Nahafoch Hu- It is upside down , Mityahadim, --Becoming Jews—and LaAmod al
Nafsham-Standing in Defense of their lives.
This past Wednesday was Shushan Purim, the date Purim was
celebrated, according to the Megillah, in Susa, Shushan, the capital, and
therefore, by extension , in Jerusalem as well.
I always try to tie in my theme with something from my
father’s teachings and experiences, as that is also his Yahrzeit. As many of
you know, my father, Rabbi William, or Wilhelm, as he was in the old country,
served as the first State Rabbi of Hesse, the American held western zone of
Germany, following the Shoah and worked with the survivors, the American military
government, and the newly emerging West German government. I wrote of his
upbringing and his experiences during the War in my book, The Courage of the
Spirit. I am slowly coming around to next working on his documents from the
period of reconstruction of Jewish life after the horrors of the Holocaust.
I want to tie in my presentation with three quotes from the Megillah
of Esther, actually in reverse order of their appearance in the text:
The first from the Megillah 9:1
וּבִשְׁנֵים֩ עָשָׂ֨ר חֹ֜דֶשׁ הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ אֲדָ֗ר
בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁ֨ה עָשָׂ֥ר יוֹם֙ בּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִגִּ֧יעַ דְּבַר־הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ וְדָת֖וֹ
לְהֵעָשׂ֑וֹת בַּיּ֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֨ר שִׂבְּר֜וּ אֹיְבֵ֤י הַיְּהוּדִים֙ לִשְׁל֣וֹט בָּהֶ֔ם וְנַהֲפ֣וֹךְ ה֔וּא
אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁלְט֧וּ הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים הֵ֖מָּה בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶֽם׃
And so, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is,
the month of Adar—when the king’s command and decree were to be executed, the
very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their
power, the opposite
happened, and the Jews got their enemies in their power.
The phrase, Nahafoch hu, the opposite happened, comes to
describe the entire nature of Purim, hafoch-upside down-Instead of being
histories eternal victims, we were, at
least at that moment, histories winner.
Fast forward some three years from the end of the Holocaust,
and, despite the uprising of the Palestinian Arabs, backed by 6 powerful Arab
armies, and, behind the scenes, assisted by the British, “venahafoch hu”
“very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to
get them in their power, the
opposite happened, and the Jews got their enemies in their power.”
In this theme, I have a recording of a Purim celebration in
a DP ( displaced persons) camp sometime after the war, with a Cantor and my father.
It was recorded and broadcast on German radio.
I will play a few excerpts from it:
C:\Users\norof\OneDrive\The Weinberg Zadok Family Tree\Rabbi
Dr William Weinberg\Audio Tapes
Cantor to 1:55
The parallel between the two festivals- in both, there is a
despotic figure, in both the despotic figure can not tolerate a people who
choose to be different.Thus in common with all despots, who seek to make all
the world uniform in their regime.Both have a happy end.
Cantor continues. Rabbi picks up at 8:52 Distinctions; The
Macabees- for word Hammer- strike out against the empire and the Jewish people
are reinvigorated. Thus , a parallel for his day.
The second verse I have in mind comes just before the first
וּבְכׇל־מְדִינָ֨ה וּמְדִינָ֜ה וּבְכׇל־עִ֣יר וָעִ֗יר מְקוֹם֙
אֲשֶׁ֨ר דְּבַר־הַמֶּ֤לֶךְ וְדָתוֹ֙ מַגִּ֔יעַ שִׂמְחָ֤ה וְשָׂשׂוֹן֙
לַיְּהוּדִ֔ים מִשְׁתֶּ֖ה וְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב וְרַבִּ֞ים מֵֽעַמֵּ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ מִֽתְיַהֲדִ֔ים
כִּֽי־נָפַ֥ל פַּֽחַד־הַיְּהוּדִ֖ים עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃
And in every province and in every city, when the king’s
command and decree arrived, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast
and a holiday. And many of
the people of the land professed to be Jews, for the fear of the Jews
had fallen upon them.
