The Rabbi Writes: Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish Humanist, September 1977, Vol. 15, Number 1

Rosh Hashanah 

A time for annual Jewish reflection. 

A time to look back on the year that was and ask the question: 

So what is the condition of the Jews? 

The condition of the Jews is not always easy to assess. But pleases the orthodox may not please the atheist. But the conservative calls progress that liberal may label reaction! 

But there are some current problems which all would agree were (sic) troublesome. 

The problem of Israel. The strong posture of the Begin government may be initially appealing. But it remains pure bravado unless Begin can find the Jews to occupy the territories he wishes to annex. In an ironic sense Begin and the old Arafat agree that Israel (or Palestine, if you wish) should remain undivided. For the Arabs the Begin state will in the long run be an Arab State. A bigger Jewish state, without Jewish immigration is the first step to an Arab Palestine. 

The problem of Russia. Russian anti-Semitism continues. In a recent issue of the magazine Moskva, Anatoly Scharansky asserted that Jewish bankers are not yet in power everywhere… it remains the most important task of the Zionist brain center to capture the key positions in the economic, administrative and idelogical machine of the countries of the diaspora… It is natural that such monstrous teachings could not fail to arouse vigilance, dislike and even hostility on the part of people with even a minimum of sense. The so-called Jewish world conspiracy becomes a convenient diversion on the part of the authorities to explain the inadequacies of the Soviet system and to justify anti-semitism. If three million Jews were not trapped within the boundaries of the Soviet Union, the statement would be ludicrous. 

The problem of Argentina. One of the largest Jewish communities in the world (numbering 500,000) is suffering the evils of an incompetent military dictatorship. Terrorism, inflation and unofficial antisemitism are on undermining the security of our Argentine Jewry. A competent dictatorship would at least (sic), have arranged for economic stability! Since the situation is not bad enough for emigration, ambivalence reigns. 

The problem of South Africa. It is only a matter of time before black (sic) nationalism sweeps away the Rhodesian regime and creates civil turmoil in South Africa. Given the power of the Africaner (sic) army it is unlikely that the whites will be driven into the sea in the near future. But South African whites, including 120,000 Jews will be living in the midst of riots and terrorist provocation. No matter how liberal Jews may choose to be, they are condemned to being white. The present emigration of Jewish professionals is the trickle before the flood.  

The problem of Quebec. Montreal had, until recently, the largest and most vital Jewish community in Canada. It’s English-speaking establishment including the Jews is unfrightened (sic) of the future. French Canadian nationalism, like most nationalism (sic) is economically irrational. But it is politically relentless. Toronto is also beginning to experience the exodus of Jews from Quebec. As recent history has demonstrated neither nationalism nor socialism have served Jewish interests well.  

But enough problems.  

What positive things exist? 

Two assets come to mind . 

1.The Arabs are incapable of uniting against Israel. Their hostility for each other in some cases seems to be greater than the hostility to Israel. During the past year Arabs fought Arabs in both Lebanon and Libya. A new public ally has emerged for Israel. The Maronite Christian Arabs of Lebanon prefer Jews to their fellow Arabs. 

2. The largest Jewish community In the world (some six million) have managed, for some reason or other, to end up in the most powerful nation in the world. America is today the industrial, intellectual and artistic center of our planet. Either the Soviet Union or Western Europe have the cultural vitality of the United States. Jewish power is a function of the Jewish presence in America. Leadership in the arts and sciences is disproportionately Jewish. While many Jews are embarrassed by our conspicuous presence (and think that we should never mention it in a public magazine), others like me are justifiably pleased and believe that our enemies should be reminded repeatedly of what they already know.  

This is reason enough for Jews to say Happy New Year.  

The Rabbi Writes: 1986

The Jewish Humanist, January 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 6


A new year. A new agenda for problem solving. Old issues unresolved. New issues waiting to take center stage. 

What will be the major issues of 1986 – for Americans, for the world at large, for Jews in particular?  

1.As Americans, we will be devoting our attention to the following issues.  

