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Masters of the House

11/09/2022 12:23:28 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek

My wife should have been born on a small street in Rexingen, a small town in Germany’s Black Forest.

My mother-in-law should have been born there as well.

It’s a reasonable assumption - after all, my wife’s grandmother actually was born to Hedwig and Alfred Levi on that small street. It’s where her ancestors had lived for nearly 400 years prior - if not in that street, then the next one over or perhaps even the town a few kilometers down the road.

They had roots and history in that place that I, a third generation American Jew, can scarcely imagine. 

Of course, that all ended when the Nazis came to power, so my wife’s grandparents fled Germany and made it to America, where my mother-in-law was born in Washington Heights, the daughter of refugees.

I was in Rexingen earlier this month, together with my wife and other descendants of Hedwig and Alfred Levi, to witness the laying of a Stolperstein (memorial stone) at the home where they lived. That home was stolen from them by the Germans, and it is now owned by Davorka and Ilija Pavic, themselves refugees from war in Croatia. Davorka and her adult son Simon laid the stone themselves, well aware of how their refugee journey intersected with the journey of my family. 

That squat yellow house in Rexingen was my wife’s family home, until it wasn’t. Now it is the home of the Pavics until, inevitably, in circumstances we can’t imagine today, it won’t be. 

Just 48 hours prior, I was in Jerusalem, watching Itamar ben Gvir lead a throng of followers through the open air market of Machane Yehuda. Ben Gvir is a fascist member of the Israeli Knesset who has been convicted of criminal acts including incitement of racism and support of a terrorist organization and proudly supports Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who, in 1994, massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others. As of last Tuesday’s election in Israel, ben Gvir is the second most powerful - some would say, the most powerful - person in Israeli politics. 

Ben Gvir’s column was chanting "Who here is the master of the house?" with the clear implication that we, the Jews, are the master of the Israeli house, and they, the Arabs, are barely tolerated interlopers. In Germany, we were traumatized by the Nazis; in Israel, we will be the ones dishing out trauma to others.  Of course, not all Jews get to sit atop this hierarchy - ben Gvir has been clear that liberal Jews should be expelled from Israel and gay Jews should be shot. 

On Friday, in Jerusalem, I was nauseated to see the corrosive effects of Jewish strength, as ben Gvir and his followers wielded hateful, jingoistic, and violent power; on Sunday, in Germany, I was nauseated to see the effects of Jewish weakness, leaving us dead and deported, and traumatized at the hands of hateful, jingoistic, and violent power.

There is no clear answer as to what happens next - the question of how Jews ensure our bodily safety is a vexing one. Liberal democracies, like Germany, and yes, America - have made it clear that they can’t, or won’t protect their Jews, while an increasingly ethno-fascist Israel might protect our bodies at the price of our souls. 

In this moment of uncertainty, I turn to the Torah of Rebbe Nachman, who teaches “...a person’s world consists only of the present day and moment—tomorrow is a different world entirely.”

May this present moment be a moment of peace and wholeness, and may tomorrow, in its mystery, be better than today.


Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784