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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations