Richard Kronenfeld
Adult Ba'al Teshuvah Ph.D. Physicist

Our Own Worst Enemy

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We have met the enemy, and he is us.” (Originated by cartoonist Walt Kelly (Pogo) for an Earth Day poster in 1970.)

Indoctrination + Intimidation Insanity (my newly invented nuclear reaction)

While studying Parshas Shelach in The Midrash Says, I found a startling statement in a footnote:

“Examples of how defiance of Torah leaders caused damage beyond repair are the actions of secular and Zionist leaders in America and Eretz Yisrael at the close of the second world war. Certain Nazi leaders were then prepared to exchange Jewish lives for money. However, these non-Torah leaders either rejected the ‘old-fashioned Torah-way of bribing gentiles,’ or they adhered to nationalistic principles. (A quote from a speech by Yitzchak Greenbaum, member of the Jewish Agency and, ironically, chairman of the rescue committee in Eretz Yisrael during the war, delivered in February 1943: ‘When they come to us with two plans, the rescue of the masses of Jews in Europe or the redemption of the Land, I vote, without a second thought, for the redemption of the Land.’) They refused to release the vast sums of money under their control to ransom Jewish lives, and sabotaged the rescue efforts of Orthodox Jewry, guided by such Torah leaders as R. Aharon Kotler, R. A. Kalmanowitz, R. Michael Ber Weissmandel and others. The Zionist and Reform leaders are directly responsible for sending their brothers to death in the gas chambers. (These facts became testimony at the Eichmann trial. They are documented in R. Moshe Schonfeld’s writings, translated into English as The Holocaust Victims Accuse, and in Min Hameitzar by R. Michael Ber Weissmandel.)” [Volume 4, Bamidbar, footnote p. 183.]

Having read David Wyman’s book The Abandonment of the Jews, I was aware that Jewish leadership chose to pursue private diplomacy with FDR, who was close to the Reform leader Rabbi Stephen Wise, so that they opposed efforts by the Bergson Group, headed by an Israeli, Peter Bergson (pseudonym: his real name was Hillel Kook) to make the Holocaust a public issue. I had also read rumblings about the Zionists tearing immigrant children away from their religious roots. When I decided to do additional research by reading Rabbi Schonfeld’s book (online pdf), I was shocked to learn the details of his accusations. In summary, the secular Zionists, with the duplicitous support of some Religious Zionists (Mizrachi) and of the Jewish Agency and of the famed Mrs. Henrietta Szold, president of Hadassah, went all out to extinguish the religious observance of refugee Polish Jewish children who escaped from the Holocaust, reaching Teheran, Iran, the great majority of whom were raised in Orthodox families. Among the outrages they committed were:

  • The children were repeatedly brainwashed and then systematically deprived of religious articles, even food and clothing, as punishment for saying prayers. Even Kaddish, the prayer for their martyred parents, was forbidden.
  • If all else failed, children were beaten and boys placed in solitary confinement for leading prayers.
  • The children were assigned madrichim [teenage guides] who worked to accustom them to eating non-kosher food, desecrating Shabbat and the holidays, even Yom Kippur, removing their head coverings and tsitsis, and even having the madrichim and madrichot sleeping in the same room with the children as well as in mixed-sex dormitories and committing immoral acts. Food and clothing sent to the children from the outside world were stolen by the
  • When the children arrived at the Atlit refugee camp in British mandate Palestine, while the madrichim and madrichot continued to defile Shabbat by working and smoking, the presence of rabbis around the camp compelled them to abandon the physical coercion and change to indoctrination, which was more successful. After being taken on trips to see the glory and wealth of the nonreligious kibbutzim, the children were seduced.
  • At this point the Agudath Israel, representing world Orthodox Jewry, became involved. The Agudah wanted long-term placement for the 80% to 90% of the children who were clearly Orthodox to be under its auspices. The Youth Aliyah had falsely claimed that the children were nonreligious.
  • There ensued a protracted negotiation between Agudath Israel and the Zionists, with Mizrachi working on both sides. The Zionists and Mizrachi were continually making and breaking promises, so that in the end only thirty of the 750 children went to yeshivos for religious education.

In contrast, a group of Christian missionaries who were dispatched to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the children saw how starving and diseased they were, so that with instructions from the parent agency in London, they made no effort to convert the children. Furthermore, they were troubled by the Jewish Agency’s efforts to deny the children religious practice and education. What does it say for the secular Zionists that Christian evangelists had greater concern for the children to observe Judaism?

While all this oppression was going on, what was Diaspora Jewry, doing? Generally, Jews outside Israel, even the nonreligious, supported the position of Agudath Israel because they reasoned that if the children received a religious education, even if they later became nonobservant, they would at least have some Torah to fall back on. As previously mentioned, American Jews, the largest Jewish population in the world at that time, were largely immobilized by their nearly unanimous support for FDR. Rabbi Stephen Wise in particular was conflicted because of his association with President Roosevelt, so he appealed privately to FDR while publicly defending  him; criticized the high-profile activism of the Bergson Group to such a degree that “His colleague Nahum Goldmann told State Department officials in 1944, that Wise “regarded Bergson as equally as great an enemy of the Jews as Hitler, for the reason that his activities could lead only to increased anti-Semitism”; and tried unsuccessfully to gain Roosevelt’s support to urge Britain to reopen Jewish immigration to Palestine while working behind the scenes to persuade a majority of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to shelve a Bergson-inspired resolution calling for establishing a rescue agency for European Jews, which Roosevelt opposed. Rabbi Wise also “… discouraged any active efforts by Jewish organizations he did not control to publicly raise the issue of the wholesale murder of Jews in Europe, lest it place the Jews in a position of appearing to fail to support the president in wartime and lead to acts of anti-Semitism at home. The October 1943 march on Washington by 400 rabbis, was anathema to Wise. Marshals for that march were provided by the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV).”

