Comments for Yom Hashoah Service April 26 2014
Commemorated jointly between Hollywood Temple beth El and the Iranian American Jewish Federation
Seventy Five Years ago, my father sat behind iron bars in a fortress in Brno in what had formerly been the independent country of Czechoslovakia. Because the great nations of Europe, especially the British and the French were afraid to stand up to Hitler, the tiny nation of Czechoslovakia was swallowed up, after the pretext of the Germans that they were merely seeking to protect the rights of their fellow Germans on the borderline with Germany. Czechoslovakia was dismembered completely, my father was caught up in a round-up of anyone the Nazis had doubts about and they took first step towards the Holocaust and towards the war that engulfed the world in flames.
My father, Rabbi William Weinberg, was fortunate to survive. We have heard from our dear friend, Joe Alexander, on his struggle to survive. We know, however, that those who can testify and remind the world of what has happened are dwindling in number.
Is it time to move on? Is it time to put the past aside? Already in the aftermath of the Shoah, there were those who said it was time to “ forgive and forget.”
What is the danger?
Rhonda Fink Whitman, a journalist, went to the campus of a major university and asks students at random what they knew about the Holocaust. These students were perfectly bright and articulate, and completely ignorant. Not only did they not know of the Holocaust, they did not know what country was involved, did not know that Jews were killed, did not even know what World War II or who President Roosevelt was.
I am sure you have heard the quote by George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". If there is reason to worry for the future, these students who have no concept of the past, are reason enough.
My dear friends, it is especially meaningful to me, that we are holding a joint program this morning and evening. The Shoah was not a German or Polish Jewish issue; it was not a European Jewish affair. Every Jew, whether in the safety of America, or across the Mediterranean or in the Middle East, was threatened by it. Hitler's henchmen were beginning the round up of Jews in North Africa, Tel Aviv was on the Luftwaffes hit list, and the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini of Jerusalem was advising Hitler and organizing troops to round up Jews in Yugoslavia.
Furthermore, for so many of you who are yourselves refugees, you were oppressed as Jews by atheist communists in the Soviet Union, you were oppressed as Jews by Islamic or nationalist fanatics in the Middle East. You experienced in your selves fleeing, scrambling for a safe refuge, finding a place , a haven on strange shores. You know it.
Now, the clock is moving on. It is now, for us, the second, third and fourth generation , the children and grandchildren of the surviving remnant, to keep alive the memory of what has happened. I am going to conclude with my own take on Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address:
“It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the world shall have a new birth of freedom, and all peoples will be privileged to a great day of government of the people, by the people, for the people, a world in which Jew, Christian and Moslem, Israeli and Arab and Iranian, and all peoples, will live in peace . Amen. “
On a once—and Future?—Golden Age
Yom Ha Shoah Memorial evening of the Iranian American Jewish Federation April 26—
(This is an extended discussion of my comments from the proscenium that evening.)
Tonight, the core theme of this event is the great work of the Iranian people in saving Jews during World war II, in sharp contrast with the vitriol we see emanating from Iran today. It reminds us that there was, and could have been, and we pray, will again be, a different Islamic civilization.
How many of us are aware that the founder of Islamic studies in Europe in the 19th century was a devout Jew, the Secretary of the Budapest Jewish community, by the name of Ignaz Goldziher, who studied with the scholars of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Yes, over a century ago, a Jew could be the leading exponent of Islam to Christian Europe.
How many are aware that the Sharif of Mecca, a century ago, could publish openly in the official newspaper, called “ Al Qibla”( the direction of prayer, to Mecca), a statement that Palestine was “ a sacred and beloved homeland of its original sons, “ and called on the Arabs to welcome the Jews as brethren.
How many of us are aware that there once was a different Moslem world than that which we see today.
One of my professors in Rabbinical school was Rabbi Moshe Zucker. He was one of the world’s most renowned scholars on the Golden Age of interaction between Jewish and Moslem philosophers. He showed us the works of great rabbis who spoke of the writings of their contemporary Moslem thinkers using phrases like “ we say” ,”we think”, not “they say”, “they think”. None other than Maimonides, the Rambam, would dedicate major sections of his “ Moreh Nevuchim”, the guide to the Perplexed, explaining the influence of Mutakalimim and Mutazila ( the rational logicians) on the great Jewish philosophers who preceded him.
What was his greatest heartbreak?
I was a student in Jerusalem the same year he came to spend a Sabbatical year. It was three years after the Six-Day War. Old Jerusalem was finally accessible to Jews and he was hoping to meet with some of the respected Moslem scholars of the city. Here, after years of studying Islamic philosophy in the abstract, he would, he believed , have someone scholarly with whom he could interact.
He was greatly disappointed. Not one, not one Kadi or Imam would meet with him. They had cut off all possibility of communication and of understanding. The political animosity had overwhelmed the potential bridge of religious understanding.
We have gathered to commemorate the victims of the Shoah. We recall an Islamic world that, not so long ago, was very different. We are concerned now to see a civilization torn between modernity and antiquity, between warring factions that threaten not only Israel but themselves even more.
Our theme this evening is “ Holocaust-Past, Present, Never Again”. We, Jews, Moslems, Christians, Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu- we ultimately pray to the same God, so we pray to God –“Please, Open our hearts to serve you, to help us work for a day which will be, for all of us, a Golden Age of humanity. As the Prophet Isaiah preached: “They not do evil nor wreak destruction upon my Holy mountain, for the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal as the waters cover the oceans.” Amen.