Archive for May, 2009

Thoughts On Would-Be Terrorists In The Bronx

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Have we reached the point where we not only take anti-Semitism for granted but don’t even question the illogical attitudes of those who hate us?
I learned, with shock, as we all did, of the attempt of four Muslims from New York who, apparently out of opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, decided to blow up synagogues, and presumably Jews, in the Bronx. Does that make any sense?
Surely we will come to learn more details in the days and weeks ahead, but the strange conflation of American foreign policy, Israel, militant Islam and anti-Semitism is as dangerous as it is puzzling.
In my interview last Monday with, Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. Security Coordinator charged with heading the multinational team overseeing the training of Palestinian police forces, he mentioned how disturbed he was to find intimations of anti-Semitism in Iraq. It was Dayton who for more than a year led the search for weapons of mass destruction, and he said that when he visited mosques in Iraq, he noticed murals that depicted the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with a snake, featuring a Star of David, entwined around the Temple. The clear implication being that Judaism was the enemy of Islam.
Of course it is politically incorrect to pursue this line of thinking, and I am not suggesting that the majority of Muslims harbor such hatred, but it is curious to note how the New York Times, for example, downplays the fact that the four men arrested were Muslim. It’s mentioned, but not until the fifth paragraph of the latest version of the story I read this morning.
In an eerie coincidence, just yesterday I came upon the Times initial coverage of the Brooklyn Bridge shooting death of young Ari Halberstam, and wounding other Lubavitch young men, 15 years ago.
In the story, several Lubavitch rabbis insisted that the crime was the work of an Arab terrorist seeking revenge on the murders committed in Israel a few days before by Baruch Goldstein, in a Hebron mosque. But the authorities, including the mayor and police commissioner, were, understandably, guarded and cautious. It turns out, though, that the rabbis were correct.

Connected Through Memory

Monday, May 18th, 2009

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

For all the talk and legitimate concern about the future of journalism, it’s heartening when one realizes the continuing impact, and reach, of the written word.

Case in point: I wrote a column this past week about a little-known “hidden synagogue” found in the barracks of the Terezin concentration camp near Prague. The piece mentioned that, though forbidden, a German Jew named Arthur Berlinger sought to sanctify the space for prayer by inscribing the walls with passages from the Hebrew prayers and drawing Shabbat candles and Jewish stars.

Berlinger and his wife perished in Auschwitz, but I was told that the couple’s two daughters were sent on kindertransports to England and survived the war. Our guide did not know any other details about them.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an e-mail last night from one of the daughters, now a grandmother in Southfield, Michigan. Rosie Baum, nee Berlinger, thanked me for the article, and wrote that she has been blessed with a large family - children and grandchildren - all following in her father’s footsteps. “So in the end,” she wrote, “Hitler did not succeed in destroying Jewry, just as no one ever will.”

Moved by her letter, I called her this morning - she had included her phone number - and learned that she came to England at the age of 10 in April 1938, and her sister arrived that July. The sister remained in England and died several years ago.

Mrs. Baum married and moved to the U.S. She explained that her daughter had seen and sent her my article.

Mrs Baum said she and her parents were in touch on a daily basis by mail from April to September 3,1938, and that she even received several letters from her parents from Terezin.

Since the war’s end, Terezin has been associated with children’s drawings done there, many of which are on display, and with the phrase, drawing and theatrical play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

Mrs. Baum noted that her father was an artist and teacher, and that while she cannot prove it, “I know in my bones” that he encouraged children at Terezin to draw butterflies since they were among his favorite images, because “they are free to fly where they want.”

I am grateful to have been in touch with her, making my recent visit to Terezin all the more poignant, and real.