The Building’s Auschwitz Tattoo

I came with my parents to Vienna on a heritage trip to see where my grandparents lived and my mother was born before they fled the city in December 1938, just after Kristallnacht.

My grandmother passed away twenty years before the trip when I was a young adult. I remember her telling me about her beautiful apartment just off of Ringstrasse, the famous street that looped through the center of town. She spoke of her governess, her walks in the mountains with her classmates at the edge of the city and the wonderful life the family had.

She had also spoken fondly of Kaiser Franz Josef, of whom I knew nothing. Only years after she died in preparing for the trip did I look him up to see that he was the emperor in Austria when she moved to Vienna as a young child. I audibly gasped when I saw that my grandmother had the same name as one of the emperor’s daughters, and was further shocked to see that my Grandma named my mother after the Archduchess’s daughter.

I was both excited and curious to see her city.

My parents, sisters and I stayed at a hotel on Taborstrasse where my grandmother’s eldest sister had a shoe store before the war. That side of the canal had wide buildings but narrow streets which made it feel more residential than the more regal side of the canal which had the Ringstrasse, the opera house and famous hotels. This neighborhood continues to house most of the city’s Jews – about 8,000 today – and kosher restaurants. It was also around the corner from my grandmother’s first apartment where she lived until her marriage.

We walked to the building, entered the open front door and climbed the stairs of the very wide and somewhat worn large building. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, this building housed many of my grandmother’s relatives, as she was the youngest of thirteen and many siblings married and got apartments right next to the family.

We knocked on the apartment door and explained to the older couple living there why we had come to visit. They were very welcoming and showed us around the small apartment and balcony which had views of the surrounding buildings.

We then continued across the canal to the more affluent side of central Vienna where my grandparents moved after they were married. The stories I heard in my youth led me to believe that my grandparents lived along the Danube River, but the address made clear that their home was actually along a canal which weaved through the city center. At first we walked on the grand Ringstrasse to get to the apartment but it was clear from a map that walking along the canal would be more direct and switched course.

We were all very excited to find the apartment. It was a large corner building with floors which must have been at least twenty feet tall. The first floor of the building on the canal front had a restaurant and retail stores, while the side street was completely residential.

We located the buzzer to her apartment and saw that it was now a law firm. The receptionist seemed nonplussed by our request to come up and buzzed us in.

It was at that moment when we saw the etching in the large wooden double-doors: Jew.

Our excitement melted. The fabricated images of my grandmother’s happy years living in Vienna were washed away by the reason she left.

I rubbed my fingers along each letter to consider whether the vandalism was recent or historic. The engraving was deeper than the surface but not deep through the wood. There was no sawdust or sharp edge to the ‘J’ which was carved the deepest.

Did my grandparents see this? Did my grandmother come home one day after pushing my mother in a stroller along the canal in mid-1938, just after the Nazis were welcomed into Austria in the Anschluss to see that someone was watching her? This fancy apartment was only a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies from her first apartment in the Jewish section of town: was it the local Viennese people who didn’t want her in the neighborhood?

We pushed the thoughts away, entered the building and rode the ornate elevator to the third floor.

The receptionist let us into the apartment and allowed us to roam. The apartment took up most of the floor including the whole front of the building overlooking the canal. We checked out each room, now reconfigured from a very large apartment for four people to a law firm to handle twenty, almost none of whom were present. While many of the walls were original, I could not imagine where or how my grandparents, mother and uncle lived in the space. Only the dining room which served as a large board room provided a seamless setting for the ghosts of my grandparents.

We thanked the receptionist and left.

I stopped at the front door of the building again and took a picture. And then a few more.

Was antisemitism still breathing in Vienna? Was it embedded into the fabric of the city, to emerge as pogroms now and again? In the 1420’s the city’s residents confiscated the Jews’ possessions, burned 200 Jewish adults at the stake and converted the children to Christianity. Under the guide of the cross or orders of the Fuhrer, the city seemed ripe for a match to incinerate its Jews.

My grandparents survived the Holocaust by fleeing Europe a few weeks after the Nazis burned their city’s synagogues and Jewish stores in November 1938. While some of my grandmother’s siblings did not leave and died in the Holocaust, I had never considered my mother or grandparents “Survivors” as they did not go into the concentration camps or have numbers tattooed on their arms like some of my friend’s parents. My grandmother spoke with such love of Vienna, not of pain and torture.

But indeed there was a tattoo. Not on her body, but on the place that she loved.

While the Nazis stole the humanity from Jews tattooing their bodies with numbers, they also marked her home and city. She was not Viennese at all. She was a Jew.

That is the heritage of the Jews of Europe.

More than the government-placed plaque marking the place where the city burned its Jews 600 years ago and the commissioned sculpture of a Jew on his knees scrubbing the streets 80 years ago, the markings on the walls by the people of Vienna reveal the hatred that enabled the slaughters to take place.

I came to Vienna excited to see my grandmother’s city, only to discover it was never hers at all.


Related First One Through articles:

Austria’s View of Kristallnacht

Wearing Our Beliefs

Watching Jewish Ghosts

The Termination Shock of Survivors

The Holocaust Will Not Be Colorized. The Holocaust Will Be Live.

The Long History of Dictating Where Jews Can Live Continues

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BBC Welcomes Release of British Muslim Accused of Beheading Daniel Pearl

On April 2, 2020, a Pakistani court overturned the murder conviction of Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national with a history of extremism for the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Daniel Pearl, before his execution in 2002

According to the Wall Street Journal for whom Pearl worked, “the Karachi court, which heard Mr. Sheikh’s appeal last month, overturned convictions for murder and terrorism, the 40-page ruling said Thursday. The third conviction, kidnapping for ransom, was downgraded to simple kidnapping, and Mr. Sheikh’s sentence was reduced to seven years.” In response to the ruling, Dow Jones which owns the Journal stated “we continue to seek justice for the murder of Daniel Pearl.” Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group for journalists, called the decision “incoherent” and a “shocking denial of justice.”

Beyond the news services, a senior official at the U.S. State Department said “The overturning of the convictions for Daniel Pearl’s murder is an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere. Those responsible for Daniel’s heinous kidnapping and murder must face the full measure of justice.

The reaction from the British news service the BBC was seemingly the complete opposite.

The media service wrote that Sheikh’s “arrest and conviction in 2002 came in quick succession, at a time when Pakistan was under severe pressure from the United States to eliminate terror networks operating on its soil,” making the entire arrest of Sheikh seem like a sham witch hunt.

Rather than quote Dow Jones or Reporters Without Borders, the BBC wrote that “a group of US journalists, including former colleagues of Pearl, said in 2011 that they believed Sheikh had not carried out the beheading,” adding fuel to the reader that the conviction of Sheikh was never credible as even reporters and friends of Pearl believed Sheikh to be innocent.

BBC would not mention the reaction from the U.S. State Department, nor the reaction from Pearl’s father who had called it a “mockery of justice.

In providing background to the case, BBC ran a header “Longstanding questions over Sheikh’s conviction.” The article continued that “The main argument of the defence lawyers was that the prosecution had failed to prove their case beyond doubt. They may have a point. There have been questions over whether the four [Sheikh and three accomplices] had any direct role in Daniel Pearl’s murder, though there was some evidence to show Sheikh’s involvement in his kidnapping.” Complete editorializing in the middle of a news article does not seem an issue for the BBC editors.

The icing on BBC’s celebratory cake was the concluding paragraph:

“But the Pakistani judiciary has sat on his appeal for nearly two decades, and some observers believe the present ruling has come at a time when the mood in the US and the rest of the world has changed and nobody seems to be worried about the terrorists of the past.

Congratulations BBC. Your patriot who conspired with colleagues to kidnap and behead a 38-year old journalist and then cut up his body into pieces will soon be set free. He left behind a pregnant wife and the lingering final words “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am a Jew.” But for the BBC, the true victim in the story is a British Muslim who unjustly lost 18 years of his life due to American-Zionist pressure.


Related First One Through articles:

Anti-Semitism Is Harder to Recognize Than Racism

Names and Narrative: It is Called ‘Area C’

Bernie Sanders’ Antisemitic and Anti-Zionist Friends

For The NY Times, Antisemitism Exists Because the Alt-Right is Racist and Israel is Racist

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American Jewry is Right on Israel

The World Zionist Congress completed its elections which it holds every five years and published the results on March 23, 2020. The voting tally was 123,629, a growth of 118% compared to the 2015 elections.

Exhibit 1: WZC Elections Results for 2020 and 2015

2020 2015
Slate votes per cent votes per cent
Reform 31,500 25.5% 21,766 38.4%
Mizrachi 21,698 17.6% 9,594 16.9%
Eretz Hakodesh 20,023 16.2%
MERCAZ 14,666 11.9% 9,890 17.4%
ZOA 10,313 8.3% 2,738 4.8%
American Forum 4 Israel 8,132 6.6% 3,773 6.6%
Hatikvah 7,932 6.4% 3,148 5.5%
Shas Olami 2,046 1.7%
Kol Yisrael 1,752 1.4%
Dorshie Torah Vtzyion 1,373 1.1%
Herut 1,157 0.9% 304 0.5%
Vision / Alliance for New Vision 1,036 0.8% 735 1.3%
Americans4Israel / Zionist Spring 857 0.7% 2,696 4.8%
Israel Shelanu 769 0.6%
Ohavei Zion 375 0.3% 1,650 2.9%
Green Israel 443 0.8%
123,629 56,737

The enthusiasm for the elections seemed to touch people of all backgrounds and interests with almost every slate showing a net add from 2015 (Ohavei Zion split into Shas Olami and Ohavei Zion, while Green Israel did not run in 2020).

Taking a look in the change in the votes reveals some trends:

Exhibit 2: Change in WZC Votes from 2015 to 2020

Change 2015/2020
Slate # votes votes % # change %
Reform 9,734 -12.9% 45%
Mizrachi 12,104 0.6% 126%
Eretz Hakodesh 20,023 16.2%
MERCAZ 4,776 -5.6% 48%
ZOA 7,575 3.5% 277%
American Forum 4 Israel 4,359 -0.1% 116%
Hatikvah 4,784 0.9% 152%
Shas Olami 2,046 1.7%
Kol Yisrael 1,752 1.4%
Dorshie Torah Vyzion 1,373 1.1%
Herut 853 0.4% 281%
Vision / Alliance for New Vision 301 -0.5% 41%
Americans4Israel / Zionist Spring (1,839) -4.1% -68%
Israel Shelanu 769 0.6%
Ohavei Zion (1,275) -2.6% -77%
Green Israel (443) -0.8% -100%
66,892 118%

While the Reform movement was able to add 9,700 voters from 2015 to 2020, the 45% increase paled to the overall 118% increase in voter turnout. As such, the percentage of the overall votes for the Reform slate declined by 12.9%, from 38.4% to 25.5%. The biggest percentage gainers in the election were the politically right slates of the Zionist Organization of America (+277%) and Herut (+281%). The brand new slate of Eretz Hakodesh was also a stand-out, pulling in over 20,000 votes.

In considering the overall trend of the election, Americans veered strongly to the right, both religiously and politically in their attitudes towards Israel.

Exhibit 3: WZC Elections by Religious and Political Leanings

Exhibit 3 shows that the religiously right slates added a remarkable 371% votes while the religiously left only grew by 46%. The political divide wasn’t quite as sharp, with the politically right growing by 231% and the politically left slates by 152%. The slates which touted Zionism without the religious or political underpinnings grew by 39%.

There is obviously much speculation as to why the right-leaning voters came out in such great numbers relative to the left-leaning ones. Overall, American Jews still lean heavily towards the left politically and the Orthodox movement is much smaller than the other branches, yet the masses did not come out to vote in the same percentages as right-leaning American Jews.

Mobilization

A key part of getting the votes is simply getting the voters to spend the few minutes and few dollars to cast their vote.

The Mizrachi slate was effective at getting their supporters to participate in this election cycle. The slate consists of Amit, the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University, Touro, Bnei Akiva, National Council of Young Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America. It worked its email lists and had people at the college campuses urging fellow students to vote for its slate.

The success of Eretz Hakodesh comes from a different orientation than the other slates which rely on established organizational structures. It, like Shas Olami, used the power and draw of its rabbinical leaders. The further right one goes on the religious spectrum, the more inclined one is to follow the directives of one’s spiritual leader. If the rabbis of the devout tell their followers to go out and vote, they will do so without the persistent reminders and second-guessing that exists to a much greater extent in the other denominations.

The Battle Within

The political right rallied the vote in greater numbers than ever before due to the perceived threats to Israel from within the American Jewish community. While Israel has always had hostile Arab and Muslim neighbors, the support of America and diaspora Jewry was never in question, until recently.

Over the past years, the Democratic Party has become more critical of Israel. While the party ditched its pro-Israel platform in 2012, there was still hope among many Jews that the pivot to a “neutral” stance would bring peace to the region. But in 2014, the peace process collapsed and in 2015 the Democratic Obama administration signed the Iranian nuclear deal giving Iran a legal pathway to nuclear weapons without requiring any change in the country’s behavior including its calls to destroy the Jewish State. At the end of 2015, the Obama administration allowed the passage of United Nations Resolution 2334 which declared it illegal for any Jew to live east of the 1949 Armistice Lines including the Old City of Jerusalem. By 2018, vocal anti-Zionists like Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) won seats in Congress promoting a boycott (BDS) of Israel. For many American Jews, it was too much to bear, especially as the two surrounded Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is the most anti-Israel presidential candidate ever to run on a national ticket.

The ZOA platform targeted BDS and supported a Unified Jerusalem, fielding a slate of 27 groups like Americans for a Safe Israel, The Lawfare Project, NORPAC, One Israel Fund and Students Supporting Israel. These groups are fully engaged in a mission to support and defend Israel all year. Their Zionism is not a complacent one as it might be for some of the other slates which are pro-Israel, but in a more passive and secondary mode. ZOA, like Herut Zionists, were highly motivated to combat the strong forces turning against Israel from within the American Jewish community.

