What really matters

Joseph Aaron

Well, it was bound to happen.

I agree with Donald Trump about something.

G-d seems to have taken some mercy on me lately in that I’ve been getting a bunch of nice, supportive letters from readers. They are always appreciated but especially now since I’ve been learning in our new tribal era, where there is no such thing as disagreeing agreeably, where you are either on my team or you are to be destroyed, how much of a price I am paying for daring to take controversial positions, for daring to say what I think even if it’s not Jewishly politically correct and what every Jew is ‘supposed’ to think and believe.

I’ve always been very straight with those kind enough to read what I have to write, shared my true feelings about things, said what I think about things and why I think that way, when it would have been much easier to just go along to get along. I think I’ve done the right thing being true to my beliefs but I must admit the increasing viciousness of those who see me as not a faithful member of the team, saying the right things, taking the right positions, has been difficult.

Anyway one of the nicer nasty letters I’ve gotten of late accused me of never ever agreeing with anything either Trump or Bibi says. Well, I’m here to tell you I did very much agree with something Trump recently said. And I found myself taking Bibi’s side about something.

Let’s start with Trump. He recently criticized former Minnesota senator Al Franken for having resigned so quickly from office when faced with sexual misconduct allegations. “That guy was wacky. Boy, did he fold up like a wet rag,” Trump told a rally. “Man, he was gone so fast.”

Franken, who is Jewish, resigned shortly after several women accused him of groping them when he was a comedian. “It was like, ‘Oh he did something.’ ‘Oh, oh, oh, I resign. I quit. I quit,” Trump said, imitating the Democratic lawmaker. “Wow. He was gone.”

Donald is right. Franken did resign too quickly. Indeed, he should not have resigned at all. Yes, what he did was not right but it was nowhere near what the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Les Moonves did, what the likes of Brett Kavanaugh is alleged to have done.

Franken, who please remember spent most of his life as a comedian, took a childish, distasteful picture in which he pretended to reach for a woman’s breasts; and on several occasions patted women on the behind. Inappropriate, yes, offensive, yes, tone deaf, yes.

Franken thought he was being funny. He shouldn’t have done what he did. But he also should not have resigned.

He should instead have apologized, done tshuva, admitted to his wrongdoing, explained why he now  understands what he did was wrong, feel and express remorse about what he did and vow to never do it again. That would have been appropriate and indeed the Jewish way. Franken was a great senator, a great public servant who did so much for so many. He is exactly the kind of politician we need more of in Washington. Instead he quickly quit in the face of his  shanda. Donald is right; he shouldn’t have.

Contrast Franken’s quiet, dignified exit, with the behavior of Kavanaugh, accused of far more serious allegations who not only didn’t quit but who got angrier and nastier and more belligerent. And for that, he was rewarded, he won. He’s on the Supreme Court. Franken did what he thought was the honorable thing and he quietly went away and is now gone from public life. Kavanaugh acted dishonorably indeed disgracefully being political in a way no Supreme Court justice has ever been and he’s going to be a big part of our public life for the next 40 years.

Jews like Franken tend to go out of their way to do the right thing, to take responsibility. And that’s a good thing. But we must learn that in today’s world, sometimes it’s better to apologize and do tshuva and stay involved then go into exile.

As for Bibi, he’s been angry because his wife, Israel’s first lady, is now on trial for having ordered take-out meals from fancy restaurants even though the prime minister’s residence has its own chef. Yes, that is what she is on trial for. Bibi calls it “a campaign of character assassination,” and I agree. With all the very serious corruption that runs through Israeli politics, it is beyond absurd to put the Jewish state’s first lady on trial for ordering carry out. All that does is diminish the justice system in the eyes of the public and provide a distracting side show that turns attention away from the true corruption eating away at Israel’s political life.

Okay, now that you see that I can agree with Trump and Bibi, I would just like to note that what struck me as all the Kavanaugh stuff was going on was the fact that barely noticed is that we lost three special Jews in the last few days. I’d like to stop amidst all the insanity that fills our lives these days to take a brief look at those Jews and at the extraordinary lives they led.

