Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Jewish Plea for Merry Christmas -An Annual BotB Tradition

I am a Jew. I grew up in an observant Jewish home in which we greeted Christmas with a mixture of fascination, respect and irritation. At some point I became fond of expressing my ambivalence by quoting Jackie Mason, who once said:
“I don’t understand something about Christmas; maybe you can explain this to me? Why is it that this time of year you Christian people bring all of the trees inside the house and take all the lights and put then outside”
. That line captured my general feeling of bemusement about the whole public Christmas celebration. I didn’t get it.

My feelings were mixed for a variety of reasons. My Dad had a retail store so the weeks leading up to Christmas were always a time of tension and brutally long hours of work. The traffic on the roads, crowds in the stores, and the saturation of television (especially in those pre- cable times) and radio airwaves with programs and music left me very glad to have it over on December 26th.

As a kid, I felt excluded by the whole Christian celebration. I didn’t get it. I found the incessant Christmas music on the radio punishing, the goodwill frenzy unsettling and the talk about Jesus (in whose divinity I was not supposed to believe) uncomfortable.

As a result, I was always just a little unsure of how to respond when some well meaning person would wish me a Merry Christmas. I would feel simultaneous but diametrically opposed urges to thank the person and try to summon a convincing Merry Christmas in return or to say,” Thanks Very much but I don’t celebrate Christmas and then deal with the uncomfortable silence or explanations and apologies.

I am ashamed to admit it today but I was, at first, pleased when I saw, over the years, the ACLU and Multi-culti types pushing “Merry Christmas” out of the vocabulary of cultural discourse in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays”.

I’ve grownup, though, and I’ve grown into a new perspective on this whole matter question and, today, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I have a new response. It’s really simple-

I stop what I am doing
I thank them very sincerely
I wish them a Merry Christmas in return.

I would like to encourage all my fellow Jews to join me in this. Here’s why:

I have come to see quite clearly that even if there are politically correct, multi-cultural, morally relativistic, post modern progressive busybodies who would like us to believe that our Christian friends’ and Neighbors’ spontaneous Christmas wishes are somehow injurious to us and our culture, they are nothing of the kind. A sincere “Merry Christmas is better for you than the blandest, most guarded “Happy Holidays”

You see, the U.S. was founded by Christians. Not just any Christians. The early colonists were both devout and independent. They were fervent Protestants whose purpose in coming here was to leave the Kings, Priests, state religions and archaic laws of the old world behind. They came here to build a country where every man could read scripture for himself and be his own priest, where he could be free to elect political leadership that he could follow gladly. Ultimately, that enterprise gave rise to the constitution and form of government we have today. At two hundred years old it is still the one in the entire world that best honors the individual and guarantees his rights.

It was these fiercely independent Protestants who set the tone for the nation in which we now live. It is important to remember that they were deeply religious people. When Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and the rest decided that there would be no Official Religion in this country they were aiming for Freedom of Religion not Freedom from Religion. They meant the freedom to practice your religion after the dictates of your conscience .

This is why America has become the destination of choice for any one wishing to escape repression or lack of opportunity elsewhere in the world. That's why Jews have gravitated here for two hundred years. But we are in danger of forgetting how this all works and I think this whole Merry Christmas thing is a symptom of that amnesia.

Fortunately, though, Jews do have a collective memory of stories if we just listen to them. My grand father told me stories about life in turn-of-the(last)–century Eastern Europe so I know what he escaped by coming here (not to mention that he was not in Zhitomir, his home town, thirty years later when the Waffen SS slaughtered thirty six thousand Jews there in one day!). I also have a friend who came here from Leningrad in the Seventies. He has told me many stories. Just few months ago, I worked with a client named Miriam who told me how she grew up in newly-born Israel after her family was expelled from Morocco in 1948. Each of these stories and so many others just like them have convinced me that The United States of America, as conceived by her Protestant founders, has been a miracle and a blessing to the entire human race. It has been especially important to the Jewish people.

We Jews are barely over one percent of the population here. We (a lot of us anyway) take pride in our contribution and participation to America’s dynamism. We point with satisfaction to the fact that the founding fathers of this country were inspired and informed by our holy book which they called The Old Testament. Many of them read it in the original Hebrew, something few of us modern Jews can do.

But why do I need to explain this? Why don’t we all understand the centrality of the Protestant ethic to the goodness of America? Partly, it’s because of a lack in the educational program. But it’s also because our media, whose responsibility it should be to make us aware of the important events and issues. But the media is often found to be doing just the opposite.