ZOA Chairman Mark Levenson said “we were at this for nine months and a lot hard work went into getting us here. There are several important issues for us to address including fighting BDS and terrorism and we’re thrilled to have a majority of center-right and right-leaning parties with whom to work with going forward.

The left-wing was passionate as well, with an additional 34,800 people voting for progressive religious and political slates. The non-Orthodox movements had an advantage of getting people to vote when they gathered at temples on Saturday which the Orthodox groups could not as they do not use computers or pay for items on the Sabbath. But the nearly thirty-five thousand incremental votes only tell part of the story. There are a significant number of left-wing Jews who support groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink and IfNotNow. These groups were not allowed to participate in the elections by the American Zionist Movement as they do not support the Jerusalem Program and are viewed as anti-Zionist. Many of those groups’ supporters likely voted for the Hatikvah slate which is viewed as a tad more mainstream and therefore allowed to participate in the elections, but many alt-left Jews likely avoided the WZC election altogether.

Overall, the parties on the right surpassed those on the left, in a dramatic reversal of the 2015 WZC election results which had the left trouncing the right by a margin of 34,804 to 13,371.

Reacting to the results, Vice Chairman of World Zionist Organization and Chairman of World Likud Yaakov Hagoel said “It is amazing to see how the number of ballots cast doubled in this election from the last congress. It is a testament of how the Zionist movement continues to work and to grow even reaching new communities that were not involved in the past. Similarly, we are thrilled that the broad right wing Zionistic factions have grown in number and strength, which will ensure that this World Zionist Congress will move the national institutions in a better direction on behalf of the Jewish nation.


In July 2015, just a few months after Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress, and one month after the last WZC election, the Jewish people commemorated the holiday of Tisha B’Av, about the destruction of the Jewish Temples. Don Futterman, the Program Director at The Moriah Fund and columnist for the left-wing paper Haaretz wrote the following:

For secular Jews, “Tisha b’Av seems a vestigial organ. It may have had a function in an earlier stage of our evolution, but today seems irrelevant. Many non-Orthodox Jews feel there is enough officially mandated sadness in our calendar.

Viewing Jerusalem as a “vestigial organ,” likely made it easy for secular Jews to support Obama’s nod to U.N. Resolution 2334. That same attitude may be permeating swaths of progressive American Jewry regarding all of Israel, as an outdated talisman unworthy of support; an easy sacrifice to build bridges to coveted intersectional brethren for more pressing social justice causes. At least that’s what American Jews of the political and religious right believe, and they came out in droves to combat that sentiment and fully support the Jewish State.


Related First One Through articles:

Facts and Stats about the World Zionist Congress Elections

A Review of the Fifteen US Slates for the World Zionist Congress

Losing the Temples, Knowledge and Caring

Members of Knesset and the Jerusalem Program

Jews, Judaism and Israel

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Members of Knesset and the Jerusalem Program

The World Zionist Congress just finished its elections on March 11, 2020. There were few conditions to voting in the United States such as being Jewish and 18 years old. However, there was another requirement to have one’s diaspora voice heard in Israel: a confirmation of supporting the Jerusalem Program. As detailed by the American Zionist Movement, those beliefs are:

  • The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael, and the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation;
  • Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli society.
  • Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.
  • Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language;
  • Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism;
  • Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.

Yet these same principles are not held by many members of Israel’s own parliament, the Knesset.

The Joint List – a collection of four Arab parties – received 15 seats out of the 120 in Knesset, a 12.5 per cent tally. The party is led by Ayman Odeh, a man who called on Palestinian Arabs across the Green Line to fight against Israel and refused to attend a meeting in New York City held on the same floor as the Jewish Agency, the group that helps facilitate “aliyah to Israel,” as called for in the Jerusalem Program. The party also includes Ahmed Tibi who has said that Hamas is “not a terror organization,” even with a charter calling for the total destruction of Israel and the murder of its Jewish inhabitants.

The Joint List of Arab parties celebrates its showing in the March 2, 2020 Israeli elections with Odeh and Tibi at center (Photo: AFP)

This collection of Arab parties includes people against the Jerusalem Program and Israel itself.

In the past, Arab List Members of Knesset (MKs) included people like Hanin Zoabi who saidI do not represent the State of Israel nor do I speak for the State of Israel, but rather in the name of a struggle that performs the exact opposite of the role of the Israeli Knesset, according to its vision.” Current MK Yousef Jabareen is a member of Hadash (part of the Joint List) who openly calls Israel a racist society and speaks of ending the national identity of Israel.

Israelis somehow don’t seem to mind.

Hadash-member Raja Za’atra founded the B.D.S. (boycott, divest and sanction) movement in Israel and has compared Israel to ISIS and Nazis. While not a member of Knesset he is welcomed as a member of the Haifa City Council.

The State of Israel demands more Zionist affirmation from Jews in the diaspora than from its own citizens with zero effect. The March 2020 elections concluded with openly hostile anti-Zionist Israelis securing a considerable showing in the Knesset, while the alt-left Hatikvah slate had to lie about its Zionist bona fides to participate in the United States’ WZC elections and also secured a sizable vote.

These anti-Zionists are inside the power structure regardless of approach, so a decision should be made whether the Jerusalem Program be scrapped as irrelevant or actively enforced in both Israel and the diaspora to discharge the venom within.


Related First One Through articles:

Ayman Odeh Doesn’t Speak for Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis or Peace

“Peace” According to Palestinian “Moderates”

In Defense of Foundation Principles

Arabs in Jerusalem

Jews, Judaism and Israel

Israeli Arabs SUPPORT Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People

The Debate About Two States is Between Arabs Themselves and Jews Themselves

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Ten Good Men

This weekend, March 13, 2020, will witness the first weekend without an Orthodox Shabbat minyan in Westchester County NY in probably 150 years, as the coronavirus pandemic hit this community very directly. It is so severe, that the National Guard is being deployed in New Rochelle. Other shuls around the state, country and world are also canceling their organized services.

Quarantine zone in New Rochelle, NY, with the Young Israel of New Rochelle at center

The concept of at least ten men gathering for prayer together is considered to originate in Genesis 18, where Abraham argues with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction.  In verse 23, Abraham asks God “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” He proceeds to argue that a large city should be spared if there are 50 good people living there. When God agrees, Abraham pushes further to lower the threshold to 45, then 40, 30, all of the way down to 10 people at which point he stops. He seemed to acknowledge that the minimum viability for a city is ten good people.

Sages used this story as the foundation to decide on a quorum and instituted a policy of ten men over the age of thirteen to be the baseline for a minyan where certain prayers and activities could take place, such as reading from the Torah.

But this week – the week after the holiday of Purim which saw the world turned upside down 2,400 years ago – is witnessing the flipping of a minyan on its very foundation. Whereas Abraham called for ten good men to save a city, the pandemic is prohibiting ten good men from assembling together. While the lack of ten doomed two cities, hundreds and thousands of good people are getting sick and under quarantine.

When Abraham argued with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, he did not ask if ten people were assembled in one place together; he just cared that there was a decent number of righteous people living in the area. So we ask and pray today, at a time when people are not able to congregate at their synagogues but must daven at home, may God realize the breadth and depth of good and righteous people living in our towns and bring peace and health to everyone.


Related First One Through articles:

Abraham’s Hospitality: Lessons for Jews and Arabs

Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

The Loss of Reality from the Distant Lights

Ruth, The Completed Jew

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Defeating Haman’s Big Ten Sons and Modern Antisemitism

The Book of Esther has a protagonist and antagonist with clear pedigrees. The protagonist, Mordecai is introduced in chapter 2, verse 5 as:

“In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite.”

The antagonist of the story, Haman, similarly has his legacy laid out in chapter 3, verse 1:

“Some time afterward, King Ahasuerus promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite; he advanced him and seated him higher than any of his fellow officials.”

Each person is tied back to their father and further to show the essence of the person and family. Mordecai’s roots are in the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe abutting the Jewish holy capital city of Jerusalem. It is the tribe whose descendants came from Jacob’s (Israel’s) favorite son.

For his part, Haman is a descendant of the King Agag, the king of Amalek (Samuel 1, Chapter 15). Some generations before the story of Esther, a fellow member of Mordecai’s tribe of Benjamin, King Saul, failed to kill King Agag as directed by the Samuel the Prophet. The Amalekites were deemed forever evil, as the nation which attacked the Jewish people as they walked in the desert hundreds of years earlier, between slavery in Egypt and freedom in their promised land in Israel (Exodus 17).

The lineages of Mordecai and Haman are an essential part of the story. Two nations in Exodus faced off, with a powerful Amalek nation attacking a weaker Jewish one, followed by two kings in Samuel 1 where the stronger Jewish king failed to kill the king of Amalek. This current story is yet a further rung down ladder, with important laymen facing off. At this time, a respected Jew without real power confronts an anti-Semite with power due to his proximity to the king.

In this third chapter, the descendants of Benjamin and the Children of Israel thoroughly defeat the descendants of Agag and Amalek with the help of the Persian king.

But is there a fourth chapter to the saga? Is the Book of Esther the conclusion of the generational battles between Israel and Amalek with the killing of Haman?

The Jewish scribes give us a clue.

The megillah, the Book of Ether, is uniquely read twice a year. It is the the only one of the five megillot that is read from a parchment like the Torah itself, and has a blessing recited before it is read. As such, the physical writing instructs the listener as much as the words.

Esther chapter 9, reveals how the ten sons of Haman are murdered after their father is killed. Scribes write the names of the murdered progeny in a unique manner:

The name of each son is written with extra large letters and each name is distinct and separated from all other words on the page. It is the only time in the story that their names are even mentioned, and after they are, the text resumes its regular style print stating

“the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the foe of the Jews. But they did not lay hands on the spoil.”

The ten sons of Haman are not tied to royalty, the King Agag, as was their father; they are simply tied to the legacy of a notorious anti-Semite. That is the summation of what defines them.

These ten Jew haters were killed by the local Jews themselves (Esther 9:5) and not by royal edict as was the case for their father Haman. While they once appeared larger-than-life for the once weak Jews, the common Jews gathered strength to defeat not royalty, but mere Jew-haters.

The battles between the Children of Israel and Amalek had four chapters: between nations, between kings, between powerful laymen and ultimately between regular people. The Book of Esther tells the story of chapters three and four, and is read twice to make sure we internalize the message of defeating antisemitism: recognize that it is neither supreme or legal by royal decree. It is just Jew-hatred which comes in various sizes and shapes, all of which must be vanquished.


Related First One Through articles:

Taking the Active Steps Towards Salvation

When Power Talks the Truth

Purim 2020, Jewish Haikus

Purim 2019, The Progressive Megillah

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The UN’s Antisemitic Host

The United Nations held a two day conference on February 28 and 29, 2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia called the “International Conference on the Question of Palestine.” It was organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia and the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

The keynote remarks were given by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The Prime Minister used the forum to talk of the Israeli government as the “Tel Aviv regime,” refusing to acknowledge Israel’s capital in any part of Jerusalem. He called the United States “dishonest” and its peace plan a “mockery.”

Malaysian prime minister, 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad

He went on to discuss the Holocaust and the “Nakba.” As covered by the United Nations media:

“Recalling that Israel came into being in 1948 by seizing land from Palestinians, he pointed out that the Holocaust lasted six years and the Nakba has been going on for more than 70 years. The Holocaust was committed by others, he noted, asking why Palestinian have to pay the price. The pro-Israel nations were quick to hold a tribunal at Nuremberg to try Nazi war criminals, but no tribunal has been established for Palestinian victims. Malaysia’s foreign policy towards Palestine has remained unchanged, he said, recalling that when the State of Palestine was proclaimed in 1988, Malaysia promptly acknowledged it. Malaysia stands by its position that the creation of an independent State of Palestine through a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, is acceptable. He went on to express hope that the International Criminal Court will take note of that blatant case of injustice of the century and institute proceedings against Israel.”

Over and again, the host for the United Nations conference compared Israel to Nazi Germany. He said the Nakba is actually worse than the Holocaust, as the latter only went on for six years while the former is running over 70 years. Even more, the world made the Nazis pay for their actions and he is waiting for the world to similarly punish the Jewish State “war criminals.”

The revolting sentiment comparing the deliberate slaughter of millions of innocent civilians to a civil war over land is abhorrent. But the United Nations proudly posted about both days of the conference, entitling the coverage of the Prime Minister’s remarks as “Unilateral Peace Plan Is ‘Mockery’ of Global Efforts to End Israel-Palestine Conflict, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tells International Conference.” The UN clearly believes that this is a man of “peace” seeking to end a “conflict” in a respected “international conference.”

The Prime Minister of Malaysia’s history of anti-Semitic remarks such as calling Jews “hooked nose” and that they “rule the world by proxy” – comments he defended in the name of free speech – was not the least bit troubling to the United Nations which let him host and have the keynote address at a UN-sponsored forum about the Israeli-Arab Conflict.

The UN is making clear every day that it is not just a forum for anti-Zionists but anti-Semites as well.


Related First One. Through articles:

The Holocaust and the Nakba

Time to Dissolve Key Principles of the “Inalienable Rights of Palestinians”

Is Columbia University Promoting Violence Against Israel and Jews?

The United Nations Can Hear the Songs of Gazans, but Cannot See Their Rockets

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Rumor Contagion on Coronavirus in Congress

Yes, it’s me.

Like many news articles, there are facts, assumed facts, projections and innuendo to sell papers and serve as click-bait. Because coronavirus has captured people’s imaginations, it has become a wonderful vehicle to instill fear and capture headlines.

A friend of mine – who has mostly been kept anonymous by media outlets to protect the family’s privacy – has tested positive for coronavirus. The news media is correct that he lives in New Rochelle, is a lawyer and is in the hospital. His wife and son have also tested positive but are home and feel relatively fine as does the neighbor (lives on the same street, a number of homes away) who drove them to the hospital. Only the 50-year old lawyer is in the hospital as he had some prior medical issues which made him much more vulnerable to the strain.

It is also true that he attended the Modern Orthodox synagogue, the Young Israel of New Rochelle, on Shabbat February 22 and a funeral and bat mitzvah on Sunday February 23rd. It was there that he came into contact with many people who would later attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. the following week. Some of those people at the conference went on to lobby members of Congress, so AIPAC sent a warning memo to members of Congress.

This was done as an act of major precaution, and there is virtually no reason to fear.

The synagogue in New Rochelle is a large one. Many of the people who are now self-quarantined – myself included – were just in the same building or same room as the infected man. The term “contact” is sometimes used very broadly as it has been now to be the most cautious, but 99% of the people who attended services on February 22 and 23 were not within ten feet of the man and feel perfectly fine.

I attended the funeral at YINR on the 23rd, for a parent of a friend from elementary school and high school. I did not see the infected man at that time but was merely in the same 50 foot-by-50 foot room with him for an hour, as were my parents.

On Saturday February 29th, I decided last minute to go down to AIPAC when I learned of three guys from my shul in a different community in Westchester county driving down to D.C. with an empty seat. During the car ride I reached out broadly to see how I could register for the conference and find a place to stay. Coincidentally, the victim’s wife responded to me that she had cancelled her trip to AIPAC as her spouse was feeling sick; she suggested I try to book their Marriott hotel room. I was unable to get into that hotel which was adjacent to the convention center but found one a few blocks away.

No news about coronavirus in Westchester had broken at that time. I hugged, shook hands and conversed with several hundred people at AIPAC on Sunday and Monday, some of whom went to lobby in Congress. I did not lobby, and returned home Monday afternoon in the car with the same three men with whom I drove down. We got back to Westchester at 8:30pm.

Vice President Mike Pence (head of coronavirus task force) addressing AIPAC March 2, 2020 (photo: First One Through)

Initial news of the virus in the community broke the following morning just before 7:00am as my son was getting ready to head on the bus to school. Additional information would flow throughout the day about who had gotten sick and the need to self-quarantine.

I have remained at home, as have my sons who attend two of the schools which were closed because of the virus. None of us has shown any signs of illness, but we are following the guidelines of the health commissioner as a matter of best practices.

Of course, I am not the only one who attended Young Israel of New Rochelle over the weekend of February 22/23 who then went on to AIPAC but I’m sure my story is fairly common: the “contact” we had with the sick man was neither close nor direct. That is true for my interactions with most of the 18,000 people at AIPAC and, in turn, the people at AIPAC with members of Congress.

But stoking fear and the urge for ad revenue seems too great for most. Don’t fall for it.

Please pray for the people who are indeed sick, including Eliezer Yitzchok ben Shifra.


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At AIPAC, Joe Biden Waves His Finger While Bernie Sanders Flips the Bird

The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering kicked off in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2020 during the highly unusual backdrop of both an election in Israel (March 2nd) and the thick of the presidential campaign in the United States (March 3rd). It was an highly opportune time for politicians and candidates to feed red meat to the pro-Israel crowd.

The politicians with some sanity understood that.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) addressed the audience in an unambiguous style that Israel is a strongly bi-partisan matter for Republicans and Democrats alike. He said that a strong Israel is vital for American interests and that he would always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the strong American ally and oppose any notion of boycotting the Jewish State. Unfortunately, his time slot was right before dinner so much of the crowd was already out the door and didn’t hear it.

In the morning, Senator Amy Klobuchar who is running for president spoke to the crowd via a pre-recorded message. With the U.S. Capital placed on the green screen behind her, she spoke of her long, strong support for Israel and her desire to see peace emerge in the Middle East.

Foreign leaders took the stage to address the 18,000 people, including from Serbia and Congo, who spoke of their strong affinity for the Jewish people. The president of Serbia recalled how his country was quick to back the Balfour Declaration and has always been proud of its relationship of the Jewish community and stated his desire to deepen the connections to the Jewish State. The leader of the Congo quoted scriptures and spoke of his country’s expanding ties with Jerusalem.

President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, addressing AIPAC in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2020 (photo: First On Through)

President of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, saying he will appoint an ambassador to Israel during the AIPAC conference on March 1, 2020 (photo: First One Through)

And then there was former Vice President Joe Biden. He spoke to the audience via a pre-recorded message that looked like he stepped out of a tour bus into an alleyway to quickly say something to a crowd of people he really preferred not to address. While he said he was pro-Israel, he was not convincing, as he sternly warned the crowd that actions by the Israeli government to approve Jewish housing east of the Green Line risked making Israel a wedge issue in American politics. His meaning was clear: only Republicans would give Israelis unconditional support and the green light to live in Judea and Samaria; a Biden administration would come down hard on Israel.

