Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Jews are the Canaries of the World…

They are easy to miss. They are displayed way above eye level in a corridor that one passes through from one exhibit to another. Interactive booths with seats line the walls, attracting everyone’s attention down instead of up. Perhaps the designers of the United States Holocaust Museum planned it this way to make a point about how easy it is to ignore the “writing on the wall.”

In this case, the writing literally on the walls are the front pages of newspapers from the 1930s and 40s reporting on Hitler’s plans to exterminate the Jewish people. What these newspapers tell us is that the Holocaust was not inevitable. It happened not because Hitler was a maniac; not because German culture was authoritarian; not because centuries of Christian anti-Judaism gave power to Hitler’s anti-Semitic claims. The Holocaust happened because otherwise good people and the nations they lived in let it happen.


Will they let it happen again?

That is the specter raised by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent statement that Israel should be wiped off the map. He clearly has the will and the motive, and may soon have the physical nuclear capability to make his threat real.

His statement is the most recent reminder of the special role Jews play in the world.

It used to be that when miners descended into the earth to dig, they took with them a canary. If the canary died, they knew that they had to get out of there because the air had turned deadly.

We Jews are the canaries of the world. In a society in which Jews are attacked, no one is safe.

The killing machine the Nazis created to destroy the Jewish people killed not only six million Jews but millions of others. The terrorists who hijacked the planes that flew into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and crashed in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11 were the heirs of those who first hijacked planes to take Jewish hostages. If Iran talks with impunity about wiping one country off the map, no country is safe.


Speaker of the Swedish Parliament Bjorn von Sydow understood this when he said: “I am willing to defend the right of Israel to exist as strongly as I defend the rights of my own country to exist.” While Ahmadinejad’s statement has been condemned by Western leaders, only Sweden responded unequivocally by cutting all bilateral contact with the Iranian parliament. If anything is to be learned from the Holocaust, other nations will follow Sweden’s lead and go even further to impose sanctions and isolation.

What about us? It’s not exactly a privilege to be the canary of the world. As an Israeli congregant once quipped, “For this we were chosen? Let God choose someone else!”

To be fair, we are not the only people to suffer as the world sits idly by. Rwanda and, currently, Darfur ( are just two of the recent genocides to come to mind. However, Jewish history is among the most marked by such recurring atrocities.


I am not sure why God chose us, the Jews, for this particular purpose, as canary of the world. Perhaps it is the burden of being custodians of the special message which is Torah: that human equality, the rule of law, the limits of power, and the dignity of every individual are not idle dreams but concrete, achievable goals for which we are to consistently strive. Being the canary for us is not a state of being the victim. Being the canary of the world comes with a moral responsibility to be the conscience of the world as well.

The newspapers on the walls of the Holocaust Museum remind us that it is all too easy, when reading bad news, to simply turn the page. Our job, as Jews, is to make sure no one turns the page, not just for us, but for all who are the targets of unmitigated hatred.

The newspapers also remind us that such hatred spreads to envelope the world when left unchecked. That is why it is not just for Israel’s sake that America and other nations should sanction and isolate Iran. It is for all our sakes.

Comments read comments(19)
post a comment

posted December 31, 2005 at 12:31 am

Dear Rabbi Eliyahu Stern, Yhe stark and dark truth is that these people ,Governments and religions,willing let the Holocaust happen.They secretly wished that Germany would accomplsh the task and then they could follow suit.It was not,for the most part, an open or advertised approuval but a secret,a sesret that to this day most western Gov’ts want to continue to hide.This is not a fantasy of my creation but fact. Problem is,many of these fact are hard to prove.Just one example is the date claimed by the U.S.A. as to their knowledge of the Holocaust,it’s a true date in one respect the Government oficially recognized what was happening.That knowledge,and other information was withheld from Congress and the American people.There are so many,that it is quite frightening. bonniejocklennon

report abuse


posted December 31, 2005 at 2:55 pm

“many of these fact are hard to prove” Sounds like the “holocaust” itself.I’m sure you know that if you can convince people to believe in such gruesome fairy tales, you can convince them to believe any manner of nonsense. ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Furher = Jews, Israel, Sharon

