Mass. Board of Rabbis Issues Strong Statement in Support of Genocide Recognition

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By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

LEXINGTON, Mass. — Last week, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis issued a statement in support of universal recognition of the Armenian Genocide, in commemoration of its centennial.

The statement is notable in its strength and feeling.

“The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis reaches out in solidarity and sorrow to Armenians everywhere on the one hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We acknowledge the pain carried through generations of a people decimated, the psychic scars transmitted, the truncated branches of family trees yet to regenerate. We hear the echoes of pleading voices long stilled that called us to remember, to learn, to witness. We call for universal recognition of what happened on the plains of Anatolia, the 1915-1923 atrocities carried out by the Ottoman government. Only truth shall be surety for the timeless cry of ‘Never Again.’”

(The full statement will appear at the end of the article.)

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Rabbi Victor Reinstein, the chair of the group’s Public Policy Committee, drafted the statement at the behest of the group’s president, Rabbi Howard Jaffe of Lexington’s Temple Isaiah.

The statement grew out of information that Reinstein had gathered, in addition to material that Jaffe had collected as part of a group of concerned Armenians and Jews who had started meeting following the Armenians’ concerns regarding the Anti-Defamation League’s ambiguous stance on the Armenian Genocide as well as its activities to defeat recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Washington.

Jaffe praised Lexington resident Laura Boghosian as playing “the most pivotal role in the re-establishment of conversation” between the two communities, when activist Armenians in the state started to protest against the ADL’s No Place for Hate anti-discrimination campaign in cities and towns, in light of its own shortcomings, in 2007. Eventually the group succeeded and many towns dropped the program and the ADL produced a more supportive statement regarding the Armenian Genocide, which still stops short of full recognition.

In an article at that time Jaffe was quoted expressing his concern about the activities. “I was unaware about the ADL activity on Genocide denial. Nearly every Jew I know” was in the same situation, he said.

“No one in the Jewish community was aware of ADL activity regarding the Armenian Genocide,” Jaffe said.

He added, “There was concern that if this was done [No Place for Hate was dismantled] the good work they [the ADL] are doing may be lost.”

A friend suggested to Boghosian to reach out to Jaffe. The two met and started discussing the issue and eventually increased the numbers in the group and went on to add other Jewish religious leaders, including Rabbis Ronne Friedman and Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel in Boston. “They were also becoming aware of [Genocide] denial at the same time and reached out to members of their congregation,” Jaffe said.

The members made further inroads into the Armenian community which resulted in inviting historian Prof. Richard Hovannisian to speak at Temple Isaiah’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) in 2008.

“This is all with the goal of bringing about greater awareness and ultimate recognition” for the Armenian Genocide, Jaffe said.

“On the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, our resolve is reinforced knowing that we have the support and solidarity of our friends in the Jewish community,” stated Armenian Assembly of America’s Massachusetts State Chair Herman Purutyan. “The Assembly has been working with leaders from various Jewish organizations here in Boston and across the US for a number of years now, with the common goal of shining a light on injustice anywhere. We appreciate the eloquent statement of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and their contribution to efforts to advance US reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide,” Purutyan said.

“I think the US and Israel will recognize the Genocide” eventually, he said. “It is a question of political expediency.”

In fact, he added, he thought Israel might even recognize the Genocide before the US, as the US is still hoping that Turkey would be its ally.

“Turkey’s own recognition is further away. It requires a soul-searching that it is not prepared for,” Jaffe said.

“Human beings have not evolved to accept the awareness of the image of God in all human beings from the first breath,” Jaffe said.

He is an optimist he said, adding that “it is the absolute and eternal mandate to recognize the Armenian Genocide and that is the first step to create an environment for Turkey to do so and Turkey to take measurable action to effect some measure of redemption for its historical role, including denial itself.”

The full text of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis follows:

The Massachusetts Board of Rabbis reaches out in solidarity and sorrow to Armenians everywhere on the one hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We acknowledge the pain carried through generations of a people decimated, the psychic scars transmitted, the truncated branches of family trees yet to regenerate. We hear the echoes of pleading voices long stilled that call us to remember, to learn, to witness. We call for universal recognition of what happened on the plains of Anatolia, the 1915-1923 atrocities carried out by the Ottoman government. Only truth shall be surety for the timeless cry of “Never Again.”

Details unfold as a scroll of lamentation, these we remember and pour our hearts out. We remember the hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, the writers, artists, doctors and lawyers, the communal and political leaders arrested and executed on April 24, 1915. We remember the desert death marches, the killing squads, and the concentration camps. We remember the one and a half million Armenians killed of some two million in their ancestral homeland prior to World War I, mourning the destruction and exile of an ancient people. We remember the use of trains for deportation to death, cattle cars packed with human beings, portent of genocide to come. We remember the heroic efforts of American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, the missionaries and aid workers who cried out to the world for response. We remember the continuing denials and the shame of refusing to recognize what happened, to call it for what it was.

We remember words that challenge silence and disallow denial. Words of witness by Ambassador Morgenthau, laying bare the plan by its architect, Talat Pasha: “It is no use for you to argue…, we have already disposed of three quarters of the Armenians…; we have got to finish with them….” Igniting the flames of one genocide from the embers of another, Adolph Hitler, his memory be blotted out, cynically asked, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” We honor with pride and humility the work of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who did speak, who coined the word “genocide” in 1943, his long held anguish for Armenians merging in the midst of the Holocaust with anguish for his own people.

We take to heart Elie Wiesel’s lament for the “double killing” of Armenians that happens through silence. Challenging Turkey to acknowledge what happened, it is our challenge, as well. Recognition of another’s suffering and willingness to describe it accurately should never be a matter of political expediency. The prevention of future genocides rests with our willingness to acknowledge those of the past. As the Holocaust should not be subsumed within the Second World War, neither should the Armenian Genocide be subsumed within the First World War.

We call on Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Heirs to the Ottomans, Turkey’s burden is also an opportunity to insure that what happened one hundred years ago will no longer define the relationship today between descendants of the victims and descendants of the perpetrators. We call on the United States to unequivocally recognize the Armenian Genocide, affirming our commitment to justice and giving meaning to annual expressions of condolence and sorrow. We call on Israel to unequivocally recognize the Armenian Genocide, giving voice to the moral legacy of its own emergence from the ashes of the Holocaust.

Toward healing among communities and peoples:

  • We call on the American Jewish community through its official organizations to unequivocally recognize the Armenian Genocide, to apologize for past reticence, to reach out from heart to heart.
  • We call on local Jewish communities to learn about the Armenian Genocide and to reach out to their Armenian neighbors, building friendship and cooperation.
  • We call on all people to refrain from manipulating past horrors to demonize members of any people or faith today, Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

In the midst of Anatolia where the Biblical Mount Ararat rises, Noah’s ark found rest, a dove with its olive branch still waiting to alight. To give rest to the dead and peace to the living, a rainbow promise of never again, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis calls for universal recognition of the Armenian Genocide.