A tree-of-life tree that is more deadly for the Jews, but there is hope


A fighter opened fire in a synagogue to kill the Jews, simply because they are Jews. This can not happen, not in America, nor in 2018. Of course it can.

It is Wednesday, October 24, And we walk down a road in the old Jewish quarter of Shanghai. Yes, China's largest city has an old Jewish quarter. As in many cities around the world, relatively few Jews live in the Old Jewish Quarter anymore.

Our tour guide tells us backstory. In the late 1930s, Jews who escaped Nazi persecution had few options. Shame, the United States and other leaders have closed their borders to everyone, except for a refugee incident. About 20,000 European Jews turned to Shanghai, one of the only places to accept.

Shanghai's Old Jewish Quarter With the outbreak of World War II, Japanese troops took control of the city and most of the Jews were forced to become known as Shanghai's ghettos. (Photo: Bill Sternberg / USA TODAY)

Despite the enormous cultural and linguistic barriers, the Shanghai Jews began to develop a thriving community. Unfortunately, they never lived happily ever since. Jews rarely do so.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Japanese troops took control of the city and most of the Jews were forced to become known as Shanghai's ghettos. The German Allies of Japan pressed for their extermination either with their poisonous gas or by placing them on ships to be bombed in the sea. However, unlike the ghettos of Europe, mass murder projects have never occurred.

Plaque that marks the former Shanghai home of Michael Blumenthal, a Jewish refugee who will become the US Treasury Secretary. under President Jimmy Carter. (Photo: Bill Sternberg / USA TODAY)

After the release of Shanghai in 1945, most of the Jews who survived the war left the city. One of them, W. Michael Blumenthal, went to America where he went to serve as Secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration. We see a slab in the house at Chusan 59, where Blumenthal lived after he came to China from Germany at the age of 13.

It's Saturday, October 27thAnd we are back to the United States, a place the Jews considered to be a safe harbor since President George Washington sent a letter in 1790 to the Jewish Assembly of Newport Rhode Island. America, Washington writes, is a place where fanaticism and persecution will not be tolerated, where "everyone will sit safely under their own wine and figs and there will be no one to make him afraid."

We have breakfast. CNN is in the background. Extraordinary news. An active shooter in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Reports of multiple accidents in the synagogue of the tree of life. A leader who wanted to kill the Jews, simply because they are Jews.

This can not happen, not in America, nor in 2018.

Of course he can.

More: How do we deal with anti-Semitism in 2018? Look for Sabbath, stand with Jewish neighbors.

It's Sunday October 28thAnd we pay a condolences to the family of Henry Greenbaum, who died at the age of 90 on the day we were in the old Jewish quarter of Shanghai.

Henry was a Holocaust survivor, a sad shrinking witness. He managed to survive from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the famous Nazi assassination complex in Poland, where more than 1 million people were massacred during the World War II. Henry, who lost his mother and five sisters in the Holocaust, survived a head shot during an escape attempt and dropped to 75 pounds when US troops found him in 1945.

And he came to America after the war. He started a family, handled a dry cleaning business, and later volunteered at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum where he would show his guests the Auschwitz-A18991-tattoo on his hand.

In the Shiva service, several mourners agree that it was for Henry's best not to hear about the massacre of the Pittsburgh Synagogue. It would be broken.

It is Tuesday, October 30th, And we are in a special mourning and healing service at a temple in Rockville, Maryland. The sanctuary is full of capacity. A while ago, one of the women killed in Pittsburgh, Joyce Fienberg, 75, had celebrated grandnephew's bar mitzvah here.

Pittsburgh was the most violent, lethal attack on Jews in the US history. It was, says the senior rabbi, "a difficult and dark week." But there is a reason for hope.

The day after the attack, a class from the nearby church of Sich emerged unexpectedly in our synagogue. "We have to go there," said an 11-year-old Sikh girl to her classmates.

This instinctive act of solidarity, along with other outflows of interreligious support, shows that we are not alone, the rabbi says the sorrowful church.

Bill Sternberg is the author of the editorial page. Follow it on Twitter: @bsternbe

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