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

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion