Never a Boring Moment

By Ari Bussel

It is said that no good deed goes unpunished.

Doris Wise Montrose who founded the Los Angeles-based non-profit organization Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) just received a taste of dealing with Israelis. She does not feel very good about it, as Israelis are rarely very complimentary, somewhere between selfishly to deliberately so.

For someone who has dedicated the past decade to acting for and on behalf of Israel, Wise Montrose feels hurt, unjustly slapped and ungratefully shown the door for her tireless efforts.

There are those who adhere to the motto that any publicity – positive or negative – is welcome. It is likely true in this case. A somewhat critical review of CJHS, depicting it as a one-person operation, drew an immediate, highly publicized rebuttal, along the very same lines of the article itself.

Apparently, Amira Hass, a leading Haaretz reporter, stumbled upon one of the organization’s e-mails. Hass, described by Wise Montrose as a “Left-wing Israeli reporter,” did not delete the e-mail she received as the “hair-raising photograph of the train tracks to Auschwitz that accompanied the e-mail” caught her attention.

The picture that is part of the organization’s logo (one of two memorable images CJHS uses) raises the question of improper use of an iconic image to promote one’s agenda.

Should the Holocaust be used so freely to create a shock effect and attract attention? Associated with the picture is the name that creates the – possibly misleading – impression that the organization is by and for children of Holocaust survivors.

Let us isolate Hass and her political ideology and past writings from the main issue she raises in her article that is not without merit: What does an organization that bluntly uses the Holocaust have to do with the Holocaust? Does it cater to survivors and their current-day needs, possibly act as a platform to tell their stories or even focus on the Holocaust itself? CJHS does none of these.

Possibly what bothers Hass that modern-day politics and current affairs should not be confused with the Holocaust. What right does a person or an organization use the Holocaust when one’s mission is the promotion of Western values and safeguarding the Jewish State of Israel?

Hass is absolutely correct on that ground. All too often – and increasingly in recent years – we hear comparisons to Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust. These are done almost as an after thought, not a second given to considering the validity and implications of such a use.

Hass, like many Israelis, Jews and descendants of Holocaust survivors is very sensitive in this respect; justly so. It is evident from her article she takes offense to mixing modern day politics and conjuring images of the Holocaust, thus making a cynical use of one of the gravest human sins ever committed. She writes:

The train tracks to Auschwitz stretch [for Wise Montrose] from the intention to limit gun ownership and increase taxes in the United States to a belated evacuation of a pirate outpost on Palestinian land.

There are quite a few organizations that use words, names, places and dates that indicate their mission and promise. The 1939 Club, for instance, or Café Europa, are such, both local organizations.

Café Europa was created in 1987 by Jewish Family Services (an arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and beneficiary of United Way) “to serve the survivor community of Los Angeles. The name pays homage to a café in Stockholm, Sweden, where Holocaust survivors came to look for their lost relatives immediately after World War II.”

“Café Europa offers Holocaust survivors a comfortable space to engage in conversation, develop supportive relationships and partake in social and educational activities.”

According to its website, “the ‘1939’ Club is one of the largest and most active Holocaust survivors organizations in the world. It takes its name from the year 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland and changed the lives of its members forever. It is a fraternal and charitable organization.”

“The club was started in 1952 with 14 members and since grown to nearly a thousand members strong. It recently undertook a successful drive to recruit second generation members, the children of ‘1939’ Club members, so that its legacy will continue.”

Possibly this is exactly what Hass was expecting when she encountered the dramatic picture of the train tracks leading to the gate of the most famous concentration camp of the Nazi era. The name reinforced this expectation, but the reality she encountered caused her to drop hundreds of feet without a parachute, into the abyss of “extreme right wing activism.” She was shocked. What she found abhorred her, and her disgust was overwhelming. She was completely overcome.

Allow me then to ask the same question: What does CJHS have to do with children of Holocaust survivors? How many such children are active members? What does membership in the organization entail?

Hass attempted the research online, but only found Wise Montrose. Is the organization a one-woman organization, she rightly asks? Answers to the above questions do create a problem, for there is no “membership” per se, people are invited to attend events (at a price that varies usually between $15 to $25 per person per event) and receive e-mail communications, opinions expressed by Wise Montrose acting as an organization, or of late a compendium of articles and op-eds.

So what does the organization do that has any relationship to the Holocaust? Simply put: It is working tirelessly to ensure that Never Again means just that: NEVER AGAIN. Many observe current trends and undercurrents similar to those of the 1930’s. There is one main difference: Today, there exists a modern State of Israel, the Jewish homeland.

So what is the problem? This is the reason that Hass is at a loss. There is an Israel. Jews are protected. They have a shelter, a place to call home. The Holocaust, Hass is convinced, cannot happen again.

