View from the Ladder

Eighty years ago, the United States debated whether it would open its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the terror of the Nazis. It did not. And this historical echo was not lost on me, as I’m sure it was not lost on Jews throughout this country.
These have been weeks of significant gravity. Serious things have happened. We have been weighed down in their aftermath, by sadness, fear, and anger. What happened on a Friday evening – the Shabbos! – in mid-November in Paris captures our imagination and won’t let go. And the attacks last week on the tourists in Mali just add to our fear and helplessness.
All of this would be enough to burden us heavily. But then comes a second wave of injury, as we watch politicians turn tragedy into cheap rhetoric. Two dozen American governors saying they would close their borders to Syrian refugees: the very people who are fleeing ISIS. Offering terrorists their victims back. And knowing that the public is insular and racist enough to believe that we couldn’t possibly tell refugees and terrorists apart.
So what can we do? What course do we take? Maybe a first thing is to climb out of this morass for a higher view. But how do we climb, when the drama and trauma hold us so tight, when gravity weighs so strong?
We dream a ladder. That’s what we do. It’s what Jacob did, in last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayetzei. He was fleeing danger too, running scared. He was escaping his brother, but in the world of Torah, violence between siblings is meant to point also to violence between nations. So Jacob’s moment was not so dissimilar to ours.
In his flight, Jacob reaches an in-between place. A border, between Canaan and Haran, between home and unknown, between past and future. And something happens to him there. He stops and pays attention to hamakom, meaning “the place.” But also to the other meaning of Hamakom, the ubiquity of God. In the first verse of this episode, Hamakom is mentioned three times:

Jacob reached Hamakom and lingered all night because the sun had set. He took from among of the stones of Hamakom and put them at his head. And he lay down in Hamakom to sleep. [Genesis 28:11]

So there is Jacob, sleeping literally on the ground, and lying figuratively within an awareness of God’s presence.
And Jacob dreams. A doozy of a dream. He sees a ladder, arcing down toward the earth with its head anchored in heaven, angels ascending and descending it.
Our sages and mystics have speculated about every element of this dream. The number of stones. How big is the ladder? How many rungs? How many angels? How big is an angel’s wingspan? Some have said Jacob himself was the ladder; others say that each of us is a ladder, while some moderns connect the ladder of the vision to the double helix of a DNA molecule. But just about everyone gets caught up on the fact that the angels ascend and descend – they start below and climb up, when we’d expect just the opposite, for angels to begin in heaven and then climb down.
Sages have speculated that since this was a territorial border, Jacob is witnessing a shift change: the angels of Canaan who had been escorting him climb back to heaven to punch out, while the angels of Haran descend to accompany him the rest of the way. The great commentator, Ibn Ezra, points out that reading this as a simple plot is useless. The very word sulam, “ladder”, is an anagram of semel, “symbol.” So that the angels are climbing a ladder of symbolism – a wonderful post-modern twist for the 12th Century. Ibn Ezra saw the angels as emerging from people themselves, in the form of our prayers. Angels ascend to heaven and God responds with salvation, in the form of the angels climbing back down.
Jacob lies there, asleep. If we were standing next to him, all we would witness would be his breathing. Breath out, breath in: the breath, neshimah, that so often in our tradition is equated with the soul itself, the neshamah. It is a breath of soul, our own spark of divinity ascending to heaven, and divinity streams back down. An exchange of holiness, not unlike the circulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide between us and the trees.

Breathing with the trees is a good metaphor, yet Torah tells us that Jacob dreams about a ladder. Why a ladder? Maybe because the ladder is tall. While Jacob is pinned to the ground by gravity, the holiness that circulates through him gets a higher, better, longer view. It escapes the particulars of Jacob’s life, of Jacob’s fears, of Jacob’s habitual thinking. And perched above those things, Jacob’s spirit has a chance to bring back something fresh.
Albert Einstein is famously quoted to have said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” A similar teaching of the Piasetzner Rebbe who would say that bringing about repair in the world of action – or the world of speech – requires first ascending to olam hashtikah, the world of silence. In other words, we might not know yet what the answer is to the troubles around us, but responding in the old way, with military strikes and border fences and political grandstanding is not going to do it. Einstein would say to change our thinking. The Piasetzner would say to spend some time in the world of silence. And Jacob, our patriarch, would say to send angels up a ladder for a better view.
I don’t know what our angels will see from up there or what we will see from up there. But I know we will be free to see things above our fear. From a few rungs up we might see back to an age not too long ago when Jews and Muslims walked arm in arm in the gardens of Spain and North Africa, sharing music and art and speculations about God; and how we fared so much better there than we ever did in the ghettos of the Christian north. Maybe from a couple rungs up, no longer held down by the gravity of ISIS and Israeli-Palestinian bitterness, we can remember that this is true, too.
Maybe from a few rungs up, we might look at our infatuation with images of violence in our entertainment and it will all seem silly and mystifying, and we will gather new ideas on how to make a world in which violence is rare and certainly not a way to sell products. A world where the custom is to meet fire with peace.
And maybe from a few rungs up we might experience compassion as the strength that it is, rather than any kind of weakness. This experience could enable us to more easily dismiss the attempts of terrorists and politicians alike who try to engage the human experience of hatred. Instead we will take the highest, most loving road, welcoming and helping refugees in a way that honors our ancestors and serves as a tikkun, a redemption, a corrective, of this country’s failure to welcome them in their moment of greatest need.

