Prominent Rabbi and author Myron Fenster tells Newsmax that Israel must take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously and not make the mistake Jews made regarding Hitler’s threats before the Holocaust.
The former president of the New York Board of Rabbis also discusses the lasting impact of the Holocaust — and says while the United Nations is quick to condemn Israel, it has done little to stop the “slaughter” in Syria.
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Fenster is author of the book "Up from the Straits: A Memoir," former editor of Conservative Judaism — a journal published by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America — and a contributor to publications including Newsday and the Jerusalem Post. He is rabbi emeritus of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, N.Y., and currently the rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport, N.Y.
Editor's Note: To Purchase a Copy of Rabbi Fenster's Book, Click Here Now
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Fenster discussed the significance of Israel to Jews, the Six-Day War, his involvement in the American civil rights movement, Judaism in the United States today, the Arab Spring, and more.
He said his lifelong ambition is to bring about an integration of American values with his Jewish tradition.
Fenster was asked if he agrees with noted attorney Alan Dershowitz’s assertion that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon would pose an existential threat to Israel and possibly the danger of a second Holocaust.
“I do, yes, no question about it,” he says,
“Netanyahu says that all the time. He says that one of the things we should have learned is that if somebody threatens you, take the threat seriously. If someone says, as [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad says, we’re going to throw you into the sea, don’t just say ha. That’s what they did with Hitler. They said he’s a madman. He’ll go away. Forget about him. We’re not going to take him seriously.
“Hitler at that time was saying all Jews are cockroaches. You don’t argue with cockroaches, you stamp them out. People said he’s obviously mad. Well, the same thing is going on now. When somebody tells you they’re going to throw you in the sea, they’re going to bomb you out, you better as a Jew take them pretty seriously.”
Fenster adds that he is “not totally happy” with Obama’s dealings with the Iranian threat and his support for Israel, but is encouraged by “some of the statements I hear from his putative opponent,” Mitt Romney.
“I’m glad for the election because I think they’re both going to have to put their words together with some action.”
The rabbi recalled how his father came to the United States after his brother was killed in a pogrom at end of World War I, and how his grandfather was “burned up” in the Holocaust.
He says: “When I think of it even to this day I say to myself we have to see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”
Fenster has written about what he sees as the unsatisfactory response of the U.S. government and the Jewish diaspora as the Holocaust was unfolding.
“The U.S. government was not as responsive as it should have been. But there is enough guilt to pass around for everyone, including the Jewish community,” he tells Newsmax.
“A million people should have gone in front of the White House, sat down on the streets and refused to move. That would have certainly moved the government. But they didn’t do that. The truth is there were very few protests of a really organized fashion.”
Discussing President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, Fenster remembers meeting a man who had been the head of the Polish Free Underground during World War II, and had met face to face with Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in the 1930s.
Roosevelt told him “it is true that we have to save the Jews, but we have to save the world first, and when we save the world we will be saving the Jews too,” according to Fenster.
The Poland leader said, “Mr. President, by the time you do that there’ll be no Jews left.”
Fenster adds: “People fault Roosevelt for not bombing Auschwitz and so on. I don’t think that [failure] was the brightest star in his heaven.”
Fenster believes the Holocaust had a lasting effect on humanity by removing “the sacred quality of human life.”
“I don’t believe our society has ever recovered from the impact of the Shoah [Holocaust].
“When you kill people wantonly like that, you’ve besmirched the idea of the sacredness of human life, and look what’s happened subsequently. All of these massacres, and expulsions and killings — I believe it would be hard for it to have been possible without the Holocaust having taken place.
“Rwanda, Darfur and so forth — all of these have been possible because of the Holocaust. And therefore we have to reaffirm and reassert the human personality and the dignity of every person. That’s why I believe it’s such an important thing for people to realize what happens when the human being is degraded.”
Fenster has served as a rabbi in Israel and visited the Jewish state many times. His son lives with his family in Jerusalem.
He said the importance of the founding of Israel to all Jews is “huge. I never go to Israel without feeling a sense of renewed faith and renewed confidence in the future of my people. There’s something about the energy, the dynamism of the country.
“They want to be able to fix their own future. They want to determine their own policy. They don’t want people dictating to them what they think is the best thing for them because that hasn’t worked out in many cases.”
He also discussed how his point of view toward Israel and the conflict with Palestinians, living in the New York City of Roslyn, differs from the view of his son Jeremy living in the Old City of Jerusalem.
His says his son tells him that “almost every Friday you can smell the teargas in the air that has to be used to quell whatever rioting has begun. When you’re smelling that teargas you realize that our position is somewhat difficult and still endangered. But when you’re in Roslyn you don’t feel endangered. The suburbs are quiet.
“I am hopeful, as all good people I believe are, that somewhere down the road, sometime soon let us hope, Messianic fulfillment will begin, redemption will start, and there will be peace for the Palestinians and peace for the Israelis and the Egyptians and the others. We’re hoping and praying.”
Fenster offered his long-term view of the Arab Spring.
“I am worried about what is happening in Egypt. I am deeply concerned about what’s happening in Syria, and our inability to stop it. Thousands of people are being slaughtered. We have not reacted very forcefully.
“I am very unimpressed by what the United Nations has done. To declare Zionism racism, that they jump right into, but to do something about the people being slaughtered in Syria, about that they’re not moving so fast.”
Fenster believes the United States should not so readily provide aid to Egypt and should instead use the threat of withholding the aid to America’s advantage, especially given the uncertainties about Egypt’s future and the impact of radical Islamists there.
He also says the main point of his book “Up from the Straits” is that the Jewish people have through the ages been victims of discrimination and persecution but have refused to succumb and have survived.
“Don’t lie on the floor when you get knocked down because if you stay there somebody else is going to go by and kick you,” he says. “Get up.
“The reason I wrote the book is I wanted to say to my family and people in general it is possible to do that. It can be done.”
Editor's Note: To Purchase a Copy of Rabbi Fenster's Book, Click Here Now
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