David Mandler, Ph.D.

Thoughts, feelings, reactions to events in the world. Hungarian, Jewish, assimilationist, Orthodox, American issues.

Allen Ginsberg Once Again: A Poetic Tribute

Just now I saw Allen Ginsberg from my bedroom window on the fire stairs.
It’s been a while, David, he said with his graybeard smile.
Don’t be alarmed. Blake came to me the same way.
An apparition of your innermost thoughts.
I see you’re writing poetry again. Good.
You recall I was a famous poet once though no breathing boy gives a damn now.
No one hears my incantations of rapid rectal rhapsodies, and sizzling sphincter symphonies.
The agony, David, the agony.
I still cannot purge the urge to merge with red-cheeked boyfriends.
My hands slip through their throbbing bodies. They feel nothing but
The rustling of the winds through the ice-packed tree branches outside.
My perpetual phantom hard-on with no relief is beyond belief. I feel that which I no longer have.
I saw you read my funeral poem, Death & Fame, the other day. You liked it.
The real thing was a disappointment, though: my public life privatized with no young or aging boyfriends
Exchanging gossip but some aged bodies that’d follow me soon to dust.
Absent was the boy I had mentioned in class to you who to my amazement had offered himself to me
For a poem in a sultry Parisian apartment…
Just now, I saw Walt Whitman. He can’t get relief either.
You would think seeing him would beat sleeping with a man
Who slept with a man who slept with a man who slept with Walt.
Walt screams passion all day. No body hears him either and the sleepy souls don’t care.
Now, I really get József Attila, the Hungarian poet—last name first—you translated on my couch. I’ve got no
Father, nor mother, neither God, nor country.
The original Hungarian rhymes. Translations suck. Attila told me he can’t believe he’s dead.
Taught you first thought best thought. Update: last thought worst thought as your breathing stops.
David, do you really think it’s Allen Ginsberg speaking through you right now?
Nobody said Kaddish for me, either.
The world is still fucked. You can print that, too. I miss the world.
Poetry is not dead after the Holocaust. The Holocaust is dead after poetry.
Naomi and Louis I am yet to see again. Someone had locked their key away.
It was not in the window. Mother now knows I didn’t turn out the way she had always hoped.
Medications, dedications, radiators hissing, Syria in flames, bearded people pissing,
Palestine in Israel, metaphysics, God, spirits, ghosts, bodies, publishers, poems, church steeples,
Liver cancer, hepatitis C, more medications, no dedications, snuff, cold earth, rain, sunshine in the window, no marriage for Allen ever, plump Peter sitting in a chair, German boy porn, red ceramic toilet, Chinese food With a switch-blade knife, notebooks with some of my notes, mountains of audio tapes nobody can play full of my
Voice, Gomel Chesed Cemetery in New Jersey with a third of my ashes.
I don’t want to drift away yet. Think of me more. I want to think through you always.
Am I America? I am you.
You imagine I’m speaking through you, David.
You are speaking through me.
You’re trying to use me with no shame.
So, use me.
Use me.

–A poem by David Mandler © All rights reserved
On the 18th anniversary of Allen Gisnberg’s death (April 5, 1997)

Read David Mandler’s short story, “The Loft” on amazon.com.

The True Lessons Of Governor Cuomo’s Teacher Evaluation Reform

As an elementary and junior high school student, I struggled with understanding math and chemistry and even (gasp!) failed many physics tests. In 10th grade, I began to do better. In my college sophomore year, I aced core Physics.

For far too long following graduation, I had remained in the dark as to the true cause of my early failures. In that depressing and most horrible period of my life, I began to blame myself for these failures. (I would be remiss if I concealed the fact that, at the time, I mostly flipped out at how “stupid” those tests were). Be it as it may, years later, during said dark moments, I told myself that I should not have watched T.V. for three hours and played video games for two hours every day, and, instead, should have spent some of that time on preparing for those stupid tests. At other times, I even blamed myself for not listening to what the teachers were saying because my stomach demanded lunch at 11:00 am during physics class. Clearly, not asking clarifying questions from either my classmates or my teachers when they said something I did not understand was also something for which I had actually blamed myself. In the last wave of self-accusatory contemplation, I even went so far as to bemoan the fact that I copied the great majority of homework assignments before class from various people sitting either in front of or behind me who somehow managed to have the right answers instead of trying to figure them out myself (but then I would have missed those awesome reruns of “Friends” and I would not have been able to play paddle ball for an hour every day in the park with my friends).

It took Governor Cuomo’s brilliant teacher evaluation plan he announced in January to make me realize just how deeply I had erred in all my suppositions.

Now I know that I had nothing to do with my failures.

It was Mr. Spock, Mrs. Gilligan, Ms. Schwartz, and Mr. Dillard, my teachers in these subjects to blame! (I’ve long forgotten the names of my other teachers although one of the names I have just listed may not have been my teacher, but that name has stuck in my mind).

Yes, now I know that my classmates who did well on the tests would have done well even if the teacher had been a robot. True, I did well in music and English classes, but, thanks to governor Cuomo, now I know why: because I always had wonderful teachers.

So, when I could not run three blocks around the school, or do twenty pushups in ninth grade, now I know it was because Mr. Stephens, the overly strict physical education teacher, was a bad teacher. Two years later, when I could easily do forty pushups and run around the school four times, I now know it was because I no longer had Mr. Stephens but rather Ms. Fox who inspired me to use the muscles I had gained while I was trying to do those damn pushups in Mr. Stephens’ class who frequently yelled inspirational obscenities at the ceiling.

Therefore, I fully support Governor Cuomo’s plan to put the blame on the shoulders where blame belongs: teachers. After all, I had some really bad once (see second paragraph) even though they were blessed with such model students as yours truly in their classes.

I support the brilliant idea of assessing the 9th grade art teacher, the physical education teacher, and the music teacher on how well their students do on tests in their English Regents examination in 11th grade. The correlation is too obvious for me to detail here.

I also support having 35% of the overall teacher effectiveness grade based on a knowledgeable bureaucrat’s insightful and far-reaching observation of a teacher conducting a single lesson. After all, you don’t need more to see how a teacher does on all other days to know if he or she is good. One lesson is enough.

The other 50% of the grade, needless to add very wisely, the governor proposes to tie to how much students improve on tests for a select few subject areas a few years apart. Clearly, the improvements on a New York State examination in Math or English from, say, 7th to 11th grade, or lack thereof, can be attributed to none other than the 9th grade music, art or physical education teacher of those students.

Again, the correlation is far too obvious. Anyone who argues otherwise is, in the immortal characterization of our esteemed governor, spreading a bunch of “baloney.”

Since the time Governor Cuomo’s proposed teacher evaluation caused my sudden epiphany, I have been awaiting April first with bated breath. Lately, I have developed a curious case of anxiety: I have been having a vivid and frequently recurring nightmare that always unfolds the same way. In it, I see the governor ascend the podium at the State Legislature with an exaggerated clownish grin. He begins to laugh hysterically. Then he lifts high above his head the proposed teacher evaluation plan in a binder only to bang on the podium stand with it a moment later while shouting to the petrified lawmakers the words: “April Fools’ Day, I got you all! Aprils’ Fools Day, I got you all.”

Please take action to put an end to this sad joke by sending a message to the governor and other responsible officials by following this link. It’s quick, easy and painless.

https://www.votervoice.net/NYSAPE/campaigns/37928/respond

The Two-States Solution: Sadly, a Fairy Tale in the Making

Netanyahu’s pre-election eve statement (directed at his political base) that a Palestinian state would not emerge under his watch spurred many governments around the world to voice their concerns. With Netanyahu’s seemingly contradictory post-election reassurance that he is not against the two state solution, “the world” could not help but brand Netanyahu a liar and a flip-flopper. In a deafening din of indignation, a host of fundamental issues about the viability of the two-state solution were bracketed once again. So, how consistent is Netanyahu’s pre-election statement with his post-election clarification? Let us see what a narrow and pragmatic look at the current situation in the Middle East reveals by asking two questions.

1. Would even the most dovish of Israeli primer ministers be able to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians?

The current political landscape makes such a deal impossible to reach or implement. The inconvenient fact is that Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank, despite having a unity government on paper, have nothing but contempt for one another. The unity agreement is a sad joke. (A quick google search will suffice to yield countless stories on arrests, bombings, and assassinations in Gaza and the West Bank definitively tied to this bloody conflict).

Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and is firmly entrenched with its tentacles reaching all levels of Gazan society. Hamas’s own charter speaks of liberating all of Palestine (that means, replacing the State of Israel) with a Muslim state. How could Israel ever come to an agreement with this most rabidly anti-Israel group without a radical shift in their internal composition or the jettisoning of their essential ideological foundation as codified in their charter? The answer is obvious: Israel cannot. Consequently, an agreement with Fatah (in and of itself fraught with fatal weaknesses) would be totally worthless unless it includes the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as well.

Feeding merely one head of the two-headed Palestinian body politics would leave this entity as hungry and dissatisfied as ever.

Thus, Netanyahu was right to suggest that there could be no Palestinian state under his watch as prime minister because Hamas would never accede to anything less than the disappearance of Israel in the long run, despite its shifting rhetoric on the acceptability of pre-1967 borders. And Israel could not accept Hamas in charge of the West Bank as well, for then the situation would revert to what existed before 1967: constant terrorist attacks against the State of Israel.

2. If Israel decided to withdraw unilaterally from territories captured in the third Arab-Israeli war in 1967 war (also launched against Israel by its Arab neighbors), what would the day after look like? Would freedom and democracy suddenly replace “Israeli oppression”? Would this move satisfy the so-called international community?

To answer this question, it’s enough to shift our eyes to the Gaza strip and note what followed Ariel Sharon’s decision to “disengage” that is, completely withdraw, from Gaza: Hamas violently assuming control power, periods of missile showers into Israel as well as anti-Israel voices maintaining that Israel has kept Gaza under occupation by virtue of its “siege” of Gaza. If Israel left the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Fatah would most likely be unable to maintain its grip on power for long. It does not take much to imagine how much more dangerous the situation would become on the ground for hundreds of thousands of Israelis (not to mention those Arabs in the area who do not share in the totalitarian vision based on a harsh interpretation of Islam Hamas represents). Ironically, Hamas may now be considered to be moderate in comparison to so-called radical Islamic groups such as ISIS, Jamaat al-Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram that have no compunction about murdering hundreds of people inside and outside  of mosques for political reasons. Naturally, these groups would be even less hesitant to murder (Israeli) Jews in great numbers given the opportunity. To maintain its reputation and it’s tight grip on Gaza, Hamas is likely to intensify both its anti-Israel rhetoric and actions of building and fortifying tunnels that reach deep into Israel for future attacks.

In both scenarios, Israel would gravely endanger itself by withdrawing from the West Bank either with a negotiated peace settlement or without it.

Therefore, Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre- and post-election declarations are consistent:
While in theory Netanyahu is not against the emergence a state of Palestine under specific conditions, he is fully aware that no matter what he believes or does as the freshly re-elected prime minister of Israel, he is not in a position to engineer a situation anytime soon in which a peaceful, unified and economically viable nation of Palestine could emerge (with Gaza and the West Bank at each other’s necks) without endangering the very lives of countless Israelis as a consequence.

That is a price the rest of world, perhaps, is all too willing to pay to satisfy a deeply flawed and misplaced metanarrative of Israeli decolonialization of Palestine. From his pre- and post-election declarations, it is clear that that is not a price Netanyahu is willing to pay.

I just wish he had articulated this more precisely.

Evil, Thy Name is ISIS: Why Western Inaction is Unforgivable

I was against the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein following the horrifying attacks on September 11, 2001. The case that Iraq was somehow connected to the terrorist attacks in the United States never made much sense to me when it morphed into an allegation that Iraq had chemical weapons and, by implication, that it presented a clear and present danger to the United States or to any of its neighbors.

The subsequent decade of U.S. presence in Iraq, with enormous sacrifices in blood and treasure to the United States and incomparably more so to the people of Iraq has shown to most Americans why this adventure George W. Bush and Dick Cheney pulled the United States military into was so tragically ill-conceived.

So, it is understandable that President Barak Obama, having taken the pulse of the American people before his first election, has been reluctant to change his course and admit that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 has left the country open to a new kind of threat: the spread of a violent group that wants to distinguish itself as the most callous, violent, aggressive and intolerant militant group that has surfaced in the name of Islam in recent memory.

The name of this modern day manifestation of unbridled evil is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The list of monstrous crimes ISIS fighters have committed has been growing with each passing day. From expelling all Christians from Mosul, beheading children, forcefully converting Christians to Islam, driving 40,000 Yazidi men, women, and children out of their homes and currently holding them hostage on a mountaintop until they either convert or die of hunger and thirst, kidnapping and enslaving hundreds of women in Mosul, blowing up ancient Muslim shrines and graves in Mosul (because they view “worshipping graves”) to videotaping the gruesome and barbaric murder of captured Iraqi soldiers for propaganda purposes (allegedly 1500 of them), the the Islamic State has made it clear that its vision of life on Earth is the only one it tolerates. And this vision contains nothing but misery, domination, and subjugation.

In the past few weeks, ISIS has been spreading like cancer and its staggering military successes only serve to attract more youngsters from Western Europe as well. It is truly frightening that ISIS flags have appeared in European cities during demonstrations against Israel in the past few weeks, showing that this murderous group, the utterly barbarous cruelty of which would have amazed even the Nazis, finds supporters in Europe.

ISIS represents the most urgent challenge to basic human rights today. It must be confronted and defeated immediately.

I believe that Americans would overwhelmingly support even a major offensive that required ground forces if people were informed about the aims if this group that has declared an Islamic Caliphate on June 29, 2014 with the purpose to spread all over the Islamic and the non-Islamic world to impose its cruel ideology on the rest of the world.

While the world is busy protesting against Israel as it faces Hamas–a group that has apparently decided to sacrifice the people of Gaza and commit suicide by indiscriminately shooting missiles at Israel using civilian infrastructure, knowing full well that Israel will respond rather than change its core goal of destroying Israel–the lives of millions of people have deteriorated as ISIS has established sovereignty over large geographic areas in Iraq and in Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and the number of dead and wounded only grows as ISIS remains in control.