Vice President Joe Biden addressing AIPAC in a pre-recorded message

The Biden video went off with a thud. Whereas the president of Serbia received a standing ovation, the audience was puzzled why Biden would opt to give a speech that was seemingly crafted by staffers from Code Pink and the New Israel Fund.

The thinning Democratic herd just lost Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer, and the leaders of AIPAC were faced with the realization that despite their repeated assertions that the group works closely with both Democrats and Republicans, the two front runners of the remaining Democrats were either hostile or ambivalent about Israel and the US-Israel relationship: Bernie Sanders called AIPAC a racist “platform for bigotry,” and Joe Biden said that real friends told friends when they were drunk and took away their car keys.

The new president of AIPAC, Betsy Berns Korn sounded the alarm bell. The emergence of politicians against the U.S.-Israel relationship is not limited to a few fringe freshmen members of Congress. It is working its way through the entire political power structure.

In November 2015, Vice President Biden addressed a progressive Jewish crowd and stabbed a finger at Israel, admonishing the entire Jewish State for something a private Israeli citizen had once said about Obama. In March 2020, Biden continued to admonish the Jewish State with a wave of his finger that the American-Israeli bond was very, very conditional, while Senator Bernie Sanders flipped AIPAC the bird. Will the pro-Israel community raise their hands in surrender or take a fighting stance?


Related First One Through articles:

While Joe Biden Passionately Defends Israel, He Ignores Jewish Rights and the History of the Jewish State

The Invisible Anti-Semitism in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union

Mike Bloomberg, Where #NeverTrump Meets #NeverBernie

The New York Times’ Select Defense of a Civilian

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Background Checks, a Palestinian Military and Israeli “Military Occupation”

Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialist and candidate for United States president, has been vocally against the Israeli government which he has called “racist,” and against Israel’s “military occupation” of Palestinian land which denies the Palestinians “dignity.”

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the notions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being a racist, or whether there is a “military occupation,” it requires a certain twisted logic for Sanders to condemn Israel and advocate for Palestinians, while simultaneously advocating for strong background checks in regard to gun safety.

Liberals may note that Sanders spent twenty years opposing any gun control including background checks as a senator from a rural state but he has taken to aggressive background checks now that he is running for president. His campaign specifically calls out:

support [for] “red flag” laws and legislation to ensure we keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers”

Under current federal law, those convicted of domestic abuse can lose their guns if they are currently or formerly married to their victim, live with the victim, have a child together or are a victim’s parent or guardian. Sanders supported a 2019 amendment expanding the law to stalkers and current or former dating partners. His current campaign pledge of “red flag” laws would further extend those laws to enable law enforcement to seize guns from people who are accused of being a potential threat, even if they have not been convicted of anything.

So Sanders believes that the second amendment of the United States, “to keep and bear Arms,” is not really a right but a privilege, and one which can not only be taken away once convicted by a court, but even with a mere accusation.

Advocates like Sanders argue that such legislation is required to address gun violence – against women in particular – even if it may mean that some Americans are able to own guns while others are not.

Which brings us back to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Sanders objections to Israel.

For decades, the working assumption of a two-state solution included the proviso that a new Palestinian state would be demilitarized, meaning that it would have no standing army. The Trump peace plan advocates for the same, specifically calling for Israel to have full control of border crossings and control of the air. Objectors have stated that such ruling denies Palestinians their dignity and leaves them under Israeli military control. These objectors claim that a Palestinian state without an army is no country at all.

Curiously, many of these detractors in the United States are also progressives who support strict gun control to protect victims and curb violence. However, they excuse the wars, intifadas, stabbings, rockets and bombings of Palestinian Arabs against Israelis. They ignore the incitement to violence and the demonization of Jews from the Arab media and leadership. They discount the antisemitic laws which call for the death penalty for any Arab selling land to Jews. They scoff at polls which show that 93 per cent of Palestinian are antisemitic. For them, the Palestinian Arabs are the victims and any law or aggression they take are purely defensive in nature. It is a “resistance.”

Members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip [File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

But the reality is clear: Jews are the most persecuted people in history. Arabs have attacked them since they began coming back to the land of Israel in the 1920’s. To this day, the Palestinian Arabs continue to pay people who kill Jews and voted Hamas to 58% of parliament with the most antisemitic charter in the history of the world.

So the future of a possible two-state solution will have Israel controlling Palestine militarily. It may not meet Bernie Sanders’ ideal of Palestinian “dignity,” but there has never been a group which failed a background test so fantastically.


Related First One Through articles:

Losing Rights

Time to Dissolve Key Principles of the “Inalienable Rights of Palestinians”

International-Domestic Abuse: Obama and Netanyahu

Israel and Wars

The Parameters of Palestinian Dignity

Half Standards: Gun Control and the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Deal

Empowering Women… To Murder

The New York Times Excuses Palestinian “Localized Expressions of Impatience.” I Mean Rockets.

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