Now, Mityahed- the reflexive form of being Jewish, so to
say, self-identify as Jew. It is later on taken to convey the sense of
I use this as a starting point for a new discovery I am on
and I am letting you in on the ground floor. A few years ago, I was in touch
with the archivist of the Jewish Museum of Berlin, one that had been rebuilt by
the famous architect, Daniel Liebeskind. He notified me that he had found a
large folder of documents from my father’s period of service in Frankfurt, and
that most of them dealt with conversion. Until then, I thought I had in my
possession all of my father’s documents, which I had donated to the Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington DC, but I had copies of all the originals. Here were completely new
documents. I had no way to get to Berlin, but the archivist eventually had the
scanned and sent me the scanned copies. Now, I am finally getting around to
reviewing theme. I want to answer the question: why would someone German choose
to join a people who had almost been erased form the earth by his or her own
people. For some, it was matter
of having a Jewish parent or grandparent, and completing the connection. For
some, it came out of falling in love with someone Jewish, and deciding to make
their fate jointly, often, in search of a new life in the new land of Israel,
with all its danger and poverty.For some, however, it came, as if, out of the clear
So, I wan to share a description by one of these converts. I
have blocked out names and identifiers by request of the Museum to respect
privacy concerns( which, by the way, are much stricter in Europe than USA).
So, here is one
“I was born … 1925 in
Cologne. …April, 1939, went for my year of national service[ 8 months farm work
for Hitler Youth]. Thereafter, ten months in mandatory national labor service …
1940 -1942, I attended the Preparatory School for Nursing in Cologne. At the
conclusion, I served for a half year in
Wartime Support Service as auxiliary nurse in a hospital in Erfurt. To my great
joy, I was finally accepted as NS ( National Socialist?) Teaching Nurse in
Cologne, where I stayed in this capacity till the end of the war.
“I worked under very difficult, almost unbearable conditions,
but with the conviction that I was doing something good for my fatherland. To
my great regret, in May of 1945 the regime of which I was an admirer fell. … I couldn't quickly find a position as a nurse at home
given the conditions at the time, but was dependent on work and no with no
wages …, without thinking about it,
accepted an offer for a position with a Jewish family .
“Up until then I knew very little about Jews, the Jewish
question as such was very foreign and what I knew was a pale memory of the
destruction of Jewish businesses in
1938. Suddenly I saw myself under one roof
with the sons of the people, of whom 6 million --I could not believe at
first- men and women and children had been annihilated in a cruel manner by my
fellow countrymen. It was only then that
I began to concern myself with the so-called Jewish question. I spent a lot of
sleeplessness over it in order to understand what could have caused my sisters
and brothers to be so cruel. Systematically, my sympathy rose on behalf of the persecuted people, and I increasingly
became a stranger to my people from day to day.
I carried a share of the serious
crimes on my shoulders and I had no other choice but to see the reality in my
people. I began to penetrate into the Jewish lfe and become familiar with the
Hebrew and Jewish languages and customs-which was not very easy.After a certain time, all the threads that connected me to my
people were broken and all the bridges burned.
Yet by Jews I would be seen
as stranger, a German. A heavy revolt played in my heart and, with my sympathy
to the Jewish people ,there grew an affection to one of their sons. Nevertheless
between him and myself there stood a large wall . I knew that the Jewish people
do not eagerly seek new members, I nevertheless did not want to abandon my
affection to him nor to the Jewish religion. To put things in there appropriate
order, I had also not yet the appropriate intention.Therefore I also I have now come into a situation
where I no longer belong to the German people, but to the Jewish people whom I
confess myself, but only very few will see me as a Jew. “
She eventually learned to
read Hebrew and learn Jewish practice, and finally, as a Jew, made Aliyah to
Finally, Purim, like Chanukah, has a militant aspect to it,
אֲשֶׁר֩ נָתַ֨ן הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִ֣ים ׀ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּכׇל־עִיר־וָעִ֗יר
עַל־נַפְשָׁם֒ לְהַשְׁמִיד֩ וְלַהֲרֹ֨ג וּלְאַבֵּ֜ד אֶת־כׇּל־חֵ֨יל עַ֧ם
וּמְדִינָ֛ה הַצָּרִ֥ים אֹתָ֖ם טַ֣ף וְנָשִׁ֑ים וּשְׁלָלָ֖ם לָבֽוֹז׃
The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their
lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre, and
exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their
( By the way, the Megillah explicitly points out that the
Jews did not take plunder, a direct reference to the failure of Saul and the
people, in their war against Agag and Amalaek, who did take plunder, despite
It raises the question—to what extent do we use overwhelming
force in our defense. This question was raised as Jews looked at what had been
done to our people because they lacked a home land and a military force to
prevent our wholesale slaughter. This is a question that the Israel Defense
Forces has had to face since the rise of the State of Israel, with the concept
of “Tohar Haneshek” ,The Purity of the Weapon”, and there are implications for
us in what is unfolding even now.
