Today I used a Yiddish word I've never used before:


I used it as the subject line of an email to Richard Cohen, who wrote in the Washington Post:
I need to be very careful here, to say precisely what I mean and leave nothing to chance. I have just seen the play "Primo," which is performed by a single actor, Antony Sher, with material taken from Primo Levi's incomparable "If This Is a Man," the book that made the obscure Italian chemist an international literary sensation. It is an account of his time spent in Auschwitz. I could not help but think of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

I know, I know. One must never compare anything to the Holocaust. One must never invoke Nazism except in reference to the Nazis. One must isolate that era as a way of honoring the victims, keeping it pristine and removed from all other human experience because it was so uniquely awful.

What does shonda (Yiddish Dictionary spelling - shondah) mean?
Shondah: (rhymes with Honda) a shame, a pity. A "shonda for the goyim" means to do something shameful, publicly witnessed by non-Jews, thus bringing shame upon Jews in general (because, the theory goes, we are all held accountable for the worst deeds of the worst of us.)

I wrote:
I'm using the word a former employer used when she wanted to convey her belief that a Jew had done something that he, as an educated man, knew better than to do. It was worse than personal shame, it shamed the group that the person doing it was, in any way connected to them..

Shame on you. In Auschwitz, the inmates were blameless. They committed no crime. The crime was committed against them.

In Guantanamo, the inmates did commit a crime. They were enemy combatants, fighting without uniforms (which violates the Geneva standards), who were captured by Americans. They were not executed by beheading or hanging, both of which offenses have, before and since, been done to Americans, whether soldiers or not (remember Daniel Pearl, a fellow journalist?). They were taken to facilities where they had medical attention, fresh clothing, decent living quarters (better than the American troops, in many instances), and better treatment than they would have given any prisoner they captured.

The food has been of excellent quality and quantity. For crying out loud, they have access to the very religious texts that they quote as a reason to kill ALL the "infidels".

All the above?

NOT like Auschwitz!

I initially posted this, but forgot to add a reference to Captain's Quarters, where I first read of the column. Sorry, Captain Ed.


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