Victims of Hatred

By Charles S. Weinblatt
© 2011

In writing about the Shoah (Holocaust), I was forced to examine human behavior during the most appalling and perfidious genocide in history. How could apparently normal people become willing accomplices in the murder of their Jewish neighbors? What persuaded German citizens, and their allies (Einsatzgruppen), along with many other Europeans, to believe that all members of the Jewish religion should be removed from society or destroyed? Why did they also accept the euthenasia of homosexuals, Roma and the physically and mentally disabled? Was it so easy to convince citizens that their healthy, friendly neighbors should be placed into forced labor, incarcerated and exterminated?

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in the world, especially in Europe, where Christianity promoted Jewish hatred for two thousand years. Millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children were murdered during the Crusades, the English Expulsion and the Spanish Inquisition. From the Dark Ages through the Reformation, the Church influenced Europe with a firm grip. Isolation and denigration of Jews was a firmament of Church philosophy.

Requiring a scapegoat to distract rebellious societies, the Church found Jews a very appropriate target. It has always been easier to hate than to trust or tolerate. Jews did not accept Jesus as the messiah. They worshipped God differently and with a different language. They kept to themselves. Jews often looked and acted differently. They observed different holidays. They held jobs deemed distasteful to Christians. Jews were forced to live in ghettos, rather than among Christians. The Church and local governments found it useful to maintain that Jews were not to be trusted or allowed to assimilate. Moreover, Jews were a peaceful group, without any military capability, unable to defend their communities from attack. In essence, Jews were a perfect scapegoat for Church leadership.

Over the centuries, European anti-Semitism became increasingly endemic. With frequent eruptions of pogroms and murder, blind hatred of Jews was never far from the surface of Christian society. Rumor and innuendo captured the minds of Europeans. They came to believe that Jews were responsible for murdering Christ, bringing plague, butchering Christian children to use their blood for matzo, and all manner of insidious, mendacious motivations. The publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a vicious anti-Semitic book filled with lies and innuendo, inflamed European hatred of Jews. First published in Russia in 1903, the text was translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally.

Not all anti-Jewish doctrine came from Rome. Luther pushed for the destruction of European Jewry as well. In Thirteenth Century England, the crown called for Jewish persecution and expulsion. The result was tens of thousands of murdered Jews. Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Spain produced the Inquisition, which resulted in the murder of about a million innocent Jews.

Decades turned into centuries. Centuries turned into millennia. Meanwhile, the Church’s effort to expel and murder Jews gradually declined. But, the latent hatred and mistrust for Jews remained, passed along from generation to generation. Very few European nations gave Jews the same rights as Christians. Hitler’s endeavor to remove and annihilate European Jews required little vigor to impose. In fact, it was a useful distraction for the Nazi regime, to combat public anger from government austerity programs and political challenges. The old mistrust and hatred of Jews easily rose to the surface, focused by incessant, vigorous propaganda. Very little effort was required to turn Twentieth Century Europe against their Jewish neighbors.

Meanwhile, Jews remained largely as they had been throughout time. They studied Torah, desired higher education, worked jobs that no one else desired, married and had children. Their values changed little over the centuries, despite near-constant efforts to isolate, expel, enslave and murder them. Jews often resisted assimilation, instead appreciating the importance of their time-honored values. Yet, Jews displayed no belligerence or hegemony. They desired no power over their neighbors. For Jews, the bitter taste of abhorrence, slavery and murder was a constant companion. Still, they desired only to live in peace with their European neighbors. This was interpreted by their enemies as weakness. Their ancestral homeland, Israel, was conquered repeatedly; their sacred temples destroyed. Throughout the Diaspora, Jews remained devoted to their religion and culture; they embraced it as they had for two thousand years, despite being considered second-rate citizens or no citizens at all. Jews threatened no one. Yet, they were despised by most Europeans. And, despite the known horrors of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism in Europe is again on the increase.

Humans are complex beings. There is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise. During the Holocaust, some Nazi concentration camp guards secretly aided Jews; while some Jewish kapos were more brutal than Nazi guards. While it seems simple to assign blame to an entire religion or political group, some deserve more blame than others. Despite the narcissistic nature of Nazi propaganda, there remained individuals, families and small groups who aided Jews. Altruism for all of humanity defied the Nazi vision of a pure Aryan society, removed of all traces of "defective" genes. So while most of Europe was only too happy to help Nazi Germany rid them of their Jewish neighbors, there were some Europeans who resisted the call to remove all traces of Judaism.

Despite enduring centuries as victims, bearing the brunt of falsehood, deception and vicious brutality, Jews remained loyal to their God, Torah and culture. They continued to find joy in a simple life of obedience to their time-honored traditions. For Jews, life has never been good or bad, but good and bad. Throughout history, Jews have found few moments of peace within an eternity of harassment, slavery expulsion and murder.