report abuse

Ric Stef

posted December 31, 2005 at 9:29 pm

That the Holocaust happened is undeniable fact. Thank God the Germans were such good recordkeepers. Their mania for order extended down to the smallest details including meticulous records. Also, why did they feel it was necessary to destroy the gas chambers in Auschwitz in 1945 as the Russians approached from the East? If these were benign places of sanitation, why destroy them? The evidence of criminal activity is revealed by the acts of concealment, and “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

report abuse

C. Miller

posted December 31, 2005 at 11:38 pm

Personally I can’t believe that there is any doubt of the Holocaust. I’ve had the priviledge of spending some time with Holocaust survivors and hearing first hand the horrors that went on during that time. I wish all non-believers could meet some of these extraordinary people. Just having lived through it makes them extraordinary. It upsets me greatly that such atrocities were allowed to happen then and still occur today. Maybe not to the same degree, but still worldwide, we have people wanting to (and coming close to) eliminating entire groups of people. Why? What are they thinking? I’m glad to be blessed with a G-d that is loving to all peoples. I thank G-d that there is no more hatred in our world than there is. I seriously want to know what I, as an individual can do to stop this. I vote, but our leaders never seem to do what they say or simply turn their heads unless the people in trouble have something valuable to us. ie-oil. We have to each and every one, speak of and pray for peace. Take our outer covers off, and we are all the same. We need to get to know and understand each other. Our world is getting smaller. It’s certain that we will be spending more time together in the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could enjoy it? Peace- C

report abuse


posted January 2, 2006 at 1:59 pm

Jews, unlike canaries, can fight back. Holocaust deniers remind me of ‘flat-Earthers’.Gail

report abuse

Dianka Fabian

posted January 2, 2006 at 2:14 pm

And possibly, the poor are the canaries of the US. Over the past quarter-century, not only have they lost basic humanitarian aid, but we now judge the poor as being something less than the rest.This has gone beyond mere perception;the poor here are treated in a manner that violates the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and yes, I do know that the US was a rare example of a nation that refused to ratify this agreement). Further, they have been stripped of many of their fundamental legal rights, making the perception of inferiority a matter of public policy and law. We now warehouse millions in prison for offences that would never result in incarceration for the wealthy. Over the past ten years, a number of policies have been turning the poor into a “subsidized” labor force, paid less than the legal minimum wage. Our celebrated welfare “reform” policies include a provision that allows the government (via DHHS) to “take indefinite custody” of the children of the poor on a range of possible accusations that DO NOT need to first be proved. Taken a step further (at least in WI), the poor no longer have the right to legally contest a DHHS decision to take his/her children.My point here is that, step by step, America has been moving in the same direction, for many of the same reasons, as Germany in the 20’s and 30’s, targeting the poor instead of Jews and other ethnic minorities. We need to ask where/if this process will end. Will our government, a few years from now, set up special “work camps” for the very poor, where they are imprisoned, forced to work for their keep? It really isn’t impossible to imagine how, a few decades down the road, we will be dealing with those who are too old, ill or “rebellious” to accept their workfare assignments. This would be done for the sake of our economy, no doubt.Many would think that is too “far-fetched”. Is it? All it takes to succeed is the silence/indifference of the majority.

report abuse

Chana Gitel

posted January 2, 2006 at 2:58 pm

I’m reading this and all I’m thinking two things; The Iranian President has a poor use of tired retoric, and it’s not the Jews that are being decimated now. This begs the question, “What are “we” doing about and for the populations that are being targeted by war, disease and famine?” Will we yell so loudly for others as we do for ourselves?

report abuse


posted January 2, 2006 at 4:49 pm

“We Jews are the canaries of the world. In a society in which Jews are attacked, no one is safe.” What a load of crap. What sheer unadulterated arrogance. Since when are Jews any more special or worthy than any other ethnic/religious group? Case in point: if the state of Israel were stop existing tomorrow, the Jews would still exist in Palestine, New York, and in other places in the world just as they do now. They don’t need “Israel” to exist as a people. If that were true, then the Kurdish would have disappeared along time ago, as they do not have a state of their own. And lest anyone dismiss me as a “holocaust denier”, let me just say that I absolutely believe that Jews were killed by the Nazis, just as I believe the Nazis killed whole bunch of other people, including allied troops, and the lives of these others are no less important than the Jewish ones. Finally, I would just like to add that the state of Israel has around 300 nuclear bombs (even though Israel denies this fact), and that Iran as such does not pose a threat. And even if Iran got the bomb, it would be no different than Pakistan (another Islamic country) having the bomb. My suggestion to Israel: make peace with the Palestinians by setting up an independent and continuous Palestinian State, so that Iran and the other opportunists have one less excuse to threaten Israel’s existence.