So, I close with an essay from my father, about what Jewish
courage means .
[This is what Yiddish looks like when there is no Hebrew
font available, so a Polish transliteration is used].
Gibojr oder Cadik-
Hero or Saint
A rough translation of Yiddish text, in Polish transliteration, of a
on Purim for the Survivors by Rabbi Wilhelm Weinberg
Friday ,28 Feb, 1947 Aufgang Dr W Weinberg ( from German original in Neue
The content of the Megilat
Esther which is the theme of Purim is surely well known by all, since
it is one of the most popular creations in the Biblical literature.
Nevertheless, I allow myself to present you a summary of the events.
… but he[
Ahashverosh] would give the Jews a free hand to defend themselves by all means
necessary against whoever would attack them. Why this is the only solution
offered, we do not have an explanation, but the author is suddenly short on words. We only know
that the Jews liquidated thousands of their enemies.[ such as the line I
The modern reader…would just at this point expect a description of
how the Jews could plan and carry out their struggle for survival and a
description of the participating heroes. But just here, there is not a word! ….
However, one who understands
Judaism would not be surprised that the Megillah dedicates so little attention
to the details of the Jews struggle against their opponents. ….
In a similar vein… about the Maccabean uprising. As is well known,
the historical background of the Chanukah festival is the military event: the
uprising against Antiochus and the victory of Judah Maccabee at Emmaus and Tzur. The heroism of the Maccabees, who struggled
to absolute victory against the overwhelming forces of the Syrian army, with
such courage, comparable to the heroism of the Greeks at Salamis and
Thermopylae, was for the Jews almost completely forgotten till the
revival of Jewish nationalism in the 19th century. ….
In the same manner: … Masada, the last Jewish fortress after the fall of the Temple
(70 CE). Tacitus and Dio
Cassius report on this in great detail and amazement. Just the Jews give scant
attention in their literature to these heroes. Six decades later, Bar Cochba, with the remnants
of the Judeans, arose against Rome, and only after a prolonged struggle, could
the Romans, with their overwhelming power, put down the rebellion. But the
Jewish tradition makes no to-do about all these heroic struggles.
So to Moses, who is by all
accounts, considered a great military leader, lives on in the Jewish
imagination as our teacher
(Rabenu) and law-giver. Even King David, under whose government, the Jewish state expanded
its borders for the first time by military success, is only remembered in the
Jewish tradition as poet
and singer, as author of the Psalms, as prototype for the Prince of
Peace, of the Messiah, in which the military and the weapons will be set aside
and the world will be ruled in social justice.
Even so we see this in more recent times. In Mainz (Mayence), the Jews held off the
Crusaders, but we know only of Kinos” (lamentations). In 1648, the Jews of
Prague stunned the world with their heroism
[Side note: In 1648 the Jews of Prague distinguished themselves in the defense of the city against the invading Swedes. … the emperor presented them with a special flag, which is still preserved in the Altneuschul. Its design, with a Swedish cap in the center of the Star of David, became the official emblem of the Prague Jewish community--
in just that same year, the Jews of Lemberg ( Lwow) fought
together with the Poles against Chmielnitzki, and in the slaughter at
Beresteczko, in which Chmielnitzki folded, there was a Jewish division of 1000
soldiers, a huge number for its time. In the same way, at the Polish slaughter
at Sadowa-Wisznia In the
17th century, the Jews were praised as great heroes.