Within the fetid trains and barracks of Nazi-occupied Europe, lovers dreamed of being together, rabbis tried to keep faith alive and parents anguished desperately over lost loved ones. Into this churning crucible of horror, lovers, parents, children and grandparents were deposited. As they disembarked train cattle cars inside of Nazi death camps, husbands and wives were separated. Then children were pulled away from their mothers. Most were quickly gassed or shot to death, including 1.5 million children. The survivors were starved, beaten, had medical experiments performed upon them and were placed into slave labor for German industrialists and the Nazi war machine. Yet, even in this life of pure hell, their passion for Judaism did not disappear. Ironically, within a culture of death emerged a passion for Torah and life. Most Jews did not abandon their faith in God; instead, they carried it into the darkness of brutality, torture, sickness and death. Into the gas chambers of Nazi death camps, the Jews of Europe emptied their faith, love and tradition.

In search of a pure Aryan society, the culture of Germany was abducted by a tarnished morality; one which approved of the euthenasia of undesired people. This was cold, calculated genetic manipulation, in order to produce a Europe that was Judenrien. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as affection, compassion, tolerance and devotion also exist there. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine these vastly disparate portions of our psyche.

A complex palette of emotion and behavior churned within the Shoah. Powerful infatuation and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to faith and God. Nazi Germany could remove every article of wealth from the Jewish people, but not their love of family, adoration of Torah and devotion to a two thousand year-old culture. Tradition is the cement that holds the Jewish people together. At the very end, naked and cold, Jews carried their tradition, values and faith into Nazi gas chambers; a tapestry of ancient wisdom, ritual devotion and deeply personal connection.

The world is seldom seen in black and white, or even shades of gray. During the Holocaust, in the midst of terrible anguish, beauty existed. That beauty was enveloped by despair. Lovers secretly met in fervent passion. Clandestine weddings were held. At some concentration camps, such as Theresienstadt, Jews created schools, clinics, orchestras, politics and literature. There were even some births, hidden from the SS for as long as possible. Here, deep within the trepidation of impending death, surrounded by sickness and brutality, we find Jewish love, compassion, creativity, tradition and deep faith in the God of their ancestors.

Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Shoah must reveal torturous cruelty, violence, brutality, rampant sickness, forced labor and death. The survivors had to go on living without all of their family, friends and loved ones.  Victims who survived were faced with a deep, unrelenting depression.  It's fair to say that Holocaust survivors lost not just their wealth and property, but everyone and everything they loved.  However, despite the starvation, brutality, slavery and inhuman conditions, despite the disease and malice, the incarcerated Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion and their traditions. Many never lost their belief in God. By maintaining their faith, tradition and culture, survival became a victory of Jews over Hitler. Today, the millions of survivors’ progeny and the state of Israel proudly proclaim this Jewish victory. Like a fabulous phoenix, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Shoah victims rise above the ashes of the Holocaust; a treasure and emblem of Jewish endurance. Here, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

The Human Spirit

© 2010

By Charles S. Weinblatt

Having devoted my college education and half of my career to psychology and counseling, I appreciate books that offer a frank, emotional examination of behavior and morality. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as love, compassion and devotion exist there. We therefore learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this part of our psyche.

No human emotion is more powerful than guilt. We are forever tortured by our past and guilt is the primary motivator in our decisions about the future. We can ignore it or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. The guilt of surviving when their loved-ones perished weighs heavily on the minds of Holocaust survivors. They will never escape its grasp. But, they can learn how to live with it.

Memories about this time are dark and precarious. Yet, in the midst of this despair, there was the dichotomy of life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. In this sense, Holocaust victims embellished the widest range of human characteristics and attributes. Such was the complex state of life in a Nazi ghetto, concentration camp or death camp.

My novel, Jacob’s Courage, describes the Holocaust through the eyes of a normal Jewish family. If we speak only of heroic individuals battling against dark forces, then we dismiss the truth of our nature. Humans are far more complex than such generic characters imply. Not all Jews imprisoned and tortured by Nazi Germany were good. Some became “kapos,” more ruthless than the SS. Not all Germans were bad. Some Germans were riddled with guilt and some expressed tender compassion for the imprisoned Jews. Yet, below the surface of brutality, we find the human instinct for life, liberty, love and compassion.

Most of the Jews in Nazi concentration camps comprehended that they would not survive. Yet, within the ghettos, the incarcerated Jews maintained commerce, prayer, schools, and sometimes even orchestras. They had civic leaders, medical clinics and religious celebrations. Hidden from the SS, the Jews observed all of the covenants and rituals of Judaism, including holidays, marriage ceremonies, burials and circumcisions. Along the terrifying path to the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews lived, loved, learned and died. Somehow, many of the Jews of Nazi ghettos and concentration camps fabricated a “normal” life for their progeny. Despite their impending mortality, they created a normal world on the inside to protect children from the raging genocide on the outside. Such was the nature of their love. But there was more at stake than parental affection. They recognized that Judaism cannot survive without Jewish children.