report abuse

Dale Richey

posted January 2, 2006 at 5:26 pm

Israel, or should I say “Judah” your nation is mainly of Judah and Benjamin. There ARE 10 other Israelite nations that according to Genesis 49:, Are in the end times, (NOW) to exist. Joseph’s sons to be(now is) a powerful nation, and company of nations, Do you deny the USA and Britain are your brothers? The USA and Britain came to your national salvation in WW2. Our common God will, after so much destruction to come, return to save our peoples, Look up, Israel, It is coming soon!!

report abuse

Joseph D. Weinman McElwee

posted January 2, 2006 at 5:35 pm

I agree with most of what the seven previous commentors wrote but I would like to emphasize that it is the duty of each individual person to build toward a more perfect world. The blase and evil leaders of the governmental and corporate entities who allow, sometimes even promote and effect, the inhumane treatment of other humans can only get away with it because we the people allow it to happen. Nobody said it would be easy and without cost but we should all remember the poem with the line, “…and when they came for the trade unionists and I was not a trade unionist, I did not care.

report abuse


posted January 3, 2006 at 3:01 pm

The Jews need Israel. During and right after WWII, no one, no country, wanted to take in the Jews, knowing full well what was going in the Nazi Germany. To state otherwise is at best, delusional, and at worst, a bald faced lie.

report abuse


posted January 3, 2006 at 3:21 pm

About Susan’s unfortunate post: Israel almost certainly has made nuclear weapons, but it is almsot certain that Israel has not made 300 such weapons. There are at most about twenty targets worth an atomic bomb within striking distance of Israel. These targets are certainly well thought through and are targets that would stop an invasion of Israel quickly. There probably are senarios played out in Israeli military circles of the Musim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt, and attacking Israel with large forces with Israel pushed to extremis and taking out the Aswan Dam sending Lake Nasser into the Meditarranean along with most of the population of Egypt. The capitals of Syria. Jordan, and Iran might also be legitimate targets for nuclear strikesn in case of war, and there might be a few other targets with a few extra weapons to keep for redundancy. The battlefield use of nuclear weapons also mandates that Israel have a few extra, but it is just screwy to think that Israel would want 300 such weapons. About Jews living in Palestine if Israel were to fall: This is wishful thinking. The Jews of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon have been persecuted and driven out of these countries. The invasion of Iraq found that of the approximately 150,000 Jews in Iraq in 1948 less than 100 remained. The figures for most other M.E. countries are similar. An arab conquest of Israel would certainly result in a bloodbath, but I dont’ think Susan cares about this.

report abuse

Shayn J.

posted January 3, 2006 at 3:30 pm

Wow, some of these are pretty amazing and ignorant. To the one who believes the Holocaust did not happen…Do you believe the world is flat? How could something so huge have been made up? How could so many people in so many countries in so many religions be wrong? Go meet a survivor. Actually go meet a non-jew survivor of the war who lived in Germany or Poland and THEY WILL tell you it happened. We all need to wake up to our own backyard (USA) as well as what others wround the world in power say. These are tired times we live in where people will do anything to move ahead. Now more then ever we need to work together. Lets put the pressure to clean up the media to give truth not this dis-information they chose to tell us. If we as a people, not just Jew, Christian, Muslim or whatever our choice, step up and speak up for human rights it would be a much better place. But WE ALL need to start! Not just ONE person! Not just the rhetoric tossed around! But all together. Start with your own family and go from there. Pay it forward people…

report abuse


posted January 4, 2006 at 2:01 am

I don’t know who denied the holocaust on this board, but I know it wasn’t me. I stated that the Nazis did kill Jews, along with many others, and that the lives of these others are no less important than the Jews who died.

