Jewish History Through Baseball

I was recently asked to review Irwin Cohen’s new book, Jewish History in the Time of Baseball’s Jews: Life On Both Sides of the Ocean, for the Michigan Jewish Historical Society’s upcoming annual journal. Cohen, who writes for the Jewish Press, is a baseball maven and a history buff who has chronicled Detroit’s Jewish history and also worked for a time in the front office of the Detroit Tigers organization. I immediately agreed to write the review and an inscribed copy of the book arrived at my office a few days later.
Holocaust Memorial Center director Stephen Goldman addresses members of the Detroit Tigers organization

As I sat down to read Cohen’s book, which focuses on both baseball history and modern Jewish history with a special emphasis on the Holocaust, I thought back to this past winter when members of the Detroit Tigers coaching staff and front office were invited to the Holocaust Memorial Center here in Detroit, the country’s first free-standing Holocaust memorial museum. The HMC was included for a site visit on the Detroit Tigers Winter Caravan, a week-long publicity tour to get local fans in Michigan excited for the upcoming season. 
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Ani Ma’amin – The Most Meaningful Yom Hashoah

Today is Yom Hashoah, the annual day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust. While it is still morning it has already been the most meaningful Yom Hashoah experience for me.I actually had a feeling that Yom Hashoah 2013 wouldn’t be like past experiences. On Thursday, February 7 of this year the Shoah hit me like never before. I was freezing cold as I stood over the ravine at Babi Yar in Ukraine with two dozen of my rabbinic colleagues. Our shoes sunk into the snow as we stared out into the forest where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation between September 29–30, 1941.
The memorial at Babi Yar

 

This was not my first visit to Babi Yar. I had visited there eight years earlier, but this time was different. I have visited concentration camps and seen gas chambers, but this was different. Our brief memorial program consisted of lighting candles, throwing flowers into the ravine, reading poems, singing songs and reciting prayers in tribute to the memory of those who perished on that site. But it was the music that did it for me.

So too was the case for me yesterday in the late afternoon. It was the music. My friend Hazzan Daniel Gross, the cantor at Adat Shalom Synagogue, is a gifted opera singer, composer and musicologist. The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Dan recognized there was a need for a Yom Hashoah liturgy so as part of his senior presentation in the H.L. Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary he wrote one. Continue reading

Humor and the Holocaust: Where the Line’s Drawn

The New York Times article in yesterday’s Sunday Review section titled “The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking” uncovers the recent scholarly discoveries that the Holocaust was in fact even more catastrophic than researchers once thought. Such news almost 70 years after the Shoah reaffirms what a horrific, devastating era this was in human history.

The Holocaust researchers, according to the Times article, “have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945. The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.”

It is evident that while we are several generations removed from the Holocaust there is still new information coming to light about this dark period in European Jewish history. This makes it even more difficult to find humor in comedy from such tragedy and yet there has not been a single tragedy in the world that has been free from the reach of comedy. Comedians crack jokes about 9/11, worldwide natural disasters, the Chernobyl incident, plane crashes, Space Shuttle tragedies, and horrific mass murders. A common refrain following such off-color jokes is “Too soon?” But, when really is it not “too soon” to tell a joke about a catastrophe on par with the Shoah? Where is the line of taste when it comes to humor about the Holocaust and who do we trust to draw such a line?

An Austrian actor plays Hitler during a Berlin production of Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers (AFP/GETTY)


In the past week alone we have had to make communal judgment as to whether such comedians as Seth MacFarlane and Joan Rivers went too far in their Holocaust humor. Some have pointed to comic Sarah Silverman who has historically gotten a pass on her references to the Holocaust in her humor. Mel Brooks has famously been able to mock Hitler and the Nazis without drawing criticism. And Larry David wrote an entire episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which a Holocaust survivor and a past participant on the TV show “Survivor” argue about who endured the bigger challenge. It’s not about being Jewish and having a free pass to use Holocaust references in comedy, it’s about doing it creatively and not causing people to squirm.

