Having Returned to the Religion of His Ancestors, a Former Hidden Jew Remembers Christmases Past

Dec. 24 2018

Around the time of Thomas Balazs’s confirmation into the Lutheran church, his father sat him down and explained that he and Thomas’s mother had been born and raised as Jews, survived the Holocaust in Hungary, and converted to Christianity upon their marriage to spare their children the danger and indignity of growing up Jewish. Thomas returned to Judaism in the fifth decade of his life. But it was several years later—ice-skating with his own son to the sound of Christmas carols the day before Thanksgiving—that he first found himself missing the Gentile holiday of his youth:

Until that moment, the first ten years without Christmas had been surprisingly easy for me. . . . So it was odd when I found myself singing [“Jingle Bell Rock”] along with Bobby Helms as [my son] and I skated around the rink. . . . [But] I don’t have any Jewish memories to compete with [my fondest memories of childhood Christmases] because, of course, I wasn’t raised Jewish, didn’t even know I was a Jew until I was thirteen. But then again, I do have at least one kind of Jewish memory of Christmas in the ’70s. . . .

I wanted something special for my mom. Our neighbors were having a garage sale, and there was this blue ceramic vase shaped like a fish that I thought was pretty cool. It only cost 50 cents, so I got it for my mom, and she kept it with our other tchotchkes for the next 40 years or so. But when I bragged to one of [my older brother’s] friends that I had bought this vase for my mother at the garage sale, his response was, “You bought your mother a present at a garage sale? What, are you a Jew?” I was, but I didn’t know it yet. It’s always been a bit of a mixed-up holiday for me, I guess. . . .

If it’s true, as some say, that one can never stop being a Jew, it’s also true that you can never quite shake off Christmas once it has worked its way into your system; it’s cultural DNA. In my case, it’s also a by-product of growing up in a traumatized Jewish household of modern-day Marranos. It’s the result of living as a Christian for four decades. And it’s a consequence of there being some really great Christmas songs.

Did I mention my boy’s name is Judah? There are lots of reasons we chose that name. One was so he would have a moniker that both his American and Israeli cousins could pronounce (as opposed to, say, Yitzḥak). . . . A bigger reason, though, for me at least, was that it was based on the name Judah—that is, from the tribe of Judah—that the people once known as Hebrews and Israelites came to be called “Jews.” Unlike me, my son will always know he was a Jew. He can’t help it. The word is built into his name. His name is the foundation of the word.

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More about: Christmas, Holocaust, Judaism, Marranos, Religion & Holidays

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat