Bontshe the Silent

Yiddish literature has poignantly captured the best and worst in us. In a pathetic schmaltzy script, Ariel Sharon promises more "painful compromises", Lapid apoplectically insists synagogues be demolished, impotent Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) leaders show greater "flexibility", Benny Elon legitimizes Judenrein on the East Bank, and the silent majority is reduced to the caricature

Prof. Shmuel Neumann,

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Yiddish literature has poignantly captured the best and worst in us. In a pathetic schmaltzy script, Ariel Sharon promises more "painful compromises", Lapid apoplectically insists synagogues be demolished, impotent Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) leaders show greater "flexibility", Benny Elon legitimizes Judenrein on the East Bank, and the silent majority is reduced to the caricature of Bontshe Shvayg (Bontshe the Silent).

In his 1894 story Bontshe Shvayg, I. L. Peretz creates a character so pathetic that even Yiddish had no adequate description. Bontshe "was born in silence. He lived in silence. He died in silence. And he was buried in a silence greater yet.... [W]hen he died, the wind blew away the wooden sign marking his grave. The gravedigger's wife found it some distance away and used it to boil potatoes."

Bontshe lived as he died, nameless, suffering, hated, even beaten by his own children! But through all this suffering, Bontshe remained silent. "Not once in his whole life... did he complain to God or to man. Not once did he feel a drop of anger or cast an accusing glance at heaven." And it is for this silence, this acceptance of fate, that Bontshe is offered by the "heavenly tribunal" not only a place in Heaven, but anything he desires: "All heaven belongs to you. Ask for anything you wish; you can choose what you like." And what does Bontshe choose?

"Well then," smiled Bontshe, "what I'd like most of all is a warm roll with fresh butter every morning." Hearing this, the judges and angels hang their heads in shame, while the prosecutor breaks out in contemptuous laughter.

Bontshe personifies the tragic character flaw of the passive, ignorant, and hopeless shtetl Jew.

Well, everything old is new again.

Playing center stage in the gentile theater of the ridiculous, Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Tommy Lapid plead with the heavenly courts for the crumbs of the buttered roll. For the millennia of degradation and suffering we endured, they want us to settle for a small fraction of what the Almighty promised us, an Israel that stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Pathetically, rather than for asking for more, we keep asking for less.

"Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes from the goal," goes an old Yiddish saying. What we should be asking the heavenly, as well as earthly, courts is why Jews are precluded from settling, not just in the so called West Bank, but the East Bank, and portions of Lebanon and Syria that fall within the borders of Biblical Israel.

The real question isn't why there are Jewish settlements in the West Bank; the real question is why are there no Jewish settlements in all of the area between the Nile and Euphrates. Were Blacks or Puerto Ricans precluded from living in any portion of the United States, there would be such an indignant uproar that no one else would dare try to preclude them again. But the passive, timid, shtetl Jew just grits his teeth and bears it. We accept blatant anti-Semitism as the inalienable right of major religions and ethnicities. We quietly believe that if it is an affront for an "infidel" to step foot on the soil of any Arab country, then it is the Moslem regimes' right to keep us from even visiting.

Wrong.

They have no right to discriminate and exclude Jews from settling anywhere that Jews wish to settle. If they want goods, services and money from the international community, then they will conform to the minimum standards of human rights.

Many Bontshe Shvayg Israelis want to put an end to the mythical cycle of violence. These passive, ignorant and hopeless people believe that only by compromise will we have peace.

Wrong again.

In stark contrast to these "political realists", tens of millions of Jewish martyrs sacrificed their lives rather than compromise their moral principles. Despite the constant pain and humiliation, they steadfastly held on to the thread of Jewish principles, values and dreams that one day Jews will be free to rebuild their nation in the Holy Land. It is in their memory that our boys have risked, and many times sacrificed, their lives to bring their dream to fruition.

For the first time in millennia, there is a place that Jews are welcome. Do we really want to be confined to some tiny apartment in Tel Aviv? Do we really want to create for ourselves a land with a housing shortage so severe that a small apartment costs more than a one-family house in the United States, and a modest one-family house costs over a million dollars? Do we want to remain passive, ignorant and hopeless Bontshe Shvaygs?

If we do not assert our rights to what is ours, who will do it for us? It really is plain and simple.




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