Monthly archives "January 2019"

Linking to the Ancestors

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

The balmy weather and the vivid greenness of surrounding nature in Los Angeles in the last few days (after all, we did have a week of rain about a week or so ago) reminded me of the paradisal gentleness of nature in Bali (if you put aside the heaps of plastic that have accumulated on their once pristine beaches). Surrounded by Muslim neighbors in other Indonesian countries that do not include Judaism among the allowed official religions, Bali is a Hindu country and welcomes people of all religions.

Their own religion places great stress on connection to ancestors. For the Balinese, this beautiful island will always be the land of their ancestors. “Our young people always come back,” an ageing Balinese man told me. “They go away to get educated – doctors, lawyers, teachers – but they always come back to Bali. Because this is where their ancestors are.”

The roads to the main cities and marketplaces may be overcrowded with tourists now, but in at least one remote village, tradition is honored. Once a year the villagers unearth the buried bones of their ancestors and wash them. Then, satisfied they have honored their ancestors’ memory, they rebury the clean bones. In the ancient Balinese way, they are paying respect to those who have come before them.

In rural houses of worship, the large statues that represent the many gods of their Hindu mythology, are draped by the local people with cloaks and hats made of gold cloth or other fine materials. Food and drink are set before them as if they were still present in this world. Of course, the local people “know” that statues are not really gods; they are symbols, representations of their belief system, and they are paying homage to these beliefs.

I bought two shadow puppets made in the traditional way from leather (not plastic, though these were available as well) and hand-painted to represent these mythological gods. They have exotic names and stories that the Balinese people well know and treasure. For the moment, they sit in a tall vase in my home, souvenirs of a country blessed by nature but already caught in the throes of environmental change. Yet the casual tourist, like myself in a brief visit over two days, is likely to feel that Bali will be all right. Because the children will always come back.

During my brief visit, I kept thinking of the opening verses – “Patriarchs” — of the central prayer of the Jewish religion: “The Amidah.” We Jews, too, know where the ancestors are: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.  Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah to bury Sarah, a purchase in silver coins recorded in the Torah. Joseph carried his father’s bones back to the Holy Land. And the children will always come back to honor and protect their memory.

©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2019. All rights reserved.

Hitler in Los Angeles?

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Just the other day, I attended a compelling but disturbing slide-lecture by acclaimed historian Steven J. Ross, and now I’m in the process of reading his recent book on the same subject, “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews foiled Nazi Plots  Against Hollywood and America. Small wonder it has already been picked up for production as a film. Every American, let alone every Jew, should read this book because it is sorely needed to shed some light on the period of societal turmoil in which we are living in currently.

The very first paragraph, a quote from Adolf Hitler in 1933, soon after his election as Chancellor of the Reichstag, is in itself instructive. The Nazi intent was to “undermine the morale of the people of America….Once there is confusion and after we have succeeded in undermining the faith of the American people in their own government, a new group will take over…and we will help them assume power” [1].

As I read these words, the 2017 neo-Nazi, torchlit march in Charlottesville, South Carolina took on a new dimension.  Especially chilling is Ross’ claim that the U.S. government of the 1930s and even into the early 1940s was so preoccupied with outing Communist subversion in America that they totally missed the clandestine Nazi actions that were undermining the U.S. with intent to eventually take over the government.

Antisemitism was the rallying call of this Nazi group, made up largely of German-Americans, with prominent and powerful people in the Hollywood motion picture industry as their  target. The plots were aimed at Jewish people in the film industry – the killing of top movie moguls and film stars with world-wide recognition like Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson. These Nazis were plotting to hang 20 prominent Hollywood Jews as a signal of permission for other acts of terror against the Jews to follow throughout the U.S.

Why Hollywood? Why Los Angeles? Hollywood was seen as a perfect propaganda platform for worldwide attention. The selection of Los Angeles had a geographical motive. According to Ross, Hitler’s government was planning to unite with Japan to control the world. (It is not surprising, therefore, that Japan would attack Pearl Harbor, and America had no choice but to enter World War II.) Los Angeles is located halfway between Berlin and Japan so that, in the view of these foreign powers, it was a perfect place  — no, not Florida! — for an American Nazi “White House.” There was even a site chosen (Murphy’s Ranch, near L.A.) where militant Nazi drills of recruited young people took place.

The telling of these events is not a fantasy; what happened is real, supported by very considerable evidence.

It sounds almost impossible that all this clandestine activity could have taken place under the nose of the American government without at least some officials at various levels being aware of it. Sadly, some were not only aware, they were complicit.  So at this point, what Ross’ book details takes on the dimensions of a spy story, replete with double agents.

The spy story gets even more complicated. A small cadre of Jews, however, led by attorney Leon Lewis and aided by some dedicated Christians as well, don’t take these subversive goings-on lying down, however, and  they establish their own counter spy network to foil the plots against the U.S., and specifically Jewish Americans. When I have read the book from cover to cover at least once, I’ll probably write more about what took place. But I don’t want to spoil the action for you, so, in the meantime, it’s a really good idea for you to read it yourself.

[1] Steven J. Ross, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), p.1.

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