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Jews in the Mirror

01.September 2009 | articles – “jüdisches berlin” (jewish berlin) | social issues

by Robby Berman

The relationship between Germans and Jews is forever horribly linked by the Holocaust; each reacting to it in their own way.  Germans have made great efforts to learn from this great stain upon their history in the hope that they will never repeat it.  Among the many lessons to be had, Germans are taught that they made mistakes in generalizing about groups – religious, racial, or otherwise.  They are taught that all human beings have value.

As a Jew, however, educated in an Orthodox day school in New York, the Holocaust was not taught to me in the context of what I can learn about Jews but rather what I can learn about goyim. I was taught that this catastrophe simply reinforces a 2,000 year-old Jewish saw: scratch any gentile, no matter how gently, and underneath his or her skin lurks an anti-Semite.

While the Germans are taught the flaws of generalization, I was taught that stereotypes are valid: all Germans are Nazis, all Poles are anti-Semites, and chasing a Jew with a pitchfork is a Lithuanian national past-time. 

Many Jews feel that Germans have not done enough to reflect upon and memorialize this tragedy and understand the evil of religious racism.  Given the horrors they perpetrated on Jews I think this feeling is understandable, and I would imagine Jews will never fully judge the Germans as having done ‘enough.’ But while the Germans haven’t finished self-reflecting, I wonder if Jews have even begun?

In a way, we have used the fact that we were victims of the greatest example of bigotry in history to give ourselves a free pass on self-reflection about our own racism. But just because we were then the small group targeted and preyed upon by the large group, that does not mean we are not susceptible to become perpetrators of in-group out-group dynamics whether on small scale or, one day, on a national one.

It is specifically because we were the victims of such racism that we should feel obsessively compelled to eradicate it from within ourselves at the same time we call upon other groups to do the same type of inner work. As Michael Jackson’s song states, if you want to change the world start with the man in mirror.

Thanks to the »Halachic Organ Donor Society«, 11 year old Moshiko Sharon received a new kidney.

Thanks to the »Halachic Organ Donor Society«, 11 year old Moshiko Sharon received a new kidney.

I run an organization that tries to encourage Jews to donate organs to the general public; to whomever is on the organ waiting list whether it be Jew or gentile. Signing one organ donor card can save eight lives.  Often, when I lecture, I hear Jews tell me they will donate organs but only if I they can stipulate the organs won’t go to gentiles.  While at first blush this objection is shocking, this response is understandable.  After 2,000 years of persecution by goyim – culminating with the slaughter of 6 million Jews, it is only natural that our collective consciousness would call upon us to ‘screw the goy’’; partly as retribution and partly as a survival reflex. 

But understanding the reasoning does not justify the behavior. Does this position survive reflection? I think not. To take organs from gentiles when we need them but not to donate to them when asked would be unjust and unethical.  At the very least, it is certainly not an ideal situation that we, as members of society, should strive for.

Recently I was in Berlin delivering a number of lectures to the Jewish community about the importance of organ donation. The objection was raised that the organs might go to gentiles.  After what they have gone through, one might expect this response. But their attitude might not be simply a knee-jerk gut reaction – albeit opposite one - to anti-Semitism.

It might be based on certain anti-gentile comments made in the Talmud. While here is not the place to try to explain the 2,000 year old Talmud’s attitude towards gentiles and pagans, suffice to say there are many Orthodox rabbinic rulings that favor a universalistic approach to life -saving measures such as organ donation from Jews to people of all faiths.

I hope that German Jews will adopt such a humanistic position that is indeed comports with their religion. I expect more from German Jews. It was, after all, in Germany that the discriminatory Nuremberg laws were enacted against us. German Jews in particular should be especially allergic to religious discrimination, whether codified or not. 

I live in Israel where many Jews still refuse to buy anything produced in Germany, implying that the Germans alive today are somehow to blame for the sins of their fathers. Yet when Christian anti-Semites claim that all Jews today are guilty for the killing of Christ, one of our defensive positions is that even if Jews did hand Jesus over to the Romans no Jew living today should bear the blame of his forefather. Why wouldn’t that argument apply to the Germans as well?

So where does all of this leave us? To state that we Jews are somehow to blame for the Holocaust for our negative attitudes towards goyim would be as ugly as it is untrue.  No negative in group/out group would justify mass murder. To claim that Jews are more racist and bigoted than anti-Semites is simply false: Jews have never hunted goyim in the street or built concentration camps to exterminate them.

So do Jews have room for improvement? Are Jews, like all other groups, somewhat racist? Don’t we, in some way, need to make an effort to integrate and claim membership in the brotherhood of the human race? Can we Jews learn something from the Holocaust that they can help us become better human beings? The answers are a resounding yes.

I hope the Jews of Germany will start this process of recognizing the value of all human beings, regardless of their national history, by getting organ donor cards whose recipients of these life-saving organs will include people who are not necessarily member of the Jewish faith. They can do so buy going to

Robert Berman is founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, a non-profit organization that tries to encourage Jews to donate organs to the general public, including non-Jews. Halachic organ donor cards, that also recipients may be of any faith, can be obtained on-line at .

jüdisches berlin