The Whipping Boy - September, 2014
My grandson Avi and I love to watch movies. And the wonderful thing is that we can watch just about anything that has ever been made, because my son Josh bought me this little black box that somehow connects my tv to the internet. Avi and I have to watch movies at home because we talk the whole time; we'd be thrown out of any movie theater for constant chattering. Avi is five years old and he asks a question a minute:
“Baba, how did King Kong get that big?”
“Baba, why doesn’t Pharaoh just let the Jews go already? Weren’t the frogs and the locusts enough?”
“Baba, how did the Lost Boys get lost? Why aren’t they with their mommas?”
Avi and I will search for movies based on a word or an idea; we troll and scroll and find movies you never heard of. Sometimes I have to censor what Avi accidentally finds, like “The Bugs of Monster Island” with Carmen Electra or “Angry Nuns with Machine Guns.” But once in a while, we come across a gem.
One of the good ones was called “Prince Brat and the Whipping Boy." It is a low-budget, made-for-TV movie from 1994 that tells a story that I cannot get out of my head.
“Prince Brat and the Whipping Boy" is about a nasty boy named Prince Horace of Brattenburg, who is always causing problems and wreaking havoc. But he never gets punished for what he does wrong. He’s a prince, and no one but the king is allowed to punish him. Since the king is rarely around, no one can enforce any rules on the young prince. That’s why there’s a whipping boy. A whipping boy is a young boy who is punished when the prince misbehaves or falls behind in his schooling. By the way, this is all based on fact: Whipping boys were established in the English court during the 15th century. The idea of whipping boys was that seeing another boy being whipped or beaten for something that he had done wrong should make the prince feel so badly that he would not make the same mistake again.
But in this case, Prince Horace is so nasty that he’s happy that someone else is being punished for what he did wrong. And so it is with great glee that he chooses a spunky orphan named Jemmy for the role of whipping boy. Jemmy lives in the streets and the sewers and he is brought to the palace to be the whipping boy. Prince Horace is such a mean kid that he gets into as much trouble as possible so that Jemmy will have to pay for it. When he does something terrible that must be punished, he smiles smugly when the courtiers shout:
“Bring in the whipping boy!”
“Call the whipping boy!”
And they whip the innocent boy for what the prince did wrong.
My sweet Avi could not understand any of this: “Baba, why are they whipping him? He didn’t do anything wrong!”
After Avi and I watched the movie, I said to myself: I bet a Jewish person wrote this. And so I asked Rabbi Google, who knows all these things, and it turns out that the movie is based on a 1987 Newberry Medal- winning novel for children by Sid Fleischman. And when I asked Rabbi Google who Sid Fleishman was, it turns out that he was born Avron Zalmon Fleischman in Brooklyn, New York in 1920, the son of immigrant Russian Jewish parents. He wrote the book and the screenplay for the movie.
I want to draw two analogies, one to Jewish history and current events involving Israel and the other to the way we treat the people who are closest to us in our lives.
It’s not an accident that the name of the kingdom in the movie, Brattenburg, sounds like Bradenburg, a German city. For as we know all too well, it was in European countries like Germany that Jewish people have been treated as the whipping boys throughout history. There was this fantasy that if it weren’t for those Jews, everyone would be doing a lot better. If only we could get rid of the Jews, everything would be so much better. All of our problems are their fault.
Their cynical leaders, who were the ones who were really in control, perpetrated this diabolical nonsense so that no one would notice how badly they were treating their people.
Let’s take the refined and civilized country of France. Jewish people were invited to come and live in France. The Jewish people were very grateful, and became good members of that society. Until a few decades later, the leaders took the Jewish people’s money and belongings and threw them out of the country. Then they invited them back and did the same thing all over again.
Why did the Jewish people submit to this? They had nowhere to go. There was no Israel. And they hoped that each time would be different. And each time, they became the whipping boy.
Now let’s fast forward to this year, to 2014. Paris, France: July 13, 2014. Two months ago. 7,000 demonstrators carried out a hate-fest screaming “Death to the Jews,” “One Jew Some Jews All Jews are Terrorists.” Hundreds surrounded the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue, which is protected by a tall metal gate. Five riot policemen stationed in front of the synagogue, where some 200 congregants were attending a prayer service for Israel’s safety, were unable to handle the crowd. With the Jewish participants pushing back, the gate held for a half hour until police reinforcements could arrive. In Paris, France in 2014, Jewish people were forced to arm themselves and fight back. As horrible and frightening as this, notice: No more whipping boys.
Jewish people in France are defending themselves. It was the ninth attack in France within two weeks during the conflict in Gaza.
Why did the Gaza conflict raise such rage against all Jewish people?
The world watched as hundreds of people in Gaza were killed or injured and many thousands were displaced.
And every Israeli and every Jewish person was horrified to see what happened.
Israel tried to prevent the loss of civilian life, it repeatedly and constantly told civilians to leave areas it was about to attack, it did more than any other country, including the United States, ever does to protect innocent lives on the other side, but the results were excruciating. And we mourn the loss of every innocent life that was lost in the conflict.
But let’s go over it. Hamas, the leaders of Gaza, attacked Israel with thousands of rockets intended to kill Israeli civilians. Hamas built an extensive network of tunnels that were not just for bringing deadly weapons into the area but many of which led right into Jewish neighborhoods. These tunnels were designed to bring Hamas terrorists into those neighborhoods to kill as many people as possible. And a major attack was planned for Rosh Hashanah this year, right now.
Worst of all, Hamas used its own children as human shields. I’m curious: Why didn’t the world protest against fighters who hide behind children?