President Obama can no longer ignore the dire situation in Iraq. Dropping a couple of bombs to scare away ISIS fighters only emboldens them. The American people, and people around the world, should make their voices heard now with as much ferocity as supporters of the Palestinian cause have done in recent weeks.

No to ISIS, no to real genocide, no to brutality.

Remove this evil from the face of the Earth before it infects the Middle East and spreads all over the world.

Inaction is intolerable. In fact, inaction in the face of this tangible evil constitutes a crime against humanity.

The Power of Palestine: Making Peace with Reality

Property rights, human rights, and  national self-determination are but a few concepts that, on the surface, guide how people react to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Yet, upon closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that the reactions in the anti-Israel camp are based on deeply-ingrained beliefs regarding the very nature of Israel. It is clear that those who virulently oppose Israel’s move against Hamas in Gaza have deeply internalized the normative Hamas–and, to a great extent, general Palestinian–narrative that Israel is built on stolen land and that the Gazans are justified in shooting rockets (and, if they succeeded in assassinating or kidnapping Israelis, that too) because they have been dispossessed (to use Edward Said’s favorite word), oppressed, imprisoned and have been treated badly in all sorts of cruel and even demonic ways.

And the pictures and youtube videos–even if they are from Syria, a Hollywood horror film, or five years ago in Lebanon–are there to illustrate the horror of Israel’s actions.

Clearly, nothing I could write here would serve to convince those who have given in to passionate hatred of anything Israeli. They operate from the assumption that Israel as a country does not have a right to exist–and if it does exist, we should all understand that it is built on stolen land and the blood of the “Palestinians” (not exactly a reassuring belief for long-term peace). Having said that, I feel frustrated because I would want these people to read all about how Israel came into existence, how many Jews had always been living in the Land of Israel (that was renamed multiple times as its sovereign rulers and populations changed throughout history, with Palestine as the last name before it was changed into Jordan and Israel).

History, though, is rejected by the committed anti-Zionist if it does not tell his story.

Let’s take a few of the guiding assumptions now and see where it takes us.

1. Property Rights: Zionists took the Arab land of Palestine by kicking out the owners of the house and moving in.

Has this happened? Jews have, indeed, moved into houses abandoned by Arabs in 1948 following the defeat of the Arab armies intent on destroying the nascent Jewish country. Most Arabs left as a result of propaganda regarding Israeli brutality (very much like the kind you see now on twitter and Facebook with the added horror of fabricated stories about Israelis raping Arab women). Many Arabs from the former British Mandate of Palestine and former Ottoman province of Palestine were forced to leave. As to the proportion of how many left voluntarily at the urging of their own leaders and how many were forced out, the debate is still on amongst Israeli historians. How many of the Arabs who left permanently were legal owners of property abandoned is yet another question. Why the neighboring countries did not absorb the Arab refugee population from Palestine who spoke the same language and shared their religious beliefs and Arab ethnicity is yet another question others have already addressed (even as Israel fully absorbed an equal number of dispossessed Jewish refugees who were pushed out of Arab countries at that time as well).

But how did things come to this?

How did the Jews manage to establish a presence in great numbers in Palestine prior to 1948? Did they show up and say to the Arabs living there, “get out. This is my house now”? Palestine’s total population was 350,000 in 1850 only to quadruple in less than a hundred years to 1,339,763 in 1946 (according to Justin MacCarthy). Jews acquired land not through violence and dispossession prior to 1948 but rather through valid purchases of land from the Turkish or Arab property owners. More often than not, Jews were sold the least fertile parcels of land. It was these lands that the “settlers” transformed with backbreaking hard work into fertile lands–often to the great irritation of the original owners. 

Property rights. Yes, we all believe in property rights. The question is whether or not these rights are absolute on an individual level or not. Doesn’t a war of aggression that the aggressor loses change our calculations or assumptions regarding property rights? Is it not clear to the anti-Zionist crowd that the element of violence was introduced not by the Zionists–who had accepted the U.N. plan of division and the amount of land thereby offered–but by the Arab countries who told the people living in Palestine that they would push the Jews out of their legitimately purchased and legally acquired lands? So, it’s only in the case of Israel that violence should never be answered with counter-violence, right?

Human rights.
There is something inexpressible hypocritical about people who espouse a system of values associated with Western countries imposing that system on Israel but not on any of its neighbors to claim that “human rights” are violated by Israel. Israel’s current population is almost 20% Arab. Just the fact that the Israeli-Arabs are the most vociferous opponents of the idea of land transfers in a possible peace deal should be enough to let an objective observer see the extent to which Israeli Arabs appreciate the rights afforded to them by virtue of being citizens of Israel (even as they wave Palestinian flags during demonstrations against the idea of becoming Palestinian citizens). Why would these Israeli Arabs not want to become Palestinian citizens? The answer is clear if you look at the human rights records in Gaza under Hamas and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank under Fatah. Gay rights are non-existent and women’s rights are severely curtailed  as they are in all Arab countries.

