This is the text of an email I received before Chanukah, shortly before I’d be leaving the office Erev Shabbos. For some reason, I didn’t feel it could be put off till the following week, so I rushed out an answer. This morning I received a response. The emails follow, and I sure hope I’ve handled this properly. What we say to another Yid can have a lasting impression. I’ve never met this woman (at least in adulthood), as we “met” several years ago via a Jewish genealogy discussion group, discovered we grew up in the same neighborhood, have mutual friends, went to the same schools, etc. I knew she wasn’t frum, but I shared my understanding of the topics.
How would you have handled it?
Date: Fri., Dec. 15, 2006 12:45 PM
…I do not think that Israel will survive into the century; in fact, I’m wondering if it will last another decade. I have spent a great deal of time considering this and I suspect there’s no hope. Clearly, we’re the sacrificial lamb to oil.
On the other hand, I do think that the Jewish people will survive, at least a “spark” of us. Perhaps this is our curse, to wander continuously through time and place.
As for the Satmars and the other anti-Zionists… well, they are unspeakable. I’ve heard Rabbis who’ve said that the Shoah happened because a single Jew ate a single piece of pork. Do you really think that G-d would punish millions for that?
All of these questions make me doubt the existence of G-d. Surely a loving G-d would not have permitted these things to have happened over the millennia, and to continue to happen.
Here is my response:
Sent: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 1:16 PM
Subject: Re: Sadly…
You’ve appropriately used “sadly” as a subject line. None of the points you bring up could in any way induce one to smile.
However, I strongly disagree with you on all points. Israel will survive, as it always has, because we have the best “general” possible, the hand of G-d. Although throughout the millennium the land of Israel has been occupied by others, Jews have always resided there. And as we light the first Chanukah light tonight, we can recall that the Greeks who sought to take us away from our Judaism are no longer in existence. Neither are the Egyptians who enslaved us – the people of modern day Egypt are Arabs, not the advanced culture of biblical times. Nor are the Romans around, they who destroyed the Beis Hamikdash (second Temple) in Jerusalem. And the same is true of each and every people who have ever tried to destroy the Jewish people. In fact, that is why it is believed that the oldest nations on earth are the Jews and the Chinese, because the latter have never sought to do any harm to us. In our own times, Germany is not now what it was 60 years ago. And the same will be true of Iran, which is not the nation of Persia in which Esther and Mordechai defeated Haman from killing all the Jews because Mordechai refused to bow down to him (this being the story of Purim).
Insofar as where was G-d during the Holocaust… that is one of the most frequently asked questions, with just cause. However, the Holocaust did not prove to be the end of us, instead, we have rebounded to heights that no one could have imagined even 50 years ago. Today, more people then ever have Jewish educations. The land of Israel is thriving. This is a very involved subject, one that can be barely touched upon in an email. My husband is very good at explaining these philosophical issues, and if you’d care to join us any Saturday for lunch (the only time I’m up to having guests), please feel free to let me know a few days before, and we’d be delighted to have you as our guest! In the meantime, I’ve attached a few links you might find interesting which touch upon these subjects:
Before I became aware of what being Jewish really meant, I was obsessed with the Holocaust as being the “main event” in Jewish history – one in which my father’s family perished. However, we are not a people of death, we are a people of life. Only through understanding Judaism can we come to accept that it is beyond our comprehension to understand everything that happens. Imagine a first grader sitting in a college level mathematics class. Could they understand what’s going on? Of course not, we wouldn’t question that. As little children we frequently didn’t understand (or agree) with everything our parents said to do or not do. But as we matured, we could grasp the logic of their intent. We are like those same children in our relationship to G-d.
Wishing you a Happy Chanukah!
Here is her response back:
Sent: : Sun, Dec. 17, 2006 12:28 AM
Subject: Re: more Sadly
Let me start by saying that I thought that you were very sweet to take so much time, to make such an effort to respond to my letter. It is clear that you’ve given my letter quite a bit of thought and gone to great lengths to address my points and to try to assist my understanding.
I did not state, however, that I do not expect the Jewish people to survive into the future, because I do think that we’ll survive, at least some “spark” of us, and I said that explicitly in my letter.
I also think, however, that it is our curse to wander, never having a homeland. And, yes, “sadly,” I do not expect the State of Israel to survive; I’ll be surprised if it lasts another decade. Again, yes, I do realize that earlier civilizations that had attempted to vanquish us as a people have long since been obliterated so, perhaps, this was their punishment. Yet we Jews seem doomed to wander, looking for a place to put down roots.
At the same time, I think that you’re being a bit patronizing, however well-intended you are, by assuming that I am ignorant of all things Jewish. Certainly, I know what Purim is; I attended the Jewish Center’s Hebrew school from Sunday school in kindergarten straight through the high school. Anyway, I think that it is safe to assume that most Jews, especially New York Jews, know the highlights of the Jewish year.
I do disagree with your statement that the land of Israel is thriving.
And I have read, at times, the explications of the learned rabbinim, as to the Shoah and other horrific slaughters. Sorry, I just don’t buy them. To me, these scholarly tracts smack of sophistry and rationalization.
Unlike you, I never saw the Shoah as the be-all and end-all of apocalyptic events regarding the Jews. I view the Shoah as a part of a continuum that goes back to Moses and Esther, continues through the Romans at the time of the early Christians, and on to the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, right through to today’s Muslim hatred. The world, in general, always has hated the Jews; the Jews, in response, have spent millennia seeking safe havens. Mankind, in general, always has had evil among us but this is the first time in history that one evil person can have the power to destroy millions of human beings with a single press of a button that unleashes a nuclear bomb. This is the first moment when evil and technology meet and I am afraid that this union is apocalyptic indeed.
Still, I will say again that I think that you are very sweet to care this much, and to make such an effort on my behalf.
Happy Hanukkah to you and your family.