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December 30, 2015 7:37 am

Kaddish for Christian and Yazidi Victims of Islamic State Genocide

avatar by Abraham H. Miller /

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Yazidis are being persecuted by Islamic State militants. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Yazidis are being persecuted by Islamic State militants. Photo: Wiki Commons. – Jews should observe a day of remembrance for the Christians and Yazidis being exterminated in the Middle East.  Lighting a yahrzeit (memorial) candle and reciting the prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish would be an appropriate way to honor the memory of the righteous Christians who saved Jews from the flames of the Holocaust and to bring the Christian and Yazidi “genocide” (I use that word purposely) to the attention of the world.

Sendler was the head of the children’s section of Zegota, the underground’s department to aid Jews. With the assistance of other members of Zegota, Sendler smuggled approximately 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, saving them from certain death. Aside from diplomats, such as Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg and Japan’s Chiune Sugihara who issued visas to aid Jews in fleeing occupied Europe, Sendler saved more Jews than any single individual.

Sendler’s motivation, like that of many righteous gentiles, came in no small measure from her faith. As Pope Francis has recently acknowledged the common ties that bind his church and the Jewish people together, and as Orthodox rabbis in Europe, Israel, and the United States signed a document affirming Christianity as the “willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” marking the day by reciting Kaddish would reinforce that unity and attest to the Jewish will to stand up for persecuted gentiles.

Throughout the Holocaust and after, The New York Times buried the story as inconsequential or not involving Jews.  Laurel Leff extensively researched NYT’s coverage of the Holocaust and concluded, “You could have read the front page of The New York Times in 1939 and 1940 without knowing that millions of Jews were being sent to Poland, imprisoned in ghettos, and dying of disease and starvation by the tens of thousands. You could have read the front page in 1941 without knowing that the Nazis were machine-gunning hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Soviet Union.”

In 2001, former executive editor of the NYT, Max Frankel, admitted that his paper’s coverage of the Holocaust was journalism’s biggest failure.

When it comes to the plight of Christians and Yazidis in today’s Middle East, the NYT history seems to be repeating itself in the proverbial circle, first as tragedy then as farce.

Nicholas Kristof writing in NYT calls the Islamic State’s actions the religious version of ethnic cleansing but refrains from calling it genocide. This is not a simple parsing of words since, under U.S. adherence to the convention, genocide requires a response. The Obama administration’s reluctance to call the Islamic State’s actions genocide mirrors the Clinton administration’s reluctance to apply the term to what was then happening in Rwanda and Bosnia.

One of the great moments of diplomatic “newspeak” occurred in 1994 when State Department spokesperson Christine Shelley was asked whether the situation in Rwanda constituted genocide. Ms. Shelley pranced around the issue, ultimately blurting out the inane statement that she was unaware how many acts of genocide constituted genocide.

Our obligation under the genocide convention is to “prevent and punish.” We, however, have skillfully decided that genocide is in the eye of the beholder. The influential Kristof further blurs that vision by going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Kristof’s heartfelt sympathies for the victims of the Islamic State find their way to deny genocide and to remind us that few Christians really exist in the area under Islamic State control. This begs the question, what if the Islamic State will crucify all of them? Is that not genocide?  After all, Jews constituted less than .75 percent of the pre-World War II population of Germany, so how could we possibly talk about genocide against Jews when they were such a small segment of Germany’s population?

There is method to this indulgence in the absurd. If the influential NYT denies the commission of genocide, it buttresses Obama’s calculated decision to do nothing and to incur no obligation to respond to the genocide convention.

Meanwhile, the Christians and Yazidis will be rescued with the same alacrity as were the Rwandans or the people of Darfur.

To prevent the plight of Christians and Yazidis from being buried in the conscience of America the way Jewish death and tragedy were buried in the NYT, Jews should say Kaddish for the souls of the Islamic State’s victims in the hope that honoring the dead might yet provide refuge to the living.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. Follow the center on Twitter @salomoncenter.