Wise Montrose sees people, primarily Jews, many sons and daughters of Israelis and/or children of Holocaust survivors who stand up and use what she believes is a false pretense to attack Israel and their own Jewishness.

Wise Montrose sees a world that enjoys nothing more than hating the Jewish state and would like to rid itself of this nuisance – Jews wherever they are – once and for all.

Wise Montrose sees her President not liking Israel, if to say the least, and acting accordingly. His (our) Secretary of Defense-designee is even more adverse to Israel than his Commander in Chief.

Hass thinks these are musings of right wing extremists. At the comforts of her home, she, much like most Israelis who have not – due to their age – experienced Israel’s wars for existence, takes Israel for granted. Israel is all-powerful. Israel is indestructible. Israel is forever. Hass reflects an attitude shared by most young Israelis. Wise Montrose, with wisdom only experience can afford, sees the glass half empty.

And so, I, a son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, whose family was mostly decimated and exterminated during the Holocaust, am reminded of the attitude of many Jews in the 1930’s: Germany is our home. Nothing can happen to us; we are safe and secure. Germany is the cradle of arts and culture. And later: It is not possible. The Germans are incapable to carrying out such atrocities. Tomorrow will bring sanity back to our lives and we will return to our homes. That attitude culminated in the murder of millions, lost in a deadly fog of denial.

This familiar attitude leaves Wise Montrose worried and caused her to spring to action. She has not stopped running since.

It started at her home where, if my memory serves me correctly, we gathered to hear a Muslim speaker. Then Wise Montrose invited total strangers to her home for Thanksgiving dinner or to celebrate a Jewish holiday. She extended her reach to the Christian community, collaborating specifically with one pastor.

Soon it became evident that Wise Montrose’s home, as large as it is, was insufficient to accommodate the ever-growing crowds.

Wise Montrose was a one-woman operation, and she was driven. Nothing, as any man knows, stops a determined woman.

She created something of which she is certainly proud.

It took a lot of effort and a very generous Jewish person to provide the next venue for the organization, used to this day. Wise Montrose manages to attract a crowd of hundreds mid-week, and they each pay for the experience.

She became a magnet pulling to attention those at the center, neither “extreme right wingers” nor extreme left, just plainly from the center. They would congregate to listen and hear various viewpoints, rational and thought provoking, challenging one to think on one’s own, analyze the data and draw conclusions without noise or propaganda.

It is said that a voter is smart. We, everyday people, are indeed not stupid. Wise Montrose provides a venue that attracts speakers – from across the US and from Israel. From far and near they come, and hundreds congregated to listen attentively and draw their own conclusions.

Hass decided to isolate a few “precious gems” and attack Wise Montrose on their grounds. Since she undoubtedly reviewed the scope of available information on CJHS website, she would have noticed that it became a resource center, a library of information. She was indeed abhorred. She was frightened. Right wing to extreme right wing, members of the Knesset, popular movements in Israel, thinkers, writers, bloggers and speakers all congregated in one place, around one anchor – Wise Montrose and her organization.

Israelis do not flatter or reward others for being proactive or creative, and definitely not for action, as good or beneficial as it may be. Imagine Hass when she realized the dangers of such a successful operation.

Likely it was a combination of hatred toward the “right” and the pain of images of the Holocaust that brought forth an attack on a caring and driven person who single-handedly created an organization to promote Israel and the numerous freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America.

Wise Montrose acts. She is determined to wake us up by connecting the dots and drawing the lines in a warning: We once promised NEVER AGAIN, and the time to act is now.

That, before all, is the most important lesson of all: Know one’s history else it is bound to be repeated.

In a world where most stand by as the active jump into the fray head first, Wise Montrose is determined. We should be grateful to her. So should Hass. Wise Montrose has never been to Israel, yet she devotes her life to protecting its existence. She receives no salary nor benefits from Haaretz newspaper. She does not live in Tel Aviv and enjoy its nightlife and the warm Mediterranean during the day.

She works tirelessly for Israel and the Jewish people. She may not have formally invited other children of Holocaust survivors to join, but we are always invited to her events. No one is excluded.

Wise Montrose has committed herself to doing all within her power and beyond to ensure she does not sleep nor slumber in these perilous times.

Hass, you researched Wise Montrose and her organization and reached an incorrect conclusion. To this I can attest.

Once again Haaretz has not missed an opportunity to criticize and attack lovers and defenders of Israel. Once again Haaretz chose to serve as the platform to create discord and distrust among those who stand steadfast with Israel.

I for one salute Wise Montrose for her determination and action. May many others continue to follow suit, each on their own path, for we are all destined for the same fate; unless we act both together and on our own.