Sunday, September 28, 2014

A survivor's tale and Antisemitism at the Met which is supported by Jews

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  Bring a Smile to Our Planet

Imagine how wonderful our planet would be if each person on it would greet everyone with a smile. That means that wherever you go you would be met with a smile. Be part of the "Bring a smile to our planet" project. To become a member of this project, you don't need to spend any money or fill out any forms. All you need to do is smile. Then watch the faces of those at whom you smile. Reinforce the smiles of others by telling them, "I appreciate your smiles," or, "You look great when you smile." By reinforcing this person's smiling, you will set in motion a chain of smiles. The recipients of this person's smiles will smile to more people, and those people will smile to even more people. You will be increasing the total amount of smiles on our planet. And that's something we need a lot more of.

Think of someone who doesn't smile very often. Then sensitively think of a way to bring a smile to that person's face in a way that will be appreciated.

Love Yehuda Lave

See the slide show below:

That defies reality and deifies the future...

Jews live, the Nazis were exterminated and Jewish children are the continuity of the covenant against all odds...

On another subject:
The Death of Klinghoffer Controversy

The Death of Klinghoffer Controversy

It is a disgrace that The New York Metropolitan Opera insists on performing this offensive, anti-Semitic work.

by Yvette Alt Miller

Lisa Klinghoffer and her sister Ilsa, like the rest of the world, had been glued to the news all that horrible, tense week nearly thirty years ago. "When our mother finally reached us, she struggled with having to tell us the news. But we already knew. Then she said 'your father was a hero…. Do your crying now girls, I have done mine…. Because when I get home, we have a lot of work to do.'"

On October 5, 1985, Palestinian terrorists boarded the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro, separated British and American passengers, then paid close attention to the Jewish-looking passengers in this English-speaking group. Among those selected were Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, who were taking a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary. With them were several of their close friends; they vacationed together each summer on the New Jersey Shore.

The hijackers demanded the ship divert to Syria. When authorities there refused to allow it entry, the terrorists turned on Leon Klinghoffer. He was an easy target: a sickly 69 year who'd suffered two strokes and was confined to a wheelchair. The hijackers shot him point blank in the head, then flung his body, still in its wheelchair, into the sea.

Anti-Semitic Opera

The gruesome murder shocked the world. In England, the director Peter Sellars suggested commissioning an opera on the event. He turned to John Adams, a famous American composer, to convert the ghastly terror attack to music. Alice Goodman, an American Jew living in England, was commissioned to write the libretto, the opera's lyrics.

One of John Adams' goals, he later explained, was to teach Americans to look at terrorism in a whole new way. Americans, he felt, were so "desensitized by years of consuming the television news… they can't imagine a representation of a story like the Klinghoffer event being anything other than a cliché melodrama with 'evil' terrorists and 'innocent' victims." He hoped his new opera would fix that, teaching simplistic Americans to view terrorists as something other than "evil" or negative.

Adams and Alice Goodman decided on an opera that included Biblical stories, positioning the terrorism of the PLO against innocent Israelis and Jews as the continuation of epic struggles between good and evil through the ages. It was Goodman's idea to include choruses of Palestinians, explaining their motives in a musical move that echoes Bach's Passions, putting PLO members in the same position that Bach placed religious figures.

"I had no idea that the feelings would be that deeply personal," says John Adams of reactions to his work. He originally wanted to tackle the opera in a humorous way, he said, but ultimately toned done the comic elements. Alice Goodman did push to include one "comic" scene, portraying the Klinghoffer's friends and neighbor as grotesque buffoons when they hear of his murder, conforming to age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes. Ms. Goodman, who assured Adams that this was an accurate representation of American Jews, seems to have been going through a difficult time: midway through writing The Death of Klinghoffer, she converted to Christianity; today, she is a Church of England vicar.

It perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to rationalize, legitimize and explain it.

When the opera debuted in Brussels in 1991, that scene in particular was excoriated as horribly anti-Semitic – even John Adams has acknowledged is seemed to make fun of American Jews and, by extension, the Klinghoffer family itself – and quickly erased from future productions. But more fundamental concerns remained. The opera opens with a disturbing, fabricated scene: a traumatized Arab girl is watching as Jews shoot, beat and chase Arab women and children from their homes, which sets the tone of moral equivalence that mars the opera. Jews are depicted as cheating the poor, despoiling virgins, breaking the law, and exploiting others for their own gain. Terrorists who murdered a helpless elderly Jew are portrayed as nuanced, even noble at times. At one point, PLO terrorists sing, "We are soldiers fighting a war, we are not criminals, we are not vandals, we are men of ideals."

When Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer watched the opera's American premier, they called it "appalling," explaining it "perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to rationalize, legitimize and explain it."

Although Peter Sellars, the commissioning director, said he was disappointed the opera wasn't even more pro-Palestinian and anti-Jewish, opera companies around the world recognized it as an unbalanced, irresponsible work, and quickly backed away from the piece. After its 1991 performances, The Death of Klinghoffer wasn't performed again for the next ten years. In 2001, it enjoyed a modest revival; it was performed in Finland, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra planned to perform extracts at a concert later that year. But after the September 11 terror attacks, the Boston Symphony dropped the piece. A member of the chorus had lost her husband in the World Trade Center, the Orchestra explained, and the group felt it was impossible to ask her to participate in a work that rationalized terrorism.

The Met's Puzzling Decision

That The Death of Klinghoffer is considered too extreme to perform makes the Metropolitan Opera of New York's decision to include it in its upcoming season all the more puzzling. The Met's Director, Peter Gelb, acknowledges the goal of the opera is "to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists" as well as their victims, and has even acknowledged that doing so can legitimize Jew-hatred.

In addition to its live performances, the Met was planning to offer simulcasts in European cities. When the summer of 2014 saw huge displays in anti-Semitism flare throughout Europe, however, – four murdered in a Brussels Jewish museum, hundreds trapped in a Parisian synagogue by a violent mob, Jews openly beaten on the streets of Germany, and refused treatment from doctors and service in restaurants – the Met recognized conceded the opera might "stir up anti-Israel sentiments" and be "a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism," and cancelled the broadcasts.

The Met has no obligation to give a stage to justifications of terror.

The live performances, as of now, are scheduled to go ahead. Many have defended the Met's decision to put on the opera as one of freedom of speech. The New York Times spoke for many when it declared the opera "moving and nuanced in imagining a tragedy that gives voice to all sides." Yet freedom of speech is not absolute; the Met has no obligation to give a stage to justifications of terror. Imagine an opera rationalizing lynching in the Jim Crow south. It is hard to picture serious artists who would give voice to such a nauseating and unacceptable point of view.

When the Klinghoffers lost their father and husband, they leapt into action, channeling their energies to fight terrorism and raise the awareness of the threat of anti-Jewish hatred. "In the face of evil, in the aftermath of hate and terrorism our family's mission became clear… We were going to do whatever we could to put a human face to the deadly reality of terrorism. Within months, we (founded)… the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation – which was created by our late mother, and remains an essential part of our life's work today," Ilsa Klinghoffer explains.

We can all learn from the Klinghoffer's example and channel our concern into action. On Monday, September 22, a broad coalition of Jewish groups is protesting the Met's decision to stage the opera, assembling at their headquarters in New York's Lincoln Center. For those who are unable to attend, Peter Gelb, the Met Director, can be reached at Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023, and at telephone (212) 362-6000. Let him know what you think. It could make a difference.

Published: September 20, 2014

The Leader's Call for Responsibility
Ha'azinu - 27 September, 2014 / 3 Tishrei, 5775

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When words take wing, they modulate into song. That is what they do here in Haazinu as Moses, with the angel of death already in sight, prepares to take leave of this life. Never before had he spoken with such passion. His language is vivid, even violent. He wants his final words never to be forgotten. In a sense he has been articulating this truth for forty years but never before with such emotion. This is what he says:
Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak,
Earth, hear the sayings of my mouth ...
The Rock, His acts are perfect,
For all his ways are just.
A faithful God without wrong,
Right and straight is He.
He is not corrupt; the defect is in his children,
A warped and twisted generation.
Is this the way you repay God,
Ungrateful, unwise people?
Is he not your father, your Master.
He made you and established you. (Deut. 32: 1-6)
Don't blame God when things go wrong. That is what Moses feels so passionately. Don't believe, he says, that God is there to serve us. We are here to serve Him and through Him be a blessing to the world. God is straight; it is we who are complex and self-deceiving. God is not there to relieve us of responsibility. It is God who is calling us to responsibility.

With these words Moses brings to closure the drama that began in the beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned, Adam blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent. So it was in the beginning and so it still is in the twenty-first century secular time.

The story of humanity has been for the most part a flight from responsibility. The culprits change. Only the sense of victimhood remains. It wasn't us. It was the politicians. Or the media. Or the bankers. Or our genes. Or our parents. Or the system, be it capitalism, communism or anything between. Most of all, it is the fault of the others, the ones not like us, infidels, sons of Satan, children of darkness, the unredeemed. The perpetrators of the greatest crime against humanity in all of history were convinced it wasn't them. They were "only obeying orders." When all else fails, blame God. And if you don't believe in God, blame the people who do. To be human is to seek to escape from responsibility.

That is what makes Judaism different. It is what made some people admire Jews and others hate them. For Judaism is God's call to human responsibility. From this call you can't hide, as Adam and Eve discovered when they tried, and you can't escape, as Jonah learnt in the belly of a fish.

What Moses was saying in his great farewell song can be paraphrased thus: "Beloved people, I have led you for forty years, and my time is coming to an end. For the last month, since I began these speeches, these Devarim, I have tried to tell you the most important things about your past and future. I beg you not to forget them."

