Our Unique Mission
There was a gathering in Frankfurt this week.
Several hundred people gathered in a church, to remember a very special person who would have been 90 years old on Wednesday.
She was murdered along with 6 million other Jews and probably would never have been heard of, the difference was that she wrote a diary which has been translated into 67 languages and sold over 30 million copies.
Her name as the world knows is Anne Frank. She was born in Frankfurt on June 12th 1929 and died in March 1945 at Bergen Belsen, just a few weeks before liberation.
There is a real ongoing debate about the legacy of Anne Frank which touches on issues of Jewish identity and anti-Semitism which can be seen from what happened this past week.
Heiko Mass, the German foreign minister tweeted ‘Anne Frank would have turned 90 today. Her diary is more relevant than ever before as a warning against discrimination, marginalization and persecution and as a symbol of humanity. We can learn from her.’
Lovely words, important words – you may be thinking good words, however not everyone agreed!
Emmanuel Nahshon from Israel’s Foreign Ministry tweeted in reply to him “Anne Frank’s diary is NOT a warning about wishy washy pseudo universal values! Anne Frank’s legacy is a warning against the hatred and persecution of JEWS. The attempt to ‘universalize the lessons of the Shoah’ is nothing less than a dishonest rewriting of history.”
Arson Ostrovsky, international lawyer and political analyst also tweeted “To be honest, I am not sure how much @HeikoMaas has learnt from #AnneFrank, given his embrace just a few days ago of #Iran regime, that denies the very Holocaust she perished in and now seeks annihilation of the Jewish state!”
This all reminded me of something Dennis Prager pointed out years ago in his book ‘Why The Jews’ which goes even further in disagreeing with the universal narrative of Anne Frank’s legacy.
In the book he notes the following. On April 11, 1944, demonstrating an uncanny wisdom that far surpassed her age, Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
‘Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly until now? It is God Who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, Who will raise us up again. Who knows ― it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.
Prager points out that Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented in persecuting the Jews. Anne Frank identified anti-Semitism as a hatred of Jewishness, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other peoples experience.
Yet amazingly, when Anne Frank’s story was reconstructed into a Broadway play by Lillian Hellman, a Jewish playwright, her words were completely changed. “Why are Jews hated?” asks Anne. “Well, one day it’s one group, and the next day another…”
On Broadway, audiences were made to believe that Jews have been hated just as any other people has been hated. In other words, there is nothing Jewish about anti-Semitism. This idea was reflecting the same issue as the German foreign minister this week.
The actual story of how the Broadway play changed the message of Anne Frank was eventually made into a book ‘The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman and the Staging of the Diary’.
It explains that where the diary touched on Anne’s consciousness of Jewish fate or faith, they quietly erased the reference or changed its emphasis. Whatever was specific they made generic. The tenderness between Anne and the young Peter van Daan was moved to the forefront. Comedy overwhelmed darkness. Anne became an all-American girl, an echo of the perky character in “Junior Miss,” a popular play of the previous decade. The Zionist aspirations of Margot, Anne’s sister, disappeared. The one liturgical note, a Hanukkah ceremony, was absurdly defined in terms of local contemporary habits (“eight days of presents”); a jolly jingle replaced the traditional “Maoz Tzur,” with its sombre allusions to historic travail. They had insisted on something “spirited and gay,” so as not to give “the wrong feeling entirely.” “Hebrew would simply alienate the audience.”
This Shabbat in Israel and at Mincha in the Diaspora we will read those timeless words from Behalotcha ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.” (Bamidbar 8:2) As Rashi tells us, when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the princes, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication -neither he nor his tribe. So Hashem said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.” – [Tanchuma Beha’alothecha 3].
This lighting was not simply the menorah in the Mishkan, but referred also to the eventual miracle of Aaron descendants – the Maccabim with the lighting of the Chanukiah and the victory against Hellenism. Broadway was following the line of the Hellenists by removing the Jewish content from Anne Frank and assimilating it effortlessly.
However, Anne Franks’ legacy, similar to the Maccabim, is to realise the uniqueness of our people and our mission. That uniqueness means to agree with what Anne wrote:
‘God has never deserted our people. Through the ages Jews have had to suffer, but through the ages they’ve gone on living, and the centuries of suffering have only made them stronger.’
Anne never lived to see those words come to fruition in the realisation of the dreams of her Zionist sister Margot with the reestablishment of the Jewish State in 1948. We are a strong, determined nation but I fear in many quarters within our nation we are making the same mistake that Lillian Hellman made all those years ago with the Anne Frank play. Judaism and Torah is not secular liberalism – it is Judaism and Torah, a unique and powerful way of life that yes, has caused us to be hated, but we wear that as a badge of pride, as did Anne Frank.
She may never have lived beyond her 15 years, but the ideas she espoused had been lived by Jews for thousands of years before she was born and will continue in the lives of Jews who recognise their uniqueness and their Divine mission.
We forget that at our peril.