In the spring of 2018, I interviewed Deborah Feldman at a coffee shop in Berlin for a profile in The Jerusalem Post. I saw in her a kindred spirit. We were both authors, both granddaughters of Holocaust survivors, we both made a home in Berlin and I, too, left the Orthodox fold, although not the confining Satmar community in which she grew up.
Our debut books—hers a memoir, mine a novel—both cover the crisis of faith of an intellectually curious young woman.
I wanted to admire her, to overcome any envy I felt for her success as a bestselling author who got her book, Unorthodox, made into a popular Netflix series, my dream. I turned to a Talmudic adage I learned in my Modern Orthodox high school: Kin’at sofrim tarbe chochma. “Envy of scribes increases wisdom,” a loophole to the commandment, “Thou shalt not envy.”
I found her thoughtful, interesting and minimally friendly. Our paths would not intentionally cross after our interview. Our similarities did not lead to friendship.
Now, I understand why.
Deborah Feldman has appeared incessantly in my X (Twitter) feed since the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel, first via a viral clip of her interview with Markus Lanz on the German public broadcaster ZDF. In it, she schooled Vice Chancellor Robert Haback to “understand why the only legitimate lesson to be learned from the horrors of the Holocaust was the unconditional defense of human rights for all.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant. In typical left-wing intellectual fashion, she communicates vague banalities through humanitarian-sounding words. Is she implying that Israel is wrongly invoking the Holocaust to perpetrate “genocide” in Gaza? Does she think Israel should not retaliate for the brutal massacre that saw 1,200 Jews of all ages murdered, burned alive, raped and beheaded?
Seems so. Upon reading her recent Guardian column, titled “Germany is a good place to be Jewish. Unless, like me, you’re a Jew who criticises Israel,” that was so self-indulgent that even her allies are rebuking her, it’s clear that she has staked her claim among the radical, anti-Israel left.
On Nov. 11, she reposted an article from the fashionable, left-wing New Yorker “outing” the mayor of a town in Samaria as an extremist with an expansionist vision for Israel, with the warning: “Wake up?”
Wake up to what?
Apparently, to the conspiracy theory that hard-line Israelis must be secretly gleeful that Hamas committed such atrocities so that they could now realize their dreams of a Greater Israel,
“from the river to the sea.” Apparently, her call for “civil discourse” and fighting bigotry does not apply to the 800,000 “settlers” living in the biblical heartland. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for her to repost a prominent pro-Palestinian activist condemning Hamas’s gang rape of women, and captivity of children and Holocaust survivors, with as much passion as she condemns Israel’s war on Hamas.
At a time when members of pro-Palestinian mobs openly hail Hitler on streets worldwide, Feldman chooses to denounce one the most eloquent defenders of Israel and the Jewish people. She reposted a defamation of the British intellectual Douglas Murray as a “far-right pseudo-intellectual” for daring to opine that the Hamas terrorists were even worse than Nazis in the great pride they took in their gruesome crimes.
Murray argued that Nazis understood deep down that their murderous actions should induce shame. Anyone who visited Auschwitz notes with horror how the gas chambers were created in an attempt to steer clear of literal Jewish blood; gas pellets were dropped into the chambers to avoid face-to-face contact between the murderer and the Jew. Meanwhile, Hamas terrorists filmed with glee how they beheaded a man with a shovel, cut off a woman’s breast in front of her children and wiped out entire families.
Feldman and her ilk picked on Murray for his “Holocaust revisionism.” Actually, universalizing the Holocaust by making it about “everyone’s rights” and not distinctly the defense of Jews from genocide is the ultimate trivialization and instrumentalization of the Holocaust.
In The Guardian—a publication infamous for smearing defenders of the Jewish people—Feldman backs up her intellectual sleights-of-hand by name-dropping Holocaust survivor intellectuals like Primo Levi and Jean Améry.
For wisdom and inspiration, I turn to the great Henryk Arfa, my Polish-born grandfather and Auschwitz survivor. In the late 1980s and 1990s, he wrote stacks of letters and editorials about his war experience that I’m in the process of transcribing. Notably, he bemoaned Jewish treachery for contributing to the Holocaust, writing, for example, how Der Bund, the socialist Jewish movement in Poland, sought to curry favor with Poles by denouncing Jewish capitalists.