In the media, America is assailed daily for her imperfections; and if not assailed, then damned by the faintest of praise. The media’s emphasizes the imperfections instead of the achievements- the discords not the harmony. Hasn’t America (and her allies) banished the Taliban to isolated caves and mud huts in remotest Waziristan? Didn’t we free Afghan women to live more normal lives without the threat of torture, rape and summary execution for the crime of being female? Can’t, now, Afghans to grow beards to their own liking, listen to music, laugh in public send their daughters to school and have simple human dignity? Oh, well, yes, the press will whine, but there is still poverty, the occasional bombing and we never caught Osama bin Laden. Well then, have we also not saved thousands of Kurds, and non Baathist Muslims in Iraq from the depredations of Saddam and his two evil sons- people who raped and murdered fifteen year-old girls and put their political enemies (alive and feet-first) into industrial shredding machines just to hear them scream? Perhaps, but our press prefers to talk about a few incompetent American soldiers (who were punished for their stupidity) deriding and humiliating their Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib and equating that with the horrors of Saddam.

I am one Jew who is all for the kind of spirit and strength of character that gets expressed at this time of year by wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. I’ll certainly take it over Allah HuAkbar. Give me Peace on Earth” and “Good Will Toward Men” over “Eternal Jihad” and “Dhimmi Status for Infidels” anytime.

If we do anything this holiday season, we need to loosen up and get a perspective on this “Merry Christmas” thing. It is not the people who say “Merry Christmas” and mean it that we need to be discouraging in America at this time. It is the people who find something wrong and suspect in the energy, enthusiasm and good-will that animates that “Merry Christmas” that we need to discourage.

The secular, morally blind, multi-cultural, Progressive ignoramuses who dare to equate the fully investigated, litigated, redressed and punished mistakes of a few misguided soldiers Abu Grhaib and Haditha with the bloody reign of terror under Saddam Hussein display their ignorance twice- First, because and find no moral difference are the same moral idiots who make excuses for the thousands of rockets a day that are being intentionally fired at the civilian population of Israel, rockets loaded with explosives, ball bearings and nails so as to injure and maim indiscriminately but still insist that any attempt to hunt down and stop the terrorists responsible for these rockets is equivalent or even worse.

The choice is clear. We can side with our fellow Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom are warm-hearted friends with morals and ethics or we can become unwitting dupes to heartless enemies with no moral compass who think they can rationalize almost anything and undermine our great civilization with reasonable sounding, non-judgmental sophistry. Do you need a moment to think about that?

By saying “Merry Christmas” in public we are not agreeing that Jesus was the son of God, we are just acknowledging that some very good people believe it. When we say it, that does not constitute accepting Jesus as our personal savior; it does show his followers that we see them as fellow countrymen, friends and brothers-in-arms in the defense of the highest ideals of our civil society. What is the problem with that?

The first four words of this essay “I am a Jew”, are exactly the words that Daniel Pearl was forced to say on camera just before he was pinned down and his head was sawn off. I'd like you to try a little thought experiment simulating a better world here- Pretend that the next sentence that I write followed that first one and I had no need for the rest of the explanation in between...
"Have a Merry Christmas"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Lessons of Mumbai- Too Long for a Bumper Sticker

The rage and frustration I feel as the full dimensions of the Mumbai attacks become clear is dangerous. I was walking through a supermarket parking lot when I saw this bumper sticker.

This was even worse than those imbecilic "coexist" stickers with all of the religious symbols. It took me a while to figure out why. There are so many levels on which this message is ignorant and dangerous that I had to sort them all out. First and most obvious is the fact that it is an obvious slap at “God Bless America”. But, no, that wasn’t the cause for the rage- I’m used to seeing that kind of fuzzy ignorance that passes for political thinking.
I live, after all, in Newton, MA- a very liberal community- so fatuous drivel like this generally just irritates but doesn’t enrage me. So why, suddenly, did I find it difficult to contain my revulsion? The tide of rage I felt was all but overwhelming.

Well, for one thing, I had just read a report on the Rediff India Abroad web site about the particularly cruel and deliberate attention with which the Mumbai terrorists tortured and disfigured the Israeli and Jewish victims of the massacre. An extended quote is instructive:

Doctors…, said they had not seen anything like this in their lives.

"Bombay has a long history of terror. I have seen bodies of riot victims, gang war and previous terror attacks like bomb blasts. But this was entirely different. It was shocking and disturbing," a doctor said.

Asked what was different about the victims of the incident, another doctor said: "It was very strange. I have seen so many dead bodies in my life, and was yet traumatized. A bomb blast victim's body might have been torn apart and could be a very disturbing sight. But the bodies of the victims in this attack bore such signs about the kind of violence of urban warfare that I am still unable to put my thoughts to words," he said.

Asked specifically if he was talking of torture marks, he said: "It was apparent that most of the dead were tortured. What shocked me were the telltale signs showing clearly how the hostages were executed in cold blood," one doctor said.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.

Now, listen, I am married to an operating room nurse. I am all too familiar with the ability of medical professionals to compartmentalize, neutralize and discuss in a cool and detached way, things that make mere writers like myself flinch and even retch. The very idea that this hardened physician could not bring himself to contemplate what he had seen struck me to my very core. I found myself, temporarily, without a way forward.
Seeing that bumper sticker put me on a knife-edge between despair and rage. I stood there and stared at the car with my heart pounding. I don’t know what I would have done had the owner of the car walked up at that point.
“No Exceptions”?

What does that mean? Does it mean they would call down God’s blessing on the stinking swine who apparently did their reconnaissance in the Chabad House by posing as travelers and accepting the food, hospitality and blessings of the Rabbi and his family while they plotted their torture and death?

Does it mean that they can see no moral or spiritual difference between the Rabbi who welcomed and served them with an open heart and the filthy, lying murderers who rewarded his kindness by killing his wife before him and letting him suffer her death, tenderly wrapping her body in his prayer shawl, before murdering him?

Don’t get me wrong; I will admit that I knew, even in my turmoil and anguish at that moment, that the owner of that car would not be in favor of any of those things and would, probably think me very unkind to associate him with them.

I know very well that most of the people who have those bumper stickers have put them there because they were moved only by an urge to get in the face of people with “God Bless America” bumper stickers. I’ll admit, too, that I am very much in the God Bless America camp myself. I believe that America is a blessed country. I count among my friends and family a number of people who gave up everything they had and the lives that they had lived for many decades in order to come here and be free.

There is the lovely seventy-year-old lady and her husband who came here ten years ago from Russia along with their daughter and her husband. They still don’t speak much English but recently she proudly showed me around her neat little apartment and paused for a long moment at the end of the tour with a wistful smile on her face, clasped her hands together, looked at me and said with a gusty sigh, “God Bless America”! Having seen the former Soviet Union in depth and first hand, I know exactly what she means.

The reason we have a political battle about immigration in the first place is that anyone in their right mind would rather be here than in any other country on earth. And what country on earth is more free and open? I don’t understand the people who live here and are so alienated, embarrassed by our power and sulky that they feel they can’t let “God Bless America” stand as a sentiment without making a public display of distancing themselves from it.

Is it just moral blindness, and spiteful disenfranchisement that moves them to miss the important point that America, while not perfect, is by far the finest, most democratic, most humane and least Imperial “greatest power in the world” that has ever existed?

America, after all, has come forward over the last one hundred years and, with the help and support of the rest of the western powers, saved civilization from two militarized totalitarian movements that threatened to immerse the world in their respective fascist nightmares.
Now, even as we engage yet another murderous totalitarian threat with our traditional allies severely compromised by infiltration and the degenerate influence of moral relativism and multiculturalism, here is a person who thinks it more important to express their petty snit with America than to consider the implications of their stance. I have to wonder how can anyone think it possible that the ideal of multiculturalism that is (even if accidentally) conveyed by this bumper sticker is not deeply immoral- and self-destructive to the point of being suicidal?

There have been a number of times when I have not even known how to start thinking and writing about the utter horror of the actual events and conditions of our world. At those times, I will turn to the blogs of those I admire most. Robert Avrech who blogs at Seraphic Secret is one of my great comforts at those times. He has a huge range of moods and subjects but, whether he is writing about horror or Hollywood, Robert brings a wisdom and sensibility that has the power to help restore strength and faith.

So after wandering home from the parking lot I fired up my computer and found Robert quoting that same article that had stopped me in my tracks. Then at the end he added this- quoting from the brilliant Melanie Phillips:
Phillips comments:
The atrocities demonstrated with crystal clarity what the Islamist war is all about — and the western commentaries didn't understand because it simply refuses to acknowledge, even now, what that war actually is. It does not arise from particular grievances. It is not rooted in "despair" over Palestine. It is not a reaction to the war in Iraq. It is a war waged in the name of Islam against America, Britain, Hindus, Jews and all who refuse to submit to Islamic conquest.
What of the terrorists' treatment of their Jewish targets? Phillips writes:
They went to some lengths in addition to single out a centre for observant Jews. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were murdered not because of Palestine but simply because they were Jews. That is because hatred of Jews as Jews is fundamental to the Islamists' hatred of the west — and of Israel.

Oh, how exactly!
I would like to presume to add some detail to Phillip’s “things Mumbai makes obvious”:
1. Islamist rage is not our fault. It is endemic to their culture. It has no regard for humanity, sex, age or innocence.

2. If you are not one of them it will seek you out and get you no matter how nice you are to it.

3. Even if you are one of them, once they kill all those who are not, they will find a reason that you are not quite one of them.

4. If you are not the strongest and the quickest and the most ruthless, you are eventually doomed.

The lessons we must learn and make sure we teach to the morally weak like the guy with that bumper sticker are:
1. If you have power over them today, use it now – tomorrow it may be too late.

2. Even if you kill someone who is innocent, as much as that disturbs you, you may take comfort in the certainty that they will die a less painful death than you and your family will if they get their hands on you.

3. The “hostages” of Mumbai had not absorbed the lesson of 9/11. The captives that were taken, tortured disfigured and murdered in Mumbai were no less doomed than the passengers on the airliners on 9/11. They allowed themselves to be taken and abused by captors who did not want anything from them but to use them as instruments of terror. Only the brave passengers of flight 93 understood and acted on this. Let no westerner ever rationalize ignorance of this from this day forward. If the Munich slaughter seemed to you acceptable, if flight 103 did not convince you, if you were able to harden your heart to the fates of Robert Dean Stethem and Leon Klinghoffer, and 9/11 failed to impress you and Madrid and Beslan and all of the theatrical, internet promoted, beheadings could not reach you, surely this atrocity cannot be denied.

4. We have seen in the Western Mass Media’s unwillingness to widely distribute the telling and ghastly details of the torture and murder in Mumbai, their dehumanization of Jews, Israeli, Americans and all other victims of the attack. and their studied avoidance of connecting the violence to Islam or Muslims that the blindness of our friend with the bumper sticker is reinforced by the very cultural institution that should be providing us with warnings and dependable information about the threat.
The Mainstream Media will not inform you, you cannot rely on them for full information; so you need to inform yourself. Do not allow yourself to be soothed and co-opted.

There is but this warning to add:
When (and unless we wake up and do something, it is not a question of “if”) you are attacked, you are going to have to fight as hard as you can, for as long as you can if you want to have any hope of surviving. We have seen what they do to captives so you must never leave yourself at their mercy- they have none. Remember that they are cowards. Suicide, no matter how many innocent people you take with you is a sign of weakness. They are so afraid of the impotence and ineffectuality of their culture and their pathetic individual enslavement to the honor/shame drama of that culture that they are willing to sacrifice themselves (and you!) to avoid the shame. They will murder you gladly rather than admit that they do not have the moral fiber to see how purile and ineffectual their society is. They are willing to accept their own deaths so you must assume they will gladly give you yours. The only defense is in strength and persistence. As Churchill said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never- in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

I propose a different slogan- even if it’s a little too long for a bumper sticker- “God already blessed the whole world- God gave us America- too bad so many of us make exceptions of ourselves.”

I have condensed the message of this post- I might have been more direct just writing this:

The Ultimate Lesson of Mumbai- Save the Last Clip for Yourself and Your Family

The “hostages” of Mumbai had not absorbed the lesson of 9/11. The captives that were taken, tortured disfigured and murdered in Mumbai were no less doomed than the passengers on the airliners on 9/11. They allowed themselves to be taken and abused by captors who did not want anything from them but to use them as instruments of terror. Only the brave passengers of flight 93 understood and acted on this. Let no westerner ever rationalize ignorance of this from this day forward...

....When (unless we wake up and do something, it is not a question of “if”) you are attacked, you are going to have to fight as hard as you can, for as long as you can if you want to have any hope of surviving. We have seen what they do to captives so you must never leave yourself at their mercy- they have none....