Maybe from a few rungs up we can see the divine spark in each other. And perhaps notice who else is perching at altitude.
Change might not be quick. After his ladder dream, Jacob lived in fear of his brother for 20 more years before crossing back to the land of his birth where he and the long-feared brother fell on each others’ necks and wept. But on the other hand, in biblical time, twenty years? Bupkis!
I have no particular outcome to offer, but rather a meditative process to propose: To find your own border spot, like Jacob did, the place of personal boundaries, the edge of your comfort zone. And to lay your head down on the rocks of Hamakom – the awareness of God’s presence, even in the uncomfortable places – and to dream. Of ladders, of angels, of a loftier view. And see what comes to you.
And when the world below grabs at you (and it will try), defy gravity.
Irwin Keller has served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati, California for the last eight years, and is a rabbinical student in the Aleph Ordination Program.

5 thoughts on “View from the Ladder

  1. Dear Mr.Keller,
    Thank you for your inspiring and refreshing article.
    From the perspective of a son of parents who were declared stateless by the Nazi government of Germany and thus became refugees during a turbulent journey which brought them to Bolivia in 1939 where I was born, and as the writer of the Argentum Post, a few days ago I wrote an article about said journey which I hereby share with you and with the readers of Tikkun.
    Refugee Crisis Seen from the Candid Perspective of a Son of Refugees – The Writer of the Argentum Post
    This writer’s parents were denaturalized by the Nazi government and rendered refugees in search of a country which would give them asylum. Given that said parents were totally assimilated in Germany as German citizens, this stunningly bizarre, brutal, insane, and criminal phenomenon had an impact on them they could never quite get over.
    For this writer’s father, of Jewish background but not a practicing Jew, who was urged by his wife to leave prior to her accomplishing her quest to rescue her parents and then come to join him, the only option at the moment was to travel to Peru for which he had received an entry permit, so with a few dollars in his pocket and a suitcase he boarded a freighter which took him to the port of Callao, in Peru, hoping to there reconstruct a new life.
    Meanwhile, this writer’s mother and her parents were smuggled out during a perilous night journey over the border to Belgium by a Nazi conscript who was a very close friend of her father and who told her and her mother and father when he came visiting for the first time in his uniform, that they should not worry since, as he put it “,,,not to worry, we are like hamburgers, brown on the outside but red on interior …” (the Nazi uniform was brown, and the many of the German enemies of the Hitler regime, namely the communists, were represented by the red flag).
    To this writer’s father shocking surprise, once he arrived in Callao, Peru he was informed that he may not be able to stay there. After waiting for hours to determine the reason for this stunning blow, he was told by an immigration official that a “Zionist organization” opposed the granting of the entry visas to German Jews at that time. This irrational and cruel beyond words undue influence of this organization on the corrupted Peruvian immigration authority was literally a colossal addition of insult to injury which had been unimaginable to this writer’s father.
    Had this writer’s father not been lucky and intrepid enough in his challenge to this monstrous outrage about the undue influence of the Zionists over the policies of the Peruvian government to the point that somehow an arrangement was then hastily worked out semi-officially to whisk him out of Peru via a freight wagon carrying straw, of a freight train to La Paz, Bolivia, he most probably would have been sent back to Marseilles, France and this would be in the middle of 1939 when he arrived in Callao, would have most probably meant a death sentence for him since it was very close to the time when in Vichy France Jews were being incarcerated and deported to death camps in Germany.
    Bolivia was the only other country at that time to allow not only German Jews, but other persecuted Germans, such as the German dissidents to the Nazi government, German Communists, and others to find safe haven there. Leo Spitzer wrote a book about this era titled “Hotel Bolivia : The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism”.
    Once in La Paz, this writer’s father found work at the mansion of the former President of Bolivia, Tejada Sorzano, and it was the former president’s wife who after asking him where this writer’s mother was, namely stuck in Paris, saw to it that a visa for her and her parents would be immediately transmitted to her via telex to the Bolivian embassy in Paris.
    Obviously this writer’s father was not singled out by the undue influence these Zionists possessed to bar his life-saving entrance into Peru, he later in life found out.
    While this undue influence of various Zionist organizations is an insidious phenomenon which is well documented, there was then is continues to this day a veritable conspiracy of silence about it, even though the literature documents it in detail but those not aware of it need to undertake a research project to learn about it.
    Basically it has to do with the secretive operations of the extreme right-wing Zionist ideologues which in effect did everything possible to channel particularly, but not exclusively German and Austrian Jews away from escaping the Nazis to any country in the world, so that they could all be used for the Palestine colonization project in the British occupied land of the Palestinians, or as the British imperialists called it “Mandatory Palestine”.
