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Feb. 27, 2024-18 ADAR 5784

02/26/2024 05:05:17 PM

Feb26

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters the third— or tenth — year (depends upon how one views the 2014 events), with expense of war mounting in human terms as well as the cost of armaments, the face of Europe is being refashioned. After a prolonged delay, in recent days Turkey and Hungary have opened the pathway into NATO for the remaining outsiders bordering directly west of Russia. With Finland and Sweden as members, a refashioned ‘curtain’ unites Western Europe, the former Soviet satellite countries, UK and North America (USA and Canada) in an alliance for mutual defense and preparedness.

This is no small achievement, with roots in the post World War 2 reconstruction of Europe. The realignment after Nazism fell (May 8, 1945) drew a line that came to be known as the Iron Curtain through the center of Germany, with the old capital Berlin partitioned just west of the shell of the Reichstag (Parliament Building) and iconic Brandenburg Gate. The Western zone was shared among American, British and French occupation, the eastern half held by Stalin’s USSR. 

The internal situation changed in 1949 with the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany, often referred to as West Germany; the German Democratic Republic, East Germany, had close ties politically and philosophically to the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1990. For much of the period, especially beginning in August 1961, a concrete and barbed wire wall with manned watch towers, effectively cut off free movement between the two German states.

NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—formed by treaty in April 1949, some months before the German States were established, fell in line with the ambitious Marshall Plan, enacted by the US Congress. George C. Marshall, Secretary of State, developed the plan that reconstructed much of Europe laid waste in war. It was in many ways the antithesis of the 1920s Versailles Treaty that ended WW1, and imposed crippling reparations on Germany, with caustic ripple effects that empowered the nascent racism, xenophobia and antisemitism of the Third Reich.

The success of Marshall’s idealistic vision took decades to come full circle, but the more immediate success stood as a bulwark against the Cold War USSR in Stalin’s waning years and under his successor Khrushchev. The USSR had nuclear weapons; on the surface, it was NATO that kept them from being used. NATO’s mutual defense was first put into play a decade after the USSR ended, when all the members stood ready after the US was attacked in 2001.

The chaos of WW2 left huge populations displaced, including the hundreds of thousands liberated from the Concentration Camps that were ubiquitous in Nazi held areas. Children were born and grew up in DP camps—until families succeeded in emigrating to Israel, or other places. In the western nations, as cities were rebuilt, commerce resumed and democracy found a firm footing, it took long years of silence and a period of turmoil (in the late 1960s) to bring about the aspects of the European Union that despite some hiccups have elevated living standards from the Russian border to the Atlantic Coast. Maintaining distinctive aspects of national cultures among the long-established nations is an on-going challenge.

Late summer and autumn 1989, as all things communist teetered, I saw headlines on Ben Yehudah Street in Tel Aviv one morning: Massenflucht—Mass Flight—from East Germany as Czechoslovakia opened its borders for East Germans to cross the road into Austria—and freedom. By November 9, 1989—the anniversary of numerous changes over the previous 150+ years—the Berlin Wall fell. The end of communist hegemony came shortly afterwards. 

Not much about Jews directly so far, but the entire saga is traceable back to the condition of Jews before 1900: with no homeland, variable opportunities that came at passing whims of autocrats, genocide and patriotism all stirred into the messy stew, by 1989-90, Israel was well enough established that about 1,000,000 left the USSR for a free life. They came from Russia, from Ukraine, from other SSRs, finally granted passage out. Other diaspora Jews also gathered — many second-generation refugees from Hitler—who faced political uncertainty in South America or were celebrating a renewed spiritual awakening in many other countries. 

At the same time Jewish life found renewal on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. Congregations and communities, interest in Jewish culture and the flourishing of Jewish learning gathered strength. Opening the archives, libraries and museums, renewed interest in Jewish genealogy all flourished—aided by computerization (including the Silicon Wadi of Israel’s growing high-tech sector) revealed much about the past and continues to inspire interest.

My argument is that the opening of borders, the lifting of restrictions is of enduring significance for the health of every Jewish community. It will take generations before we can feel the solidarity in our own culture that Jews knew in pre-Shoah Europe, if indeed that can occur. Modern life is integrating Jews into the mainstream in ways never considered. Maintaining Jewish life in areas with low density of Jewish residents is nonetheless a pursuit that brings rewards. The nearly microscopic Jewish population of Tarrant County—in a sea of religious diversity, amid old teachings that make for scapegoats and victims—stands in contrast to the community solidarity often displayed.

So, NATO: newly expanding and of renewed relevance for Europe; so, Ukraine: still fighting to defend the Jews who remain, and the memories of centuries of Jews who played a vital role there. So, Israel: still waging a defensive war against Hamas, burrowed beneath the desert sands of Gaza.

Sunday evening, February 25, the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County [https://www.tarrantfederation.org/contact-us] launched its 2024 campaign. CBI is a beneficiary and constituent. Their work—like NATO—includes defense of Jewish life. Their presence magnifies ours.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784