In his debut as host of the Oscars, Seth MacFarlane made a Hitler reference when announcing the nominations for Best Picture, he joked about “Amour,” “The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something it was Hitler, but this is much better.” The day after the broadcast of the Oscars, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), under the leadership of Abraham Foxman, went after MacFarlane more for his jokes about Jews controlling Hollywood than for this Holocaust reference, but the comedian took a lot of flack for this joke too.

Much worse than MacFarlane’s Hitler name drop was Joan Rivers’ Holocaust joke on the red carpet before the Oscars. Rivers, who is Jewish and whose late husband lost most of his family in the Shoah, deadpanned about German supermodel Heidi Klum’s dress at the Oscars, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” Rivers refused to apologize for the joke stating, “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz, and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.”

The ADL sharply criticized Rivers for her joke calling it vulgar and offensive. Abe Foxman said, “Making it worse, not one of her co-hosts made any effort to respond or to condemn this hideous statement, leaving it hanging out there and giving it added legitimacy through their silence.”

The ADL is often the litmus test for when celebrities have gone too far in making light of the Holocaust. Foxman wasted no time in issuing statements after Jesse James and Prince Harry dressed in costumes as Nazis.

Jesse James, the former husband of actress Sandra Bullock received a Nazi hat as a “gag gift” from his Jewish godfather back in 2004 and a photo of him wearing the hat and pretending to be Hitler was released in 2010. Foxman at the time called it  “offensive,” “in bad taste,” “stupid behavior” and “insensitive behavior.” But Foxman clarified stating that the photo “doesn’t make him an anti-Semite.” Foxman continued, “I have more issues with his Jewish godfather who sent him this is a gift. I find that more bizarre. Why would a Jewish godfather send his godson such a gift? That’s outlandish!”

Back in 2005, photos began circulating of the young Prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume to a Halloween party. The ADL’s Foxman released a statement explaining that, “Our reaction to Prince Harry’s choice to wear a German uniform with a Nazi swastika armband was not that it was a Jewish issue. He offended all the victims of the Nazis and all who fought them, especially the British… Prince Harry’s apology should be not to England’s chief rabbi but to the British people, who suffered in the blitz and who fought valiantly against the Nazi onslaught. Prince Harry’s education should begin at home.”

There are ways to use the Holocaust in humor without getting Foxman to issue a press release. It can be done in a very tongue-in-cheek way on film or on Broadway like Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” It can also be done in a very dark yet creative way like Larry David did on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Sarah Silverman has been very successful in making fun of the Holocaust and Nazis in a shocking, yet acceptable fashion.

On stage in her movie “Jesus is Magic,” Silverman calls Nazis cute before they grow up, refers to the Holocaust as “the alleged Holocaust,” and says her grandmother had a vanity death camp tattoo on her arm that said “Bedazzled.” She tells the story of her niece who attends Hebrew School and called her up to discuss what she learned about the Holocaust. The young girl mistakenly explains that the Nazis murdered 60 million Jews during the Holocaust. Silverman corrects her saying it was actually 6 million, not 60 million to which her niece asks what difference it really makes. “Uh, the difference is 60 million is unforgivable.”

It’s a matter of style and substance. Humans need to be able to laugh; even at the incomprehensible tragedies of life. There is a certain waiting time that must occur before we are even able to laugh and no one knows precisely how long that is. When it comes to the Holocaust and humor, it’s a touchy subject. The red carpet of the Oscars wasn’t the right forum for Joan Rivers’ reference to the ovens during the Holocaust. It was both shocking and offensive. And even Seth MacFarlane himself was able to see that he could have used an alternative joke about the movie Amour that didn’t conjure up images of Hitler. Perhaps what makes talented comics like Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks, and Larry David so successful is that they can come up with ways to use references to the horrific and make people laugh without drawing criticism for being insensitive or offensive.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Holocaust Tattoos, Settlers and Quaker State Oil

I’ve written before on this blog about tattoos in the Jewish tradition. In fact, my 2008 blog post explaining that it’s only a bubba meisa (old wives’ tale) that Jewish people can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they have a tattoo remains one of the most popular posts on this blog.

