CHELM COMES TO THE MIDDLE EAST

By Bernard J. Shapiro

As a child my grandfather used to entertain me with delightful tales about the foolish Jews of Chelm. Chelm was said to be a tiny shtetal (Jewish village) in the Russian Pale of Settlement during czarist times. Its inhabitants were known primarily for their foolishness. In most of these tales one finds that a resident of Chelm becomes fixed upon an idea which is totally a variance to objective reality. An example: One day a visitor from Chelm took refuge for the night at the home of a famed Rabbi. He told the Rabbi's housekeeper to wake him early and to lay out his clothes so he could dress and depart the next morning without disturbing the Reb. After waking he dressed in the dark and mistakenly put on the Rabbi's clothes, complete with long black coat and black hat. Upon arriving back in Chelm he saw his reflection in the large mirror in the entryway to his home. Full of anger and scorn, he yelled, "That stupid housekeeper, he woke the Rabbi instead of me!"

Chelm has been on my mind lately as I view the current move to give Israel's sacred patrimony to the Arabs. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal (retreat) plans have struck as a perfect solution as per Chelmite logic. I raised this issue through one of my computer networks saying, "I wish someone would explain to me why ANY INTELLIGENT Israeli could believe the nonsense that retreat in the face of aggression and terrorism would stem terrorism and the lust for more Jewish blood. Terrorist leaders could easily, AND THEY DO, understand this retreat as their victory and the victory of terrorism. After all it does get results on the ground as Israel retreats behind its "so called" security fence. Sharon and other leftist Israeli leaders are expounding this historically inaccurate strategy.

A wonderful response to this paradox came from Professor Mark Steinberger (Department of Math and Statistics, State University of New York in Albany, New York). He writes: "This has also been bothering me lately. I would say that leftists must inhabit an alternate universe, except that we wind up having to pay the consequences for their detachment from reality.

But while we do live in the same objective world, their vision of it seems to have nothing in common with ours. They do not comprehend reality as we see it, and when challenged with evidence that would seem to buttress our view, they seem either to dismiss it for theoretical reason or ignore it completely.

Indeed, one can point to the fact that warfare, macho-one-upmanship, racist hegemonism and Islamic fanaticism are endemic to Arab cultures, including the more prosperous ones. The leftist response is either to ignore the point or to counter with accusations of insensitivity and racism. To me, this looks like an unwillingness to deal with reality, and it echoes the unwillingness of the Jewish community of the thirties to recognize the threat posed by the Nazis.

Indeed, it seems we have learned nothing at all from our experience with Nazism. The Holocaust has become little more than a tale to frighten children: demons in a morality play. They have turned the Holocaust into an image divorced from real world happenings. Millions more Jews could die in Israel, but they refuse to even imagine the possibility. They will not allow reality to interfere with their myths."

The stories from Chelm have amused Jews for many generations. Many of us, however, are not amused that the leaders of Israel seem to be operating in the best tradition of the colorful inhabitants of Chelm.