Jewish numbers

Joseph Aaron

I’m sensing a letter I got recently was not from a fan.

I wrote a column in which I praised John McCain and George H.W. Bush for their kindness, their civility, their menschlichkeit and expressed the hope that more leaders, especially Jewish political leaders in this country and Jewish political leaders in Israel, could be more like them, see them as role models to emulate.

I then noted that no one Jew with political power in this country falls shorter of being the decent, kind person that McCain and H.W. Bush exemplified than Jared Kushner, he being a defender of the Saudi crown prince/murderer and working to cover up his involvement in the dismemberment of a journalist, he being the one who advised Trump to fire Comey, hire Manafort and Flynn and the Mooch, he being the one that lied about trying to set up a secret back channel with the Russians, he using his position to secure loans from foreign banks for his failing company, he, well he being a disgrace to the Jewish people.

Well, one loyal reader wasn’t pleased with what I had to say and so he wrote me the following: “This is one of the most hateful and despicable editorials you have written. You use your newspaper for a liberal hate sheet to trash Republicans and especially Trump every week. I’m frankly sick of your bias. You can have your twisted political opinions, but you don’t bash Jews in public…You write about Jared Kushner “who is truly one of the worst Jews on the face of the earth.” He is still a Jew and you broke every rule in the book publishing “lashon harah” to the ultimate extent.”

I don’t have the space to comment on all that, so just let me say first he accuses me of trashing Republicans yet the column he was so displeased with was devoted to praising two Republicans, McCain and Bush. Second, I am biased with twisted political opinions because I liked Obama but he is not biased and has untwisted political opinions because he likes Trump. So typical of Judaism today where instead of respecting that we can see things differently, if you see things not like I do, then you are biased and twisted and I am not.

But it’s the ‘he’s still a Jew and so exempt from political bashing’ thing that got to me. Another Jewish sickness of our time. Politicians are politicians, even Jewish ones, and as citizens, as Jews, we have every right, indeed the duty, to criticize Jared or Bibi or any prominent Jewish leader if we feel he is doing something wrong. Reminds me of another email I just got where the guy told me I had no right to criticize Bibi, but he then went on to say that Rabin and Ben-Gurion should have been put in jail for what they did. So it’s not so much you can’t criticize Jewish leaders, it’s that you can’t criticize any Jewish leader that I agree with.

Anyway, I hate to disappoint a faithful reader like the guy who wrote me the letter above but I do have to say how nauseated I was by something Jared just did.

Last weekend, representatives of Congress and the White House met about the shutdown. They met on Saturday, which Jews know as Shabbat. And there, all over TV and newspapers, were pictures of none other than Jared right in the middle of it all, walking down the steps of the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House right behind Pence and crazy Jew Steve Miller and all the rest.

I admit when I saw that I was livid. Look, I don’t judge how any Jew chooses to spend his Shabbat. Every Jew has the right to decide for himself. But I feel I do have the right to say Jared is a sickening, lying hypocrite.

Jared and his Jewish wife Ivanka (can we give her back?) are constantly making a big tsimmes that they are Orthodox. Well, if you do that, then you don’t work on Shabbat, you don’t go to meetings about the shutdown on Shabbat. Yes, Judaism allows one to violate the laws of Shabbat for a true emergency. Having a meaningless meeting just for show is not a true emergency and the meeting could easily have gone on without Orthodox Jew Jared. But he puts being a macher ahead of observing Shabbat. Shame on him, shame on us. He is a disgrace or, as Jews like to say, a shandah.

Okay, I am not at all good with numbers but a few numbers caught my eye in the last few days and I thought I would mention them to you.

Number one. Congress is now three times more Jewish than the United States as a whole. More than six percent of the new Congress is Jewish, with 34 Jews among the total of 535 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, so Congress as a whole is more than thrice as Jewish as the country in general. The number is even larger in the Senate, where eight of the 100 members are Jewish. That’s 8 percent, for the math challenged.

Take note of that and be grateful for this country. And maybe don’t be so neurotic about anti-Semitism and BDS and college campuses and even the massacre in Pittsburgh. Sure sometimes we get bad news, but overwhelmingly this country has been and is a great, unique place for Jews. Thank G-d.