Well, tattoos on Jews are back in the news (that rhymes). This time the story is about grandchildren of Holocaust survivors getting their grandparent’s Auschwitz inmate numbers tattooed on their arm as a memorial. The article in the NY Times opens with the story of Eli Sagir who had the number 157622 permanently inked on her arm. That same number was forcefully tattooed on her grandfather’s arm by the Nazis at Auschwitz 70 years earlier. Sagir’s mother, brother, and uncle also had the numbers inscribed onto their forearms.

Photo by Uriel Sinai | NY Times

According to the Times article, “tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, and at the adjacent Birkenau the next March. They were the only camps to employ the practice, and it is unclear how many people were branded, briefly on the chest and more commonly on the left forearm.”

This new tradition is shocking, but some find it meaningful as a way to keep the story of the Holocaust alive as survivors are quickly dying off (there are currently 200,000 Holocaust survivors compared with 400,000 a decade ago). Some tattoo artists see the importance of this practice and don’t charge for their services. The descendants of the survivors interviewed for the NY Times story all agreed that they wanted to be “intimately, eternally bonded to their survivor-relative. And they wanted to live the mantra ‘Never forget’ with something that would constantly provoke questions and conversation.”

There is a certain irony in this story because many parents forbid their children from getting tattoos based on the notion that Holocaust victims were forced to be tattooed. But I think tattoos are just a reality in the 21st century and the idea that Jews with tattoos will be refused burial in a Jewish cemetery seems to have been debunked. The practice of wearing a grandparent’s (or great-grandparent’s) numbers from Auschwitz or Birkenau as a tattoo should be embraced as a new ritual for this generation. Just as survivors’ grandchildren asked them what the numbers symbolize, some day the grandchildren of the grandchildren will ask the same question. These tattoos will serve as a tribute to those who survived the Holocaust long after they die, as well as a memorial for those who perished.

Not all use of the Holocaust number tattoos is for good however. Seven years ago during the Israeli army led pullout from Gaza, Israeli settlers compared their plight to that of Holocaust victims. The residents of the Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif wrote their identity card numbers on their arms in protest. According to an article in Haaretz, the trend began when a Gush Katif woman refused to show her ID card to security forces at a security crossing and instead “she showed him her arm, on which she had written her identity number, in a simulation of the Nazi practice of branding numbers on the arms of concentration camp inmates. Security forces checked her identity and let her through the checkpoint.”

Ehud Yatom, a Likud member of Knesset at the time, expressed his disdain over this practice. “The use by a few disengagement opponents of Holocaust symbols and implications comparing the horrors of the Third Reich to the government’s disengagement plan, even if it is mistaken, constitutes a sin against the memory of the entire Jewish nation.”

Quaker State commerical

Numbers tattooed on ones forearm will always be a shocking image because of the Holocaust. For that reason a friend of mine was horrified when she saw a commercial on ESPN for Quaker State engine oil. She described the commercial to me in enough detail that I was able to find it on YouTube. The Quaker State commercial shows several drivers who are proud of how many miles their car lasted while using Quaker State oil. One man displays the number of miles his car survived with a tattoo on his arm. While I’m sure the company meant no disrespect to Holocaust survivors with this image (the tattoo is on the upper arm rather than where the Auschwitz numbers are usually found), it does show just how sensitive some people can be to that imagery. Here’s a link to the commercial.

As one daughter of a survivor who got her mother’s Holocaust numbers tattooed on her arm articulated “The fact that young people are choosing to get the tattoos is, in my eyes, a sign that we’re still carrying the scar of the Holocaust.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ki Tetzei: Our Names, Our Heritage

As a rabbi, one of my favorite phone calls to receive is from expectant parents who are in search of Hebrew names for their future child. Before even suggesting any potential names, I always preface my response with an explanation of how important names are to us as Jewish people. Our name is our legacy. It is not only our identifying label in the community, but it is also how we will be remembered.