National Self-Determination.
Much has been written about the emergence of the Palestinian as a separate identity since 1967. Well, it’s a complex question that needs more attention than can be afforded by this present article, but clearly, it’s an identity with a strong political purpose. Why does it resonate so well with European and American intellectuals? Because the word “Palestinian” has become synonymous with “oppressed” and “downtrodden.” The David and the Goliath effect is inescapable. Israel has developed into a technological superpower while the  Palestinians have been left behind (subsisting on handouts from Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere). So, if you suspect that there will be fewer human rights in Palestine (i.e. no Israelis allowed even in the West Bank) than in Israel then why support a Palestinian state? Aren’t you for human rights and equality? You say you are because you want to see the Palestinians “liberated” even though the liberation would lead to fewer human rights then are afforded to Israelis.

And the tug of war between various values would continue if not for the overwhelming trump card that puts to rest these concerns: the occupation of Palestinian lands.

The question is this: when did Israel begin to occupy Palestine? In 1948 (following the War of Independence forced upon Israel) or 1967 (following the Six Day War)? Those who believe that Israel was wrong to occupy the abandoned villages settled by Arabs in 1948 would have to take the moral position that the very existence of Israel is morally unacceptable. Again, a tug of war breaks out between property rights, human rights, and national self-determination (in this case, the self-determination of the Jewish people in its national homeland). Of course, we are leaving God out of the equation altogether since the Western European and U.S. advocates of Palestinian rights tend not to believe in any narratives about God promising and giving the Land of Israel to the Jews. That argument, an overwhelmingly strong one for most religious Jews and a sizable portion of American Christians, is out the window.

And so, you see why peace is such an elusive goal in Israel? With Hamas totally against the very idea of a Jewish State and Fatah merely giving lip service to the idea, no real negotiations are possible at this juncture. Even Jimmy Carter agrees that no peace agreement can ever be implemented unless it is also accepted by Hamas.

What remains is a tug of war between those who accept Israel as a legitimate country on a deeply personal level, those who really believe in the two-state solution and those who say they want the two-state solution but are really hoping for a final solution for Israel (namely, its total demise).

In the meantime, Israelis will fight to preserve what they have achieved in the past 66 years and Palestinians won’t give up on trying to secure a state of their own (however viable or unviable it may become).

If you are virulently anti-Zionist, you want Israel to be gone with all its human rights and democratic values because for you, property rights and what you perceive as national self-determination wins over human rights. But you deny this because you are a champion of human rights, which you see Israel violates in the occupied territories (not wanting to realize that  most of the restrictions are in place because a sizable enough portion of the population had been engaged in violent acts against Israelis and would revert to violence in the West Bank if they had the chance). So, there’s nothing anyone can say to you to change your mind to see that another model is also possible–one that operates within Israel proper, with its Arab minority population enjoying the rights that Israeli citizenship affords.

If you are on the fence, all I ask of you is to be fair and try to make peace in your head between the competing values of property rights, human rights, and national self-determination.

I hope you will come to the right conclusion and leave the knee-jerk reactions to jerks with knees.

 

Thank You, Mr. Carter, for Stating the Obvious: No Deal is Possible with Only Abbas

Jimmy Carter’s May 12 opinion piece in the Washington Post should be cut out, framed and hung on the wall.

Not because it lists all the unilateral steps Israel took during the last round of abortive peace negotiations  (the “14,000 new Israeli settlement units…approved, more than 3,000 Palestinians…arrested and 50…killed, provoking troubling examples of Palestinian retaliation, including the deaths of three Israelis”) even as the former president forgets to mention the 78 convicted terrorists Israel released by October, 2013. No, this is, so far, nothing unusual from Carter who, after all, used the word apartheid to describe Israel in his 2006 book.

So, what is so important in Carter’s latest opinion piece that it merits lasting attention?

It’s the former president’s rationale for welcoming the unity deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Carter writes, “This reconciliation of Palestinian factions and formation of a national unity government is necessary because it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.”

Let’s remember these words when the unity talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, once again, result in an acrimonious divorce.

Therefore, when pressure is inevitably applied on Israel once more to go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinian Authority after  the Palestinian unity government fails, Benjamin Netanyahu should be the first to point to Jimmy Carter’s words: “it would be impossible to implement any peace agreement between Israel and just one portion of the Palestinians.”

Thank you, Mr. Carter, for confirming what most rational people had already known: no comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians, even in theory, is possible without an agreement to that effect from both the West Bank and Gaza.

