AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
September 13, 2010
The Jewish community in the U.S. is in the middle “recess” between the New
Year, Rosh Hashanah and The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). If you saw
crowds at the local synagogue recently or see them again next week you’ll know
why they’re there. If you want to know more about the latter holy day, click here.
You don’t have to be Jewish to be wished a Happy New Year. So, I hope year
number 5771 in the Jewish calendar will be a good one for you. As far as atoning
for your sins is concerned, you can do that on your own. It will make you feel
better especially if there were a few that took place in 5770 that you want to
unload from your conscience. Hopefully, there will be no repeats during 5771.
Holiday or not, things keep happening, so let’s get on with it…
IN THIS EDITION
A RARE CROSS-CULTURAL HYBRID – Black and Orthodox. How do they fit in?
THE THILO RESPONSE – The Sarrazin book, Islam and the Jewish gene.
YOUNG AMERICAN JEWS & ISRAEL – Perhaps not so far apart.
THE PEACE PROCESS–INTERESTING BY-PRODUCTS – Who is on who’s
side? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Maybe!
CONSIDERING CASTRO – All of a sudden we’ve got a friend.
THE COST OF BELONGING – Joining a synagogue. What does it cost?
A RARE CROSS-CULTURAL HYBRID
Yes, black Jews are a rarity in the U.S. Black Orthodox Jews are even rarer. In
Israel there is a larger group – mostly from Ethiopia but in New York they are
uncommon – a novelty. They have largely flown “under the radar” until recently
when one was murdered in a Brooklyn holdup.
As Trymaine Lee points out in The New York Times, “In yeshivas, they are
sometimes taunted as “monkeys” or with the Yiddish epithet for blacks. At
synagogues and kosher restaurants, they engender blank stares. And dating can
be awkward: their numbers are so small, friends will often share at least some
romantic history with the same man or woman, and matchmakers always pair
them with people with whom they have little in common beyond skin color.
They are African-Americans and Orthodox Jews, a rare cross-cultural hybrid that
seems quintessentially Brooklyn, but received little notice until last week, after
Yoseph Robinson, a Jamaican-born convert, was killed during a robbery attempt
at the kosher liquor store where he worked.
I guess the theories of Thilo Sarrazin about all Jews having the same gene just
don’t hold water in Brooklyn.
Read the entire Lee piece by clicking here.
THE THILO RESPONSE
Since I’m on the subject of Thilo Sarrazin, the reaction in the American Jewish
community was pretty much what it was among thoughtful Germans. The
American Jewish Committee (AJC) noted in its press release, “AJC praised
Chancellor Angela Merkel and top German opinion leaders for sharply distancing
themselves from the demonic genetic theories promoted by Thilo Sarrazin, a
member of the German Federal Bank board.
“Warming up outdated and bizarre theories on genes and race is a highly
combustible political brew,” said Deidre Berger, Director of AJC’s Berlin Office.
“It is appalling that Thilo Sarrazin, a well-known public figure in Germany, could
seriously promote ideas of genetic selection.”
In his newly published book, “Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany does away
with itself), Sarrazin suggests that educated women be paid large sums of
money for child-bearing to improve the gene pool in Germany. In recent press
interviews, Sarrazin has stated that Jews, Vietnamese and other minorities are
genetically superior to Muslims.
AJC Berlin called for an end to linking immigration, demography and genetics. “It
is important that red lines be respected on discussion of important public issues,
such as immigration, to prevent slanderous and hateful depictions of minorities,”
said Berger. “The best way to promote upward mobility is through access to
education and the labor market.”
Other than a few stories in the national media and a few more in the Jewish
press there wasn’t much coverage of the story at all. I think most of the people
who decide what should be published and what should not, decided, as most of
the American public did, that Sarrazin was just another crackpot spewing long
discounted racial theories and was not worth wasting precious print space on the
As it is in Germany, we here in the U.S. are ourselves going through a significant
wave of anti-Islam feeling. In the U.S. it revolves around plans to build an Islamic
Community Center and mosque a few blocks away from “Ground Zero” where
the World Trade Center buildings stood before they were destroyed in the 9/11
terrorist attack. In no way is this a “Jewish” issue. In fact, Jews are on both sides
of it - actually on three sides. Some feel that no religious group should be
precluded from building a house of prayer anywhere as long as local zoning laws
are adhered to. A second group feels that having a mosque so close to “hallowed
ground” is a direct insult to the memory of those that perished on 9/11. The third
group feels that, as does the first, that the law is the law and that the building
should be allowed – however, it would be “wise” for the people who want to build
it to move it to another site. There’s always a middle position.
While the thought that all Jews carry some sort of “Jewish gene” is stupid and
outrageous, that is not to say that some Jews carry some similar genes.
Unhappily, they mostly have to do with certain diseases that a great many
Ashkenazi Jews carry. Just a few weeks ago The Forward, probably the most
important national Jewish newspaper carried a special section devoted to Jewish
genetic disease and its treatment.
