O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Early this summer, several participants in the annual Helix trip to Eastern Europe contacted Defending History asking to meet with us. We promptly replied to each, explaining that one of us would be delighted to speak to the group, even for a very short talk, and gratis, but that we did not feel comfortable with the idea of them meeting us “secretly,” in other words against the wishes of the group’s leadership and/or sponsors. Perhaps that was an error on our part, thinking at the time that if several participants would speak up, then the group’s leaders might be inclined to relent and include one of the “dissidents” in town whose opinions on Jewish, Yiddish and Holocaust matters differs from that of the Lithuanian government’s units and operatives dedicated to “managing” Western (and particularly Western Jewish) opinion on these topics.
In the event of permission being given by the authors, in due course, we will publish these emails which are testimony to the natural curiosity of honest participants to be exposed to different opinions in the spirit of the very democratic dialogue that the group’s leaders and sponsors claim to cherish. And in future years, all being well, we will happily meet with individual group members who “dare” make contact, and we apologize to those from this year whose requests we hoped, with equally good intentions, the Helix participants might themselves leverage into a meeting of the group with alternative voices here in Vilnius.
(Heck, we expect to be shunned by the far-right nationalist media here, but pro-Bundist Jewish groups organized from California? Who are they afraid of? More on this below.)
Then, after the trip, came group leader’s Mandy Cohen’s grand-heroic write-up, “On the Frontiers of a Divided World: Border Lessons. Reflections after the 2014 Helix Project.” The version that appeared on the website of the sponsoring “Yiddishkayt (LA)” for some reason omits, in the paragraph at the end about the author, the proud connection with the anti-Israel movement’s BDS, which is trumpeted in the version that appeared in Portside.org where we author’s primary bio information is given as:
“Mandy Cohen is a member of the UC Student Workers’ Union, UAW 2865, whose officers have voted to endorse BDS and the decision will be up for a vote of the full membership this year.”
Incidentally, that version has a very different “radical title”: “Border Lessons: Jewish Resources for Resisting Nationalism.” But radicalism is evident in actions, not just in proclamations given very different titles on the Yiddishkayt (LA) and the Portside.org sites…
Let us hope that Ms. Cohen will have the dignity to stand up now (and if need be publicly resign), long before the vote of the full membership, against the antisemitic demonization of Israel that passes over dozens (or hundreds) of the world’s nations who have various policies that may be rejected, resisted and protested. (For democrats of any stripe, it would make some elementary sense to start with countries that do not have a robust free society rich in perfectly legal domestic anti-government discourse.)
It is important because BDS has become the bogus membership of a lumpen Jewish Left that is not left at all, it is just a hodgepodge of self-hate where “fulfilment” is achieved by joining that part of the antisemitic far left that specializes in obsession with Israeli policy and BDS. Sometimes it is trendy and in the self-interest of proponents to try to attach themselves to the goals of Yiddish, the Bund, Jewish Socialism and other things with which they have zilch in common.
What will not go unanswered on these pages is the invoking of the proud, noble and heroic Jewish Labor Bund for such nonsense. Real Bundists live in Israel, among many other places, and few as they are nowadays, continue as loyal citizens and/or loyal Jews to criticize Israeli policy in an intelligent and measured way. They raise families and maintain schools in Yiddish and genuinely immerse themselves in the treasures of modern Yiddish literature and culture.
Much less will a gross perversion of the Jewish and Yiddish scene here in Vilnius, Lithuania go unanswered. Both versions of Cohen’s gush about the triumphant visit to the Old Country contain the statement:
“Lithuania is home to both the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, one of the pre-eminent sites for Yiddish scholarship in the world, and to the state policy of teaching the “double genocide,” according to which the crimes of Communism are to be given equal status to the crimes of the Nazis.”
Because the Helix group’s leadership turned down requests from several of this year’s (and, by the way, last year’s) participants, for a group meeting with someone from Defending History.com, they did not manage to find out that for the “other eleven months of the year” (outside the lucrative one-month summer course), the institute is tragically a Hollywood set of Yiddish culture for naive visitors with no courses in activities in Yiddish, no Yiddish specialist or even Jewish academic staff. It is a major showpiece of the very Double Genocide industry that Ms. Cohen rightly abhors.
The slightest bit of further research would unearth that the director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, is not only a non-Yiddish speaker. He is a prime member of the state Double Genocide industry’s “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.” More research would rapidly reveal the intimate ties of the now state controlled institute with the state’s far right Double Genocide industry. There are direct links, alas, to the far right’s efforts to trivialize the Holocaust, criminalize survivors who joined the resistance, glorify local Holocaust perpetrators, while opposing LGBT equal rights and free speech on the history of the Holocaust. For those who live in Lithuania, dissenting from Double Genocide violates a law that threatens up to two years imprisonment, and this has silenced many. But someone seems to feel that a group from California that pretends to be Bundist-Socialist-Left-Tolerant should not be apprised of such details.
Then again, maybe something more individual is at work here. One of the board members of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, a brother in law of Steven Spielberg and macher on the Yiddishkayt LA scene, seems to also have something to do with the Helix.
See you in Vilnius.