And for the foreseeable future, Gaza, with Hamas in charge, will not be interested in living side by side with the “Zionist Entity” that the rest of the world calls Israel be it within or without a Palestinian unity government.

Be it as it may, one thing is clear: the charade will continue.

To my Daughter: On the Holocaust

“To my Daughter: On the Holocaust”
by David Mandler

What words can I use to tell my father’s story
To my little Rachel with that angel smile?
What words can be used now when the only glory
In that time of demons was reduced to empty style?

No words. Clearly, no words can ever scream the pain
Her great-grandmother sweated…locked inside that train:
Pulsating in labor, shaken to the core
Standing…with no space for her to spread out on the floor.

No words. Clearly, no words will ever suffice
To describe the agony reflected in her eyes.
Why were they packed into all those cattle cars?
Why, like some smelly weeds, grew those yellow stars?

What words can be used to tell of the six million?
Words like empty bottles line up in my head—
Burned, gassed, starved to death, shot…floating in vermilion
Images of horror, dry, abstract and dead.

No words.  No dead pictures, nor the sounds of rhyming
Can help me rise above this sentimental drag.
Even in a black hole we seek the silver lining—-
Looking for a diamond in the body bag.

Oh, I cannot tell you how my Zaide’s daughters
Gasped for air and clawed into their dying mother’s skin.
Nor will I attempt to justify God’s orders
No, I cannot stop now, nor can I begin.

Still, the silver lining coils itself around me
Like the snake that charmed Eve all those years ago.
I can’t handle darkness—can’t escape my ego
Grasping after straws of positivity.

There were some good men and women who were brave then…
Life emerged from darkness: my father was born.

In unbearable heat.
In a cattle car.
In 1944.

No words. No words will ever
No rhymes however clever
Will suffice to tell the story of this sordid crime.

I know I cannot tell you—I shout I cannot tell you
I sob, Rachel, because, I know, that soon, soon I must tell you.

And once you know the story in a little while
I pray you still retain your sweet angelic smile.

April 24th, 2014
© David Mandler
Revised on April 15, 2015
David Mandler’s short story, “The Loft,” is available through amazon.com.

Ahogyan szavaztál…

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled
Parfüm illat helyett, érezd végbélszeled.

Tudd meg, a férgek sem kedvelik a beled
Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled.

Mert bölcs vezérunk szava számodra nem törvény
Nyeljen el egy kátyú, Dunában az örvény.

Munkahelyed biztos: közmunkás, az legyél
Mákosgubát soha, csak kenyérhéjjat egyél.

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled!
Mindegy miben hiszel ha Orbánt emeled
Magad felé mindig, hiszen Ő szent álvány
Igaz Úrunk Viktor, a nemzeti bálvány.

Megbocsájtanék mint názáreti Jézus
De hajléktalan vagy: messze nem egy krőzus!

Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjon Ő veled.
Közmunkán a hollók vájják ki a szemed.

Kommunista sem vagy ha segíted a Viktort
Művész úrnak hívnak ha Fideszes disznótort
Rendezel minden nap az opera helyett
De ha nem…téged a fene is megevett!

Áldjad az új rendszert: az élet nem rólad szól
Temethenek ingyen rokonaid mostantól.
Négy év múlva, ha élsz még, Viktor néz majd le rád
Rozmárbajuszával Kövér László megáld.

Elmondom versemet ezerszer is neked
Ahogyan szavaztál, úgy bánjanak veled.

–Mandler Dávid
Április 17, 2014

A Step Beyond the Boycott: Opening up Hearts and Wallets

On a warm day in the early 1980s in Budapest, while clandestinely taking a quick break from the morning prayer service, my friends and I made a shocking discovery in the courtyard of the Dohány Street Synagogue. I will never forget the moment when an elderly man who walked to the courtyard from the synagogue shortly after we did told us with a sombre face that what lay below the thick, snake-like coils of the ivy leaves on which we had been playing a game of tag were thousands of skeletons. I remember how stunned I felt by his chilling words that he had seen hundreds bodies laid out in this very courtyard in 1945. I was incredulous. Perhaps he only wanted to frighten us away the courtyard. After all, nobody had ever told me before that time that the synagogue’s courtyard was also a graveyard. And certainly, nobody talked to me or any of my friends about how the bodies got there. But then the small stone memorial plaques with individual names and the year 1945 inscribed hidden by the ivy leaves lined up against the framework of the gravesite made me realize that the man was telling the truth. It sickened me.

I was no more than ten years old then.

The horror of it all only intensified as I grew older and learned that the thousands of people buried in the courtyard of the synagogue died of starvation, the winter’s cold, and the murderous bullets of the Hungarian Arrow Cross men on the hunt for Jews in the Jewish ghetto within the last two months of the war leading up to January 18, 1945, the day the ghetto was liberated. Because most bodies could not be transported to any Jewish cemetery, the decision was made to bury the Jewish victims right there in the courtyard of the synagogue.