“These ‘good Jews’ labeled their blood-brother Jews—the factory owners, the shop owners and property owners—as ‘blood suckers’ and ‘parasites’ of society,” he wrote. “From that time on, the Poles and the Christian world generally did not know any Jew other than the ‘blood sucker’ Jew. Now we Jews blame the Poles for not rescuing Jews and risking their lives for the ‘blood-sucker Jew’?”
On Jews who volunteered to cooperate with Nazis in the hopes of bettering their fate, he wrote: “They were gas-chambered, too.”
Feldman laments how she is sidelined in Germany for daring to criticize Israel, especially its war in Gaza. She insults Germans by suggesting that German political support for Israel is guilt-based. She doesn’t seem to consider that the fight between Israel/Jews and Hamas/Hamas-apologists really is a fight between good and evil, regardless of what Germans did some 80 years ago. This time, thankfully, most Germans want to be on the right side of history.
Feldman was once a role model for me, but now she is a cautionary tale, no matter how much book sales of her latest book, which she is actively promoting, skyrockets from all of the attention. I admit that sometimes I’m tempted to make this war about “me.” What a great opportunity to promote my novel about the evacuation of Jews from Gaza! I catch myself in my narcissism, even though my intention is to spread good ideas rather than to garner fame and fortune; otherwise, I would have written a novel about Israelis oppressing Palestinians.
I, too, have been an “outcast” for deviating from mainstream Jewish positions, challenging the two-state “delusion,” criticizing former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of unchecked Muslim immigration and covering the AfD fairly as an independent journalist. My novels are filled with “criticism of Israel” and of organized Judaism but not from the perspective that salon Israel critics salivate over. I’ve lost jobs, media and social opportunities. But rejection is a price for being an independent thinker.
Feldman has taken herself so completely out of the Israeli, Jewish and even German mainstream that the label “extremist” can now apply to her, much like it does to the non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox community she left. Except for a fringe, almost every Israeli and Jew has put their civil enmity aside for the purpose of defeating the greatest evil-doers against Jews since Hitler. As my grandfather wrote: “In unity, we Jews are strong. Let’s start working toward unity—better late than never.”
These days, Feldman and I share something else in common: We’re both single Jewish moms. Since Oct. 7, I can’t look at my daughter the same way. I hug her every day as if it might be our last because we have seen what these extremist, expansionist Palestinian terrorists and their apologists can do.
So all I can do right now is fight Jew-haters, here and in Israel, as much as I’m able. I would do whatever I can to protect my daughter, even if it means forgiving the IDF for killing Gazan children that Hamas puts in the crossfire of a just war. That may make me an immoral person in Feldman’s eyes, but it makes me a damn good mother.
Perhaps Feldman, like the treasonous Jews that so bothered my grandfather, hopes deep down that she’ll be given a reprieve from Jew-hatred by becoming the darling of intellectuals and activists who loathe the idea of Israel fighting back. It’s as if she pleads: “I’m not one of those ‘blood-sucking’ occupiers!”
I’d like to believe she is naive rather than opportunistic, like Vivian Silver, the Canadian-Israeli founder of “Women Wage Peace” who made it her life-long mission to seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians. She personally drove Gazans for medical care in Israel. Originally counted among the hostages, her remains were eventually found in a pile of ashes at the kibbutz where she was murdered.
One of the IDF soldiers who fell in Gaza, Yossi Hershkowitz, a principal of a boys’ school in Jerusalem, posted a video message with a wish he did not realize would be his last. It was an instruction for victory.
“I ask from each person, every single one. The most important thing to me—a personal request: do not speak lashon hara about Am Yisrael (the Jewish people). None,” he said in a soft, kind voice, referring to the prohibition of “lashon hara,” which roughly translates here as “bad-mouthing.” “Do not speak a negative word. Do not go back to what was before. Nothing. There is no left-wing, no right-wing, no ultra-Orthodox, and nothing else. There are only Jews. The Hamas-Nazis did not care about who you voted for and what you thought. This is the soul searching we need to do.”
And what Feldman doesn’t realize, as she speaks lashon hara to the enemies of the Jews, is that he risked—and lost—his life for her, too.
This article originally appeared in German on Achgut.com.