The human spirit strives for autonomy and freedom. Yet, if one is to search for an understanding of human nature, then one must descend into the depths of depravity and terror. We cannot understand humanity without comprehending its wicked flaws. Deep within the darkest recesses of brutal genocide, we discover a faint flicker of light representing love, passion, desire, hope and reverence. Here is the essence of humanity; an examination of morality, love and righteousness, in the midst of the dark whirlwind of malevolence.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

What Happens When We Die?

There are as many opinions about the potential for an afterlife as there are stars in the sky. Devoutly religious people anticipate a conventional life after death in heaven, hell or purgatory; some others believe in reincarnation. Atheists with an imagination conceptualize alternate dimensions. Agnostics assert that there is no existence after death at all. Einstein believed that no one could understand the universe, except through his or her own imperfect perspective.

Most of us agree that science gives us the opportunity to empirically confirm or refute any concept, including life after death. Many piously religious people despise science for that very fact. For example, we know through carbon dating that the earth is billions of years old. This is an empirical fact. It is as real as gravity. We can measure it. This fact disproves the biblical allegation that the earth is only a few thousand years old. But, what about other religious concepts? Might they be true? And, how can scientists reconcile their own religious beliefs, when they are in conflict with empirical evidence?

We know that our consciousness (everything we think about, all of our memories, values, loves, hates, fears and emotions) is the product of neurons firing in our cerebral cortex. When the cells of our cerebral cortex die, our consciousness perishes. This is the physical and legal concept of brain death. We can quantify and calculate it. In order to prove that an afterlife exists, we must demonstrate empirically that consciousness exits after brain cells perish and that it exists elsewhere. In all of human history, no one has been able to accomplish this. Until someone does, we cannot know that there is an afterlife. We can believe it on faith. But its certainty escapes us.

Some people use common near-death experiences to validate an afterlife. For example, people who have been revived from near-death experiences express common characteristics of the experience, such as “traveling through a dark tunnel towards a white light.” Yet, we know from empirical evidence that brains cells for visual functioning are often the first to cease execution in the absence of oxygenated blood. Brain cells can function for about six minutes after they stop receiving oxygen. It would therefore be normal for revived people to see their vision gradually disappear, mimicking a tunnel with white light at the end. This by no means suggests an afterlife; rather, it is a normal part of conscious brain death.

In the end, we do not know if there is life after death. If so, it has remained unproven (empirically) throughout time. If not, then we must accept that the sum of our existence occurs during the time that we are alive. Therefore, it is critical that we use every minute wisely. In this, religion produces a paradox. What if there is an afterlife? Would that imply that inappropriate behavior could be redeemed in the afterlife? Can we act with senseless brutality and be forgiven? Would such a truth enable humankind to be intolerant and vicious? Could the religious concept of an afterlife inadvertently allow for more hatred, mistrust and selfishness?

In the absence of science, when giant leaps of faith leave us wanting, we must turn to logic. The fact that we have doubt about an afterlife means that we should feel compelled to act in ways that benefit our descendents now. We must be tolerant and kind to each other, care wisely for our planet and deliver a world to our progeny that is better than the one we inherited. If we have only one shot at existence, let’s make certain that our actions are based upon wisdom, love and charity. If there is an afterlife, then we might have one more opportunity to act prudently. If not, we will have wisely used our only chance to create a better world.

Faith of the Condemned

Copyright © 2009.  By Charles S. Weinblatt

At the behest of the German government, more than six million Jews were systematically exterminated, in addition to at least four million additional "undesirables," including Roma, homosexuals, political prisoners, Russians, criminals, the mentally challenged, etc.

Consider the plight of European Jews. They were not expelled from society, forced to change their religion or given an injection to speed their way into a painless death. Deemed an “inferior race,” they were exterminated, like annoying insects. They were gassed to death, because that was the most efficient way to dispose of six million men, women and children – who happened to be Jewish. For centuries, these Jews had been good German citizens and neighbors, fighting and dying in Germany's wars and contributing to Germany's artistic, scientific and business success. By 1938, they had become vermin, to be exterminated.

Jews in German-controlled lands were ousted from their schools, jobs and homes, and forced to live in squalid ghettos. Their homes, money and possessions were looted by the German government and local citizens. The captured Jews were transported to concentration camps, where they were often forced to work as slave laborers. Finally, they were transported to death camps, where they were gassed to death or shot and their bodies cremated.

We know this to be true, not simply from the anecdotal recollection of survivors and eyewitnesses, but from captured German documents. The German government carefully recorded the name of each Jew, in each concentration camp, on their inevitable road to premature death. Jews were rounded up by the Nazi's civilian thugs, better known as Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen were groups of local criminals and gangsters, who uncovered Jewish men, women and children, capturing them for the SS. Sometimes, they were told to shoot the Jews and bury them in trenches. One such location of the mass murder of Jews was a place called Babi Yar, not far from my mother's birthplace, in the Ukraine.

Women, the elderly, the sick, the frail and children were often the first into the gas chambers. Men and hardy women were kept barely alive for their value as slave laborers. As long as they remained strong enough to work, they were employed as laborers for the benefit of the military and German industrialists. Some of those German companies exist today. When there was no more work, or the victims became ill or weak, they were shot or gassed to death.