In fairness, I should acknowledge that opinions on all sides weren’t uniform. From articles in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action, the OU magazine, the positions of Religious Zionist rabbis were quite varied. Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who started one of the first Hesder yeshivas (serious Torah study coupled with military service), actually joined a secular government after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin to restore Hashem’s presence in human affairs. On the other hand, leaders such as Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, denied that the creation of the State of Israel represented the first stage of our redemption, but did characterize it as a gift from G-d considering that in the War of Independence 600,000 Jews without a trained army and armed with just a few hundred rifles at first, miraculously defeated six Arab armies representing nations with a total population of 100 million, armed with tanks and airplanes, and that after President Truman offset his recognition of Israel with an arms embargo, Joseph Stalin, of all people, sent Israel arms through Czechoslovakia. Soon thereafter the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, actually switched his allegiance from Agudath Israel to Mizrachi. And who could have anticipated Israel’s lightning victory on three fronts in the Six-Day War, culminating in the liberation of Jerusalem?

Continuing to the present day, Jewish leadership has similarly elevated ideological considerations above its obligations to protect Jews, as evidenced by the essays in the new book Betrayal: The Failure of American Jewish Leadership, Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, editors (Post Hill Press, 2023). [Full disclosure: I authored one of the essays in this book but don’t receive any royalties, only author’s copies, so I have no financial interest in promoting it, only the need to inform the American Jewish community of the gravity of the threat we face.] More worrisome “…The New York Times Magazine [had] published a long feature article, titled ‘Inside the Unraveling of American Zionism: How a New Generation of Jewish Leaders Began to Rethink Their Support for Israel,’ which explored the fallout from an open letter signed by 93 American rabbinic and cantorial students, 28 of them from the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College, during the May conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups based in the Gaza Strip. The letter charged Jewish institutions with being ‘silent when abuse of power and racist violence erupts in Israel and Palestine,’ inveighed against ‘watered-down prayers for peace,’ accused Israel of policies that ‘constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians,’ and omitted reference to both Hamas and the hundreds of rockets the terrorist group was then firing on Israeli cities each day.”

Equally concerning for the future is the growth of Jewish anti-Zionist organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, as well as the straddle by J Street. In the present climate of growing anti-Semitism, many Jewish college students in particular feel the need either to conceal their identity or even join the Leftist opposition to Israel.

Likewise, within Israel itself the political opposition has undertaken an offensive to bring down the popularly elected Netanyahu government by any and all means, including attacking the economy, encouraging the IDF to disobey orders, preventing government ministers from going to work, and even destroying the Kohelet Forum for writing position papers favoring government policies. In the words of Caroline Glick, “But the real criticism has to be directed at the left. The same people falsely claiming to be fighting for “democracy” by seeking to overthrow the democratically elected Netanyahu government and block its ability to govern through demonization, media-instigated panic and mob violence, hate democracy. They know they are the minority of Israel’s citizens and under their ‘Democracy’ banners they demand unlimited power for anti-democratic institutions of government—the state prosecution, the Supreme Court and the senior government officials in every government ministry who think it ought to be illegal for elected ministers to oppose their policy preferences.” This is yet another example of Chazal’s insight that “whoever faults others is in fact accusing them of his own failures.” [Kiddushin 70b]

The most extreme example of Jewish anti-Zionism is the founding of the All its Citizens party, which is even farther to the left than Meretz. It proposes eliminating the Jewish character of Israel in favor of turning it into a binational Jewish and Arab state, repealing the Law of Return and replacing it with a vague “preference” for admitting both Jews and Palestinians facing persecution, removing the Magen David from the national flag, and deleting the lyrics of Hatikvah, leaving only the melody as the national anthem. [Incidentally, the bias of search engines is such that on Google I could find only articles supporting the party, so I had to use Bing to find the article cited above.] Implicit in all the opposition is the fear that the Right would actually turn Israel into a fully Jewish state as opposed to “a state of all its citizens,” which represents a linear extension of the hostility to religion exhibited by the secular Zionists in the case of the Teheran children.

No wonder much of the Orthodox establishment opposed the Zionist movement prior to the Holocaust; afterwards, however, that attitude largely dissipated when the Leftist Ben Gurion government wisely conceded authority over marriage, divorce, and conversion to the religious leadership.

To conclude, the Jewish People worldwide are besieged by the combined forces of B’Nei Eisav and B’Nei Yishmael with only one dependable ally: G-d. It is to Him we must turn, to beseech Him humbly to deliver us as He did in the days of Purim, from an enemy that sought our physical destruction, and Chanukah, from an enemy that sought our spiritual destruction, Now we have enemies who seek both. This is the time for teshuvah, return to Hashem. The road to Jewish observance is a two-way street: many are going away, but many others of us are coming back. Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
I'm a native New Yorker (Brooklyn, to be precise) transplanted to the desert as a teen-ager. I hold a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford and have taught mathematics and physics at the high school, community college, and university level. I'm an adult ba'al teshuvah and label myself as centrist Orthodox and a Religious Zionist along the lines of OU, Yeshiva University, and Mizrachi.
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