Now, this unique cemetery wedged between the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue and the Heroes Temple synagogue is in such a bad state that the courtyard has been closed to visitors indefinitely. A major overhaul and restoration project with the price tag in excess of 20,000,000 Hungarian Forints (approximately $89,000) had been planned to take place with the help of a grant provided for this purpose by the Hungarian government. According to the rabbi of the Dohány Street Synagogue, Robert Frolich, the foundation intends to renovate the frames around the graves, replace those memorial plaques that have been ravaged by the passage of time with brand new ones, upgrade the graveyard’s vegetation, replace the gravel on the pathways, and install two interactive monitors with the map of the cemetery and a searchable database with the names and burial locations for each person in the graveyard.

But this sorely needed restoration project has now been jeopardized by the courageous and exemplary stance of the Dohány Street Synagogue Foundation to stand up to the Hungarian government’s ideological cuddling with the era named after Hungary’s leader between 1920 and 1944, Miklós Horthy, mainly remembered for Hungarian chauvinism buttressed by increasing anti-Jewish measures. Many, including the foremost historian of the Holocaust in Hungary, Randolph Braham of New York’s City University, have voiced their concerns that Hungary’s government, while talking the talk of contrition abroad, is in the process of whitewashing Hungarian responsibility for the wholesale murder of Hungarian Jewry in the Holocaust. In light of that, the Dohány Street Synagogue Foundation, along with other Jewish foundations, has refused to accept the 20,000,000 Forints awarded for this project by a Hungarian government that has for the past few years has created an atmosphere in which anti-Semitic public discourse is nothing unusual and has recently angered most Hungarian Jews by pushing plans for projects about the Holocaust without meaningful input by Jewish organizations.  

Since February 9th, 2014, when the largest Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, declared that it would not be able to participate in any official government sponsored Holocaust commemorations in 2014 until the government reversed itself on two damaging projects and fired the head of the new Veritas Institute for labeling the very first deportations from Hungary in 1941 as an “immigration procedure,” the situation has only gotten worse. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s response was to offer no response until after the Hungarian general elections on April 6th. Holocaust commemorations, however, are scheduled to take place shortly thereafter in April, leaving no time for any meaningful discussions.

The boycott, thus, is here to stay.

In order to show resistance to a culture of intolerance in Hungary supported by the actions of the current Hungarian government, I urge all people of goodwill to make a concrete gesture by opening up not only their hearts but also their wallets in order to make sure that this extremely important project can go forward. Help the Dohány Street Foundation make sure that no ten-year-olds will ever play tag on the ivy-covered graves of the Dohány Street Synagogue’s cemetery simply because they are unaware of what lies below and, equally importantly, how the bodies ended up there.

Please join the resistance against the forces of anti-Semitism and xenophobia by making a donation in memory of all those murdered in the Holocaust. The Dohány Street Foundation’s bank account information is IBAN: HU71 1170 7024 2035 9234 0000 0000 Swift code: OTPVHUHB.

The memory of those who died in such brutal circumstances and were buried in mass deserves no less.

You may email rabbi@dohany-zsinagoga.hu for more information and/or send him a message of support.

Follow me on twitter: Dr. David Mandler @MandlerDr

Why Everyone Should Boycott Official 2014 Holocaust Commemorations in Hungary

Imagine the White House chief of staff stating the following at a press conference after a significant meeting about a highly controversial issue with the leading representatives of American Jewry: “the President will address all of our fellow Americans as well as our Jewish citizens next week.” It does not take a lot of imagination to envision the firestorm of criticism that would follow such a division of the American people into real Americans vs. Jewish citizens of America.

Yet, this is precisely what János Lázár, the Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s Office, said after the unsuccessful round-table meeting with leading Hungarian Jewish organizations. Of course, he was not talking about fellow Americans but rather “fellow Hungarian countrymen” and “our Jewish citizens.” Perhaps at other times, this statement would have drawn more fire from liberal Hungarians and Hungarian Jews alike. At this time, though, Hungarian Jews are, in a sense, too focused on the trees to notice the forest. The largest Jewish organization, Mazsihisz, in the past few weeks, has been on a collision course with the government. On Sunday, February 9th, Mazsihisz  identified three major issues with which the Hungarian government needs to deal in a satisfactory way for it to reconsider its decision to boycott the official commemorative events in 2014 scheduled for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary.