My mother experienced anti-Semitism as a child in Russia. Cossacks and local citizens persecuted Jews in the towns and villages of the Ukraine. My mother and her sisters survived by leaving Europe and immigrating to America before the Holocaust. However, almost two entire generations of her family died in the Shoah, the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

I hold this genocide close to my heart. It is a cumbersome stone attached to my soul, a burden of remarkable proportions. It is why I created a book called, Jacob’s Courage. Through the words of "Jacob's Courage" my ancestors cry out for justice. This terrible story cannot be told without revealing the brutality and indignity of the Holocaust in every detail. It is a terrible and yet at times beautiful story, filled with heroes and villains, love and laughter, horror, tragedy and survival.

The genocide of six million innocent people must be told and remembered. If not, there would be nothing to prevent more genocide, and then more after that. We cannot allow our progeny to embrace the worst characteristics of human nature. This tragedy must be indelibly imprinted upon our children and they must pass it along to their progeny. The only way to eliminate hatred and instill tolerance is through thoughtful and well-planned education.

This does not demean the importance of other Holocausts. The Armenian genocide was no less tragic, only smaller in scope. Those innocent people who were murdered in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur were just as blameless. All genocides create important questions. Why would German citizens allow their neighbors to be annihilated? How much did they know about death camps and when? Why didn’t they try to prevent it? How deeply-rooted was anti-Semitism?

How can we learn to value the differences among us, rather than fear them? When will we stop ostracizing people because of their religion, race, gender, orientation or ethnic heritage? In the 21st century, we must become better than that. We must acquire tolerance and compassion, rather than teach our children to continue to fear, abhor and hate people who are different.

We surround ourselves with romance and comedy, playing to the healthier parts of our emotional identity. Yet, repugnance, despair and obscurity exist within human nature. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine that dark side of our psyche. If any benefit can come from the Holocaust it is that we can examine the furthermost extent of human depravity. We can measure its immorality, degeneracy and malevolence.

Deep within the fear and panic of the Holocaust were vastly critical decisions about ethical behavior, revealing our concept of morality. Unlike animals, humans are governed by principles, ethical beliefs and veracity. We are not clouded by delusions of integrity, but governed by them. To understand human behavior, we must explore the human response to terror, as well as the alluring beauty of passionate love and the driving power of religious devotion. After all, we are profoundly influenced by each of these passions.

Our lives are complex - even within the garish trap of the Holocaust. Not all Jews were innocent victims. Not all Germans were rabid anti-Semites, bent upon the destruction of the Jewish "race." Some Jews were themselves evil and became concentration camp "kapos." Some gentiles were compassionate and rescued many Jews.

In reality, the world is seldom seen in black and white, or shades of gray - especially during the Holocaust. In the midst of terrible anguish, beauty existed. Within beauty, despair can exist. And, while many Jews in the abyss of the Holocaust worshipped God, some condemned God. While it might be easy to claim that God works in mysterious ways, how is one to focus on religious constructs when the veneer of all that is good in life has been stripped away? How does one continue to love a God who allows the murder of every loved one, who allows us to be starved, beaten, tortured, denigrated, disfigured and emotionally destroyed? Perhaps this was the ultimate test of faith.

Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps somehow gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Holocaust must reveal torturous brutality, starvation, sickness and death. Most Holocaust survivors lost all of their loved ones. The facade of life’s beauty had been stripped away, revealing an incomprehensible abyss of revulsion.

Yet here, in the bowels of terror, the Jews of the Holocaust hit a wall and continued to run. Despite the onslaught of lasting evil, in the face of certain death, Jewish victims of the Holocaust fabricated a make-believe world for their children. Deep within the horrid transit concentration camps of Nazi Germany, such as Theresienstadt, the Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion, to teach their children and to love one another. Lovers married, amidst the shadows of death and the stench of decay. This is where the Jews of Europe, condemned to certain death, continued their everlasting worship of God in the manner of their ancestors for countless centuries. Here, waiting to be sent to the gas chambers and crematoria, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit. These singular moments rise like a fabulous phoenix, from the ashes of annihilation.

Those poor souls trapped within the terror of the Holocaust were faced with the most perfidious forces. Deceit, brutality, cruelty, sickness, starvation and the death of loved-ones were the daily companions of Holocaust victims. Yet, in the midst of utter despair, there was life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. Even in such hopeless desolation, there was love of God, infatuation, romance and longing for all of the things that humans crave. Jews fabricated their ethnicity within the drumbeat of the slow, steady march to the Nazi gas chambers. They refused to allow the fabric of Jewish society be torn by relocation, forced labor, starvation, sickness and the endless threat of demise. They created schools, orchestras, athletic events, synagogue and prayer, weddings and funerals, dances and theatre, study groups and debates; to every hellhole the Jews were sent; they took their values and their faith with them. Rather than give in to the Nazis, Jews trapped within ghettos and concentration camps courageously re-created their culture and religion. Some of the most ardent examples of constructive human nature can be found in these terrifying Holocaust moments.