"Your parents were slaves. God brought them and you to freedom. But that was negative freedom, chofesh. It meant that there was no-one to order you about. That kind of freedom is not inconsequential, for its absence tastes like unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Eat them once a year so you never forget where you came from and who brought you out."

"But don't think that chofesh alone can sustain a free society. When everyone is free to do what they like, the result is anarchy, not freedom. A free society requires cherut, the positive freedom that only comes when people internalise the habits of self-restraint so that my freedom is not bought at the expense of yours, or yours at the cost of mine."

"That is why I have taught you all these laws, judgments and statutes. None of them is arbitrary. None of them exists because God likes giving laws. God gave laws to the very structures of matter – laws that generated a vast, wondrous, almost unfathomable universe. If God were only interested in giving laws, He would have confined himself to the things that obey those laws, namely matter without mind and life-forms that know not liberty."

"The laws God gave me and I gave you exist not for God's sake but for ours. God gave us freedom – the most rare, precious, unfathomable thing of all other than life itself. But with freedom comes responsibility. That means that we must take the risk of action. God gave us the land but we must conquer it. God gave us the fields but we must plough, sow and reap them. God gave us bodies but we must tend and heal them. God is our father; He made us and established us. But parents cannot live their children's lives. They can only show them by instruction and love how to live."

"So when things go wrong, don't blame God. He is not corrupt; we are. He is straight; it is we who are sometimes warped and twisted." That is the Torah's ethic of responsibility. No higher estimate has ever been given of the human condition. No higher vocation was ever entrusted to mortal creatures of flesh and blood.

Judaism does not see human beings, as some religions do, as irretrievably corrupt, stained by original sin, incapable of good without God's grace. That is a form of faith but it is not ours. Nor do we see religion as a matter of blind submission to God's will. That too is a form of faith but not ours.

We do not see human beings, as the pagans did, as the playthings of capricious gods. Nor do we see them, as some scientists do, as mere matter, a gene's way of producing another gene, a collection of chemicals driven by electrical impulses in the brain, without any special dignity or sanctity, temporary residents in a universe devoid of meaning that came into existence for no reason and will one day, equally for no reason, cease to be.

We believe that we are God's image, free as He is free, creative as He is creative, on an infinitely smaller and more limited scale to be sure, but still we are the one point in all the echoing expanse of space where the universe becomes conscious of itself, the one life form capable of shaping its own destiny: choosing, therefore free, therefore responsible. Judaism is God's call to responsibility.

Which means: thou shalt not see thyself as a victim. Do not believe as the Greeks did that fate is blind and inexorable, that our fate once disclosed by the Delphic oracle, has already been sealed before we were born, that like Laius and Oedipus we are fated, however hard we try to escape the bonds of fate. That is a tragic view of the human condition. To some extent it was shared in different ways by Spinoza, Marx and Freud, the great triumvirate of Jews-by-descent who rejected Judaism and all its works.

Instead like Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, and Aaron T. Beck, co-founder of cognitive behavioural therapy, we believe we are not defined by what happens to us but rather by how we respond to what happens to us. That itself is determined by how we interpret what happens to us. If we change the way we think – which we can, because of the plasticity of the brain – then we can change the way we feel and the way we act. Fate is never final. There may be such a thing as an evil decree, but penitence, prayer and charity can avert it. And what we cannot do alone we can do together, for we believe "it is not good for man to be alone."

So Jews developed a morality of guilt in place of what the Greeks had, a morality of shame. A morality of guilt makes a sharp distinction between the person and the act, between the sinner and the sin. Because we are not wholly defined by what we do, there is a core within us that remains intact – "My God, the soul you gave me is pure" – so that whatever wrong we may have done, we can repent and be forgiven. That creates a language of hope, the only force strong enough to defeat a culture of despair.

It is that power of hope, born whenever God's love and forgiveness gives rise to human freedom and responsibility, that has made Judaism the moral force it has always been to those who minds and hearts are open. But that hope, says Moses with a passion that still sears us whenever we tread it afresh, does not just happen. It has to be worked for and won. The only way it is achieved is by not blaming God. He is not corrupt. The defect is in us, His children. If we seek a better world, we must make it. God teaches us, inspires us, forgives us when we fail and lifts us when we fall, but we must make it. It is not what God does for us that transforms us; it is what we do for God.

The first humans lost paradise when they sought to hide from responsibility. We will only ever regain it if we accept responsibility and become a nation of leaders, each respecting and making space for those not like us. People do not like people who remind them of their responsibility. That is one of the reasons (not the only one, to be sure) for Judeophobia through the ages. But we are not defined by those who do not like us. To be a Jew is to be defined by the One who loves us.

The deepest mystery of all is not our faith in God but God's faith in us. May that faith sustain us as we heed the call to responsibility and take the risk of healing some of the needless wounds of an injured but still wondrous world.

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Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a global religious leader, philosopher, the author of more than 25 books, and moral voice for our time. Until 1st September 2013 he served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, having held the position for 22 years.

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