Friday Night Sermon: "Concentration camps vs detention centers" 7/5/2019

Friday Night Sermon: "Concentration camps vs detention centers" 7/5/2019

Usually for sermons, I take the current Torah portion and expand on how some of the points relate to our daily current lives. This is how we imbue spiritual inspiration and make Torah relevant. It’s also how we enhance our Shabbat experience with thankfulness for Hashem’s involvement in our lives.

Today I feel a need to depart from that usual structure and talk about current events. The political landscape has become more and more unfriendly to us Jews and this latest incident, in my opinion, just continues the downhill slope towards disrespect. I feel that it is important to address these issues every now and then when they come up because awareness may help us to intervene before they become more prominent.

In our current political environment, it has become a strategy to present or “spin” certain situations in a certain way to demean opponents to gain political advantage. Conditions at these detention centers have been allegedly exaggerated for that purpose. Here’s where we Jews become involved.

Many of you are probably aware of a certain freshman Congresswoman comparing the detention centers holding the influx of people seeking a better life in our country and concentration camps in the 1940’s that facilitated the murder of our people. In using that language, she is insinuating a comparison between our government’s attempt to manage the flow of people to the Nazi’s organized efforts to house Jews during the 1940’s and find ways to mass exterminate us. Obviously, she was using the hyperbole to make a point.

As a side note, as Jews we believe in helping the downtrodden achieve fulfillment so we, as a people, would generally be sympathetic to their cause. Unfortunately, the sheer number of people seeking asylum is overwhelming our immigration system. Our government agencies have been doing what they can to accommodate these people, but because of the volume, resources are stretched thin and people are suffering.

Her comparison upset some Jewish agencies, like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. They came out and expressed their dismay and outrage at the comparison. Instead of making an apology or at least an explanation, this congresswoman rationalized her points by “doubling down” and looking to justify her points.

Other congresspeople came to her defense. Some even went so far as to try to define “concentration camp” in terms that would support and justify her claims. The real height of this offense came with a letter signed by hundreds of historians, self-proclaimed experts in the Holocaust and mostly from academia, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum asking them to reverse their opposition to those comparisons.

The tragedy is that while some of these historians were not Jewish, some were. A few even teach at universities in Israel. It is outrageous, however, that these people would challenge an organization that is specifically set up to commemorate and educate about the Holocaust! To quote another famous Jew, Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect.

Yes, we get no respect. Many people are familiar with a current situation of a sneaker manufacturer issuing, for the 4th of July, a special commemorative sport shoe with the first, original flag of the United States, “Old Faithful”, on the sneaker with the original thirteen stars. An African American football player became incensed that the company would post such an offensive gesture considering that this country was founded on the backs of the slave labor of his people.

Outrage by minorities is commonplace. College students dressing up for Halloween are excoriated for wearing a sombrero and a fake bushy mustache. Some political figures were called out for using black face as a gag during their college days (reminiscent of a popular black comedian in the 1970’s saying he used white shoe polish to infiltrate white society) as a stunt.

With all this sensitivity towards disadvantaged people, one would think that it would apply to all minorities. This congresswoman who started this is, in fact, a minority herself. For some reason, people take issue whenever we get sensitive about a topic. And isn’t it interesting that as barely two per cent of the US population, we aren’t considered a minority, let alone disadvantaged.

A 93-year-old Holocaust survivor offered to take said congresswoman on a tour of Auschwitz. This would be the same tour that a certain congressman from Iowa, himself castigated for outlandish remarks about minorities, took. She declined.

Many pictures have been published on media about the overcrowding of these immigration facilities. We see many people sitting around looking pretty forlorn. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put some of these pictures side-by-side with pictures of victims and survivors from the Holocaust, emaciated people, clearly undernourished in squalid conditions? One would think the contrast would quiet even the most stubborn critics. Then again…

So how do we as Jews overcome this disrespect for our tragedies? Simple: we need to stick together. While there are indeed groups of people who are sympathetic to our cause—and we appreciate that—we are our best reinforcement. Stay close to your synagogue and get involved with your people. Perhaps not all of the time or even a majority of the time because we all live in a secular world, but we have a distinct identity and we need to sustain that.

We have survived oppression for 1800 years. We’ve done it by sticking together and keeping to our heritage. In our more liberal society, we can let our elected officials know how we feel. To paraphrase Hillel: “If {we} are not for {ourselves}, who will be for {us}. If not now, when?”


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