Hidden from the SS, concentration camp Jews observed the covenants and rituals of Judaism. They prayed on the Sabbath and during the major holidays, celebrated marriage ceremonies, arranged burials and even ritual circumcisions. Along the dark, terrifying, relentless path to the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews lived, loved, learned and died, behaving as though their lives would continue unabated. In their darkest moments, concentration camp Jews fabricated a “normal” life for their progeny. Despite their impending mortality, they created an ordinary world on the inside to protect children from the raging genocide on the outside. Such was the nature of their love, faith and devotion. Indeed, this worship transcended parental affection. Into the gas chambers and crematoria, the Jews of the Holocaust emptied their faith and continued to worship the God of their ancestors.

The human spirit strives for autonomy and freedom. Yet, to understand human nature, one must descend into the depths of depravity and terror. We cannot appreciate humanity without comprehending its wicked flaws. Deep within the darkest recesses of brutal genocide, we discover a faint flicker of light representing love, passion, desire, hope, worship and reverence. Here is the essence of humanity, in the midst of the dark whirlwind of malevolence – a flicker of light representing morality, faith, love, compassion and righteousness.

This is why we must always tell stories of the Holocaust. Such narratives represent the very worst of human vilification and the very best of compassion. Holocaust stories teach us how to recognize the worst examples of humanity, but also how to be a righteous person. The terror of genocide is not necessarily an inevitable human outcome. We must learn from the mistakes of our past, rather than repeat them. As long as we teach our children about the Holocaust, there is hope that it will never happen again. In the words of writer and philosopher George Santayana, "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, “Jacob's Courage”

The Saddest Holiday

Tisha B’Av: Judaism’s Saddest Day
© 2009, Charles S. Weinblatt

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av has come to be known as Tisha B’Av. It begins at sunset on the eighth of Av and ends at sunset on the ninth. It has come to be known as the saddest day in the Hebrew calendar.

Throughout Jewish history, the ninth of Av has been recognized as a day of tragedy. Many dreadful events occurred or began on this day in history, including the destruction of the First (586 BC) and Second Temples (516 BC), the razing of Jerusalem by Romans (70 CE), the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition (1492) and the beginning of World War I (1914), which presaged events leading to the Holocaust. During the First Crusade, 10,000 Jews were murdered on Tisha B’Av (1095). In 1290, Jews were expelled from England on Tisha B’Av. It is also said to be the day that Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and discovered his people worshipping idols. During the Holocaust, deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Nazi Treblinka death camp began on Tisha B’Av (1942). More recently, the deadly bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires occurred on Tisha B’Av (1994).

In addition to fasting during Tisha B’Av, observant Jews refrain from washing, working, drinking, using electricity, shopping and having sexual relations. Jews mark the day as they would during a shiva, the Jewish period of mourning. Torah study is forbidden and Jews often bury old and damaged prayer books on this day. Many Jews sit on low stools or sleep on the floor. They refrain from greeting visitors and read the scroll of Eicha (Lamentations). During the three weeks before this holiday, Jews are forbidden to marry. This period of mourning begins with another fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, when the Second Temple walls of Jerusalem were breached in 70 CE.

Orthodox Jews believe that Tisha B’Av will remain a day of mourning until the messiah arrives and the temple is rebuilt. At that time, it will turn into a day of celebration forever. Although Reformed Judaism has never assigned this type of significance to the destruction of the temple, Tisha B’Av is still observed as a day to recall Jewish tragedies.

While Jews observe Tisha B’Av by looking backwards on the calendar, the holiday can have significant contemporary meaning. When fasting, Jews can comprehend the pain and suffering of destitute people around the world. This realization can be turned into compassion and charity. Having been victims of genocide many times in the past, Jews can use this holiday as a time to aid contemporary victims of ethnic, religious, racial and gender persecution. Jews can also realize how fortunate they are compared with their ancestors. Although anti-Semitism is increasing today, Jews are not persecuted to the same extent as they were throughout history.

Coming to terms with disaster is never easy. No race or religion has had more historical experience with disaster than the Hebrew people have. Repeatedly, Jews have been conquered, enslaved, massacred, tortured and expelled. Somehow, despite all efforts to destroy this tiny religion, Jews found a way to survive and even prosper. The Jewish people found a way to turn disaster into survival and survival into a new nation, rebuilt over the crumbling rocks of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of David and Saul.

It has been more than 2,000 years since the destruction of the temples in ancient Israel. During that time millions of Jews have been slaughtered by Greeks, Romans, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust. Despite the indignity of historical perspective, Jews continue to exist. They worship the same God, recite the same prayers, observe the same holidays and perform the same rites and rituals as their courageous ancient ancestors did. This astonishing chronicle of survival may be one of the greatest legends of human history.

