The featured obituaries in the NYTimes of April 7th review the lives of three Jewish men, ages 85, 86 and 90 who all were born and raised in Brooklyn and all went on to great achievement in their respective fields. Baruch Blumberg (85), became a Nobel laureate in the field of biochemistry but was also a medical anthropologist. He discovered the virus that causes hepatitis B and helped to develop the vaccine against it. He was a graduate of Far Rockaway High School which has the distinction of schooling two other Jewish Nobel prize-winning alumni - Richard Feynman and Burton Richter. W.H. Prusoff (Bill, 90) was a pharmacologist at the Yale School of Medicine who, along with a partner, developed the first anti- AIDS drug. Prior to that, he synthesized a drug to treat infant keratitis, a major cause of blindness. For his work on these and other drugs, Dr. Prusoff is referred to as the father of anti-viral chemotherapy. His parents were immigrants who ran a small grocery store so Bill undoubtedly went through the Brooklyn public school system until he went to college. Stanley Bleifeld (86), a sculptor whose works are found in American museums as well as the Navy Memorial in Washington, was similarly a product of the Brooklyn school system. He grew up to be a man who sculpted military men and the great baseball players who are immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Had these men grown up in Germany or any other country in Europe, instead of going to a Brooklyn high school, they would have been rounded up for concentration camps or forced to dig huge pits, then stand at their edges where they would be shot with one bullet and either killed or buried alive under a mass of entire villages of dead or dying Jews. Had they made it to their seniority in Israel and lived in any of the settlements, they might have already been uprooted by the Israeli government, or killed or injured by one of the thousands of rockets and missiles deployed by Hamas against civilian targets in Israel. They would understand that in no uncertain terms will a Palestinian state ever accept any Jews living within its midst. And the world is comfortable with this stated intention; so much so that the International Monetary Fund has endorsed the impending statehood of Palestine, its only caveat being that Israel stop restricting access to sources and markets so that the economy of the west bank and Gaza can flourish - and more money can be spent on targeting Israeli citizens for death.
It’s easy to criticize Israel in absurd political terms - colonialism, racism, apartheid, disproportionate force, occupation - these are buzzwords that get thrown about by the ignorant and the malign, those who don’t know history and those who willfully distort it. But while we read two pages of biographies in the obituary section, let’s remember that the citizens of Israel are people just like Messrs. Blumberg, Prusoff and Bleifeld. They are the children of Jewish immigrants who fled or were evicted from all parts of the world or who survived extermination by the most advanced civilization in Europe. The brilliant contributions to medicine by Baruch Blumberg and Bill Prusoff would never have happened had Hitler had his way. Mr. Bleifeld would never have graced the world with his artistry.
Today we have radical Islam instead of Nazism but the declared purpose is the same and though we continue to see their evil scourge across Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States, we have equivocated and appeased and now are actively assisting their rise to political power across the Arab world. We are enabling a return to fundamentalism of the worst kind - the restriction of learning,the persecution of women and people of other faiths, the hobbling of scientific inquiry, the elevation of religious dogma over intellectual curiosity, the very real threat of genocide against all Jews. The obituaries in today’s Times stand as testaments to the freedoms of the west and the incredible returns that accrue to mankind by giving people access to education and incentive to experiment. The Jews in Israel, as Jews in America and all over the world, have been in the vanguard of medical and scientific discovery and artistic expression. Yet anti-semitism has risen steadily throughout the past decade, particularly among the most educated elite of Europe and North America. The three men of today’s obituaries lived through the decade of the holocaust, the worst apocalypse that ever befell their people. We honor their accomplishments and their memories by safeguarding the freedom and genius that cultivated them. We honor their brothers and sisters in Israel by guaranteeing its safety along with ours against a world of darkness spearheaded by Iran and espoused by all the branches of radical Islam.
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