Since my parents named me Eugene and many friends call me “Gene”, if you run
into Mr. Sarrazin tell him you know at least one outstanding Jewish Gene. Tell
him I thank him for mentioning my name. I’ll accept partial royalties on his book.
YOUNG AMERICAN JEWS & ISRAEL
You may remember that a couple of months ago I featured an article by Peter
Beinart indicating the growing distance between young American Jews and Israel
as well as their increasing dissociation from American Jewish organizations and
their leadership. A recent article in The Forward indicates much less of a
separation. It notes, “(the)Peter Beinart’s essay in The New York Review of
Books last spring painted a picture of young American Jews as alienated,
increasingly disengaged from the Jewish state and what he called the “illiberal”
policies of its current government, and “less willing to grant Israel an exemption
because its survival seems in peril.”
Beinart briefly backed up his claim of generational disenchantment by citing
focus groups conducted by pollster Frank Luntz and research by Steven M.
Cohen and Ari Kelman, of Hebrew Union College and the University of
California, Davis, respectively, finding that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the
whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing
“a near-total absence of positive feelings.”
But in his essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Beinart
was inadvertently taking sides in a larger debate that has been raging for some
time among sociologists of the Jewish world. And the other side has just issued
Researchers at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
released a study in late August that claims to find nothing unusually depressing
or alarming about the current younger generation’s level of attachment to Israel.
“The findings of the present study challenge the view of a widening schism
between American Jews and Israel,” it concludes. “A majority of American Jews
feel attached to Israel and the overall level of attachment has remained stable for
nearly a quarter of a century.”
The study, in which about 1,200 people were interviewed in June, did show
generally lower levels of “connection to Israel” among those younger than 30.
But for the Brandeis researchers, these numbers are not surprising. Every
generation goes through a normal “lifecycle,” the study reports, in which
attachment to Israel grows as people get older; in similar studies over the past
20 years, these researchers say, the ratio of younger people who don’t feel an
attachment to Israel has remained constant. Instead, the researchers point to a
steady number: the 63% of all respondents who say they feel “very much” or
“somewhat” connected to Israel, and the 75% who say that Israel is an important
part of their identity.
And, even more significantly for the currently polarized climate, this study sees
no correlation between political ideology and attachment to Israel.
“We found that conservatives were no more likely than liberals to feel connected
to Israel or regard Israel as central to their Jewish identities,” the study reports.
“These findings are remarkable given that liberalism is associated with reduced
support for Israel in the broader American population.”
Not everyone agrees that the picture is so rosy.
The article goes into greater detail on this truly important (to the Jewish
community) issue. The connection between American Jews and Israeli Jews is a
critical one. As I’ve pointed out before, we’re a small people with only a little over
13 million souls worldwide. About 40% live in the U.S. and slightly more live in
Israel (Germany has a little less than 1%). I don’t think I have to expand on the
thought that we can’t afford any schisms.
In order to read the entire article (It’s not very long) click here.
THE PEACE PROCESS – INTERESTING BY-PRODUCTS
The American initiated Middle East peace process got underway with positive
statements coming from all sides and what looks like a serious attempt to get
something done. Even the most positive and Pollyanna group of critics who hope
for big results realize that the process has a long way to go and that the
participants have not yet begun to wrestle with the tough issues. After the first
salutatory meetings the first of the many problems arose. Would Israel resume its
building in the Settlements and, if so, would Pres. Abbas, as threatened, walk out
of the talks? If the two sides can get past that knotty problem, that would be a
Interesting by-products of the talks have emerged thus far having to do with Iran.
First, Iranian Pres. Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced Pres. Abbas and
dismissed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying the fate of Palestine would
be decided in Palestine and through resistance and not in Washington.
The Ma'an News Agency reported that he also said Mahmoud Abbas was a
hostage of Israel who lacked the legitimacy to negotiate on the Palestinian's
Then, according to Haaretz, “A Palestinian Authority spokesman lashed out at
the president of Iran for criticizing Palestinian negotiations with Israel and PA
President Mahmoud Abbas in particular, Ma'an News Agency reported on
"The one who does not represent the Iranian people, who falsified election
results, who oppressed the Iranian people and stole authority has no right to
speak about Palestine, its president or its representatives," Abbas spokesman
Nabil Abu Rudaineh said about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
With Pres. Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah II of Jordan clearly on Abbas’
side, the division between the moderates in the Arab world and non-Arab Iran are
becoming clearer. Even to the casual observer the “alliance” between the Arab
moderates and Israel is also coming into sharper focus. Israel and the U.S. are
now more clearly seen as the bulwarks against Iranian hegemony in the Middle
Going a bit further, according to Haaretz.com noted “Minister of Minority Affairs
Professor Avishay Braverman said Saturday that the recently relaunched peace
talks between Israel and the Palestinians posed "a strategic threat to Iran."
