October 2, 2009

Desmond Tutu Was Not Wrong About Israel

In your September 18 editorial “Despairing Words,” you take Desmond Tutu to task for “implying that Israel resembles apartheid.”

Under the South African apartheid policy, blacks had to present identification periodically to legitimize a presence or activity. Today, in the West Bank, there are dozens of internal Israeli army checkpoints (i.e. not on the border), and Palestinians sometimes must present identification documents multiple times daily. In South Africa, blacks used the same roads as whites. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians cannot use settler roads. If this is not “apartheid,” what is?

Moreover, Tutu was correct to note that “the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust.” I don’t believe anyone can argue that if not for the Holocaust the State of Israel would exist today. And the Palestinians have paid, and are paying, “penance.”

True, Jews are not murdering Palestinians in any way, as the Nazis did to the Jews. As my mother used to say when I restrained myself from a bad action, “Kim dir a kish in piskl arayn” (“You deserve a kiss on the mouth”), meaning that I was doing what I was expected to do and that I wasn’t deserving of special praise. But Israel has killed many, fenced in millions, destroyed homes, confiscated land, ruined orchards and cowed a people into submission.

The road to peace is to relieve Palestinian suffering and go back to the pre-1967 borders, with land swaps and compromises along the way. Unfortunately, the policy of the Israeli governments in the past and now has been to repress Palestinian autonomy rather than helping prepare the ground for it. The latter is a task that should challenge our Jewish heritage of tikkun olam, especially at this time of our year.

Queens Shul’s Shoah Commemoration Was Ahead of the Times

The first communal synagogue-based Yom Hashoah program in New York was not at Temple Emanuel in 1967 as Jerome Chanes stated in his September 4 book review.

The 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan was designated in 1953 by Israel’s Knesset as Yom Hashoah Ve’Hagvurah, a Day of Commemoration and Remembrance to the six million victims of the Shoah. In keeping with this, together with a group of survivors in Queens, I initiated a community commemoration on the 27th of Nissan at the Young Israel of Forest Hills in 1964. It included the participation of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations from Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Hillcrest and numerous other communities.

The event, attended by an overflow audience, included people from all streams of Judaism with representatives of major Jewish organizations throughout the New York area. Advertised in the Yiddish Forward, it featured Rabbi Herschel Schacter, who as a young army chaplain was present at the liberation of Buchenwald.

As a survivor of the Shoah who has long been committed to the cause of remembrance, I am gratified to see that Yom Hashoah commemorations have now become an annual event, institutionalized in houses of worship throughout the world.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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October 2, 2009

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