David Mandler

Thoughts, feelings, reactions on Hungarian, American, Israeli, Jewish issues

Month: September, 2015

The Sacrificial Chicken (Yom Kippur 5776)

I haven’t asked anyone to forgive me this year.
Not because I’ve thought about or done
The right things all year–
Oh no.
I spent too much time on
Facebook and writing poetry
Talking at the world while
Failing to connect with and refusing to hear
The muffled sounds of my caged love songs.

I spent too little time listening with my heart
To my wife’s daily musings and nightly longings,
To the pleas of the homeless in the subway cars,
Thinking my feel-good quarter’s gift to them was enough.

I spent no time at all in a hospital ward
Visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry
In a homeless shelter filled with ruined lives
Hidden from me
Only because I had no desire to find it.

Forgive me, everyone!
I can’t be silent when I see inhumanity,
Even if it’s perpetrated on the enemy of my people,
Even if it’s directed against those who,
In happier times, would gladly
Celebrate my death as a victory.

But I know, not all of “them” are like “that.”

And if you all forgive me for all of my failings and sins,
Whether they be open or hidden,
Loud or mute,
Searing your skin as molten lava
Or freezing your blood as liquid ice,
Then I can ask the Master of the Universe
To forgive me
For being late
From synagogue almost every time
And glossing over words I don’t understand and
Have no time to articulate with serene concentration.

Forgive me for being on Facebook too much
And writing poetry only a handful of people
Will ever read.

Forgive me for not asking you for forgiveness
In person.

I’m a sacrificial chicken laden with
Other people’s sins to be slaughtered and made into
Chicken soup for the destitute.



Ishmael, God, and the Angels: A Morality Tale with a Lesson for Our Times

Whether you see them as refugees or economic migrants, I see the people in the pictures below, first and foremost, as human beings with human needs in deep trouble. To those who reject these people from Syria on the grounds that they represent danger to the Christian character of Europe–as Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary has claimed–I have a story to share that sheds light on how people who truly want to emulate the ways of God should relate to these hungry and thirsty masses flooding into Europe, seeking shelter.

“Ishmael, left under a shrub by his despairing mother, prayed to God to take his soul and not permit him to suffer the torments of a slow death (comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 15). God then commanded the angel to show Hagar the well which was created on Friday in the week of Creation, in the twilight (comp. Ab. v. 6), and which afterward accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness (Pirḳe R. El. xxx.). But this was protested against by the angels, who said: “Why should Ishmael have water, since his descendants will destroy the Israelites by thirst?” (comp. Yer. Ta’an. iv. 8; Lam. R. ii. 2). God replied: “But now he is innocent, and I judge him according to what he is now” (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; Gen. R. l.c.; et al.).

Let us judge these people according to what they are now!

Source: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8251-ishmael

Photos courtesy of Petra Parker (Budapest, near Keleti Railway Station on August 31st, September 1st and 2nd).



An Urgent Open Letter to the Worldwide Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of J. Walter Thompson Company

Rendorsegssept2Dear Chairman Martinez,

In the last few weeks, thousands of migrants and refugees, predominantly from civil war-torn Syria, have made their way though Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Austria with one purpose: to settle in Germany. While each European country has taken its own approach to the emerging humanitarian crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, acted quickly to turn public opinion totally against the refugees who chose to travel through Hungary towards Germany. Now, it appears that your reputable advertising firm, the largest U.S. advertising agency with a long and illustrious past, is poised to become an accessory to Hungary’s anti-immigration campaign abroad. The purpose of this letter is to make it clear to you that acting as Orbán Viktor’s voice in foreign countries would be very controversial and would, thus, damage your brand name.

From the beginning of 2015, the ruling Fidesz Party, firmly under the direction of Viktor Orbán, began what some would consider an incitement against immigrants in a way that gave permission to the proverbial average citizen in the street to manifest freely his or her baser human instincts about foreigners.

Mr. Orbán’s first formal move in this area was to launch his so-called National Consultation initiative in June of 2015. The first round included the mailing out to the entire Hungarian population a staunchly anti-immigrant letter by Orbán in which he pejoratively calls refugees “economic migrants” along with a questionnaire of twelve manipulative questions. Incidentally, only ten percent of the recipients bothered to respond.

Shortly after this colossal waste of public resources came a print advertising campaign. The large blue-and-white billboards placed throughout the country contained such grandiose proclamations as follows: “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our laws!”, “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away the jobs of Hungarians!” and “If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture!” Since the messages on these billboards were all in Hungarian, it is clear that this whole campaign was intended for domestic consumption.

The campaign elicited mixed reactions. It aided in strengthening the more xenophobic elements in Hungarian society even as hilarious spoofs of these billboards went viral on Facebook. Any sense of hilarity evaporated, though, with the announcement that Hungary would build a barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia. Since then, the suspiciously overpriced and surprisingly flimsy barbed wire fence has been completed, and, just as quickly, breached.

Using the migrant crisis as a pretext, Fidesz legislators proposed a string of new laws effective September 15th that will result in the curtailment of individual rights by empowering the military to search the homes of individuals suspected of harboring illegal immigrants without a warrant, stopping cars on public roads, and the ability to deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, arrest nets, and even fire arms with deadly force if necessary against refugees. At the same time, the Hungarian government has decided to spread its anti-immigrant campaign in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. It is at this point that your reputable advertising firm enters the picture. A few days ago, it became clear that J. Walter Thompson’s Hungarian affiliate was selected for this purpose, shocking many in the advertising world.

Dr. Martinez! While it is not in your power to solve the refugee crisis by asking each EU country to take in its fair share of refugees as well as pressuring affluent Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar to step up to the plate or orchestrating a satisfactory solution to the Syrian conflict, it is in your power to prevent the deterioration of your brand name’s reputation that will inevitable result from proceeding with this contract. Major news outlets such as the BBC and NPR have already begun to devote significant space to this issue of Hungary’s treatment of war refugees and migrants and will continue to do so with increased attention. In the next few days, the focal point of news, Keleti Rail Station, will be emptied of migrants and refugees. They will reportedly be sent to the city of Debrecen and housed in refugee camps with no end in sight. Judging by the leading questions of the questionnaire, refugees will be responsible for their own expenses and may even be sent to work in Hungary’s workfare system.

Clearly, no reputable international advertising firm would want to become an accessory to spreading Hungary’s dual message of coded Islamophobia and its policy of turning away all war refugees from Syria or elsewhere. Signing a contract with a country that is moving away from a system of checks-and-balances towards what Viktor Orbán has called “illiberal democracy” may result in more costs than benefits for your company. Considered from a moral point of view, anyone with a developed sense of empathy, especially people who consider themselves “global citizens” can only find this one-size-fits all rejection of all immigration objectionable. According to some Hungarian news outlets, even some of JWT’s Hungarian employees have found their position morally untenable and are, thus, considering resignation. The short and arguably cynical statement JWT Budapest’s Creative Director, Tamás Faragó, made in a Facebook reaction that was later republished with his permission may only help to push out some of JWT’s morally-inclined creative staff. Faragó stated that “the campaign would be worth it if it prevented even one child from stabbing him or herself on top of the barbed wire fence by knowing ahead of time what awaited him or her” (my translation). Were JWT’s Hungarian affiliate to proceed with this assignment, you would have to look forward to designing a PR campaign in defense of your assent in participating in the PR campaign ordered by Hungary’s opportunistically nationalist government against refugees.

In light of all of the above, I ask you to reconsider and, ultimately, reject this deal.


David Mandler, Ph.D.
P.S. The photo on top was taken on September 2nd near Keleti Railway Station and is courtesy of Petra Parker.


This open letter was republished in The Budapest Times on September 11, 2015. http://files.theschoolsystem.net/stuy/mandlerd/OpenLetterBudapestTimes.pdf