Tax reform. Reagan’s proposal to provide more equity and simplicity for the taxation system has encountered so much hostility from both the left and the right that it is doubtful that any reasonable facsimile of the original proposal will ever pass Congress. But Reagan is determined that some form of tax reform bill be passed, even if the Democratic House distorts it. The momentum of his fiscal “revolution” and the prestige of his administration rest on success in this campaign. 

Budget balancing. The rebellion of Reagan’s own Republican followers in the House of Representatives against the deficit removal plan designed by Democrats, but endorsed by the President, was a political surprise. Arbitrating the debate between the left-wingers who want to cut defense expenditures and right-wingers who want to cut welfare money is no easy task.  But even liberals now concede that a sound economy demands a balanced budget. So the battle will continue-with every vested interest willing to eliminate every government benefit except its own. 

Farm devastation. The plight of the American farmer remains in the spotlight. Despite the new farm credit relief bill, a substantial minority of our agricultural entrepreneurs face bankruptcy. Americans are trapped by ambivalence. Farm subsidies are unpopular because they interfere with a balanced budget. Allowing the farm population to shrink is equally unpopular because most Americans believe that the last reservoir of traditional American virtue lies in the family life of the rural population. Resolving the ambivalence will provide a lot of public agony. 

Crime. Prison overcrowding and the early release of dangerous criminals has captured the public attention. Nothing is so personal as the universal fear of assault that both urbanites and suburbanites live with. Renewed calls for capital punishment will not subside. They, most likely, will grow stronger. Feeding, housing, and rehabilitating a large criminal population is a fiscal and moral issue that confronts the alternative use of the same money for more productive purposes. 

Congressional election. The performance of last year’s do-nothing congress has highlighted the impasse which now exists in the two legislative assemblies. Chaotic individualism and the breakdown of the old party discipline has frustrated the leadership in both parties and rendered constitutional decision-making unpredictable. The fact that all the Representatives and one-third of the Senators will be running for re-election this year suggests that this year will be worse than last. Most legislators will not want to take sides on controversial issues. 

Reagan. Always superb handling the personal side of the presidency, Reagan has proved himself less than superb in his second administration in getting what he wants. Poorly formulated public policies, insensitive staff people, squabbling cabinet ministers, and Congressional rebels continue to frustrate his political ambitions and the political legacy he wants to bequeath to posterity. Reagan’s leadership effectiveness will be an important issue for 1986. Democrats will be eager to exploit his new weakness. 

 AIDS. No disease has captured public attention in a long time to the same degree that this African plague has done. The media are obsessed with providing information, both reliable and scandalous, about the pervasive dangers of contracting AIDS. The struggle between self-protection and compassion continues to make headlines. The victims of the disease, whether homosexuals, drug abusers, or children, have aroused more fear than sympathy. As the number of cases increases, the media will continue to focus on this public anxiety.  

2. As members of the world community, we will be devoting our attention to the following problems in 1986. 

Russia. Disarmament talks between America and Russia appear to have gloomy prospects in the light of the Reagan administration’s decision to proceed with the development of “Star Wars” technology. But there is such a broad International alliance of public opinion, even from conservative European circles, for something to be done that desperation will force the leaders of both countries to provide some hope. Gorbachev, in particular, since he invested his prestige in the summit conference and in the creation of some new form of detente, will not let the issue die. 

South Africa. The intransigence of the Afrikaner government is leading to civil war and martial law government. Provoked by black (sic) terror, the Afrikaners will become more adamant and English-speaking whites will begin their flight. The confirmation will continue to divide world opinion between those who are outraged by the injustice to Blacks and those who most fear the loss of South Africa to Marxist control. 

Chile. Only two military dictatorships survive in South America – Paraguay and Chile. The latter is, by far, the more important and the more volatile. Demonstrations against the dictatorship of General Pinochet are bound to increase and become more violent, especially as long as economic decline continues. World attention will be dealing with the prospects for the future. Will the left or the center return to power? 

Nicaragua.  The continuing American campaign to unseat the Sandinista government enjoys wide American support and very little world support.  The presence of a second Marxist government in the Americas is intolerable to most U.S. conservatives, who see the present regime in Nicaragua as a form of dangerous Soviet penetration of the security belt of our country.  Support for the contras will remain a controversial issue. 

Philippines.  The corruption of the Marcos government, the killing of his chief opponent, and the rising Communist insurgency make the forthcoming election an intriguing test of alternatives.  If Corazon Aquino is able to unseat Marcos, will she yield to pressure from anti-American forces in her own party to repudiate the American alliance?  If Marcos remains in power, will his victory incite civil war and lead to the growing success of the Communist rebels?  As a strategically important nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippines merits our concern. 

3. As members of the Jewish people, we will be dealing with the following anxieties in 1986. 

Pollard Case.  The unfortunate spy fiasco in which Israeli agents were caught paying an American Jew to procure military secrets from a military ally was a traumatic embarrassment for Israel and the Jews who support it.  Questions of dual loyalty and the patriotism of American Jews resurfaced.  The desirability of the Israeli alliance was challenged by angry politicians.  And the Israeli government was confronted with a major crisis.  Given the fact that Pollard will face a public trial, the Israeli “perfidy” will remain very much in the public eye, and enemies of Israel will take advantage of their new opportunity. 

Peace.  The attempts of the Israeli Labor government to establish some basis for peace negotiations with Jordan and other Arab states will continue.  Most likely, in order to strengthen his hand and to avoid handing over leadership control to YItshak Shamir, his political opponent, in accordance with the coalition agreement, Shimon Peres will call an early election.  If Labor wins, the prospects for some form of peace negotiations will be good.  If Labor loses, confrontation will return. 

As you can see, the problems of 1986-like the issues of 1985-are formidable.  But we have no choice but to deal with them. 

Massacre in Rwanda

The Jewish Humanist, September 1994

Tutsi. It has the sound of some bizarre tribal name for Africa. It is also the name of a holocaust. Some 500,000 Tutsis have been massacred by their Hutu neighbors in a faraway land called Rwanda. Thirty years ago the murder of Africans by Africans would not have been deemed important. But in the age of television and Third World awareness, the Tutsis have turned into real people. One-eighth of their nation was destroyed by beatings, burning and hacking. The horror of their dismembered and floating bodies was captured on film and displayed itself on the television screens of the world.

The Tutsis are black. But they are not Bantus like most of the blacks in Central Africa. They are Nilotics, former residents of the upper Nile. They are taller, thinner and with narrower noses than their Bantu neighbors. Four hundred years ago they invaded Rwanda, conquered the native Bantus and pygmies and settled down as a governing aristocracy. The symbol of their culture was herds of cattle and the sign of their power was Bantu obedience. Like their fellow Nilotics, the Masai who settled in what today is Kenya, they saw themselves as superior to their Bantu subjects.

The native Bantus in the Tutsi kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi were the oppressed Hutus. They came to hate the Tutsis. But they did not have the power to overthrow them. Although Tutsis and Hutus were both black, they were and are physically distinct. The Hutus are much shorter, especially because they mixed with the aboriginal pygmies whom they had conquered and oppressed. The pygmies fled Into the rain forest where they still remain. Over the years Tutsis and Hutus lived together as lords and servants. In time they came to speak the same language. But the national, social and physical differences persisted.

In the nineteenth century the Europeans arrived In the form of Germans. The Tutsi kingdoms became German protectorates. After the First World War, the Tutsi kingdoms were taken by the Allied victors from the Germans and given to the Belgians. Both the Germans and the Belgians brought European soldiers, missionaries and culture to Rwanda and Burundi. They also trained many blacks to be teachers, administrators and military auxiliaries. In choosing to train collaborators both the Germans and the Belgians preferred the Tutsis. They saw them as a handsome race and ma desirable as allies.

When Belgium gave up its colonial empire the early 1960’s, she granted independence to the Congo (Zaire) – and to Rwanda and Burundi. But Independence left the Tutsis a vulnerable position. They were only 15% of the population in both states. They were hated and resented by the Hutus. The Belgians were no longer there to support them. The government of Zaire, a large nation of Bantus on the West, sympathized with their Bantu brothers.

In both Rwanda and Burundi, Hutu rebellions broke out reinforced by overpopulation and the struggle for land. In Burundi the Tutsi minority maintained their power. But in Rwanda the Tutsis lost their power.

The tables were turned.  Hutus now assaulted Tutsis. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Many Tutsis fled eastward to Uganda, where the black population was less Bantu and more Nilotic. With the help of the Ugandan government, the president of which was Tutsi, they organized a resistance movement to regain their power. They called it the Rwanda Patriotic Front. They invaded Rwanda with the specific aim of overthrowing Hutu power. The Hutu army retreated before them.

The Hutu government of Rwanda was desperate. Extremists took over. Using the death of their president in plane crash as a pretext, they mobilized the Hutu masses against the Tutsi invaders with horror stories of Tutsi Intentions to kill all Hutus. Ironically, the Tutsi soldiers did not Massacre Hutus. But the Hutu masses, inflamed by government propaganda and intimidated by local militias, turned on their Tutsi neighbors and mercilessly killed a half million of them.

In the end, the massacre did not help the Hutus. Their armies retreated to Zaire. And two million Hutus, fearful of Tutsi vengeance, fled with them. Today half the Hutu population of Rwanda lives hopelessly as refugees in Zaire. Their enemies are no longer Tutsis. They are starvation and cholera.

What does all this mean?

It means that ethnic holocausts can still take place without any significant intervention from the outside world. The French arrival was self-serving. They were trying to rescue their Hutu allies and failed.

It means that Africans will oppress Africans and that Africans will kill Africans without any significant provocation from white colonialists. African nations left to their own devices do not have a better moral record than their European oppressors.

It means that militant nationalism is counter-productive when two nations share the same territory. Separating Hutus and Tutsis is not physically or economically possible.

It means that the United States has failed again morally. As the leading power in the world, it needed to mobilize its allies and the United Nations to rescue a vulnerable minority from extermination. The Tutsis have a morally ambivalent history. But they do not deserve to be massacred.

It means that we, as Jews, the most dramatic victims of racial holocaust, must do whatever we can do to insure that the perpetrators and organizers of this massacre are brought to Justice before an appropriate international tribunal. Such a crime can no longer be swept under the rug of history.

South Africa in Transition

The Jewish Humanist, November 1990


South Africa is a troubled nation. I know, I spent three weeks there this past summer.

I was also there in 1973 at the height -of-the apartheid system. I did not – imagine at that time that-the whites -would yield- their power willingly. I imagined that only a violent revolution could change the system.

But in 1990 I seemed to be wrong. Dramatic concessions were made by the- white government. Nelson Mandela, the black leader, was released-from prison after 27 years of confinement. The African National Congress, long banned, was declared legal.

I was overwhelmed by the changes. I wanted to see them with my own eyes. I wanted to experience the difference.

Now South Africa is not a nation. It is a collection of nations. Situated on a piece of land about the size of Texas and California put together, it is the home of many ethnic groups. Some 35 million people are divided among blacks, whites, coloreds and Indians. The blacks constitute over seventy percent of the population. They are divided into three great nations, Xhosa, the Zulu and the Sotho. The whites number almost 5 million. They, in turn, are divided into the English and the Dutch. After three hundred years they call themselves Afrikaners.

Ever since its beginning as the Cape Colony, South Africa has experienced white domination. In 1948 white supremacy was turned into an official policy called apartheid (separation). Laws were passed that turned blacks into aliens, forbade them to own land in white areas, forbade them to live in white areas without special permission and confined them to inferior housing, school and work. Other laws were passed to reinforce this “racism”. Anti-apartheid propaganda was labeled communism and communism was banned. A powerful army and police force, assisted by black collaborators made sure that these laws were enforced.

Apartheid culture was the South Africa culture I experienced in 1973. It was a culture of two worlds. Whites belonged to the First World, coddled by affluence and servants, Blacks belonged to the Third World, living in hoveIs and reduced to walking for basic transportation. This system of contrasts was infused with religious piety and conservative virtues, which were intended to delay the entry of South Africa into the twentieth century.