But the Jewish
literature of the time tells only of the cruelty of Chmielnitzki and of
the destruction of Jewish communities, but nothing of the heroes of the
Is there anything new in our day?
Even till today[ 1947, before Yad Vashem, before historians and
filmmakers], we have no organization that is collecting information on our Partisans, not yet
any central institute that gathers the reporting of the struggle and to save
the information about the Jewish partisan movement in all lands of Europe. How
many Jews know the name of the
young partisan Moritz Zigmunt, who destroyed a bridge in Budapest on the Danube
by strapping dynamite around his own body, in order to block the retreat route
for the Germans? 140 German soldiers went down with him. The Hungarians
have their famous “Horthy Promenade” but in Jewish circles, his name is
Few know the name of Hannah Szenes, the young attractive student from Eretz Israel,
who parachuted down to the Yugoslav partisans
and made her way to Hungary where she was captured by the Germans and
Furthermore, we can give the example of the Eretz Yisrael Brigade, which sent into battle
30,000 Jewish volunteer combatants. Or the 40,000 casualties that the American
Jews suffered in the war, a number far beyond their proportion in the
population. So too it is
exceptional that Jews participated in high numbers in the Soviet armed forces and who earned in unusually high numbers the medal of
“Hero of the Soviet Union. “We also note the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, an
exemplary stand of 6 weeks duration against a concentrated force of aerial
bombardment, tank and artillery shelling. Or the Jews who rose up in the Treblinka
Yet we rarely speak or write
of all these, so little that future generations will know even less.
The glorification of power
does not belong to the realm of Judaism, even when used in the service of such
a just cause as oppression and edicts against us. The man of power, the war hero stands in our
tradition in an unhonored place, no crown placed by later generations, who
thought only of the saintly, only if the miracles were attributed to a Tsaddik,
and then it was remembered for eternity.
Our historic account
intentionally left out the heroic element. We do not belong to those people for
whom the hero is the ultimate. The cult of the great hero is foreign to us, as it goes hand in
hand with the sanctification of physical power. Our national religious ethic is
unmiltaristic. The war hero gets no honors. The ideal for us is the pacifistic,
the Tsaddik, the man of righteousness. We did not see our fortune in physical
conflict. Even where force was essential, as in the freeing of the slaves form
Egypt, we did not see it as a virtue. Even today, on the last six days of
Pesach, we only say the half-Hillel. The Agadah says in God’s name: My creation
is drowning and you want to sing praises?”
This is not to say that Judaism denies self-defense. “ Haba
lehargecha”- who come to kill, rise and kill him first.”
We consider a hero not to be
the one who defeats the enemy, but the one who defeats himself. (Pirke Avot IV)
This far greater than conquering foreign lands and shedding blood. For this
reason, our historic teachings have elevated our personalities beyond the
heroic cult, to the level of “Rabenu” teacher or “Tzadik, righteous. We cannot
allow ourselves, especially after these years, to define our values by those of
the other nations. Nothing
is as dangerous to a nation as to have its values dictated by its enemies.
I deny that we are bound to reject everything new because of “ Atoh bochartanu,
but we can absorb that which is good from other nations, but not the Hero-cult.
That which has come to us from Prussian Germany is neither good nor new. It is as ancient as Hellas.
Thus, Heinrich Heine, when
he was young, adored all that related to the Greeks. He then later declared.” I see now that
the Greeks were merely handsome striplings. The Jews, however, have always been
men, strenuous and full of power,..who have given to the world one God and a
moral law, and have fought and suffered in all the battle-fields of
We cannot allow ourselves to adopt this way of thinking. We cannot
allow ourselves to be overrun by murderous impulses. When it comes to our
rights, our freedom, our life, we can take up arms as cannot other people. But the anti-militarism is so deeply
ingrained in the Jew, that even when he is in uniform, he is civilized, While
the German, in uniform, was not civilized. Our inner drive is towards peace,
and our dream is a very different dream than that of the Teutonic Knights.
The greatest of all is
Peace, and the Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as it
says, “Derachecha darchei noam vchol neitivoteha shalom.” Her paths are
pleasant and all her ways, Peace.”