Germany Tells Jews to Take Off Their Yarmulkes
I visited Birkenau last week for the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Elie Wiesel to Auschwitz. Over the last two summers, I have taken my family to the death camps and killing fields of Europe. Toward the end of a multi-week trip that included Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Warsaw ghetto, among many others, my older children began to rebel. Why was I subjecting them to this living purgatory? In Israel, they said, they experienced a vibrant Jewish nation and felt the warmth of God’s comforting presence. In Europe, they saw a vast Jewish cemetery where God was seemingly absent.
I explained that the six million victims of the Holocaust were our brothers and sisters, our children and parents, and our wives and mothers. They cry out from the grave to be remembered. We will never forget them, regardless of how empty or barren it makes us feel, and regardless of how it affects our relationship with God.
As antisemitism now begins to spread throughout the world, we in the Jewish community should be aware of our own trauma of seeing it all reappear.
It is clear that we must fight antisemitism. But how should we discuss it with our children?
Should we tell them to take off their yarmulkes when they visit Germany — as a German government official shockingly suggested this week — in order to fend off attack? My son and I visited the Normandy landing beaches in France this week, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. And we wore our yarmulkes from the moment we landed in Paris.
In Krakow, just after visiting Auschwitz, we came to an outdoor market where paintings were sold. Krakow is a city where Pope John Paul II is literally a saint, so it wasn’t surprising to see paintings that captured the pontiff’s piety in prayer. What was shocking was seeing the paintings right next to him of rabbis surrounded by money, holding gold coins — even holding bitcoins — rather than praying or studying.
It was a disgusting display of antisemitism, so vulgar that had I not posted the pictures on my Facebook page, no one would have believed me. But even as I protested this overt display of anti-Jewish prejudice, I was careful to show my son, who just had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, that he dare never shirk in public from being a proud Jew.
I tried to show him the same when we walked through the streets of Nice and Marseilles in France last summer, even as the local Jewish community told us how dangerous it was to wear yarmulkes.
We should not put our children in danger. But should we not also factor in the psychological harm of being too self-conscious, rather than acting natural, as Jews?
I believe that we have to confront the slow creep of antisemitism as soon as it starts making tracks. We must fight antisemites like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) who claims that the Palestinians provided a “safe haven” for Jews in Palestine after the Holocaust. The truth, of course, is that the Jews escaping Hitler who made it to British Mandatory Palestine were met with pogroms against Jewish communities, revolts against Jewish immigration, Arab support for Hitler’s Holocaust, and a determination on the part of Israel’s Arab’s neighbors to launch a genocidal war against the Jews.
During the Holocaust, Arab leader Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was a staunch ally of Hitler, and — after launching a failed Nazi-backed rebellion against the British — he fled to Berlin at the Fuhrer’s invitation. During the war, he advocated for the extermination of the Jewish people.
After the Holocaust, Arab armies partook in a genocidal war against the fledgling state of Israel. Six Arab nations invaded Israel with the stated goal of “driving the Jews into the sea” — attempting a second genocide of the Jews just years after the first. This time, however, a Jewish army repulsed the invasion.
As we battle the Tlaibs and Ilhan Omars of this world, let us be careful never to trivialize the Holocaust. And let us always be proud Jews.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post and Newsweek call “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 32 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.