There was Walter Laqueur, a Holocaust survivor and one of the 20th century’s most prominent scholars. Born in Wroclaw, Poland, and raised in Breslau, Germany, he was a teenager when his parents sent him to Mandatory Palestine only days before the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom. His parents would later die in the Holocaust.

In Palestine, Laqueur worked on a kibbutz and as a journalist before leaving to enter academia in Europe and the United States. He would later become the chairman of the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of the Wiener Library in London.

Laqueur wrote extensively about fascism, terrorism and the decline of Europe, and accurately predicted that rather than democratize following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia would fall into the form of populist authoritarianism now known as Putinism.

As a terrorism researcher, he helped debunk the popular myth that poverty leads to terrorism. Laqueur also wrote extensively about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust. Many of his books, including “A History of Zionism” and “A History of Terrorism,” are considered classics.

“Europe will not be buried by ashes, like Pompeii or Herculaneum, but Europe is in decline,” he told the German magazine Der Spiegel. “It’s certainly horrifying to consider its helplessness in the face of the approaching storms. After being the center of world politics for so long, the old continent now runs the risk of becoming a pawn.”

And there was Sidney Shachnow, a child Holocaust survivor from Lithuania who went on to become a two-star general and the commander of U.S. forces in Berlin during the Cold War. He and his family survived the Holocaust in Lithuania, where he was imprisoned for three years in the Kovno concentration camp, by keeping their heads low and showing restraint. According to his autobiography, “Hope and Honor,” the same level-headedness guided him through the pains of assimilation as a young refugee living in Salem, Massachusetts, and then through a career in the military.

His stint, including a turn in the Green Berets in Vietnam and as an officer in an undercover unit infiltrating East Germany, ended with his command of U.S. forces in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989. Among the medals he earned were the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

His description of his childhood in Lithuania is heartbreaking and includes the shattering experience of witnessing a Lithuanian partisan rape his mother while his father hid under the bed. His mother had ordered his father into hiding, knowing that the discovery of adult males could mean a death sentence, but it appears as if Shachnow could never shake off the experience.

“I thought my father would go out and help,” he wrote. “He didn’t. I thought he was a coward. Maybe I was a coward, too.”

Shachnow once noted that “I am a Jew and a Holocaust survivor (the only Survivor to attain the rank of General in the history of the Armed Forces). I was assigned as the Commanding General, Berlin and the Berlin Brigade. Defending the German people, the same people who imprisoned me for three years in a concentration camp. The same people who killed 38 thousand prisoners and left only 2,000 survivors in that camp, one of which I happen to be. I was prepared to fight the Russians, who liberated me. The irony is hard to miss.”

And there was Leon Lederman, a Jewish-American physicist who won a Nobel Prize for his research on subatomic particles. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the National Medal of Science, the highest U.S. government honor for scientific work. Lederman won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics with two other Jewish-American scientists, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for discovering the presence of a “ghostlike” particle in the building blocks of matter.

Lederman is credited with coining the nickname the “God particle” for the Higgs Boson subatomic particle, which is believed to give mass to matter. “What he really loved was people, trying to educate them and help them understand what they were doing in science,” his wife said.

What made his end particularly heartbreaking and poignant is that in 2015, he sold his Nobel Prize for $765,000 in order to pay for medical expenses due to suffering from dementia.

We all get so caught up in the day to day soap operas and craziness and pettiness and conflict. that sometimes it’s important to stop and reflect on the extraordinary Jews we have among us and to stop and grieve that we recently loss three of them, making the Jewish world, making the world a poorer place.

1 Comment on "What really matters"

  1. Hello, Joseph. First let me say I really enjoy reading your column every week. I don’t always agree with your positions or opinions but I do always read what you write. Thank you for letting me know about Leon Ledeerman’s passing. From 1976 to 1978 I worked at Columbia University’s cyclotron (particle accelerator) in Irvington, NY. He was in charge of the cyclotron then. So he did not know me, but when we occasionally passed each other he would smile and say hello.

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