Speaking at the Shabbat Tarbut event in Haifa, the minister said that "the
cancellation of a visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Egypt and the historical
events that have occurred in Tehran since the start of peace talks are proof that
progress in the talks will lead to an alliance between Israel and the moderate
Arab states versus the axis of evil of Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah.”Braverman was
referring to Egypt's cancellation Friday of a meeting that was to include Iranian
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki over remarks he had made earlier,
accusing of Arab leaders of betrayal for cooperating with the U.S.-sponsored
Mottaki was quoted in the Iranian media on Tuesday as saying that the Arab
leaders meeting in Washington in order to launch the renewal of peace talks with
Israel are traitors to their respective peoples. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
and Jordanian King Abdullah II both attended the official launch of the direct talks
Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah,
also criticized the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In a
speech he gave on Friday in honor of pro-Palestinian "Jerusalem Day," Nasrallah
said that "these negotiations were born and have died."
Nasrallah added, "Palestine from the river to the sea is the property of the
Palestinian people, the Arabs and the Muslims, and no person has the right to
give any of it away, not a grain of sand or a drop of water."
Nasrallah blessed the Hamas for the attacks it carried out this past week and
said, "This is the message, and this is the way to liberate Jerusalem and
Palestine. Hamas and other resistance fighters of their kind should hear voices
of support from the entire Arab and Muslim world."
So there you have it – the first outward signs of a new coalition of need with
former enemies beginning to understand that they need each other and, perhaps
(only perhaps), movement toward some sort of cooperation. Now, if the
extremists on all sides can be kept in check and a little common sense can
prevail, the negotiations might actually get somewhere and have produce some
benefits in dealing with the Iranian problem.
Fidel Castro, a lifelong revolutionary, over the many years has been very critical
of Israel almost to the point of sounding like a run of the mill anti-Semite. Even as
late as June of this year in commenting on the Gaza incursion said, “The State of
Israel's hatred towards the Palestinians is such that it would not hesitate to send
1.5 million men, women and children to the crematoriums in which millions of
Jews of all ages were killed…."The swastika would seem to be the flag of Israel
As far as Iran was concerned, “He claimed that Iran is subject to Israeli threats,
and will not give in to the "inequality" it has been dealt amid the decision to
impose further sanctions on Tehran.
More recently, in what I would consider a 180 degree turn about in his thinking,
according to an article in Haaretz, “Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro has urged
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop slandering the Jews, according
to an article published on the U.S. website The Atlantic on Tuesday.
The ageing revolutionary devoted much of a five-hour conversation to the issue
of anti-Semitism, wrote Jeffrey Goldberg, who interviewed Castro in the Cuban
Castro told The Atlantic that the Iranian government should understand the
"This went on for maybe two thousand years," he said. "I don't think anyone has
been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims.
They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are
blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything."
He added: "The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours.
There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust."
Asked by Goldberg if he would repeat his comments to Ahmadinejad, Castro
said. "I am saying this so you can communicate it."
Following the interview, Goldberg spoke with Haaretz about his impression
of the thinking behind Castro's comments.
"I think he [Castro] realizes he's gone too far in certain criticisms of
Israel," Goldberg said.
"I think he wants to be a player in this issue; and I think he's genuinely offended
by Holocaust denial."
Ahmadinejad has publicly called the Holocaust "a myth", claiming Jews
exaggerated the Nazi genocide to win sympathy from European governments.
I’m not sure what impact Castro has these days. He’s kind of “yesterday’s news”.
However, in the UN and among revolutionaries he does have considerable
credibility. Maybe his voice will add a little bit of leavening to usual left wing
extremist badgering of Israel. More important, perhaps those same people will
take a closer look at Ahmadinejad. That would be the most important result of
Castro’s about face.
You can read the entire Atlantic article by clicking here.
THE COST OF BELONGING
The Jewish community in the U.S. is organized along very different lines than the
one in Germany. In the U.S. because our Constitution separates “church & state”
religious institutions are precluded from receiving tax money and, therefore, have
to be self-supporting. In Jewish America there is no “Zentralrat” (even though
there are national coordinating bodies). Therefore, each and every synagogue
and Jewish organization is on its own in raising sufficient funds to support itself,
its rabbinical staff, educators, physical plant, etc. Of course, all churches and
mosques, etc. are in the same situation. In this free market economy each and
every religious institution must make it own way. How they go about it is the
subject of an interesting article in the national Jewish newspaper, The Forward.
By and large In the Jewish community when wishes to affiliate with a particular
synagogue, one becomes a “member” and pays an annual “dues”. In the
Christian communities the amount of money given to a church is usually left to
the individual’s conscience. As it turns out, the differences between the two
systems produces very similar results.
”The Forward also found great disparity in the way that churches and
synagogues spend the money they raise. Those patterns — indicating, for
instance, that rabbis are often paid far more than Christian spiritual leaders, and
that churches send much larger portions of their budgets upstream to
The article is fascinating and is the first of two. I will provide a link to the next
article when it appears. In the meantime, you will get a genuine insight into
American religious life by reading the first. To do so click here.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted
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