security to discuss security issues with Jewish leaders. Clergy and community leaders gathered at an interfaith ceremony at the Felician College campus in Rutherford. The cliche that supposedly trumps all this good will is "The Holocaust started with a swastika." But of course it didn't. It started with centu- ries of cultural anti-Semitism, a devastating depression, a political coup andwhat Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw calls "a pervasive Sense of national humiliation." Those are not the conditions under which we are living. • Which isD't to say that we ignore the vndals and hate- mongers sti H among us. The Secure Community Network, Safe o page 19A / i I I his father. Something that will haunt me to the end of my days occurred during those first moments. As we were separated, our son turned to me and asked, 'Mommy, are we going to live or die?' I didn't answer this question." Benjamin. his father and my grandparents were mur- dered that night in one of the Auschwitzgas chambers. Since my mother's death in 1997, he has existed inside of me. I see his face in my mind. try to imagine his voice, his fear as the gas chamber doors slammed shut, his final tears. If I were to forget him. he would disappear. Tragically, the hundreds of thousands of children who were killed in the subsequent 20th century genocides in Rwanda. Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere fared no better. The 1948 Convention for the Preven- tion and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was supposed to protect them. So was the 1990 Conven- tion on the Rights of the Child. to which Rwanda. Serbia and the Sudan are all parties, which affirmed that "every child has the inherent right to life." The mutilated corpses of children and infants hacked by ma- chetes in Rwanda or buried in mass graves in Bosnia epitomize the international community's failure to live up to this most fundamental of all aspirations. My brother and every other child murdered in any genocide deserve to be remembered as fragile flames extinguished in tsunamis of hatred, intolerance and bigotry. Exploiting their memory to score cheap politi- cal points is obscene• Menachem Z. Rosensa/, the son of two survivors of the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches about the law of geno- cide at Cornell Law School, Columbia Law School and Syracuse University College of Law. ful and loyal dolphins that slowly coaxes Morad back to humanity. How ironic that it takes loving animals to help him regain his trust in humans. As I reflected on the film. I found myself wishing itwould play on AI Jazeera and be seen by millions across the Middle East. That deeply divided part of the world could use an innocent reminder that the truest label we all share is our humanity. Beyond Arab and Jew, man and woman, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, we are all part of the same species, sharing primal needsRlike our crav- ing for love--that transcend all differences. "We didn't really focus on the idea of Jew and Arab when we shot the film," Dani Menkin, the co-director and producer of the film. told me during the panel discus- sion I moderated after the screening. "We shot a story of humans interactingwith each other. We weren't thinking of giving a special message. It was just an amazing story that I fell in love with." We've seen many Israeli films over the years that play to the negative stereotype of the big, bad Israel as the oppressor of Arabs. This stereotype is reinforced by the endless string of news stories describing discrimina- tion against Israeli Arabs and examples of mutual animosity between the groups. But lost in this big picture are the many little stories of Jews and Arabs peacefully co-existing and treating one another like human beings. We can only be grateful for films like "Dolphin Boy," which come along once in awhile to crack our cynicism and remind us that beneath the heavy noise of darkness lies the silent whisper of hope. David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp.Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewish journal, com. A version of this article ap- peared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles• It is reprinted by permission. 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