“Crown of a Good Name” by Artist Mordechai Rosenstei

When you go up to the Torah for an aliyah, you are beckoned before the minyan and before God with your moniker including your parents’ names. You are not receiving this kavod (honor) alone, but rather with your entire heritage. In many lifecycle events, our Hebrew name is invoked and thereby our heritage is invoked as well. For our name is more than mere nomenclature, a classifying label – it is who we are, what we stand for, and from where we have come.

In Pirkei Avot, the Teachings of our Sages, R. Shimon taught: “There are three crowns. The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name exceeds them all.” To become a king or a priest, one must be born into this position. However, to achieve the crown of Torah, one must have a quick mind and a sound memory. One must be willing to learn and to grow. Thus, the crown of a good name transcends them all, for it is open to all.

Parashat Ki Tetze ends with the famous commandment to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors and to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Timche et-zecher Amalek mitachat hashamayim. Lo Tishkach. We must at the same time remember what the Amalekites did to our ancestors and also blot out their name. As the commentary in the Etz Hayim translation explains, we are not being commanded here to eradicate all recollection of the Amalekites. Indeed, we are commanded to remember forever what the Amalekites did. We must both remember what they did as well as erase their name. That, the Torah seems to be teaching us, is the ultimate revenge – to eliminate or wipe out a name.

On Purim, when we hear the name of Haman, the descendent of Amalek, read from the Megillah, we literally drown out the name. So too, when we utter the name of Hitler, arguably another descendent of Amalek, we make sure to add the words “yimach shmo,” that his name should be erased. But these stand as negatives; ways to blot out the name of evil individuals. If we look back only a few verses before the mitzvah to eradicate the name of Amalek, we learn of another mitzvah concerning names; but in this instance, it is a positive commandment. It is to carry on the name of an individual – the man who dies childless.

Levirate marriage or yibum is the commandment stating that the brother of a childless husband is obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law and the first son that she bears shall be accounted to the dead brother that his name should not be blotted out in Israel. Thus, the underlying intention of this mitzvah is that a man’s name should not disappear forever if he dies leaving no children to carry on his name. His legacy will be assured. We learn in the Book of Ruth, when Ruth’s relative Boaz marries the widower Naomi, that yibum is considered the ultimate in loving-kindness.

There is simply no better way to honor ones memory than by perpetuating ones name. Inherent in a person’s name are all of their achievements, their beliefs, and their ethical creed. Indeed, the memory of our loved ones is bound up in their name. When we remember their name, we maintain an enduring nearness to their neshama, to their soul.

On Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – throughout the Jewish community, on college campuses, in Jewish day schools, and in synagogues, the names of all six million Jews who perished during the Shoah are read to show respect to the dead by helping their names live on. Pronouncing these names, the names of those whose lives were cut short during the darkest time in our people’s history, is not only one of the greatest way we can carry on their legacy, but also the greatest way we can ensure that we remember what Amalek did to us and blot out their name. Zakhor, remembrance, can be for both good and evil. In remembering the good, we too, erase the evil.

We understand that while our body will eventually cease to function, our name will continue on. As a community, we have the mitzvah to perpetuate the name, the legacy, of others by carrying their name forward throughout the generations. Francis Bacon, the famous English essayist, lawyer, philosopher, and statesman, once said: “I bequeath my soul to God… My body to be buried obscurely. For my name and memory, I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next age.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Welcome to the Tribe Csanad Szegedi

Hungarian politician Csanad Szegedi would likely have stayed out of the media spotlight in the U.S. were it not for a recent revelation about his past. Szegedi, according to articles in the AP and Wall Street Journal, was a proud member of a far-right wing political party in Hungary that wasn’t shy about its wanton antisemitism. Szegedi’s party often complained about the “Jewishness” of other politicians and referred to Israelis as “lice-infested, dirty murderers.”

That in and of itself isn’t very newsworthy as antisemitism is still alive and well in Europe. What is newsworthy is the detail about his own history that Szegedi learned recently. He is the Jewish grandchild of Holocaust survivors. As Dave Pell, creator of NextDraft, wrote: “Mazel Tov, you idiot.”