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  • April 24 is the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration date, which is shared by the Assyrians, who were also slain during the late Ottoman era and the early Republican period in Turkey. At Biola, we have an annual Holocaust Awareness Week, which prepares the ground for our students to understand the Shoah and Armenian Commemorations. I think that Christians and Jews should light yarzheit candles for these events. We’ll begin this year. Thanks for the great idea!

  • S Jacobs

    This idea is purely nonsensical ‘virtue signalling’ that manages to make hashtag politics look sophisticated.

    The idea that kaddish is just a few words that show we’re sad about something represents an incredibly immature outlook.

    How about rewriting:

    Jews should observe a day of remembrance for the Christians and Yazidis being exterminated in the Middle East. Lighting a yahrzeit (memorial) candle and reciting the prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish would be an appropriate way for Jews to show the world that they feel the need to convince people that we care, even if this is going to be through cheap tricks that are substantially meaningless. Jews should do this because non-Jews don’t understand what kaddish is, but think it is a nice little prayer for the dead. So because they think this, and we want them to like us, we should do whatever they think is appropriate rather than something that might actually make a difference.

  • Greaseberg

    Thank you for bringing Irena Sendlers name and a reminder of her great deeds into this issue. Never forget that in 2007, when Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the leftists chose to award the prize to Al Gore and his IPCC cronies instead, for their anti-capitalist hoax-movement regarding “climate change.”

    Of course, that prize, having also been given to Yassir Arafat and Jimmy Carter prove that the left equates anti-Semitism with “peace.”

  • Sherlock Holmes

    One could add to Yizkor a section for those who risked their lives to rescue the victims of persecution. It could be said before or after the main Yizkor so that those with parents would also take part.

  • reuven

    It is entirely appropriate for American Jews to engage with other Americans in seeking governmental action to alleviate the plight of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East. The United States Congress should be considering how to deal with the Islamist malefactors.

    The attempt to enlist Judaism in a political matter is entirely inappropriate. Jewish religious practice is a matter for the recognized Orthodox Jewish religious leadership to decide. The Hebrew term is “gedolei ha’dor” . It is not for an emeritus professor of political science.
    /s/ Reuven Zusha ha’Lewi

  • Andria Switzer

    Yes to saying Kaddish for those being massacred and enslaved by ISIS, but it’s also important to name the evil that is behind the genocide. The islamofascist ideology is global now with operatives in almost every country. If not named, not rooted out, it will continue to grow and spread.

  • Eric R.

    I think Israel can do more than just say kaddish.

    In the case of the Yazidis, while Israel cannot take in all 200,000 of them, I think Israel could take in 15,000 – 20,000 over 2-3 years; enough to allow them to form a sustaining community of their own while not overly taxing Israel’s resources or changing the demographic balance of the country – 0.2% of Israel’s present population would be about 17,000.

    In return, the Yazidis, like the Druze, would be subject to military service, which I think they would happily accept. Israel could also push other countries to accept the Yazidis – I think some Eastern European countries could use an infusion of Yazidis who actually have kids; countries like Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia have long had low fertility rates and few kids, and could use a non-Muslim immigrant group (along with taking in some Middle Eastern Christians) who do actually have kids.

    • Liz Wagner

      This seems to be a good idea, at least on the surface. If it can be determined that Yazidis would welcome immigration to Israel and accept the responsibility of defending the state, then this could be a meaningful solution that should be given serious consideration.

    • Pat W.

      Amen. And the US should do the same–perhaps substituting public service appropriate to the Yazidi faith in lieu of military service.

      • Eric R.


        I appreciate your support of my idea. However, the USA should not have to require public service of Yazidi refugees if they are not requiring it of other refugees.

        Apparently, the only sizeable Yazidi community in the USA is in, of all places – Lincoln, Nebraska.
        I guess that makes the Yazidis fans of the Cornhuskers. 🙂