Monday, April 27, 2009

Rabbi David Golinkin on the Bergson Group in Israeli History

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israeli Independence Day, Dr. Rafael Medoff sent me last week's interview in the Jerusalem Post with Rabbi David Golinkin, who stars as Rabbi Stephen Wise in the Jerusalem production of Bernard Weinraub's The Accomplices. An excerpt:
Your father, Noah Golinkin, was a young rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in those days. He and his classmates Jerry Lipnick and Buddy Sachs fashioned their own unique response to the news about Europe's Jews. Why?

After Stephen Wise snubbed them, my father and his fellow-students felt they had no choice but to create their own activist group, called the European Committee. No budget, no staff, no office, just some 20-somethings in their dorm rooms with a rickety typewriter. They organized an amazing conference in February 1943, bringing Christian and Jewish students from 11 theological seminaries together to learn what was happening to Europe's Jews and to discuss ways to help. My father and his friends also managed to persuade the Synagogue Council of America to launch a nationwide campaign to get synagogues to hold memorial rallies in May 1943, to insert special passages about Europe's Jews - written by my father - in their prayers, to wear black ribbons and more.

This was all a very important part of making the Jewish public aware of what was happening and of putting rescue at the top of the Jewish community's agenda. It's really remarkable to think that a handful of college students could make that happen.

Your father had just recently escaped from the Nazis and reached America. Usually one thinks of immigrants as being afraid to "make waves" in their new country. What made your father different?

He only arrived in the US in 1938. Through intensive lobbying in Congress, he managed to get his parents out in 1939 and his sisters out in 1942. This proved to him that lobbying did work. The second reason was simply his personality - he was a doer. If he saw a problem, he tried to solve it. When he saw the Jewish leaders staying quiet, he prodded them to act before it would be too late.

The controversy over president Roosevelt and the Holocaust continues to provoke debate, more than 60 years after the fact. Now it's coming to the Jerusalem stage. How do you think Israelis will respond to it?

Israelis care deeply about these issues, and they should. The Allies' response to the Holocaust has affected so many issues, from the creation of Israel, to the nature of America-Israel relations, to the influence of American Jews on US foreign policy. Also, many Israelis will naturally see Peter Bergson [Hillel Kook] as "one of ours" - he and the other leaders of the Bergson Group came to America from Mandatory Palestine, and after their work was done, they went back to Eretz Yisrael. Bergson and two of his colleagues even served in the first Knesset. The story of the Bergson Group is not only part of American Jewish history, it's a very important part of Israeli and Zionist history as well.