    So, in effect, this writer would not be writing the Argentum Post, since he would most probably not have come into existence if the Nazis OR the Zionists had their way. His father would have been shipped back on the same freighter to Marseille and his mother would have never made it out of Marseille with her parents, since all would have been interned in concentration camps and therefore most probably would have been executed.
    Israeli author Tom Segev reports that most of the immigrants from Germany were refugees who came against their will since they simply were Germans first, and of the Jewish faith secondly. Those who were forced to come to what eventually became Israel in 1948 were objects of condescension and contempt. The American public, however, was led to believe by their dishonest Zionist handlers that they desperately wished to go to Palestine and so, this well-funded, well-organized, and frequently ruthless operation behind this emigration was hidden from view.
    The future leader of Israel, Zionist Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, decided that the only destination for Jewish survivors should be Palestine since their recruitment for the colonization of Palestine project was an imperative.
    When it really mattered and countless hundreds of thousands of lives of Jews could have been saved, the United States did not rise to the occasion. To wit the fate of the 900 Jews fleeing the Nazis on the SS Saint Louis was ignominious as they were first blocked from disembarking in Cuba and subsequently in the U.S., so the ship had to return them Europe. Although many were accepted in countries which allowed them to survive the Nazis, 258 did not as they were caught in Vichy France and sent to concentration camps.
    The U.S. later became interested in the implantation of the nationalization embodiment of the Judaic religion, into the land of the Palestinians, and most particularly so, after the 6-day war of 1967, revealing a leaderships not based on principles but on interests.
    Dean Acheson, an US Secretary of State, said wisely and presciently in 1947 that “Creating Israel on land inhabited for centuries by Palestinians would imperil not only American but all Western interests in the Near East”.
    The grandfather of this writer who had left Germany in 1935 for the USSR and after the war decided to come to Haifa in Palestine in 1945, where he became a Palestinian citizen, and yet in 1947 he felt the urge to leave due to the imminent take over of 75% of Palestine by the Zionist Jewish leadership. He totally agreed with what Dean Acheson and others expressed about the insanity of the partition of Palestine, something which according to the Crane King commission created in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson to determine how the Palestinians felt about the Zionist take over project, namely that it would be disastrous.
    Said Crane King commission was made up of six Jews and six non-Jews and the salient message they unanimously agreed on was that ” Palestinians will not be dispossessed of their land without violence”.
    So, fast forward to current times, 67 years later, and this horrendous colonialist/neo-imperialist Western aggression in the Middle East has not only not abated but has become much worse.
    Western aggression, via the implantation and support of undemocratic puppet regimes in the region to divide and conquer in the pursuit of the exploitation of fossil fuels as well as in the pursuit of the establishment of militarism outposts such as in Bahrain wherein the U.S. Fifth Naval fleet is stationed, and in the pursuit of the establishment of capitalism run amok outpost to counter the evolution of populist/socialist and independent minded moderate Islam values oriented semi-democracies were considered a threat to Western hegemonic control interests of the Middle East.
    By the unconditional support of such tyrannical autocratic regimes as the Saudi Arabian euphemistically characterized “monarchic” one, the Mubarak and now General Al-Sissi Egyptian one, and by supporting the British facilitated Zionist organized Palestinian lands invasion and international law violating occupations, and by the subsequent violent oppression of all Israeli regimes since 1948, all generated tremendous anti-Western sentiments, particularly after the 1967 violent hegemonic expansion of Israel, and that coupled to the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the basis of sheer fabrications of falsehoods by the U.S. neocon regime of Cheney/Bush which have unleashed horrifically violent reprisal attacks that spun out-of-control and spawned extremists groups of all kinds.
    These extremists reprisal attackers have been hit back with violent air bombardments which have killed countless hundreds of thousands of innocent unarmed civilians and have destroyed stable societal infrastructures, generating the thousands of innocent unarmed civilian refugees which now are desperately trying to escape the literal hell the Western militarist intervention has wrought upon them by the smashing of entire states and their institutions into failed dysfunctional “statelets” as Libia, as Yemen is now becoming with the U.S. supported Saudi Arabian atrocious destruction of life and infrastructure only comparable to the one Netanyahu committed in during his massacre of almost 3,000 Gazans, including 500 children in the Summer of last year.