Now I have people close to me, Jewish people, who think that Israel did not respond “proportionately.” They simply do not understand what was going on. They think the tunnels were a response to oppression. They think that Israel had a blockade that prevented food and medicine to be brought into Gaza.
Israel blockaded weapons; it never blockaded food or medicine.
Israel was not going to allow itself to be bombed every day.
No country on the face of the earth would allow this.
But the world said: “Let them bomb you. And if you fight back, you are the aggressor. Let them build their tunnels and murder your children.”
So why is Israel supposed to be bombed every day?
Why is Israel supposed to wait for its citizens to be massacred?
Because in the eyes of the world, we’re still the whipping boys.
We’re supposed to be the victims.
But the whole idea of Israel is: The world never cared about Jewish lives. We have thousands of years of proof of this.
And Israel has said, in defiance of the world:
NO MORE WHIPPING BOYS
And as Jewish people, I implore you to remember that Israel cannot and will not be whipped and bombed and killed. We will not sacrifice our people’s lives for the sake of a world that hates Jewish people.
Israel gets it, but most American Jewish people simply don’t. Most of you don’t get the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the world today. There are over a billion anti-Semites in the world today. That’s right: more than a billion — about 135 anti-Semites for every Jewish person. It’s a stunning figure. This comes from one of the most comprehensive studies ever done on this topic.
So who exactly are the billion anti-Semites? For starters, 70 percent of them have never met a Jewish person.
880 million anti-Semites do not live in the Middle East or North Africa. The disease is global: Among Poles: at least 45 percent qualify as anti-Semites. Greeks: 69 percent. Malaysians: 61 percent. Malaysians? Germans: 27 percent. (Some say the Germans will never forgive the Jews for the Holocaust.)
The disease of anti-Semitism has ravaged us for 2,000 years. It has roots in the founding stories of other religions. It feeds genocide. All of the hatred is based on lies and ignorance.
And Israel has said: We get this. We know how the world hates. And we will never be the whipping boys again. NO MORE WHIPPING BOYS.
In our lives, we don’t have whipping boys, right?
OR DO WE?
How many people in the last year have said to me:
“Rabbi, you don’t know what he’s really like. You see one face. I see another. You see a congenial, smiling, respectful person. I know he’s not a bad man. He doesn’t break any laws. But there are times that he lets out all of his frustration and all of his disappointments and all of what he thinks is his failure, and it’s all on me. It all comes crashing down on me.”
Don’t tell me you don’t what I’m talking about.
Your boss yelled at you
Your teacher yelled at you
You come home from work loaded for bear
You have a shotgun in your brain and you need to shoot a bear with it.
Do you think that it’s only NFL players who let out their aggressions on their spouses and children? 1 in 4 women are the victims of domestic violence.
Bring out the Whipping Boy!
As a good friend of mine always says, “You throw your garbage where your love lies.”
You say, defensively, weakly, that you've “got to get it out and where else can it go?”
Now maybe, in a certain way, this is how it is. A loving relationship has a level of trust that says: “I know that I can take it out on you because you’ll take it and still love me.”
Maybe in a certain way, there is a compliment of love that comes with every tirade.
And maybe the apologies that follow really are sincere.
But even so, COME ON: Can’t we do better than this?
You may not want to admit it, but we have designated whipping boys. When other things get intense, you get yelled at because you're overweight, or you’re not making enough money, or you’re supposedly not doing your best.
And you’ll say: How can you compare the ugliness of anti-Semitism to what we do in our lives?
But I insist: If we are to condemn hatred and prejudice, then we must do it in every aspect of our lives.
If anti-Semitism comes out of the dark places of people’s souls, pounding the dark frustrations of their lives on to the Jewish people, then we have to make sure that we do not impose our darkness on the people we love.
And the truth is, as hard as this is to admit, that whipping can be found in some of our own darker places.
I am talking about verbal violence with which we whip our loved ones into a corner.
Just as Israel says: NO MORE WHIPPING BOYS
We have to make sure that we are not like Prince Brat who just stands there while an innocent person is being whipped.
On the High Holidays we talk a lot about repentance. A belated apology helps but true repentance is when you never do it again.
Nothing less than true repentance is acceptable.
The end of the movie about the whipping boy is that he is made a member of the royal family. That's all we ever wanted. On a Jewish level, and on a personal level, all we ever wanted was to fit in, to belong, to be equal and to be respected for who we are. We will never accept anything less. We will not sacrifice our people’s lives for the sake of world opinion that wants to hate Jewish people. These last few months have been a tough time for our people. But we have pride in our people and our religion and we are through being whipped. Each one of us must learn the facts and stay familiar with current events so that we can stand up for our people and the land of our people’s dreams.
And if the world screams because we’re not playing the whipping boy anymore, let it scream.
We have been the whipping boy of the world, punished for things we never did. Despite this, through the centuries, Jewish people have tried to love every country we have lived in. German Jews loved Germany. Wherever we went, all we wanted was equality and respect.
We did not receive it, but we loved the world anyway.
And we still do. Like the whipping boy in the movie, we just want to be part of the family.
In the new year, we Jewish people and we supporters of Israel will say, “No more whipping boys.”
And in our families, this year, no more whipping boys. Don't take the nonsense and the garbage. Stand up for yourself.
Do you know what I really want? I want to be able to tell my sweet Avi that it was all just a movie, that in real life, people don’t blame others for things they didn’t do. In today’s world, I want to tell him, things like this don’t happen any more.
As I pray on this Rosh Hashanah, I will pray for a world where whipping boys are a thing of the past.