Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Dad, Repentance, and Mosques

Of late I’ve been obsessing about the controversy over the Muslim center in lower Manhattan.  Those of you who pay attention to my tweets or Facebook postings will have noticed this.  There’s a very simple reason.


That’s the number on my father’s arm.

We children of survivors are witnesses.  Imbedded in our genes is the understanding that oppression takes many forms:  quotas, job restrictions, zoning restrictions, segregation, marriage bans, ghettos, slavery, Auschwitz. If we don’t stand up at the first signs of the evil of prejudice, Martin Niemoller’s prophecy will come true.

Call me obsessed.  I’m second generation.  I grew up with The Number.  And hearing the memories.  My aunt regaling us with tales of her stay in Plaszow and Birkenau and Feldafing.   My uncle being part of the crew cleaning up the Warsaw Ghetto while the fighting was still going on.  My mother being smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto by her mom to get bread – at the risk of her 8  year old life. My father being introduced to life in Birkenau (he was 16) when he saw the flames rising above the chimneys and being told that that is what’s left of his parents. That’s my legacy.  And my lesson.

So I am embarrassed by Jews who oppose the Park 51 project. We have been the victims of much worse.  Jonathan Sarna spelled it out here :  how we (the Jews) were victims of the same type of hatred that Glenn Beck,  Sarah Palin and  their ilk  preach today. In America:  the Goldener Madina.

Oppression starts mundanely. My mom tells the story of how in the beginning of the Fascist occupation of Hungary, Jews couldn’t own radios. When she was 6 she couldn’t buy an ice-cream cone at her favorite vendor because she was a Jew.   That led to you-know-what. 

The majority rules, but not absolutely.  Conventional wisdom can be wrong.  At one point, the majority of Americans supported the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, school segregation between African-Americans and whites, and treating Gays as second-class citizens. The majority has been wrong. 

It’s Elul.  We need to start thinking about T’shuva – Repentance.  If we stand silent, or oppose the right of another religious minority to build a community center or house of worship because it “doesn’t feel right”, we are validating The Final Solution. Because if we deny a minority their rights, we may be next.  

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me. (Martin Niemoller)