One may argue that the comparison between Americans and Hungarians does not work since the American people is a rather recent construct that designates a group of individuals whose coherence is not determined along ethnic lines. That argument, however, also applies to the Hungarian nation since that, too, is not only an amalgamation of various ethnic groups tied together by history, cultural affiliations, and language but is also a constitutively heterogeneous nation. The history of Hungary shows that any ethnic group that wished to become absorbed into the body of the Hungarian nation could do so. The patriotic Hungarian Jews in the middle of the 19th century believed it was no different for the Jews. And indeed, the endeavors of Jews in Hungary for the past 150 years to acculturate within Hungary began to bear very significant fruits from the time Hungarian Jews committed themselves on the side of the Hungarians against the Austrians in the abortive Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849. Once the law removed all legal obstacles from Jewish Hungarians with the passing of the 1867 Jewish Emancipation Law, Hungarianization of Jews accelerated at a remarkable pace. An increasing number of Jews in Hungary began to think of themselves and carried on their lives as Hungarians with their Jewish cultural affiliations either remaining intact or shrinking rapidly.

The ascendancy of Jews in all areas of Hungarian culture occasioned a severe backlash with Admiral Miklós Horthy’s assumption of power in 1920. The first anti-Jewish measures in all of Europe were passed in Hungary in the same year Horthy took power. The Numerus Clausus law, a sort of reverse affirmative action law, greatly limited the number of Jewish students eligible for university admissions. From that moment on, the Jewish citizens of Hungary must have known that they were not considered as part of the Hungarian nation. The eruption of anti-Jewish violence in universities in the 1920s and 30s must was another painful reminder that Hungarian Jews were not welcome in the universities. In 1938-39, further anti-Jewish laws were passed that limited the number of Jews allowed in various intellectual professions. These measures were taken because Hungarians of Jewish descent had become “too successful” in Hungary in all cultural and professional areas and had to be restrained. Jewish success was also Hungarian success.  Hungarian Jews came up with amazing inventions, achieved olympic victories, expanded industrial output and furthered intellectual work to the benefit of the entire Hungarian nation. Yet, to the anti-Semite, a Jew remained a Jew no matter his or her acculturated appearance and estrangement from all things Jewish.

Nothing prepared Hungarian Jews to the horror that would befall them toward the end of World War II. The most tragic period for Hungarian Jews came in the summer of 1944 when Jewish life outside of Budapest came to an abrupt end with mass deportations and murder of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews within a eight-week period. In Budapest itself, derisively called Judapest at the turn of the century the for its large number of Jewish residents, Jews were herded into a large ghetto or went into hiding with false papers (many of whom, in a figurative if not literal sense, stayed in hiding as a Jew in forever). That large numbers of Jews in Budapest could pass for non-Jews with the help of a piece of paper is eloquent testimony of the success of Hungarian Jewish acculturation. The significant role of the Regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, in allowing mass deportations from all of Hungary is clear to historians and Hungarian Jews. It is precisely the current Hungarian government’s attempt to reevaluate and whitewash the Horthy regime with the proposed erection of a statue commemorating the 70th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary that has unified the otherwise very fragmented Jewish Hungarian part of the Hungarian people to an unprecedented extent.

Many in Hungary remember the rather placid and ineffective role Jewish organizations played in the face of increasing pressure just prior to and during the Holocaust. Although the facts are not as clear, the popular perception amongst many Jews today is that the Jewish council in 1944 collaborated with the authorities and, thereby, made the situation for the Jews much worse. So, the decision not to go along with the Hungarian government’s expectations of Jewish collaboration in the 70th anniversary’s commemorations constitutes a watershed moment in Hungarian Jewish history.

It is incumbent upon everyone to support this extraordinary self-assertion by the official representatives of Hungarian Jewry by urging everyone involved to follow suit and boycott all official government sponsored commemorations of the Holocaust in 2014. That means every international dignitary, speaker, or guest invited by the Orban government to participate in the official Holocaust commemorations in 2014 should now express solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants in Hungary who have made the difficult but morally correct decision to boycott these events by declining the invitation.

Yet, complete non-action would serve no purpose.

I believe that all people of goodwill, whether inside or outside of Hungary, may now begin to contribute to conceiving and/or putting into action alternate modes of commemorations (both traditional as well as innovative ones) that would serve to educate people about what happens when age-old prejudices, greed, the active hatred of some as well as the callous indifference of the majority are combined, as happened in Hungary but seventy years ago, resulting in the gradual dispossession and large-scale murder of more than half a million people classified as Jews in death camps and in the streets of Budapest.

As far as Hungarian Jews are concerned, 2014 will not be a year of national reconciliation and forgiveness but rather the year in which even the most Hungarian of the Hungarian Jews will have to realize that they are still perceived as “our fellow Jewish citizens” rather than as “our fellow Hungarians.”

Miklós Horthy died on February 9th, 1957. Fifty-seven years later to the day, Hungarian Jewish resistance to the revival of the Horthy cult and its exclusionary definition of what it means to be Hungarian was born.

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