report abuse

Donald Wolberg

posted January 4, 2006 at 4:21 am

One can only be cocnerned that Jews and Israel must continue to demand a right to exist. The new enemy is revisionist history and cultural relativism. One can only be concerned that there are people who must delve into the “secrets” of Zionism, or look to a relativism of equivalence in the Nazi madness and its bizarre efficiency of death. Of course it was tragic that every day of World War II 29,000 people died be they Poles, Czechs, Russians, Romanians, Hungarians, French, Italians, Brits, Scots, Canadians, Ukranians, Dutch, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Canadians, Americans,Serbs, Croats, Kurds, and whoever else I missed. But no where was there a fierceness to exterminate every man, woman, or child such as was seen in the efforts of the Nazi death machine and its allies to seek, find and exterminate every Dutch Jew, Polish Jew, Russian Jew, Ukranian Jew, Italian Jew, French Jew, Norwegian Jew, Hungarian Jew, Croatian Jew, Romanian Jew, and on and on to any nationality-Jew within the grasp of the Nazis killing machine and its allies. And it would have continued everywhere in the world including Britain and America if the Nazis had been victorious. The ovens were made for Jews, and the world watched the ovens being made and being used. Zyclon B was made for Jews after bullets and automobile exhaust were found to be inefficient killing tools of Jews. It is the continued existence of Israel and its fierce determination to survive, that denies the Nazis killing machine its victory and bears witness to the holocaust.

report abuse


posted December 23, 2006 at 4:06 pm

Yes. Jews ARE the “canaries” of the world. Judaism has a sweet song….but unfortunately, the world cages us, (sometimes, quite literally….no, ACTUALLY!). and, like the canaries in the mines, we are the first to feel hatred and death. A comedian whose name escapes me at the monent said it best: “Jews have been CHOSEN for so many bad things, I wish they’d choose somebody else, sometimes.” I’ve just been listening to TVLAND’s review of famous TV catchprhases. One of them seem to go right to my own heart, Paraphrased, one is: “Silly Jewish Person — Christmas Joys are for CHRISTIANS”. (“Silly rabbit…TRIX is for klids”), and “Christians don’t have more fun….they have ALL the fun!) (“Do blondes have more fun?”) Being Jewish is no piece of cake. Personally, I see no advantage in it whatsoever — the chance of the Holocaust and/or the Inquisition reappearing is always there, and in the meantime, the FEAR of these things happening can truly make on paranoid. I begin to wonder if it’s true, what someone once said to me, “Thank goodness for the Anti-semites…if it wasn’t for them, the Jewish people would never stick together.” Is Judaism so poor in spiritual rewards, that FEAR is the only thing to keep Jews together? It certainly seems to be quite poor in material rewards…and, like it or not, we ARE living in a material world! I’D RATHER CHOOSE, THAN BE CHOSEN, PERSONALLY. I’m sort of a “Willian Shatner” Jew…can’t deny my Jewishness, but I don’t make too big a thing of it. “Leonard Nimoy” Jews LOVE being Jewish, and thats OK too.. I suppose my bottom line is this: I DON’T like being Jewish. But I also don’t like anyone telling me how to live my life. So — if someone else, (for whatever reasons), actually wants to be Jewish…who am I to tell them not to be? Live and let live is my motto, I guess.

report abuse


posted December 23, 2006 at 4:20 pm

Holccaust Deniers trap themselves very neatly. No one ever denies anything that is good. So, in denying the Holocaust happened, they are actually giving it credence! Yes, it happened. And it did not “only” happen to 300,000 people, as some say. A wiser man than I — ANDY ROONEY, on 60 Minutes, said the momenteous words, “It Happened”, on the “60 Minutes” show one day…and he should know….because he saw it all first-hand, as an American soldier and concentration-camp liberator. A neighbour of mine, a US wWII vet, was also a concentration-camp liberator — and it probably had a double-meaning to him, as my neighbour, like myself, is Jewish. The evidence–from WWII films of camps being liberated, to Steven Speilberg’s continuing project, “Voices of the Shoah”, shows, more each day, that indeed, the Holocaust DID happen. I feel that Holocaust deniers should be asked a SECOND questioln…the answer to which is, perhaps, as — or even more important, right now, than the answer to the first question. The Holocaust is HISTORY…until a time-machine is invented, we cannot undo the horror. But a second question also should be asked. And that is: DO YOU THINK IT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED? And even a third question: DO YOU THINK IT SHOULD EVER HAPPEN AGAIN? The answers to THESE quesions would show how a person feels NOW. Do we have the courage to ask them? I feel we must!