Although Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, it can also be considered, through careful reflection, as a day to be grateful for the survival of the Jewish people. Despite civilization’s persistent attempts to destroy Jews, this tiny, persistent religion has found a way to survive, prosper and contribute to the cultures of countless societies. In this regard, Tisha B’Av can also be observed as a day to be thankful for the resilient endurance of the “chosen people.” Always persecuted, never destroyed; the Jewish people march on through history, unabated, undeterred and ever grateful for the influence of their ancestors.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

Happiness and the Human Mind

Humans are frenzied islands of consciousness, possessing characteristics both good and evil. If we wish to contemplate reality, then we must accept that our good characteristics are balanced with flaws, faults and limitations. Conversely, the malevolent side of our nature possesses some beneficial qualities, as well. It is this balance of the good and wicked sides of our personality that we must understand. But, we must dig deeper to truly comprehend the complex foundation of our behavior.

There is a great deal more to our personality than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are attractive and hideous, comforting and horrifying, wicked and compassionate; we can love and we can loathe. Unlike animals, humans are complex creatures ruled by principles, moral beliefs and veracity. We are governed by ideations of probity, integrity and honor. Yet, how can we know that our beliefs are virtuous? If we were raised by criminals, would ruthlessness become a virtue? How can we tell if we are a good person?

Determined by genetic predisposition and acquired emotions, our personality is formed at a young age. By the time we are a teenager, our complex personality has been fully formed. It will never change, barring a very significant life event. We learn to act in ways that mimic our parents and close relatives. Their beliefs become the basis for our morality, our interactions and, ultimately, our happiness. Morality can also be powerfully influenced by outside forces. For example, many Europeans accepted Hitler’s propaganda and believed that Jews were evil. Thus, our concepts of ethical morality can be twisted to achieve dark goals.

In addition to morality, our personality is influenced by powerful emotions churning within our consciousness. Emotions alter our relationships and inspire or prevent virtuous behavior. No emotion pushes us to behave more powerfully than does guilt. Not love. Nor anger. Not even happiness drives us to act more influentially than does guilt. Our minds are aggressively provoked by contemplation of our culpability and this remorse becomes a primary motivator in decision-making. The surprising aspect of this reality is that we fail to recognize it. We can ignore guilt or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. Even the most innocent of us are burdened by thoughts of guilt and remorse. When we dwell upon these forces of compunction, our behavioral balance becomes tilted toward sorrow and anger. We become depressed, paralyzed and tormented.

Humans are faced with treacherous forces throughout life. We are, at times, victims of deceit and cruelty. We face the loss of a career, a home or a loved one. Our lives are precarious and the only thing that we can count on is change. Yet, in the midst of despair, there also exists love, desire, and hope. Even in desperate misery, there can be faith and compassion; things that humans crave. Those of us who find a way to balance the rollercoaster ride of emotions and who possess a sound concept of morality are the happiest. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Life is tragic, exciting, wonderful, and terrifying - all at the same time. Yet our journey throughout the passage of time allows us to act in ways that benefit others. All of us have the capacity to act in ways that benefit others. We can be honorable, empathetic and loving individuals. This can be our goal. Compassion and empathy are the most valued characteristics of humanity; including all societies and all of our religions. We can teach the significance of empathy and tolerance to our children. While that might not be our destiny, it is within our capacity to achieve.

Making decisions is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions frame our character and form our legacy. We can reason and act in wise and virtuous ways. But, we must challenge the authenticity of our acquired morality. We must do what so many Europeans did not do during the Holocaust. It has always been easier to fear and hate, than to value and tolerate. We must reflect upon incoming propaganda and determine if it truly reflects esteemed concepts of human compassion and empathy. This is not a purpose, but a gift possessed only by humans.

Happiness has a great deal to do with our principles and morality. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. As a child, we desire that which makes us feel good. As an adult, we should realize that virtue derives from compassion. Fulfillment comes from the knowledge that we have improved the world in some way; that we made someone’s life better. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critically precious.

Our actions echo through eternity in those who remember us. Happiness results from the discovery of our inner balance between emotions and values. But the road to contentment lies not just in maintaining a balance between emotions and values, but also in finding ways to act in a righteous manner. For the more we love others, the more we will be loved in return. The more virtuous we are, the greater our importance to society and the planet. Contentment is a gift that each of us can control. It is achieved, ironically, by making others happy. Each of us has this capacity. It’s always within reach. We attain it by understanding why we behave and how we can change our actions to enhance the lives of others. In this regard, happiness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

Why We Exist

Why am I here? What should I do? Where should I go? With whom? What will happen when I am gone? Why is there so much pain? What is the meaning of life?

We are fortunate to have become sentient life forms. Evolution allowed us to reach this point. However, the capacity to comprehend does not lend any more purpose to our existence than has an ant, a fish or a bird. Our purpose in life is, quite simply, procreation. Make more humans and we have accomplished our reason for being here.

Yet, we have the capacity to do more, to be more, and to act in ways that benefit others. We can appreciate our existence, manipulate our environment and improve the lives of others. We can be moral, compassionate and ethical. Some may describe this as egocentric nihilism. So, be it. It can be in our nature to enhance the condition of humanity and improve the quality of our environment.

Some of the most beautiful and gifted people perish at a young age. Some of the most terrible monsters enjoy long comfortable lives. There is no rhyme or reason to the symphony of life. It is tragic, electrifying, magnificent, and terrifying - all at the same time. Are we confined to the role of observant passenger throughout the passage of time? Can we act in ways that impact society, benefiting future generations? Can we impart this value to our progeny? Whether or not this is our destiny, the prospect exists and its meaning calls through the silence of time to all of us.

We do not exist to do something or to be someone. Although we have innate gifts, randomness plays a critical role. We are born into to wealth or poverty. Our parents love us or beat us. The randomness of our birth condemns us to poverty or places us in circumstances of great wealth; we receive superior guidance from a loving family, or we are thrown into the cold, dark world as orphans. Yet there are those who overcome such travesties of unfortunate circumstance. Some of the most depressed people are wealthy beyond avarice, as are many of the physically beautiful. Conversely, some of the most unattractive, deprived people are also the happiest. We strive to consume, to own and to possess. We learn, work and achieve. But, are we fulfilled?

Our destiny is created through decisions. It is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions create or deny opportunities. We can overcome severe impediments by virtue of our ability to reason and act wisely. This is not our purpose. Rather, it is a gift. How we use this gift determines our legacy.

A metaphysical explanation for death, heaven, God, alternate dimensions or a parallel universe is not required for us to feel satisfied. Happiness has little to do with ideations of conscience or delusions of morality. The Torah teaches us that whoever saves a person saves the whole world in turn. If there is any meaning in life it is that we have the capacity to help others. We can touch lives and make them better. The context of this morality is compassion. Compassion ennobles humanity and enhances its significance. The human soul does not thrive on value (Nietzsche). It thrives on love and compassion. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. What we do with our lives echoes throughout eternity in those who remember us. The doorway to this reward is ethical behavior. Yes, it is subjective. But reason and logic alone leave us wanting.

The currency of life is empathy. The more we give, the more we receive. Anyone can be wealthy in this regard. Environmental conditions and strength of purpose allow someone with a short, miserable life in painful squalor to become happy and fulfilled. Accomplishment comes from the knowledge that one’s presence in life improved the world in some way. A search for further meaning is superfluous.

Time is the fire in which we slowly burn. Its flames prick our skin always. Time surrounds us in silent, smoldering malevolence, ever gaining upon our retreat. There is no escape. Death is liberation, not exoneration. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critical. There are no second chances.

Why do we fear death? Death is simply the normal end to life. It is a release for many and a desire for those who suffer. We mourn lost loved ones. The gaping emptiness is unbearable. Yet, through the sadness and mourning, despite the certainty that they are gone forever, we can rejoice in the way that they touched our life. We can remember their love and pass it along to others.

Humanity grasps an optimistic picture of existence after death. Captivated by a fabricated ideation of heaven, we blunder through life assuming that our ends will more than justify the means. We blindly assume that a “good” deity would always take us into his bosom, allowing us to partake of heavenly bliss. In reality, we are responsible for everything that we do or say. Our actions have consequences. We can help or hurt, assist or ignore, tolerate or hate. And, while it may appear that death is a brick wall upon whose edifice all of our lives must crash, our actions in life echo through eternity. Our behaviors resonate through time, reflecting and refracting across everyone that we encounter and those whom they meet. The resulting clarity becomes the character of our legacy. Good or bad, right or wrong, the remote memory of our existence will be defined by our past and current actions and attitudes.

The noblest effort in our meager existence is to impart value to our progeny’s existence. We can teach our children to respect and honor humanity in all forms; and, to value the differences among us, not fear them. If we are successful, then our lives will be fulfilled. And, when we are gone, our children will rejoice in the way that we touched their lives. This is the meaning of our existence - to touch others in a positive way and to be remembered as a person who values life and improves the world.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

Why Do People Hate?

As a Holocaust author and researcher, I appreciate a thorough examination of morality. Darkness, hatred and fear are common characteristics of human nature. Holocaust victims were faced with perfidious forces, deceit, brutality, cruelty, starvation, sickness and the death of loved-ones. Terror was the daily companion of concentration camp prisoners. What culture could allow this to happen to innocent men, women and children? How did so many people go along with this horrific plan to isolate and exterminate the Jews of Europe? How could millions more turn their backs to the immorality of using camps to exterminate an entire religious group? Some people were unaware of the nightmare on the other side of the fence. But, most Europeans (especially in Poland and Germany) could smell death regularly. The scent of burning flesh wafted over Eastern Europe for years, during the early–to-mid 1940’s. These people allowed Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jewish population – men, women and children. They lifted no finger to stand in the way. Many individuals saved Jews (especially Jewish children) at great risk to themselves. But they were the exception, not the rule. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine this dark part of our psyche.

It is safe to say that large portions of the European population in the early 20th century disliked Jews. Pogroms were ubiquitous and largely ignored by society, the police and armed forces. In fact, in some pogroms the armed forces cooperated (Einsatzgruppen, Cossacks, etc.). Jews were significantly mistrusted, disliked and ostracized. They were the butt of jokes and the subject of innuendo. Yet, Jews represented no threat of any reasonable nature or definition to Europeans. At that time, Jews amounted to about 2% of the population in Europe; they possessed a very small percentage of the money, influenced no governments and had no armed forces or militia. They could not have been a threat to any potion of gentile Europe if they had wanted to. So, why did so many Europeans hate Jews? How could so many people find it easy to loathe millions whom they knew nothing about and that they had never met? Were they automatons, eagerly lapping up propaganda drivel proffered by Nazis? Or, were they intelligent humans, with the capacity to comprehend nuances of their society’s actions and still reach the conclusion that Jews were bad people who deserved to be rounded up, incarcerated and annihilated? Yes, these people acted in evil ways. But, what precipitated the hate? Was it a genetic predisposition or evil acquired later in life?

We are complex beings. I believe that there is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. Most of us are not one or the other, but both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise. Unlike animals, humans are governed by principles and moral beliefs. We are not motivated by delusions of morality, as much as governed by them. So what brings a person to despise a stranger? Why do some people hate and fear those who are different in color, religion or ethnic origin? Why do so many people find it easier to hate than to tolerate?

My instinct tells me that some people acquire racism because they were taught at a young age to hate, by parents, siblings, relatives, friends or any other portion of their social network. At some point in their juvenile existence, they learned to despise minorities from people close to them. And, many of these racists continue to hate without questioning the veracity of their loathing. Being recognized as a bigot makes some individuals popular with desired social groups. Research reveals that a high percentage of racists are poorly educated. Yet, not all racists are ignorant or mentally slow. Some people with a postgraduate education delude themselves with manifestations of detestation towards minority groups. The dark side is filled with ignorance and deception. And, while many people are taught to be bigoted as children, some acquire it later in life, despite having a liberal, tolerant social network in their youth.

Could we be little different from the final vestiges of our primordial ancestors? Like many animals, humans originally had to fight and control others in order to maintain territorial superiority. Perhaps the need to be superior is an innate mental mechanism, acquired biologically. This Darwinian factor could be a reason for bigotry, although it may be difficult to prove. Evolution teaches us that we are governed by the principle of survival of the fittest. Is human behavior dominated by an inborn fear of others? Is social responsibility, tolerance and compassion simply an aberrant acquired social behavior, employed most often by liberals and religionists? Are the better angels of our conscience nothing more than bizarre adaptations to our dark and “natural” survival instinct?

I believe that people find it easy to hate because tolerance requires effort. Haters live with haters, in a community of malevolence. The more they hate, the more they are approved by their social group. Toleration would require analyzing each individual, based upon his or her merits, rather than despising every member of a race, color or religion. But, it is easier to hate. We despise those different from ourselves. And, we teach our descendants to do the same. This creates an endless, vicious cycle, guaranteed to generate bigoted progeny. Ironically, we hate in order to be valued by our peers.

But, we outsiders, who value tolerance, can break the bonds of bigotry one person at a time, with education, conversation and engagement across all media. We can use the Internet’s social networking and web sites to our advantage. We can fight the innate fear and bigotry of others by generating compassion for the individual, regardless of milieu. We can promote the significance of each person as a unique entity, with unlimited potential, rather than a member of a religious or social class, with preconceived expectations. We can promote tolerance of each individual’s soul. Only when we make an effort to understand and value the differences among us will racism and bigotry end. Only when we accept the value of each person, regardless of background, will our culture be meaningful and rewarding.

Fear may be at the heart of racism and bigotry. We fear that which we do not understand. We fear anyone who might be perceived as better than we are. We therefore use the tools of bigotry to become superior to others. Our fear drives us to prove that we are better than the “others” are. It feels good to be superior. Yet, in order for one person to feel superior, another must be subjugated. In order to feel better, we must dominate someone. The easiest way to dominate is to hate those who are not a threat. We use an innocent and defenseless group as our target for scapegoat. And, it feels good to make them live in fear. We rationalize the minimization of our fear by inflicting greater fear on the victim. If they are inferior, we must be better. We climb upon their social cadaver in order to feel superior.

Racism, hatred, intolerance and bigotry are the artifacts of fear. Eliminate fear and there will no longer be a need for the tools of bigotry. This is our challenge. We must convince the haters that they have no reason to fear minorities. This is the greatest and most noble challenge of our generation. The reward for success is tolerance, respect and mutual recognition. We can share our planet together as equals. This will be our legacy.

But, if we fail, our children will inherit a world dominated by the dark angels of our nature. If we fail, our progeny will be doomed to a life surrounded by fear, suspicion, hatred and death. We cannot end our generation sharing the same values as our early 20th century European ancestors had. We can and must be better than that. We must evolve into a tolerant society. Our children’s future depends upon it.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

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