Friday, December 31, 1999

Holocaust Reparations

(This satire was originally published in the New York Jewish Week in December 1998)

What’s all the fuss about Holocaust money going to our organizations and not to the survivors and their families? That’s the way it has been for the longest time in American Jewish life and there is no reason to change a formula that has resulted in the steady growth of our establishment.

Anyway, the Holocaust ended fifty-three years ago and, as the Swiss were saying until recently, there are few survivors and those who remain among the living cannot prove their claims. The real Jewish survivors are our organizations which, although they stopped functioning years ago, continue to be in business.

As for the Jewish needy who lived through the destruction of European Jewry, they can collect welfare, Medicare, food stamps, Section 8 and a slew of other government benefits. If that’s not enough, they can shnor in shul or from relatives. Besides, they’ll soon be getting $500 each from the humanitarian fund that Jewish groups have set up with other people’s money. This should keep them quiet for quite a while.

We should be more concerned about the dozens of major Jewish organizations which each day are on the firing line doing battle to raise money and get some scraps of publicity. It’s hard work to get a press release published once a year in the New York Times and it’s hard and degrading to get the very rich to part with some of their wealth in return for a meaningless dedication or insincere sycophancy.

Jewish organizations have a profound respect for the dead and they show it at a cost of millions of dollars each year when they give their departed machers a deserved final resting place on the obituary page of the Times. Isn’t it more appropriate to spend money on this cause than to enrich Holocaust survivors who for a half a century have been able to recount their wartime experiences?

We have learned from survey research, another expensive habit of our establishment, that two-thirds of American Jewish Holocaust survivors have been to Miami Beach at least three times and most have done well financially, while raising their children to be good Americans.

Thanks to our trailblazing organizations, while their parents still speak with an accent, the children have warmly embraced the great American Jewish imperative of assimilation. It took the European Jews who came here between 1880 and 1914 three generations to accomplish what the children of so many Holocaust survivors have achieved in one generation. We ought to show gratitude for the groups that have demonstrated that you can be a good Jew without being Jewish.

Jewish leaders have struggled for years to stay in business, enduring the slings and arrows of those who say that they and their agencies are not needed. Why can’t we understand that it has not been easy to go to all of those conferences and conventions, to eat at so many dinners, to sit at boring meetings and to listen to inconsequential speeches?

The recent General Assembly in Jerusalem gave proof of the sacrifice of American Jewish leaders. Three thousand made the trip – just a small proportion of our apparently inexhaustible supply of machers – and most were forced to travel economy class. There were fat cats and back-home big shots who had to squeeze into narrow seats because there weren’t enough business class seats and too many were occupied by the nouveau riche Israelis. Worse still, they endured long days of long speeches and streams of cliche. Some speakers had the temerity to give their talks in Hebrew, a strange language for American Jewish leaders. Machers who are accustomed to sit front and center on the dais were forced to sit hundreds of feet away. On the trip home, one was heard to mutter, “This is like being in a cattle car.”

As for those who were in the cattle cars, they aren’t showing any appreciation. Instead of accepting what their superiors are offering, they have become greedy as they grasp for the spoils resulting from the slave labor of class action lawyers. Some are demanding an accounting of the past fifty years of reparation and restitution money. There are accusations that German Jewish property was stolen by the Nazis has been denied to their rightful Jewish owners because our restitution contortionists have constructed an elaborate bureaucratic maze that makes it impossible for Jews to get what is theirs. It’s wonderful that this disgusting charge has been ignored by the American Jewish media and only the Jerusalem Report, which no one reads anymore, has picked up the story.

Some of the worst noise is coming from Williamsburg Chasidim, people who think that just because they are Holocaust survivors they have the right to sit at the same table with the machers and decide what to do with the Swiss money. They do not even speak English and with their old world dress and folkways, they are an embarrassment. Who cares whether their families suffered in Auschwitz and Treblinka? For decades they have been aloof from the establishment and the old boys’ network that controls Holocaust funds. Now they are greedy, like Chasidim always are.

Let them be represented by clean-shaven Orthodox Jews who are always willing to make a deal giving the establishment what it wants, so long as they get their cut. Some Jewish leaders are fed up with all the criticism, saying that whoever does not like the way business has been conducted in American Jewish life since Haym Solomon’s time can go back from whence he came. Thankfully, cooler heads are prevailing. They know that it’s best to ignore the pesky noise-makers. They might cause some trouble and get a bit of attention but soon enough it will all pass.

At the end of the day, our organizations will get their money and their way. That’s the way it has always been.

Soon enough, there won’t be any Holocaust survivors.