After discovering his Jewish roots last December and going public about the discovery earlier this summer, the Hungarian politician met Hungary’s chief orthodox rabbi. Szegedi revealed this in an interview earlier this summer. The head of Jobbik, the far-right party with which Szegedi affliates, commemorated the 130th anniversary of the Tiszaeszlar blood libel, seen as one of the first anti-Semitic events in modern-era Hungary.

Szeged promised to step down from all party positions but hold on to his seat in the European Parliament. This story could end well however since Szegedi has promised to visit Auschwitz, where his grandmother had been held by Nazi soldiers. Perhaps, he’ll make the transformation of being an anti-Semite to helping to educate his Hungarian people about Judaism and the lessons of the Holocaust.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Jewish Flavor of Maurice Sendak

Originally published on JTA.org

A few months after my first child was born, I went to a bookstore to buy a few books that I thought needed to be on the bookshelf of my new baby’s nursery. Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” was one of those books.

A childhood favorite of mine, I knew the day would come when I would read it to my son as part of our bedtime ritual. I immediately recalled that bookstore visit when I heard the news that Sendak had died Tuesday from complications of a stroke. He was 83.

Much has been written about Sendak’s imagination and his uncanny ability to create characters to whom children can relate. Many of the characters in his books were developed based on the Torah stories that his father told him as a child. Sendak has said that he embellished those stories to make them more interesting for children.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw the Jewish flavor that peppers Sendak’s works.

The characters in his most well-known children’s story are based on his old Jewish relatives. In some of his stories, Yiddish words are interspersed with his poetic English.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is even based on the Yiddish vilde chaya (wild beast), which Jewish parents for generations have used to describe rambunctious children.

Some of Sendak’s stories, including “In the Night Kitchen,” speak to his own fears of the Holocaust. His immigrant parents lost most of their family members in the Holocaust and reminded him that he would have had many more cousins were it not for the Nazis.

Having learned that Sendak was influenced by his father’s nightly bedtime stories drawn from the Torah, I have found real value and meaning in reading Sendak’s books to my own children at bedtime. His children’s stories are my kids’ most requested bedtime books.

Over the years, I’ve read “Where the Wild Things Are” to my children many times. In fact, I recently read it to them in Hebrew.

Just a week ago, my daughter brought home a Hebrew version of Sendak’s masterpiece. His brilliance comes through no matter the language.

Turning the pages of the Hebrew translation, I began to laugh as I recalled the author’s uproarious appearance on “The Colbert Report” earlier this year.

Even at 83, Sendak was still entertaining both children and their parents.

His memorable illustrations and ability to turn scary monsters into lovable friends will live on into future generations, and I look forward to the day when my own children will read the stories of Sendak’s wonderful imagination to my grandchildren.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Evan Kaufmann – Jewish Hockey Player for Germany

Originally published at JTA.org

More than 65 years ago, Evan Kaufmann’s great-grandparents were murdered in the Auschwitz death camp. Now he is taking the ice for the German national hockey team.

Following a successful hockey career at the University of Minnesota, Kaufmann tried out for several professional clubs in the United States before being advised by his agent that his best option was to play for a team in the German Ice Hockey League, or the DEL. His late grandfather’s German roots enabled Kaufmann to receive German citizenship quickly, and he and his wife, Danielle, relocated to Dusseldorf in 2008.

This weekend, the 27-year-old forward will represent the German national team in the Minsk Cup, a four-nation tournament. He also plans to compete with the national team in May’s world championships, and hopes to have a chance to make the German Olympic squad that will compete in the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.

During his first years playing for the DEG Metro Stars, Kaufmann kept his Judaism to himself and didn’t tell his teammates that he was the grandson of a survivor or that his great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust.

“At first I was pretty uncomfortable expressing that I was Jewish and speaking about my family’s background, but that was true even in America,” Kaufmann told JTA. “It’s not something in the hockey world that is really talked about. It’s not something I was comfortable sharing with most people. But I’ve found that the younger generation here in Germany is open to differences, and from my experience they’ve all been interested in knowing more about being Jewish, including the holidays and traditions.”

