Sitting in the Garden of the Finzi-Continis: Time to Wake Up

Sitting in the Garden of the Finzi-Continis:

Time to Wake Up

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

For the last twenty years, the members of my family and I – originally from the cooler climes of Canada – have been fortunate to be living in California, a landscape of uncommon beauty. Our garden is blessed with oranges, lemons, other delicious fruits, and the healthy vegetables we grow. Even grapes (rather small ones). Roses and other aromatic flowers bloom around us. We are shaded by tall trees and enjoy a solar-heated swimming pool. Just the other day, we drove my grand-daughter to the University of California at Santa Barbara, a stunning college complex overlooking a sandy beach. The campus is such a popular choice this year that a diversity of very bright students are inhabiting its residences three, rather than two, to a room. (In all fairness, I must mention here that my grandson is now in his second year at the highly-rated University of British Columbia, also a campus of great beauty.)

Yet increasingly, in the midst of all this natural and academic well-being, I am beginning to feel as if I am sitting in “the garden of the Finzi-Continis.”  As those who are old enough to recall, this excellent movie, produced in the 1970s and based on a book of the same name, depicted the gracious life of a leading, wealthy Jewish family in Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s. The refined family members are concerned with beautiful things, with their accomplished circle of artistic friends, with gentlemanly sports activities like tennis, and with a warm and welcoming hospitality that keeps the sinister political activity growing all around them at arm’s length. Until it encroaches on their own lives, ultimately destroying them.

Now it is 2018. And this is real life, not a film. What happened in the 1930s and 40s is, of course, history. Yet as a Jew and a Rabbi, I am shocked by the anti-Semitic “dog whistles” multiplying once again in the public sphere. In the U.S.A., welcoming land of liberty? How can I dismiss anti-Semitic sentiments when they come directly from the lips of a totalitarian Russian leader given free reign to express them on national American television. On CNN, for example, where I heard with my own ears Vladmir Putin insinuating that the Jews, not the Russians, were responsible for manipulating the U.S. elections. “Blame the Jews,” he said. “Maybe they were Jews with Russian citizenship.” The dual implication is that Jews in Russia cannot really be citizens, and, furthermore, that Israel is behind it all.

Putin’s despicable comments were REAL news. WHAT HE SAID WAS A LIE, BUT IT WAS REAL THAT PUTIN SAID IT.  And, yes, Putin has been asserting this canard for some time.

For those of us who have witnessed malevolent times, our collective memory springs into action. Certainly, various Jewish groups in the U.S. have already protested. They have “compared Vladimir Putin’s comments about the 2016 election to anti-Jewish myths that helped inspire the Holocaust, “ wrote Avi Selk in the Washington Post (March 11. 2018).

Unfortunately, Israel (read Jews as subtext or vice versa) has been the recipient of anti-Semitic attacks from both the political far-right and the political far-left. The infamous linguist, Noam Chomsky, an internationally-known far-leftist – and for years a virulent antagonist of Israel years — has recently contributed to the mix by maligning Israeli lobbying in the 2016 election.

On both television, and in a Gatestone Institute column,  lawyer Alan Dershowitz angrily referred to  Chomsky’s downplaying Russia’s interference in the  American elections, while, at the same time, Chomsky asserted that “the Israeli government’s influence operations are far more powerful [than Russia’s].”

The danger inherent in intentionally targeted words like Putin’s or Chomsky’s is that, as our Jewish history all too well testifies, they can and do incite evil actions. “Good” people — that is, those with ostensibly good intentions — usually don’t anticipate the malevolent actions that may result from those words. By the time, the “good” people wake up, it is often too late. The evil actions may have have progressed beyond what those with good intentions could have imagined, even in their wildest nightmares.

Even as I write this, even as I realize that there are gradations of good and evil, and that sometimes they intertwine, I continue to believe with all my heart that eventually good overcomes evil. The question is when. As humans, unfortunately, we have to adjust our time frame. The overcoming of evil actions takes time, sometimes generations Sometimes there is denial.  It takes time for an entire population to sufficiently understand, that no matter how you sugarcoat it with lies, what is evil is not good.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.