Moral Statements, Immoral Acts

In Israel today, that small country, millions face terror on a daily basis.  9,000 rockets have been launched into the country in the past few years, 9,000.  They were launched by terrorists supported by a government run by a terrorist organization.  Only the people of Israel can speak with any sense of truth about this government of terrorists which hides its weapons among defenseless civilians and then exploits the deaths they cause among them from this practice.  Israel’s Prime Minister did so recently as rockets rained down from within Gaza, sometimes from as little as 15 seconds away.  He has said that there is no moral equivalence between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza.  Some people believe he has no authority, no moral authority to say that.  They are among those who advocate that palestine, and its terrorist government be admitted to the UN.  Soon, I suppose there will be a terrorist caucus there.

I wonder how they can believe it; especially in the face of evidence such as the many statements of Hamas leaders that the obliteration of Israel and the death of all Jews is the most important goal of their movement.

Many, many years ago when the world was not as weary (nor was I) as it seems to be now, when right may still have been right and wrong was still considered wrong, I was young, too, and I did something wrong. I said things that were wrong and hurtful.  That I did not know what I said is not an excuse.  Here is what happened.

When I was a youngster growing up in New York City in the late 1940’s and 50’s we little urchins had a chant that went like this, “Guns for the Arabs!  Sneakers for the Jews!”   I don’t know where I learned it, or from whom.  It simply started, and it grew.  We used to run through the little park near the Jerome Reservoir, in a Jewish neighborhood not far from where we lived, chanting that little verse while the old men and women were sitting quietly on the benches watching their grandchildren and remembering horror.

I never really knew what it meant, what it referred to, a fight for life after so much death, the kind of fight my own people had been involved in for hundreds of years (I’m Irish, in case…) No one said anything to us at all.  Old Jews!  We were too fast, the grandchildren too young.

Years later, when I was married, my brand new wife and I became tenants in a small apartment in a small house owned by Rose and Yussel Hochstein.

Immigrants.  Eastern European Jews.

He was a kosher butcher who worked long hours every day except Shabbos. She kept a kosher home, though she would sneak downstairs from time to time to enjoy some bacon and eggs with Sheila, my first wife, may she rest in peace. Rosie, which she preferred, had walked across Europe at the age of four with her grandfather, from Russia to Amsterdam, in the 1930’s. There they met her uncle who took them to America and safety. Yussel, a Polish boy, was not so lucky as that. He and his younger brother spent the war, the second such war fought to end all wars, hiding near Warsaw in a barn owned by a Christian (Catholic) family.

One day, for whatever reason, some neighbors of the family ratted them out to the Germans. A couple of dozen men in big cars came looking for them. They ran away into the fields and woods, two little boys, while the Germans took  turns using the two running boys as target practice. His brother escaped, but Yussel lost the top of an ear to a close call. I guess that could be called an escape.  He came to the United States after the war with his brother and was set up in business by a relative living over here.

A marriage was arranged between Rosie and Yussel.  In quick succession they had three boys.  Rosie had always wanted a girl.  I remember her taking possession of our daughter, our first child, when Sheila brought her home from the hospital.  “Let me see my baby!  Let me hold my little girl!” she exclaimed.  We became part of the family during the time we were there.

Rosie was mother to us all.  Yussel was, well, quiet.  She was the one who told us about Yussel’s “escape”, mentioning that aside from his brother and himself no one of his family in Poland had survived.

Rosie showed it to us, showed us Yussel’s shot ear, during one Seder at her home while we were her tenants. Yussel quietly endured the revelation.  I looked at the deformed ear and shuddered.  He was eight when it happened.  His little brother was six.  That was about the age of the little children in the park I had run through.  I remembered my little childhood chant which took place often not two city blocks from the room where we sat celebrating an ancient occurrence when a whole people had been set free; when , after four hundred years, death fell on Egypt from above.

You know the story, don’t you, how death fell like a rocket, even on the cattle.

No rockets fell while we talked that night, no demagogues called for the obliteration of the country and its people, no nations hurried new supplies of weapons to begin again the years long rain of death as they do now.  I remembered my own words from years before, and I remember them now.  I hear them as I said them, and I read them in the reports of speeches before the UN, and across the world by presidents of countries and people who call themselves holy men and religious leaders.

They love death.  I know they do. They say so themselves.  I am as certain of this as I am that I breathe. There are millions who live that chant of mine and my friends every day, and know what it means. They are not children at all, though they will not scruple to use children, their own if necessary, to carry guns, to hurl bombs, to blow themselves up, too, in order to kill Jews, anywhere, everywhere. There is, I think, no moral equivalence between that and what Israel does to preserve itself.

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