Kaufmann and his wife are expecting their first child, a son, in June and will be relocating from Dusseldorf to Nuremberg, where Kaufmann recently signed a three-year contract with the local team, one of 14 in the German hockey league. [The Nuremberg team’s arena is located on the same grounds as the Nazi Party’s rally grounds]

How did his parents react when he decided to play professional hockey in Germany?

“They were a little unsure initially just because of everything that happened [in Germany], but they knew it was my lifelong goal to be a professional hockey player and I committed so much time to it,” Kaufman said.

“It’s an issue not just for them but for a lot of American Jews in general. Germany is so different today than it was back then. I wish more people could come over here today so they wouldn’t have to carry that stereotype forever.”

Being chosen to play for the national team carried with it mixed emotions for Kaufmann.

“A lot of the time I was thinking whether my grandpa would be happy about this or sad or mad,” he said. “The more I thought about it, I know he had plans to come back to Germany before he died. He wasn’t able to, but that helped me get over those initial fears. I feel more pride with the association of feeling German than I ever thought I’d have.”

Observing Judaism has been a challenge for the young Kaufmanns as well.

“The first year we were in Dusseldorf, we went to a small Orthodox synagogue. We had a tough experience,” he recalled. “We were taking photos from the outside and we were questioned and had to show our passports because there was an incident there a few years prior. That spoiled it for us.”

The couple makes a point of trying to keep the Jewish traditions alive. They share holiday dinners together and observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the Passover seder. They had met at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, Minn., the Conservative synagogue where their families are members.

“They took notice of each other in our sanctuary when they were at High Holiday services a few years ago and started to date,” Rabbi Harold Kravitz recalls. “They married in our sanctuary a few years later.”

Since becoming more open about his Judaism and his family’s ties to the Holocaust, Kaufmann’s teammates have become more curious.

“They want to know what everything means for me compared to them, but ultimately they know who I am as a person,” he said. “Our friendships were established without religion, so it doesn’t change anything. I was always hesitant to talk about it, but now that I’m being more public about it, I’ve become more comfortable with the history. I think it’s a good story to express.”

While his teammates tell him that anti-Semitism still exists in certain regions in Germany, Kaufmann hasn’t experienced any firsthand.

“I don’t think it’s any different than in America or any other country,” he said. “There’s always going to be people who have their own beliefs. Personally, I’ve only had good experiences in Germany.”

Kaufmann knows that he has his detractors in the Jewish community who find it troubling that someone who lost members of his family in the Holocaust could be playing for the German national team.

“Initially there was a part of me that thought that way,” Kaufmann said. But, he added, “I’ve always been taught to give people a second chance.”

He adds, “Everything that happened was so long ago and in a country that was so different. Obviously I never want to forget what happened, and that’s why I tell my story. But to hold that against a whole country of people who had nothing to do with it would not be right.”

Kaufmann has considered that he could be competing against the United States in May at the world championships, but he’s not concerned.

“I’m focused on helping this team and playing my role within the squad to help us win hockey games, and I don’t think it matters who the opponent is,” he said.

In addition to fulfilling his dream of playing on the Olympic team in two years, Kaufmann also expressed his desire to get his son skating when he’s 3 years old, a year earlier than his own first time on the ice.

Update: The German National Team lost both of its games in this weekend’s tournament, but Evan Kaufmann was named player of the game in one of the losses. 

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Auschwitz Survivor’s Jewish Grandson Evan Kaufmann Plays For Germany’s National Hockey Team

One year ago today I waited in line to enter the Reichstag. The moment wasn’t lost on me. Almost seventy years prior, the Nazi government made every effort to wipe my people off the face of this earth. And there I was, with a dozen other American rabbis, about to walk into the historic Berlin building that is the seat of the current German government as Chancellor Angela Merkel was addressing Parliament. I smiled as I handed my passport to the German officer and placed my watch and wallet into the bin before walking through the metal detector. What an interesting world we live in.