Number two. The number of Israelis who last year visited the Auschwitz memorial in Poland decreased by 21 percent from 2017. However, tourism by Israelis to Poland increased in 2018 to a record 250,000 arrivals, a 79 percent increase from the previous year.

Meaning Israelis were coming to Poland, but just not going to Auschwitz. I must admit I have mixed feelings about this. As one who has long argued that the Holocaust plays an outsized and damaging role in Jewish life, I think it good that Israelis don’t feel it a must to visit. But as the child of Holocaust survivors who believes the Holocaust must always play an appropriate role in Jewish life, it does concern me that Israelis for some odd reason chose to visit Poland but doing so don’t then make time to visit such a sacred Jewish site.

Number three. Nearly 1.5 million Jews, or about a quarter of all those murdered during the Holocaust, were murdered in just three months in 1942, a new study found. The expedited murder rate was part of Nazi Germany’s Operation Reinhard for annihilating the Jews of Poland, according to the study by Lewi Stone of Tel Aviv University.

During that time, there was “an intense, 100-day (about three months) surge” of killing in August, September and October of 1942. The majority of the murders were done in three large death camps in western Poland, either by gassing victims or shooting them.

This took my breath away. In just three months, 1.5 million Jewish men, women and children were gassed or shot to death. So many in such a short time. Something to contemplate, both in terms of grasping the enormity of the Holocaust and why we shouldn’t casually use it to make political points; and in terms of being grateful for the supportive world in which we live today.

Number four. One in five Israelis — around 1,780,500 — lives in poverty, according to an annual report published by Israel’s National Insurance Institute. Israel, the report said, had the highest poverty rate among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations.

Another report said that 2.3 million Israelis, including over one million children and accounting for 26.5% of the entire population, live below the poverty line. That study was Latet’s 2018 Alternative Poverty Report, which seeks to show society the human aspect of poverty that it considers lacking in official statistical reports.

“We have got used to the reports of poverty and to the statistics, to the fact that we have the worst poverty rates in the West, while in other fields such as technology and medicine we are among the leading countries worldwide,” said Latet CEO Eran Weintraub.

Look, whether the number is 1.8 or 2.3 million Israelis living below the poverty line, this is a Jewish disgrace. We have a Jewish country with a powerful military, that prides itself on being the startup nation full of high tech innovation, and yet about two million of its citizens live below the poverty line. Including one million children.

And yet for the most part, the Jewish world does nothing, isn’t even aware of the problem, let alone mobilizing to do something about it. If missiles are fired from Gaza, we all go into high gear with press releases and fund raising campaigns. But the fact that one million Israeli children, two million Israelis in all, go to bed hungry each and every night seems not to bother us at all. Which is something that should really bother us.

Number five.  For the first time, Israel announced that Jewish immigrants to Israel were outnumbered by non-Jewish immigrants. According to numbers released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 17,700 of the 32,600 migrants who moved to Israel in 2018 came under the Law of Return but were listed as “having no religion.”

Such immigrants, hailing largely from the former Soviet Union and Baltic states, count Jewish ancestry but are ineligible to marry as Jews under the state-controlled rabbinic court system. The result is a heated debate over Jewish identity, the country’s strict Orthodox standards for converting to Judaism and how to best integrate new immigrants into the life of a Jewish state. All told, there are already some 400,000 people, mostly from the former Soviet Union, living in Israel who are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate. Such immigrants and their children are “caught in a bureaucratic void, unable to marry in State-sanctioned weddings, and to partake in other basic rights of Jewish citizenry,” according to Itim, an advocacy group that works to help Israelis navigate the country’s religious bureaucracy.

To me, this is an issue that too many Jews see as simple and clear cut, black and white, but which in fact is incredibly complex and nuanced. To the ultra-Orthodox, these people are not Jews and that is that. Period. End of story. For many liberal Jews, it’s obscene not to just accept them as Jews without letting halacha get in the way of things.

Both sides are wrong. There are all kinds of really important issues here, all kinds of vital factors that the Jewish state, the worldwide Jewish community must confront, wrestle with and come up with a solution for. Yes, if we would all show goodwill and mutual respect and compassion, I believe there is a solution which would strengthen the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the connection between Jews in Israel and around the world.

But in today’s Jewish world, the chances of that happening are the saddest number of all – zero.

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