I have been receiving lots of e-mail and calls about two items in the news this week. One is the continuing rant of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Jews, Israel and the Holocaust, and the second is the story in the Post about extravagant bar and bat mitzvah parties in New York. They are actually two parts of a whole, so I offer you these brief observations which, depending on how worked up I can get about them, will figure into my sermon Friday night.
The familiar denial from Ahmadinejad comes from a man educated well in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. We fool ourselves if we believe that the kind of revisionism that is so harmful as to be criminal can be overcome with either professions of love from the west or an invading military force. Purely and simply, Muslims from the Middle East – Arabs, Persians and others – who have had no countervailing influence to the anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist screed they hear constantly hold beliefs that are eerily similar to much of Naziism. Only a Muslim reformation from within will begin to resolve this problem; only a courageous Muslim religious leader with the enlightened approach to other traditions of Pope John XXIII or Pope John Paul II will begin that process.
That influence is most likely to come, ironically, from the Great Satan itself, the United States. Our continuing efforts as Jews to reach out to the Muslim community and find common ground for concern will encourage Muslim leaders from and in the USA to influence their coreligionists (and often family members) abroad to repudiate bigoted rhetoric and be unequivocal in their rejection of those who act on such platforms of hatred. We know the hearts of American Muslims – they live with the kind of prejudice and haughty suspicion we suffered when our own community was made up largely of immigrants who were caught between fidelity to tradition and the urge to assimilate.
But Ahmadinejad's posturing must not be dismissed as insignificant. Iran's nuclear potential makes his fighting words more than just words. The most agonizing of decisions lie ahead if he ramps up his week-long tantrum with threats of violence.
Still, there is something delicious about watching the nations of Europe squirm as he challenges them to repatriate their Jews, displaced by their own indifference to racism and genocidal hatred. Which brings us to "rich New York Jews."
I am not sure which is sadder – the "social scene" among a segment of wealthy Jews that demands quarter-million-dollar b'nai mitzvah parties or the notion that exploiting such excess is a good way to sell newspapers. I am certain that this story (and others like it in the New York Times et. al.) will produce a lot of hand wringing and denunciation from rabbis and social service providers. And, of course, we at Agudas Achim and the hundreds of other synagogues outside of Manhattan and Long Island (and plenty within) will go to great pains to note that such excess is not a part of the ethos of our community.
I recommend to you the book mentioned in the Washington Post article, Mark Oppenheimer's Thirteen and a Day. The first chapter will make you as nervous as the newspaper story, but the rest of the book will put into perspective the deep religious meaning of the ceremony and the celebration, no matter the context. And while I think it is absolutely worthwhile to flood the Post with letters expressing our outrage, it is also worth letting the message of that story sink in: well-meaning parents often spend a lot of money (that they often do not actually have) to provide their children with things that they don't really need. A Cirque-de-Soleil bat mitzvah party is certainly one of them. With Chanukkah coming up, you might consider what values your children will learn from your spending habits.
And -- get ready to get unhappy with me -- it is also worth considering how the Zionist state we love might be a better neighbor.
In the end, people will say what they choose to say about Jews (and, for that matter, everyone else). The fabrications, exaggerations and stereotypes are objectionable only if they are fabrications, exaggerations and stereotypes. I am about to get my umbrage cranked up on your behalf. Don't make a liar out of me.