report abuse


posted December 28, 2006 at 1:42 pm

“Jews are the canaries of the world”. Yes, that about says it, and I’m very glad it’s finally been officially noted. If caged canaries were taken into the mines, so that if there was gas there, they weould smell it first…and so die, instead of the human miners….WHO, in their right mind, would want to be a “human canary” for the rest of humanity? Oh, one might be proud of being part of the “Chosen” people….but chosen for what? To die, to test the relative humanity OF Humanity at any given time? If one wishes to be a martyr, why not just join the Peace Corps or go into the Armed Forces, and risk life and limb for helping the poor and oppressed of the world….without becoming a living target for any idiot prejudiciced person…without necessarily helping others? Why continue this burden on one’s desendents? I’ve heard a story of a man who did NOT want his son circumsized. The boy was born in the 1920s. When, later, the Nazis came and asked him to drop his pants, (or probably tore them off)–voila! No missing fore-skin! The boy was left alone! As an American with dreams, I CHOOSE to be a “peacock”, and not a “canary”. Princess Grace is my heroine..not Anne Frank, who was a victim of choices others had made. Not just Nazis, either. Her own ancestors had “chosen” to stay Jewish…and, in the eyes of the rest of the world, stay damned. Though I respect everyone’s choice, I cannot understand why anyone would want to be even a figurative “canary”. Why can’t we all realize the TRUTH: that EVERYONE IS THE SAME: A HUMAN BEING! One God equals One Hunmanity!

report abuse


posted January 13, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Or perhaps not a peacock. On second thought, I’d far much rather be a swan. Graceful, above the fray, giving no opinions and taking no part in political or social conflict. SO perfect, SO serene. SO totally, delightfully un-Jewish. Yes! I’d much prefer to be swan, rather than a loud peacock, and certainly, certainly prefer to be a serene swan than a poor little victimized canary! I still can’t, for the life of me, see why anyone would actually Want to be a “Canary of the World”….but, as was mentioned on the television programme, “Star Trek”, ‘There’s no accounting for taste.’. Yes, Grace Kelly, Her Serene (!) Highness Grace of Monaco, DID die. But while she was alive, she was loved and admired. She was NO? afraid of being hated or discriminated against. She was “High Irish” to begin with….then a venerated Princess. Is there something called “High Jewish”? I doubt it….the Cohens and the Levites were sent to the concentration camps, and endured the pograms, along with every other Jewish person. Money didn’t help them either. Indeed, Jews ARE the canaries of the world. I hope I may be forgiven that I have higher hopes, and higher ambitions than that, for myself and those I love. Of course, I’ve seen too many variations in Jews…in Jewish People…to believe in any of the stupid anti-semitic stereotypes of the world. But to have these stereotypes visited upon myself and my loved ones? Not if I can help it! But I suppose — rebellious and infuriated though I am — I will stay Jewish….if only to prove to the anti-semites of the world that Jews are NOT all alike! I see Judaism as a RELIGION ONLY. And I truly believe that Jews are no better and no worse than anyone else. Just people. As varied as William Shatner and Jerry Lewis and Aba Eban and Meyer Lansky and Dinah Shore, (the daughter of a rabbi who NEVER let it be known that she was Jewish). And Muriel Siebert….SO estranged from Judiasm that she was not included in a large, coffee-table book of Jewish women. And Golda Meyier. The only thing these people had in common is that they were/are all Jewish. But I can’t want that for myself. I prefer the “Swan’s Life”. Can I have it, and stay Jewish too? I don’t know. But if I have to choose, I have no doubt whatsoever that I would choose to be the Swan, and never the canary!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in ...

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe ...

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s ...

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the ...

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced ...

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.