Many Jews seem more upset by Russians killing Ukrainians over the past several days than they are about Ukrainians killing Jews for the last several centuries. As soon as I bring it up, the back-lash arrives with denial, excuses, equivocation, and apathy. Or demonizing Vladimir Putin, the popular, easy, “be safe” response. Self-abasement dressed in whatever’s handy or convenient, dependably persistent and reliably pervasive. No wonder Judeaphobic bigotry never dies. We never kill it. We. Us. Not them. And it seems we won’t, in place we cry for Ukraine. Mazal tov. But not me.
After over six decades of living life as a proud American Jew, life-long supporter of Zion, volunteer in Yafo-daled during the second “intifadeh,” right after the Sbarro and Dolphinairium atrocities, Young Leadership of Likud delegate to Jerusalem, security manager for Rabbi Kahane in NYC, AIPAC member, street activist, yeshiva student, 3x convicted felon, US Navy vet, 9/11 first responder, and CUNY graduate, I could go on, but point made, it has been impossible for me to not take note of Jewish people’s astonishing capacities for self-abasement. In this case, I am talking about the Jewish history in Ukraine and their capacities for unbridled, joyful, cowardly and barbaric cruelty.
We have all seen photos of the Shoah, surreal images of piles of faceless corpses, emaciated prisoners, Nazi brutality, and speaking for myself, at some point you reach numb. The scale of inhumanity irreconcilable with the world I perceive in my day-to-day life, so although the horror is communicated, they don’t really hit, they are out of my processing range. When I first stumbled on to these images, though, of the pogrom of 1941 in Lviv, the horror crystalized in a way that makes it penetrating and tangible. I get it. The Holocaust is not as meaningfully represented by numbers, facts, policies, and descriptions of processes, but you can see it in people, their faces, vividly, in all its unutterable abomination, as in the great Claude Lanzmann’s interviews in his documentary, Shaoh. It’s in people’s hearts and minds, the deeds follow. The images from the pogrom in Lviv, they hit. They register. They cannot, or so I’d think, be denied. But denied, mitigated, or dismissed they are. Today, Jews hate Putin, and love Ukraine. After all, they have a courageous Jewish prime-minister as their get-out-of-jail-free card. They’ve changed. Russia was just as bad, I’m told. Got it. But no sale. I’m not buying. In my ledger, that account has not been settled, so it remains open.
The “master race” of Germany, devastated by their spectacular failure, has confessed and made reparations. They even supply Israel with a fleet of “second strike” capable submarines, all but guaranteeing that if an enemy who has called it a “one-bomb country” ever dares strike? That country will cease to exist. Danke. I’ve met German girls in Israel looking for Jewish husbands so they could convert and raise Jewish children. Danke, fräulein. I even had one or two. But I won’t fly over Germany, nope, no desire, and I fly all over the world. I don’t self-abase. I don’t take holocaust tours of Auschwitz either. No need. I like Netanya, the Golan, and Dimona. To my knowledge, such wonderous bastions of human rights, Christian kindness, and ethical morality as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine still cover their crimes by claiming victim status. As young Ben Shapiro (his wife’s a doctor) likes to remind us, both can be true at the same time. Not mutually exclusive. But from them? I only hear one. I’ve even heard Germans claiming to be victims, and I get it. In fact, almost every German I’ve ever met tells me a story about how “the Nazis” persecuted their family. Okay. A nation of peaceful Aryans victimized by a handful of Nazis from outer space. Yet, Jews leave Israel to live in Berlin. Jews live in Poland, Jews live in Ukraine. Astonishing. As if they never got the “you are hated” memo with more than six million points to make it clear. But I did. I got that memo.
So, in response to the backlash, I did a little more research. According to a Ukrainian website dedicated to Ukrainian history, the pogrom in Lviv was hardly the first, no, not by a long–shot. There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pogroms there since the middle of the nineteenth century, often perpetrated by armed, nationalist militias, e.g., the Black Hundreds. Every few years, another wave, ever expanding and intensifying, never contracting or diminishing in ferocity. A festival of obscenity, murder, rape, butchery, burning, looting, destruction and robbery, targeting an unarmed, helpless, civilian, minority population, i.e., “the Jews,” again and again, a veritable national past time. So, there’s that. And I don‘t forget either.
Sometimes I think Jewish people are beyond repair, so damaged are we by centuries of ghetto weakness and relentless persecution. But even then, I find, baruch haShem, I’m not totally alone. Some of you reading this get me. There is a Mossad, a Sayeret Matkal, Chabad, Shabak, Im Tirtzu, and a JNF. There is an AIPAC, a Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Dayan, and Anielewicz, and a quiet history of world-class courage and heroic sacrifice in the name of Am Yisrael. But this one? It’s not our fight. Some of you will always stand up, not look away, be strong and proud of who we are, the good while not denying the bad, until the very end. I pray for the courage to be with them when that time comes. But until then? No tears for Ukraine. I save mine for the innocent. I save mine for the seven thousand lost Jewish souls of Lviv, the mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, neighbors, strangers and friends. For the rest? None.