However, ever since 1976, the apartheid structure has been slowly collapsing. Black resistance, which began in Soweto grew in number and in power. The white government first responded with repression and then responded with concessions. Petty segregation was ended. A new constitution was written granting the vote to coloreds (mulattos) and Indians. The past laws were abolished. Sex and marriage between, the races were no longer forbidden. Mandela was released.

Of course, these concessions did not come about only because of black resistance. The composition of sanctions by the world community, including the United States, hurt the economy severely. Unemployment, failing businesses and a falling rand were painful prices to pay for apartheid. Ultimately the white Afrikaner Nationalist government threw in the towel and announced its commitment to dismantle apartheid.

When I arrived in South Africa last summer the process of dismantling apartheid had just begun. The blacks still had no vote. The land was still segregated. And negotiations between De Klerk, the white president, and Mandela had just begun.

But there were many changes from 1973.

Hotels and public accommodations were desegregated. Blacks were too poor to use them. But more prosperous Indians were present in the hotels and resorts in large numbers.

Token affirmative action was in place. In many banks and corporate offices, black managers and executives appeared from time to time to illustrate the beginning of new racial policies.

Strikes and boycotts were everywhere. Black unions were demanding more pay and more benefits. Black demonstrators were marching through white areas. Black customers were withholding their business from firms that insisted on preserving apartheid.

Freedom had a new lease on life. Censorship was gone. The change was so dramatic that some liberals had difficulty adjusting to their new liberty. Radical anti-government literature abounds. Even Communists were publishing freely.

Politics were turned upside down. The right-wing Nationalist party, which controlled the government and which had invented apartheid, was now a party of the “left” committed to the dismantling of segregation. Disgruntled conservative whites had organized another political party to argue their cause. But their new party found itself in the opposition and without real political power.

White homeowners were now outraged by the emergence of thousands of black squatters in their neighborhood and on their beaches. With the past laws gone, many unemployed poor blacks had moved from the black homelands to the white areas in search of jobs. But there are no jobs and no housing, and no more places in the black townships.

Three years ago the squatters would have been ruthlessly removed. Today a timid and ambivalent white government lets them stay.

Violence was everywhere. Blacks were killing blacks in the black townships. The Zulus, an imperial black nation that had ruled all the others, wanted their share in the scramble for power. Their leader Bathilezi and his political party Inkotha wanted equality with Mandela, a Xhosa, and the leader of the African National Congress. White vigilantes were encouraging the Zulus, with the hope that if blacks could be encouraged to kill blacks, the whites could remain in control.

Important issues were hotly debated by whites and blacks. Should capitalism be returned? Should wealth be redistributed? Should a new constitution guarantee one person one vote? Should Afrikaans, the language of the hated Afrikaners, be retained as one of the two official languages of South Africa? How should the control of the army and police be transferred to a black majority?

Most whites in South Africa are bewildered by the changes. They struggle to cope. Some have accepted the inevitability of black control and are steeling themselves to live with it. Some still hope that the blacks will kill each other off or die of AIDS and white supremacy will remain. Some are determined to resist, even though they are not quite sure what they would do. Many are talking about emigration, preferably to Australia or southern California.

The Jews in South Africa are also bewildered. Still 110,000 strong with over half of their number in Johannesburg, they struggle with the emerging realities. Strongly Zionistic and religiously conservative, their leadership has provided a timid and cautious resistance to apartheid. The close ties between pariah South Africa and pariah Israel make them reluctant to provoke the government.

Most Jews are ambivalent about leaving. Their lifestyle is so comfortable, especially in a servant culture, that it is hard to depart in the absence of any overt assault. Even the reemergence of anti-Semitism among right-wing Afrikaners (who now blame the Jews for the demise of apartheid) is not a sufficient stimulus to start an exodus. If a black government retains capitalism many Jews will remain.

“So what is going to happen?,” people ask me. I do not know. If the Xhosas and Zulus get together, a black majority government with socialist edges will take over. If the whites and the Zulus get together, a black-white coalition may be the political consequence. Most blacks want the first. Most whites want the second.

But continued bloodshed and chaos could produce many other alternatives.