On June 13,2017, Otto Warmbier,was returned to his Cincinnati, Ohio home, in the United States, in a comatose state after 17 months of imprisonment in North Korea. The North Koreans seem to have concluded,that after exploiting Otto Wamrbier for maximum propaganda and political value, that it was now politically prudent to discard him in his advanced, debilitated condition. However, only a few days later, after having been being brought back to the tranquil, suburban Cincinnati home of his youth, Otto Warmbier was pronounced dead.
A short time afterwards, on June 22, 2017, The American Israelite, the newspaper of the Cincinnati Jewish community, featured Otto Warmbier's innocent, cherubic face on its opening page in a very large color photograph. Otto Warmbier's death notice appeared in the obituary section with the other recently deceased members of the Cincinnati Jewish community: Otto Warbier age 22, the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, 5777.
In the cover story, as is customary, Warmbier's surviving and deceased family members were listed. All of Otto Warmbier's maternal lineage was given in detail, going back three generations. In stark contrast, his father was mentioned with a resounding total absence of any family background references. With little doubt, The American Israelite, which proudly presents itself as "The oldest English Jewish weekly in America," was saying, that Otto Warmbier was fun unzereh, "one of ours."
But, there is something unseemly, tainted, even perverse, in The American Israelite's coverage of Otto Warmbiers death. I do not know if that newpaper made any appeals to the Cincinati Jewish community and the Jewish world at large, to come the aid of an imperiled Jewish youth during the long period of his North Korean captivity. It can be reasonably assumed that they did not, due to an understandable motivation to protect Warmbier by obscuring his Jewish background from the brutal Norh Korean regime. Furthermore, any past public expression by The American Israelite to Otto Wamrbier's 17 month ordeal, would have constituted just a small fraction of the Jewish World's reaction, or lack of it, to the Warmbier tragedy. An assement of that journal should be seen in that context. Nonetheless, The American Israelite's clarion call ,for a Jewish awareness of Otto Warmbier's plight comes, to put it mildly, much too late.
In Rabbi Moses Maimonides's "Mishnah Torah" the halakha, (Jewish law) of the "foundations or tenets of the Torah," the great Jewish legal codifier deals with the grave violation of the desecration of the name of G-d. Most notably, particularly in chapter 5, the Rambam, as he is also known, writes about a situation where there is no chance of successfully executing an action which would both aid a single endangered fellow Jew and enable any of the rescuers to escape total annihilation at the hands of those threatening that sole, single, endangered Jew. Yet it is clearly understood that the Rambam holds that it is better, in this scenario, that all should die, than to actively participate in the death of this Jew, in the abandonment of him to the custody these evil foreign elements. This would be a desecration.
This English language wording is obviously not the Rambam's, nor is it a strict translation of the actual text. The words are those of this article's author. Additionally the Rambam's actual words do not describe a situation that is closely analogous to Otto Warmblier's North Korea experience. Most likely the North Koreans had no inkling of Warbier's Jewish connection. But this suggested understanding, of the Rambam, does reflect what the Mishnah Torash says about Jewish abandonment, Jewish desecration and the inadmissibility, of claiming that the welfare of the community, as a whole, justifies indifference and abandonment of one Jewish individual, and its consequential desecration of the Name of G-d, in certain situations.
Thus the Rambam's words have relevance to the past and present The Otto Warmbier tragedy. Soon, it will most likely be definitively concluded that a Jew was abducted, imprisoned for a substantial period of time, abused by a foreign government and indeed, died as a result of that abuse. All this was not done to Warmbier because they, the North Koreans, knew he was a Jew, and wanted to demonstrate what they are capable of doing to Jews. However, (if the hypothesis of this article is proven correct) the Jews, or many of them, will known soon, that Otto Warbier was a Jew. They will also know that all of the above-cited cruelty,was meted out to their brother, the Jewish Otto Warmbier.
Many will react by asking, what possibly could have been done by the Jews for Otto Warmbier. Even the superpower, the United States, did very little, for the clearly American Ootto Warmbier. They will surely emphasize the great dangers for the Jewish People and the State of Israel involved in antagonizing the nuclear armed North Korea, Besides they will opine, the Jews and Israel have enough problems and it would be imprudent to initiate some crazy far away Asian imbroglio. Otto Warmbiar is dead and buried in Cincinnati. Let him stay that way, they will say.
But it is clear from a basic understanding of Maimonidean thought, that these are not necessarily germane and pertinent Jewish responses to the Otto Warmbier tragedy.
Bombastic words from the Israel Foreign Office and rhetoric from Jewish diaspora organizations are not advocated, nor will they be forthcoming.
But, if Warmbier's Jewishness is verified, as it probably will be, then Jews, in the aftermath of Otto Warmbier's demise can not remain silent . Such a lack of response and complete indifference would indeed be a form or type of desecration, not totally dissimilar to what the Rambam so excoriates. Thus indeed, the Jewish keyboards from the Cincinnati American Israelite to Members of Knesset should be abuzz with protest. The Jewish social media should light up with outrage. Jewish media contributers must speak out and proclaim:
The Government of North Korea: You have abducted, falsely accused, imprisoned, abused, and most likely, are responsible for this murder of our Jewish brother Otto Warmbier. We as Jews, the modern day descendants of the ancient Israelites for whom the G-d of Israel broke the bonds of our haughty Egyptian oppressers and who today are a proud people in our own land, with not a small amount of temporal power, will not forget!