Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oy Vey, Another Pope!

Jews are not happy people. They just aren't. They don't “do” happy. With them, it's all gloom and doom, 24-7. While the rest of us go around dressed up like Bozo the Clown, or wearing “happy face” masks, they slouch along, with stooped shoulders and a sad-eyed, hang-dog look, mumbling “Oy!” into their unkempt beards.

Stereotype? Unfair? Certainly. But you'd never know it from the reaction of Jewish leaders and commentators in Israel to Pope Benedict's visit. And why, for that matter, does there always have to be a “reaction”? Any other country would simply treat him as a guest. But that's not good enough for Israel; there has to be a “reaction” -- a public display, a debate, a circus. This, of course, is because there is an eternal and unending agenda – an acid test – a shibboleth – by which the relative merits of any visiting dignitary (or even non-dignitary) are measured, namely: What think ye of the Holocaust? The purpose of the visit is of no import; all of the person's previous statements – oral or written -- on the matter are of no import. All that counts is -- once again, right now today, and for all the world to hear, and for the 1000th time if need be -- “What think ye of the Holocaust?” Because the answer to that question will settle all other questions on the spot. It will settle the question of the person's merit; their moral standing; their “sensitivity”; their historical consciousness; and – above all – the extent to which they have signed on to the Holocaust meme, i.e. the premise that it is not only the most important event of all time for Jews, but for the rest of the world as well, and that said event provides the final and everlasting building block in the edifice of Jewish exceptionalism (and therefore, in the case of Israel, Israeli exceptionalism).

So we have been treated, over the past few days, to the spectacle of, once again, the Holy Father having to run the gauntlet of “reaction” and disapproval among our so-called “elder brothers in the faith” (a term which was invented for the sole purpose of avoiding this sort of nonsense, by the way). And what were the pope's great and many offenses this time around? Well, he visited Yad Vashem – where an exhibit makes it quite clear that Pope Pius XII was grossly at fault for not protesting the Nazis' mistreatment of the Jews – and “missed an opportunity to express regret for his country's central role in the extermination of 6 million Jews.” OK – to begin with, the pope's “country” is Vatican City, in case no one noticed. But yeah, I know, they're talking about Germany – and of course, every German of any age is liable to have their nose rubbed in the Holocaust for the next 1000 years. And what if the pope had “expressed regret” on behalf of Germany? Is he the German ambassador to Israel? (Is there one?) Wouldn't that have been going a bit beyond his authority? Or maybe he could have simply expressed personal regret for having aided and abetted the Nazi cause by being a member of the Hitler Youth in his, um, youth. But I doubt that would have filled the bill either. And what if he'd pointed out that Pius XII having been “Hitler's pope” is one of the great myths of our time? Not helpful. And especially not helpful is his attempt to meddle in Near Eastern politics by expressing support for an independent Palestinian homeland alongside Israel. The pope rushes in where American officials fear to tread!

No, it really is true that you can't win if you're the pope dealing with the Israelis, or with the Jews in general – and one wonders why they continue to try. But this periodic dry martyrdom is their way of reaching out and trying to make peace – to _be_ peace, in fact. If they do not receive a welcoming hand in return, it is certainly not their fault, nor the Church's. But to not even try would go against the dictates of charity. Thank goodness there are a few saintly men left in the world! Any of the rest of us would have given up long ago.

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