Several people asked me how I was able to travel to Berlin and spend money in the same country in which the Holocaust was conceived and planned. I’m sure those same people are asking how American-born hockey player Evan Kaufmann can represent the German national team this weekend. Several of Evan Kaufmann’s relatives perished in the Nazi Holocaust. His grandfather Kurt survived Auschwitz before fleeing to the United States.

Evan Kauffman – DEG Metro Stars (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Kaufmann moved to Germany in 2008, but word is just getting out about this Jewish hockey player whose great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust playing for DEG Metro Stars of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. The 28-year-old forward hopes to bring Germany a victory in the Belarus Cup in Minsk this weekend when he plays for the German national team. Kaufmann, who is married to Danielle (the couple is expecting their first child in June), received German citizenship in order to play for the national team and is among the top scorers in the German ice hockey league. Kaufmann admits that his teammates are very curious about him being Jewish and often ask him questions. Kaufmann told the UK’s Daily Mail, “I didn’t have to think hard about it. It is a great honour but it will also be a very emotional moment for me when I hear the national anthem played.”

Evan Kaufmann’s bio on the DEG Metro Stars website explains:

Evan Kaufmann joined the team in the summer of 2008. He was the great unknown to the team of DEG Metro Stars. A college player with had no experience in professional hockey made​​, received a German passport has in a very short time captured the hearts of the audience. His technical finesse and his speed made ​​him a major player in the third line of attack in Dusseldorf. So it was no surprise that his contract was extended for a few months ahead of schedule for two more years. It should be worth it. In the 2010-11 season Kauffman became the second-leading scorer behind Patrick Reimer. Together with Tyler Beechey and James Connor, he made a splendid swirling storm formation, which has established itself as the second offensive series and was instrumental in moving into the playoff semi-final. Kaufmann, whose grandfather came from Germany, began his career in the American Junior League for the River City Lancers. After a very strong year Kaufmann moved to the University of Minnesota to study and play Hockey. After his four years at the University of Minnesota, he devoted himself entirely to hockey.

While Evan Kaufmann isn’t the first Jewish individual to compete for Germany in the post-Holocaust era (a Jewish man swam for Germany in the 1952 Olympics and a Jewish woman swam for Germany in the 2004 Olympics), he is the most notable. It is certainly an interesting story that seven decades after his great-grandparents and other relatives were murdered by the Nazis, Kaufmann is proud to represent Germany on the ice. This is just one more way in which the Jewish community will come to view Germany differently. Never forgetting the massive tragedy of the Holocaust, we understand that this is a new Germany… A Germany we can cheer for proudly in this weekend’s Belarus Cup. Good luck to Evan Kaufmann and his DEG Metro Stars.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Newt Gingrich’s Robo Call Not Kosher

Mitt Romney managed to win the Florida primary today despite Newt Gingrich’s attempt to convince Florida’s Jewish population that Romney forced Holocaust survivors to eat non-kosher food.

Gingrich’s Robocall emanated from a 2003 veto that Mitt Romney cast while he was governor of Massachusetts for denying $600,000 in additional funds for poor Jewish nursing-home residents to receive kosher meals. Last week, the the New York Post reported that Romney prevented the funding of $5 per day because he thought it would “unnecessarily” lead to an “increased rate for nursing facilities.” (Eventually, the Massachusetts State Legislature approved an amendment to restore the funding for the Jewish nursing home facilities.)

What is funny is that four days ago Zach Silberman wrote on JTA.org about Romney’s 2003 veto leading to kosher meal cuts for poor nursing-home seniors and concluded with this question: “Will Romney opponents try to make hay of the story in a state loaded with elderly Jewish voters?” The answer was: Of course they will.

Here is the text of Newt Gingrich’s Robocall:

As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher. Where is Mitt Romney’s compassion for our seniors? Tuesday you can end Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy on religious freedom, with a vote for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Newt 2012.

Here’s Newt Gingrich’s Robocall:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller