Wednesday, January 31, 2018


The almond trees are blooming in Israel, right in time for Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. I like to bring a flowering branch into my home where my family can see this visible reminder of the holiday. Out of doors, it’s fascinating to watch the hillsides break out in spring-like blossoms in the dead of winter. It’s so cool to live in Israel and watch the way the seasons unfold according to the Jewish calendar.

I appreciate this blessing even more after having just returned from a trip to the States. It was lovely to see my hometown. I got a kick out of seeing this gold filigree reindeer on someone’s lawn:



But I thrilled at seeing the almond trees in bloom on my return. Here in Israel, the holidays, the seasons, are my own. They’re Jewish. And that’s why I live here. That’s precisely the reason. And there’s a special happiness, a kind of delight, to living a Jewish life in Israel.

Some of the goodies we had for Tu B'Shvat here in Israel.

The thing is, I can’t really get it through my head, can’t really understand why Jews want to live anywhere else. It’s one thing to pray for rain in your daily prayers. It’s another thing to actually understand the prayer and what it represents. You could be saying your prayers in Detroit, but you’re praying for rain in Israel. Why do that in Detroit?

You pray for something good to happen in your land, but you don’t live there??? What good is the land without inhabitants? Why pray for the place where you don't want to live?

By the same token, you can eat some carob on Tu B’Shvat in Pittsburgh. But it’s not the new year of the trees in Allegheny County. When you eat that carob you’re celebrating the new year of the trees in Israel. Why take pleasure in the fruits of Eretz Yisrael? Why mark the season while laying down ever stronger roots in Cincinnati or Lakewood?

It’s not your country there. It’s a land of filigreed reindeer.

Here in Israel, where the almonds blossom on Tu B’Shvat, is where you are supposed to be.

Dried fruit on sale at a local health food store in honor of Tu B'Shvat this week (photo credit: Chava Hyman)

But the cognitive dissonance I experience regarding Jews in America is kind of minor when compared to what I feel about Jews living in Europe.

Take, for instance, the comments by Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, on antisemitism in Germany, “The very first step is the simple, though painful, acknowledgment that Germany, in the year 2018, is still facing a massive problem with hatred toward Jews,” said Schuster.

I found this statement difficult to understand. Germany rounded up, gassed, and burned over 6 million Jews. Why should it be painful to acknowledge Germany’s problem regarding the Jews? Why would anyone think that the antisemitism expressed through the Holocaust is gone from Germany? Why would Jews attempt to reestablish a Jewish community in Germany? The very name of Schuster’s organization is an oxymoron, from my purview.

But it gets worse. Schuster cites polls that show some 20-25 percent of Germans have antisemitic attitudes. He says, “It’s high time to combat this irrational hatred.”

I read Schuster’s words and thought: it’s high time you, Josef Schuster, realized that Germany is no place for Jews!

Combat hatred? What is the point of combatting Jew-hatred in Germany? I don’t see this as a noble purpose. A noble purpose is picking up and moving to Israel and strengthening the Jewish State. A Jew living in Germany, on the other hand, is the definition of insanity so often misattributed to Einstein.  

But I don’t mean to pin all this on Schuster. Jews like Schuster are in no short supply in Europe or in other parts of the world. Commenting on a report showing that antisemitic incidents in Germany had increased three-fold in 2015, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis said, “We are in a new era of antisemitism globally. There is a rejection of mainstream politics and we need to be aware of the waves of antisemitism sweeping across Europe. As a society we must take measures to reject antisemitism and ensure that it does not become a new norm.”

Um, how can antisemitism in Germany become a “new norm”? Is that because it was the “old norm” in 1938? I really cannot wrap my head around this statement.

He seems to think something changed in Germany after the Holocaust. Actually, something did change. They stopped shoving us into gas chambers. And the sentiment was driven underground just a bit. Because the world was appalled. Germany had to improve its rep.

But why would anyone delude themselves into thinking that Germans stopped hating Jews? Tuvia Tenenbom and NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg have done an excellent job exposing German state funding of antisemitic and anti-Israel organizations. German antisemitism cannot only be pinned on Muslim immigrants, but must be recognized as part and parcel of the German culture and ethos, no matter how many official denials are issued. No matter how many big machers speak of “new norms” and “painful acknowledgements.”

It may be that European antisemitism is a kind of industry. Otherwise, how is one to understand the words of Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, regarding a court-ruling on the attempted arson of a synagogue in Wuppertal in 2014 as “criticism of Israel” rather than “antisemitism”? “It sets a legal cover to extremists and terrorists to ‘express’ their hatred the way that Hitler and company expressed their hatred of Jews. Left unchallenged, this outrage could signal open season on German Jewry and their institutions by those who hate the Jewish state and everything it and the Jewish people stand for.”

No, no, no. It’s the other way around. Hitler “and company” offered the precedent the court wished to adopt as law. The Muslim arsonists knew they could get away with this sort of behavior in Germany precisely because of German history, in particular with regard to Hitler and the Holocaust.

Open season on German Jewry?? That too, is a holdover from the Holocaust, which brings us back to the question: Why the heck did the Jews reestablish the German Jewish community? Why would Jews come back there to live?

It’s just mindboggling.

And we didn’t even get past Germany. Antisemitism in Europe is now so rampant that 51 percent of Jews in Europe say they feel unsafe wearing visibly Jewish symbols.

So I read the stories of antisemitic incidents. The protestations by the local Jewish councils. And I just shake my head. I don’t get it.

I don’t know why Jews insist on living in these places or what it will take to make them leave, what the cost will be.

All I know is that tonight my family made a Tu B’Shvat seder at a table decorated with the blooming branch of an almond tree.

It was so sweet.







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