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The Jewish Right To Mourn Our Own

The Jewish Right To Mourn Our Own

Associate Editor

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

There have been some critics of The Jewish Week editorial on Mumbai.

Here’s one from Larry Yudelson:

An editorial that will live in infamy: Kung Fu Jew blogged earlier this week about reacting to the horrible Mumbai terrorist killings as universalistic Jews. It’s worth pointing out a particularly egregious example of the particularistic Jewish response that appeared in last week’s New York Jewish Week.The editorial, “Another Day Of Infamy,” linked the Mumbai killings to Kishinev and Babi Yar. It begins:

“And so Mumbai joins Kishinev, Hebron, Berlin, Babi Yar, Maalot, Sbarro’s, Sderot (we could easily mention 150 other sites) to the annals of sudden infamy. Another ‘wake-up call,’ we’re told, for a somnambulant world. It is somehow perverse, even cruel, however, to speak of a wake-up call when the six Jews killed in Mumbai by Islamic terrorists were preceded by more than 2,000 Jews killed (and 5,000 wounded, some horrifically) by Islamic terrorists in the last decade alone.”

Yudelson continues:You wouldn’t know from this paragraph — or the eight that follow — that nearly two hundred non-Jews were killed in the coordinated terror attacks whose primary targets were foreigners in Mumbai. The official paper of the UJA-Federation of Greater New York treats them as unpersons. Has the paper officially bought into the Chabad doctrine that gentiles are less human than Jews? Shame on Jonathan Mark for writing this editorial, Gary Rosenblatt for publishing it, and the UJA-Federation for not noticing that something has gone very rotten in their newspaper.

I asked Yudelson what made him think I wrote the editorial. He said it sounded like me. In fact, all Jewish Week editorials are unsigned for a reason. Editorials are the voice of the paper. No matter who contributes an idea, editorials are by “us,” not “me,” but I’ll take the punch for The Jewish Week anytime. To the extent that I’m “shamed,” here’s my self-defense:

We are a uniquely Jewish paper. Just as Sports Illustrated, The Nation, or The Wall Street Journal were founded for specific audiences, The Jewish Week was founded for a specific audience, as well.

We sees ourselves as more than just as “a paper of record” but a newspaper reflecting and articulating the emotions, soul and concerns of a specific community. That interaction of emotion, soul and concern is what binds a newspaper to its readership. Our readership, after Mumbai murders, was collectively sitting shiva — for the Chabad couple, and the victims of the Chabad house most of all.

A mentsch doesn’t walk into a shiva house and tell the mourner, “Hey, pal, 100 other people died yesterday, too.” In the house of shiva you speak to a mourner’s specific loss. That’s what we did.

People aren’t buying newspapers like they used to, and those choosing to buy a second or third paper — alongside a general interest daily — aren’t going to buy The Jewish Week to find out what happened in the Taj hotel, all over again, or because our editorials say what other editorials said, all over again. We care about the other victims. They are our brothers and sisters, too. But you sit shiva for your actual blood, for your actual brothers and sisters. In the current newspaper climate, we can assume that someone going out of their way to buy a Jewish newspaper wants “Jewish,” they want to hear the brokenhearted expression of real loss, not the smug universalism that cares about everybody but nobody in particular.

We’re dead as a newspaper— spiritually dead as well as economically dead — if we’re going to be The Universalist Week, or The Not-Too-Jewish Week. There are plenty of other dailies and weeklies that do that, and with the resources to do it better.

With America at war, Sports Illustrated threw its reporting and emotion into covering the story of Pat Tillman, the NFL player that was killed in Afghanistan. They didn’t cover every soldier killed in Afghanistan, or any Afghanis killed either. No one in their right mind would say Sports Illustrated was anti-universalist or believed that dead soldiers who were not athletes “were less human.” Sports Illustrated was writing for their audience and fulfilling their mission.

No Jewish universalist would dare say that The Advocate is wrong to take gay-specific stands instead of being universalist. No Jewish universalist – typically servile before other ethnic groups and special interests – would ever demand universalism from The Amsterdam News or El Diario.

It’s flat-out bigotry, or assimilationist suicide, to say that The Jewish Week is the only minority-specific newspaper that has to prove itself, that has to validate itself, by being universalist.

It’s actually obscene to say, as Yudelson does, that our editorial’s “shiva call” after Mumbai in any way mimics the so-called “Chabad doctrine that gentiles are less human than Jews.” It’s all the more perverse for Yudelson to distort that so-called doctrine in light of the Holtzberg’s soup kitchen in Mumbai that served everyone, Jew or not; to distort it when Chabad’s legendary openness extended so far beyond their own that the killers were even given shelter under the Holtzberg’s roof when they posed as tourists (to case the joint).

If one’s intentions are akin to Yudelson’s, one could cherry-pick the entire Talmud, not just one Chabad text, and find “proof” that “gentiles are less than Jews” in more places than one, the better to slander every Jewish denomination — not just Chabad.

Yudelson’s universalism is not based on love but on loathing, even before the dirt hardens on the Chabad graves. It is what universalism always does. Claiming to be tolerant, exalting “the people,” this universalism is a vengeful, totalitarian philosophy at heart, seeking to damn any one person or any one group – often the Jews — that dares maintain a unique individuality instead of assimilating into the faceless volk.

Rather than equalizing Jews and non-Jews, this universalism essentially says that Jews are less than non-Jews, less justified than any other family to mourn our own, even after Mumabi.

The dead Jews of Mumbai have nothing to apologize for, and neither do their mourners.

And if Yudelson wants to shame UJA-Federation with his “shame on Jonathan Mark” for not caring about non-Jews, well, I couldn’t be prouder than to be in the same sentence as UJA-Federation, the most charitable organization serving non-Jews as well as Jews in the history of the United States, perhaps in all of Jewish history.

The Jewish Week has nothing to apologize for either, in our editorial “shiva visit.” Again, I couldn’t be prouder. I’m not going to apologize to the “universe,” given the scope and sensitivity of our editorials throughout the past year, 15 years, or by any other measure.

Here’s JJ Goldberg’s take in the Forward.

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