WRITINGS (5732-33) (1971-73
A LETTER TO A YOUNG JEW I NEVER MET
Dear Young Jew,
I have never met you and I write you this letter after the Jews of Munich were brought home. I believe all of these things are most relevant to the things that I have to say to you.
Le me explain the origin of this letter to you. It all began with a note to me from your mother – whom I have never met, either. In it she spoke about you and asked what I could do to help. Listen to part of the letter, she is speaking of you.
“He left just two years ago to continue his studies for a Master’s degree. He attended yeshivas for 12 years, graduating from a Yeshiva in Brooklyn.”
“Then it started. He broke his engagement to a girl of his background. He worked on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana and ate ‘traife.’ At present he is living with a Christian girl at the college there. There is nothing I can say or do. My heart is broken and the tears many.”
I suppose that that is the substance of the letter and I suppose too that it, more or less, is the story of thousands and tens of thousands of Jewish young men – many of whom I have met and, I think, I understand. And so, I write to you but really to all the others who born Jewish, were granted a heritage so noble and precious and who- for so many reasons – threw it away.
I stood together with all the other Jews in Israel and watched as they brought home eleven men from Munich. No one had really dreamed that the homecoming would be in coffins. The eleven were victims of a continuing chain of hate, of a seemingly endless line of Jew-hatred that extends far back into history. They were not the first Jews. They will not be the last.
In a sense, there was a profound irony and inner tragedy about what happened in Munich. Many of the same who fell before the guns of the Arabs had not found time, earlier, to visit the monument at Dachau to thousands who had fallen to other guns just a few years ago. In a sense, the Israelis who did not find it necessary to attend a memorial to the Jews of Dachau were also turning their backs on their own past. The nightmare at Munich brought home in the starkest and most terrible fashion that Dachaus never end for Jews and that every Jew has a tie to his past and a link to his future. No Jew can escape what he is. Even if he should try to, there is always one who will remind him who he was – and is; the gentile.
And it is surely part of destiny that the return home was on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the holiday of Return. As a former yeshiva student you know better than most what that return – Tshuva, in Hebrew – means. It means a return home to Judaism from all the foolish and strange fields into which we have incredibly wandered; return to the reality and permanence of the world from all the transitory and temporary things that glitter for a moment and prove to be foolish illusions, return from nonsense to truth and from vanity to holiness.
I do not know what kind of home or parents you have nor do I know the total environment that spawned you. I only know that ours is a people and heritage that transcends time and place and that is stamped with the Divine seal of infinity. I only know that you - who know from whence you came – also know, inwardly, to where you should be going.
You are young and you have the choice that the All Mighty gives to all young and old. Life and death, good and evil, truth and illusion. If you choose the transitory pleasures of your present chapter of life you will awaken, some day, with the taste of ashes in your mouth. If you really believe that the things for which our people struggled and fought and died and then continued to live for so long, are so cheap that they can be thrown away for a job or a girl – surely you will awaken one day with a broken heart and broken soul. If this is the path that you will continue to follow, you will follow the path of all the foolish and disillusioned Jews who saw in Emancipation and Enlightenment an opportunity for ‘freedom and grow.’ Their paths led to the dead ends of Auschwitz and the bankruptcy of lives that gave neither satisfaction nor permanence. Consider what you had and threw away! You were part of a people that was trampled upon, spat upon, burned and drowned, hanged and shot, gassed and buried alive. And they existed in spite of all these.
You were part of a people that never fell prey to the moral disasters of crime, immorality and cultural anarchy but which created geniuses and men of morality and ethics. While others beat their wives, Jews respected them, and while others rolled in the gutter drunk with whiskey, the Jew raised his Kiddush cup to G-d. While others dabbled at inquisitions and conquests the Jew bent over his Talmud and crated warmth, kindness and scholarship. While others worshipped the idol, the Jew embraced the One G-d.
In a sense you have no RIGHT to do what you have done, because you owe an obligation to all those who went through living hell in order that you remain a Jew. You owe, too, an obligation to the unborn child who will someday come from you, to remain with his people – the people of his grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors from Poland and Russia and Yemen and France and Spain and Babylonia.
You are young and for you to Return is simple. Return to your people and build your life – not in some foreign city but in the land of Israel. Not with foreigners who will never forget that you are a Jew but with your own who will join with you in being proud of the fact.
We lose so many of our best sons and daughters. Some die as those in Munich, but many more are buried quietly and we never even know that they are gone until we suddenly find that they are missing. These are the ones who fall before the enemy called “assimilation.” These are the ones who never know or – worse – forgot that Jewish is, oh so, beautiful. These are the ones who sell their precious and beautiful birthright for a few cheap coins and pleasure. They think they are finding freedom and happiness and only later – too late – do they realize that they died in the bloom of youth.
Young Jew, whom I have never met, come home. Return to your people and their destiny. It is beautiful
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