Passover in the Land of Jewish Ghosts

April 4 2018

Having devoted several months to visiting the locations of vanished or vanishing Jewish communities, David Wolpe spent Passover in Spain. He shares his reflections from the eve of the holiday:

Although Spain’s history is particular, its outlines are sadly familiar. To travel almost anywhere in the world as a Jew is a tour of loss. . . . With rare exceptions, there are three kinds of synagogues that survive at all. There are those that whisper their history through the faded remnant of a Jewish star on a stone above the arch of a building now serving as a mosque, a church, or a department store. There is the historic synagogue, no longer in use, that is preserved by the waning Jewish community or the government as a monument to what once was. And there is the synagogue that still functions, but all too often only for the handful of older people who still care, and who pray with the ever-present consciousness that no one will come after. . . .

Many of these empty buildings, like those in Eastern Europe, are a mute reminder of the mass murder of World War II. The synagogues in Poland and Lithuania were filled one day and empty the next. Others reflect the emigration of entire communities to Israel or the United States because of persecution, economic deprivation, or cultural isolation. And some represent a gradual ebbing away, the slow fade of a minority swallowed by a much larger culture. Intermarriage, absorption, indifference: the trifecta of modern disappearance. . . .

In Hebrew, a synagogue is called not a house of God but a house of gathering. But there are none left to gather. . . .

And yet. The Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz once titled an essay “Jews, the Ever-Dying People.” He wrote that each generation believes it is the last. In my travels I’ve come to understand that sadness is essential, but despair is a sin. Spain may be a land of ghosts, but it was not hard for me to find Jews with whom to celebrate the Passover seder.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Jewish World, Passover, Religion & Holidays, Spain, Synagogues

Israeli Indecision on the Palestinian Issue Is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness

Oct. 11 2019

In their recent book Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky—who both have had long careers as Middle East experts inside and outside the U.S. government—analyze the “courageous decisions” made by David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzḥak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon. Not coincidentally, three of these four decisions involved territorial concessions. Ross and Makovsky use the book’s final chapter to compare their profiles in courage with Benjamin Netanyahu’s cautious approach on the Palestinian front. Calling this an “almost cartoonish juxtaposition,” Haviv Rettig Gur writes:

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli history, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict