Given the hot and relentless nature of anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism today, should the world’s Jews simply pack up and leave wherever they are on Planet Earth? Should they go to Israel or to America? Given all the genocidal threats made against the Jewish state, should Israel pioneer space travel so that those Jews (and our allies) who believe that wherever we are has become “Egypt” can leave a world in which Jew-hatred has become the signature calling card of Islamic terrorism and anti-Western barbarism?
Dr. Iddo Netanyahu, in his play, A Happy End, is asking precisely this question. By setting his affluent, assimilated, and successful Jewish characters in Berlin, circa 1932-1933, he may hope to influence our thinking about this question today.
In a talkback after the New York City performance, Netanyahu said: “There is a great advantage to raising things in the past. Current political views allow people to close themselves off.”
As we know, it is politically incorrect—a real Thought Crime—to view Islamic terrorism as a radical threat or to fail to parrot the views of the left-driven “Pravda”s that circulate disinformation on the subject in every language, every day, all day.
One of the main characters in A Happy End is Leah Erdmann, who is played by South-African-Israeli Carmit Levité. Leah—who is blonde and dresses glamorously—absolutely refuses to leave Germany. She loves its cafes and cabarets, its thriving culture of classical music concerts and theater and her privileged life, which (recently) includes a non-Jewish German lover. Leah is married to Mark Erdmann, a physicist (played by Curzon Dobell) who is the head of the Atomic Lab at the University of Berlin. They have one son, Hans, who is a teenage poet.
In the talkback, Levité said that the play “is not only about the Holocaust. It is also about everything that is happening today.”
In February of this year, in the shadow of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher massacres, Israeli Zvika Klein had himself filmed as he walked through the streets of Paris for ten hours wearing a yarmulke. In the main areas of the city, Klein experienced people spitting on the ground, shouting “Viva Palestine,” or simply saying “Jew” or “Juif,’ as if it were a curse word. In the suburbs, the remarks became more violent.
In early March, British journalist Jonathan Kalmus repeated Klein’s Paris walk in England. Within one minute, in Manchester, Kalmus encountered aggressive comments such as “Fight the Jewish scum” “Jew, Jew, Jew,” “F*** off Jew.” Kalmus was stalked, spit at, and cursed even more shamefully in Bradford. A man started stalking him, another man yelled “Fight the Jewish scum,” “You’re a Jew, not a Muslim…Jew, run, run, run.”
On about March 10th, two French-Jewish teenagers were assaulted and robbed while leaving a synagogue in Marseilles. They required medical attention. Their attackers were African Muslims who shouted: “Dirty Jews, we will exterminate all of you.”
These individual street encounters between strangers are as important as the many polls that document the European-Muslim and European-Leftist dislike or hatred of Jews and of Israel; as important as the outright assassinations of Jews and critics of Islam; as important as the barbaric three week torture of Ilan Halimi (z”l) in Paris.
The street-level encounters testify to the shredding of the fabric of civility when it comes to Jews in Europe. These encounters remind me of what Erik Larson documented in his book In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, which is set in 1933—the year that Iddo Netanyahu’s characters are also living in Berlin.
The American ambassador was William Dodd, not a privileged career-diplomat. He and his daughter Martha were, initially, Nazi-lovers (in Martha’s case quite literally) and anti-Semites. Larson documents the “casual” way in which Storm Troopers began their intimidating public parades—and beat up anyone who would not return the one-armed Nazi salute. “Casual” beatings of Americans and Jews on the street also began and Larsen chronicles the way in which Germans got used to it; apparently, the American media was pressured not to write about the anti-Americanism lest German banks default on its American loans.
Dodd, however, became increasingly alarmed.
Larson’s book covers the Night of the Long Knives (1934) in which Hitler consolidated his power through a series of political purges of his real or imagined enemies. Dodd tried to warn the world about what was in store both for the Jews and the world but he was not believed and, by 1940 with “his health and his spirit broken,” he died.
Hitler fired the Jewish professors and shut down Jewish businesses. Playwright Netanyahu’s Dr. Erdmann is fired from his prestigious post; his colleagues do not want any “Jewish physics.” Dr. Erdmann’s assistant, Dieter Kraft, is a non-Jewish German who has also just begun an affair with Leah Erdmann. Dieter tries to persuade both Mark and his wife to leave, to get out of Germany as soon as possible. He tries very hard to get them to see reality as he knows it to be.
Even the great Dr. Sigmund Freud refused to leave Vienna until it was almost too late. By 1936, Matthias Goering (Hermann Goering’s cousin) became the leader of the German General Medical Society for Psychotherapy. All Jewish psychoanalysts were denounced and their property seized; this included Freud’s publishing company.
Despite being harassed by the Nazis (who hung swastikas on his building and who accused him, falsely, of tax fraud and business debt); despite having his cash and passport seized; despite the random beatings of old Jewish men in Freud’s neighborhood—the 81 year-old Freud did not leave his beloved Vienna until 1938. He was only able to do so because he had royal and diplomatic connections—as well as some money in foreign bank accounts. Freud “knew” he must leave only after the Gestapo arrested his daughter, Anna, also a psychoanalyst.
Freud understood the human death wish and capacity for evil. He contemplated suffering all the live-long day. If Dr. Freud resisted leaving Vienna, we can well understand why lesser mortals might not wish to leave those beloved countries whose language and culture they have made their own; whose parents and grandparents are buried there; whose children and grand-children have professionally successful lives; and who, as exiles, would probably be poor, dependent, and unable to start over.
Recently, at a talk I gave for Aish Hatorah in New York City, two young French Jews insisted that France was their country—why should they have to leave? “Jews must stand their ground wherever they may be. We can’t be pushed around anymore.”
This is precisely the position ultimately taken by the Erdmann’s in Netanyahu’s play. Clearly, it doomed them.
And so: The question now belongs to us all. Should the Jews of Europe leave? Other questions remain: Where should we go? Where is “safe?” Is any single place now “safe” for anyone, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, since Islamic terrorists (lone-, Iran-backed, ISIS or Al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists) have designs, not only on Israel, but on Europe, North America, the entire Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, the Far East, and Australia?
What, world, are we going to do in the absence of a strong and principled American and European leadership? At a time of rising anti-Israel hatred on the part of America’s leadership?
At a moment when the only true, Churchill-like leader of the Free World, Benjamin Netanyahu, may or may not become Israel’s next Prime Minister?
Reprinted with author’s permission from Arutz Sheva