Remember the bedtime story about the sly wolf propped up in Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s bed? Little boys must have cringed in fear then, but for some in adolescent years, the big bad wolf became the persona of the big bad guy who is tickled “pink” scaring females and making them uneasy. In the fifties, it was a common practice for street guys to give their jocular “wolf calls” at the sight of a pretty girl walking by; the girl would pretend not to hear the obscene “wolf call” hastening away, as the guys chuckled
At how they were put at their “dis-ease” – the late Mary Daly’s term for the disease of machismo.)
Then there’s the bull, forced to provide the cruelest theater, the bullfight. Picasso’s self-portraits as a bull are lusting – he’s the stud goading the bull to fight; he is half bull charging crazily within the spotlight.
The cockfight is a spectator sport that sets up two cocks to fight each other viciously. The cock is regarded by the macho mindset as the aggressive fowl amid the flurry of mother hens and ducklings. But in reality, the cock is merely a rooster that heralds a new morning much as the Robin Red Breast heralds the spring. The poor cock – not only because of the cockfights; it is the cock’s misfortune to be bestowed with the perverse honor of having male genitals linked to its name.
In juxtaposition to the identification with animals that the macho male perceives as savage beasts, his projections onto domestic animals reveal his misogyny. If a macho male does not like a woman’s face, he calls her a dog. If she can answer back, she’s a bitch. If he can’t handle her pregnant body, she’s a cow. If she’s an elder, she’s an old crow. If she’s young, she’s a chick. And for his pleasure, she may become a Playboy Bunny or land in a cathouse.
Yes, the sick fantasies of machismo – the conniving, plundering, killing and ruling are projected onto the mystical animals and birds in the natural world. After all, male entitlement is a given, prescribed in the bible: “Let man have dominion of his skies with its inhabitants, the earth with its inhabitants.” There is no other recourse for humanity except to leap over the decaying abyss of machismo to land on new terrain – a newborn feminized universe like the first Paradise – that is, until Cain killed Abel. And let’s bring back the 80s slogan when we called for a nuclear freeze, chanting, “take the toys away from the boys.”
Last month, shortly before the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, my wife, Ann, and I took a tour of Terezín, the fortress near Prague where more than 100,000 Jewish men, women and children were briefly held by the Germans and their accomplices in a transit camp before being sent on to the death factories and the killing fields.
Our local guide felt it appropriate to tell us that the Jews in their tens of thousands were guarded only by 22 SS men.
The guide was dead wrong. “[B]y the end of 1941, [Terezín] housed some 7,000 German soldiers and Czech civilians,” writes Saul Friedländer in The Years of Extermination, the second volume of his masterwork, Nazi Germany and the Jews. But the subtext of the guide’s remark is not different from the question that Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner asked the survivors who appeared as witnesses at the Eichmann trial: Why did you not fight back?
A good deal of Holocaust scholarship, in fact, has been devoted to showing that the Jews did fight back in greater numbers and more various ways than our guide at Terezín was willing to admit. Yehuda Bauer has adopted the word Amidah, a reference to the “standing prayer” that is the centerpiece of the synagogue service, to honor the Jews who “stood up” against the Germans and their collaborators, some with “cold” weapons like sticks and stones, some with “hot” weapons like guns and bombs, some by smuggling food and medicine, and some by teaching a few words of Hebrew to the children before their lives were taken from them.
The question of Jewish resistance is sore point for me, too. When I set out to tell the story of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old boy who was among the earliest Jews to engage in an act of armed protest against Nazi Germany, I was both saddened and puzzled at the way he had been wholly written out of history, and as much by the Jewish community as by the rest of the world. At a time when the Jewish world was terrorized by the Nazis, Herschel sought to call the world’s attention to their plight, but he was shunned at the time and forgotten afterwards.
Why, then, is Herschel Grynszpan not celebrated as the hero he fully intended to be? “To bring the attention of the world to what was being done to the Jews was an act of resistance,” Prof. Friedländer told me in an interview. “Why Herschel Grynszpan has been overlooked, even if his act had unfortunate consequences, is strange and baffling.”
That’s precisely the question I sought to answer in my new book, The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris (Liveright). And it’s a question I will explore in my subsequent postings as a guest blogger for the Jewish Book Council.
As it turns out, I found a few clues to the mystery in Herschel’s scandalous life story, and I look forward to sharing them with you.
In Relational Judaism, I report six case studies of organizations and individuals doing cutting-edge work in creating relational communities. Chabad is numero uno. Their first – and most important – “secret” of success: a warm welcome to everyone they meet and an invitation to share a meal, usually in the rabbi’s home and usually within five minutes of the first personal encounter. They practice what I have called “radical hospitality,” a passionate commitment to learning about each and every person they meet. Google “Chabad” and inevitably you will see results that include “no membership fees” and “free Hebrew school.” The truth is that Chabad is not “free.” What they have done is to turn the membership model upside down: instead of asking for dues upfront and then serving the members, Chabad offers hospitality and programming first and then aggressively asks for money. The vast majority of their funding comes from those grateful for their relationship with the Chabad rabbi and his family, almost always non-Orthodox Jews. Does it work? Estimates suggest Chabad raises well north of $1 billion annually.
Hillel is pioneering a relationship-based outreach effort called “Senior Jewish Educator/Campus Entrepreneur Initiative.” College sophomores and juniors are offered stipends and training to reach out to their circles of friends on campus who would rarely be caught inside a Hillel House. They are coached and taught by a full-time senior Jewish educator who also commits the time to reach 160 disengaged Jewish students annually.
Congregation-based community organizing calls is a strategy to surface concerns among congregants by conducting one-on-one conversations around questions such as “What keeps you up at night?” The conversation itself is a relational engagement experience that some synagogues use to mobilize social justice actions, but just as importantly leads to better connectedness among the membership.
There are several well-known efforts to engage the next generation of young Jewish professionals, among them Moishe House, NEXT (follow up with Birthright alumni), Jconnect in Seattle, and Next Dor – an initiative of Synagogue 3000 to place “engagement rabbis” and community organizers working from but outside mainstream synagogues to connect with young Jews ages 21-40.
No doubt that the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have enabled many to create and support relationships among friends and family. Jewish organizations are just beginning to marshal the power of these platforms for building online communities and for encouraging face-to-face communities.
Finally, it turns out the best fundraisers in the Jewish community all agree that relationships are at the heart of securing funding. For Relational Judaism, I interviewed the best of the best, among them Abraham Foxman, John Ruskay, David Ellenson, Arnold Eisen, Jerry Silverman and Esther Netter.
I believe the time has come for us to shift the paradigm of engagement from programmatic to relational. The goal is to build relationships with what I identify as “Nine Levels of Relationship” with the Jewish experience. The strategies are outlines in “Twelve Principles of Relational Engagement.” The six case studies prove that it is possible, that we can revive and strengthen our communal organizations if we put people first and then program for them. It is time for a Relational Judaism.