Posts Tagged ‘Abe Foxman’

A Mormon Practice That Troubles Some Jews

February 29, 2012

This opinion piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.

The Salt Lake Mormon Temple

The Mormon practice of baptizing deceased Jews by proxy is nothing new. The Jews called the Mormons on it years ago, and the Church promised to stop doing it. But recent headlines have indicated that some Mormons, unable to suppress their desire to save the souls of dead Jews, are back at it.

Big names — both deceased and living — have been involved. The parents of the late Simon Wiesenthal and relatives of Elie Wiesel have been baptized. Just the other day word got out that Anne Frank had been baptized…again. As would be expected, the Simon Wiesenthal Center spoke out against this, as did Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League. Wiesel called on GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who admitted to performing these posthumous rituals at one point), as the most prominent Mormon in the country to tell his Church to stop the practice.

As distasteful as this baptism by proxy business seems to me, I had originally decided that I was going to refrain from commenting on it. But when I happened upon two related items in the media almost simultaneously on Wednesday, I thought again.

I completely agree with Jeff Jacoby, who wrote in his Boston Globe column titled, “Mormon ritual is no threat to Jews” that it is odious to equate these posthumous conversions to a second Holocaust, as some have hysterically suggested. I also concur that the Mormons’ highly unusual interest in the family trees of every person who has every walked the earth can be very helpful and meaningful to Jews. My mother, an avid genealogist, has made several “pilgrimages” to Salt Lake City to make use of the Mormon’s vast databases.

I am also inclined to concede Jacoby’s point that the Mormons who conduct these rituals are well meaning, nice people. Some of my best friends are Mormons. Really. (Though, I’ll admit it took my moving to Northern California from my Jewish bubble in New York to meet any.)

But it was the other item I read today that convinced me that I needed to not sweep baptism under the rug or follow Jacoby’s lead in thinking that it is just a benign phenomenon. That other item was a news story stating that the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl had also been posthumously baptized by the Mormons.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Blood Libels and Lynchings

January 12, 2011

All the brouhaha today about the latest linguistic blunder by the queen of malapropisms and poor word choices has got me thinking about an Israeli slang word that I am less than fond of.

Sarah Palin is being skewered in the press and by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League for using the term “blood libel” in attempts to defend herself against accusations linking her inflammatory discourse to last Saturday’s Arizona shootings. Surely, a tactless choice of words on her part (the term “blood libel,” although now widely used when speaking of a false accusation, originates as a lethal anti-Semitic myth about Jews killing Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals). I, one to enjoy every instance of Palin’s showing her prodigious ignorance, have no sympathy for her.

At the same time, her use of “blood libel,” which is especially offensive to Jews, reminds me how much I dislike it when Israelis use the term “lynch” in reference to “sweeping criticism that threatens the public standing of a person or body” (that is the definition of the word in Ruvik Rosental’s popular Comprehensive Dictionary of Slang, which I love to pull down off the shelf and flip through from time to time). The example given in the dictionary is: “You are committing a public lynch(ing) of the IDF, before all the facts have been verified.” It also provides the origin of the word, which we all know is the killing (usually by hanging) of a person by a mob without legal authority.

I would imagine that the slang use of “lynch” must be as painful and offensive to the African-American community as the use of “blood libel” is to the Jewish community. The only time I remember the term being used in the Israeli press in an accurate manner was in the describing of the murder by a Palestinian mob of two Israeli reservists who mistakenly wandered into Ramallah in 2000. Otherwise, I hear “lynch” being used indiscriminately in describing a variety of instances in which people simply don’t like what others are saying about them. My least favorite Israeli politician, Eli Yishai loves to use the term. He’s convinced everyone is lynching him.

I guess no one in Israel is crying out against this slang word because, although there are Ethiopian Israelis, there are very few African-Americans living there. Not to mention the fact that there is no black Abe Foxman in the Holy Land.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Defamation And Debate

June 21, 2010

Filmmaker Yoav Shamir

I was up late last night watching Yoav Shamir’s film’s Defamation which deals, among other things, the real or not real (depending on whom you ask) link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Then only a few short hours later, I awoke to read in The San Jose Mercury News that protesters blocked an Israeli ship from unloading this past weekend at the Port of Oakland. One protester was quoted as saying, “My grandmother”s Jewish. I’m not anti-Semitic.” I’m sure his best friend is Jewish, too.

Actually, I can’t be sure of that, but I am sure that his view of what happened on the Mavi Marmara is misinformed. The protester, one Frank McClain of Larkspur, CA, accused Israel of murder and likened the actions of members of the IDF defending themselves from lethal attack to those of Somali pirates.

Indeed, the question as to whether the “New anti-Semitism”, the one that conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment, is a correct understanding of what is happening in the world today is subject to continuing debate. With both Abe Foxman and Norman Finkelstein figuring prominently in his film, Shamir has both poles of the argument covered.

I found Defamation a bit all-over-the-place and at the same time too focused on Foxman (I would have either included less of the ubiquitous head of the ADL, or perhaps done another film entirely on him). Shamir’s inserting himself into the narrative à la Michael Moore could be either positively effective or annoying, depending on your documentary filmmaking preferences. Nonetheless, he did a good job of covering various aspects of the role anti-Semitism plays in the lives and psyches of Jews (mainly American and Israeli) today, ultimately asking more questions than he answered (he’s Jewish, after all).

My biggest criticism is that there was a gaping hole in the film in the way of an age gap. On one hand, Shamir, uses up a lot of footage following a group of Israeli high school students on a March of the Living-style trip to Poland, and on the other, he spends a huge amount of time following Abe Foxman and his post-middle-aged cronies galavanting around the globe from mission to mission. Were there no American Jewish and/or Israeli Jewish Millennials and Gen Xers the filmmaker could have interviewed and featured more prominently? I, for one, would have wanted to know what they thought and had experienced in relation to anti-Semitism. Shamir did include interviews with some Orthodox Jewish men, some of whom could have been on the younger side – but their long beards made it challenging to discern their actual age.

My biggest take-away from the film was an absolute sense of horror at the educational content, objectives and results of the Israeli teens’ trip to Poland. Far scarier than any stone thrown at a school bus full of Hassidic children in Brooklyn, or some of the things coming out of Norman Finkelstein’s mouth, was the lessons learned – or not learned – by the teens. I don’t know the MOTL program well enough to make generalized accusations against it, nor can I judge all teen trips to Poland by what I saw on screen in Defamation, but I came away appalled by the students’ lack of nuance or sophistication in their understanding of both history and current reality. Perhaps the kids got a bit carried away with the notion that there are still some people in Europe who are not enamored with Jews or Israelis (to the point of being afraid to interact with the locals or to venture out to explore the neighborhood around the hotel), but the responsibility for their overblown sense of danger, insecurity and victimization does not rest with them. It lies with the adults who prepared them for and accompanied them on their visits to the sites of the Ghettos and Nazi death camps.

As an educator and as a parent, I could not but feel disheartened when a girl who earlier on was worried about not connecting with her emotions finally breaks down in sobs at the museum at Auschwitz. It’s not because I was unmoved by her crying, but rather because I had a sinking feeling that her teary exclamation of identification with the victims of the Nazis of, “They took our hair, they took our teeth…But I didn’t do anything to anyone!” would end there. It would end at her own feeling of victimization, rather than where the lessons of the Holocaust should ultimately lead – to taking action in the world so that no group (Jews included, but not exclusively) again falls prey to hatred, bigotry, racism or genocide.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.