    Part of this described narrative is amply documented in such references as “The Zionist Project – 1948”, “Against Our Better Judgement”, “Resurrecting Empire : Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East”, to name a few and which will not be discussed as it is beyond the scope and objective of this article.
    What is the objective of this article is, for the first time, to give the Argentum Post readers an insight of what passion and indignation has led this writer to use the Argentum Post, to speak out against the perverse and cynical notion that the terrorizing reprisal attacks which have occurred, including and since 9/11 particularly, do not have a profound and complex genesis and raison d’ĂȘtre, and that it can somehow bizarrely and moronically be attributed to the “evil doers” and to their “axis of evil” which comprised Cuba and Iran which had absolutely nothing to do with any of these reprisal attacks, notwithstanding Bush’s recklessly simplistically characterizations coupled to the Cheney et Neocon incitements based on utter lies.
    No amount of revisionist history, no amount of propagandistic disinformation and cultural programming, by corrupt-to-the core or appallingly ignorant or appallingly malevolent politicians which in collusion with a corporatized mainstream media which is in a state of dereliction of its duty to inform Americans objectively, and which enforces a veritable conspiracy of silence that covers up entire tomes of fundamental historical realities which, once fully understood, could begin to direct our nation back to a track of sobering analyses and political solutions which in turn would begin to engender reconstruction and healing.
    What is the objective of this article is to demonstrate that one of the greatest genocidal massacres in history which affected predominantly, but not exclusively decent, men, women, and children for being followers of the Judaic religion, was the one committed by the extreme right-wing nationalistic racist and violent Nazis, and that incredibly, as the case of this writer’s parents and millions of others shows as an example, was in the past and continues to be in the present exploited grotesquely by the extreme right-wing nationalistic racist and violent Zionists ideo-political demagogues who aptly impersonate the role of victims while in reality function as perpetrators which sabotage all genuine attempts for peace by justice negotiations in conformity with international law.
    At a time when most people in America and most people in Europe, reach out to the waves and waves of refugees escaping both, their extremists criminal persecutors, namely the ignominious Daesh movement, and the wave after wave of aerial bombardments now by France, Russia, the United States goes on unabatedly with hardly a mention of what is insultingly and euphemistically characterized as “collateral damage”, most of the primarily Republican leadership balks at the notion of giving such refugees a safe haven in America, while simultaneously criticizing the President for not bombarding even more intensely, something which of course cannot but generate more and more refugees.
    One of the most tabu subjects about which a plethora of documentation exists, is that of the collaboration of the Nazis with the Zionists who continue to inflame this nightmare scenario by their false narratives and by their shameless receptions of mantras such as “Israel has a right to defend itself” while in reality it is offending appallingly all who are rational and see through the fog they generate, to cover up their ethnic cleansing of Palestine on the basis of their pretentiously specious claims to some kind of sociopathic entitlement to what is absurdly characterizes as their “exceptionalism”, as what ? As “God’s chosen people ” ? At the expense of all decently minded civilized people directly and/or indirectly affected ?
    Most Americans do not even have the slightest notion why the characterizations of “Jews” and “Zionists” must not and cannot be conflated. Yet too often these characterizations are conflated for the single insidious purpose of smearing valid scholarly critiques of Zionism by implying that such critiques are somehow nothing but a manifestation of “anti-Semitic” or “Jewish self-hatred”. This sociopathic phenomenon is despicable and irrelevant by virtue of being bereft of any rationality.
    Most Americans do not have the fundamental understanding that the former characterization in the supra paragraph, namely, “Jews”, applies to the peoples of the world, yes the assimilated peoples of the world, who have in common their Torah based religious belief.
    Most Americans to not have the fundamental understanding that the latter characterization, namely the one using the qualifying adjective “Zionists”, applies to mostly Jews, as well as some Evangelist Christians, who happen to endorse the ideo-political definition of Zionism which has finally reached the beginning of an exponential rate of descent into oblivion but still has the potential to unleash enormous harm.
    More than most Americans have no awareness that former Supreme Court Justices Brandeis and Frankfurter worked secretly for 25 years to establish a network of Zionist agents within the power centers of the U.S. government in order to accomplish the extra-judicial objectives of empowering the lobbying of said Zionist agents on behalf of the Israel power structure. They were part of the secretive Parushim, which was founded on August 18,1913 , a secret Zionist society, the Hebrew word which means both “the Pharisees” and “separate”.
    Historian Bruce Allen Murphy wrote a book about this in “The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection : The Secret Political Activities of Two Supreme Court Justices”
    The Zionist right-wing extremist ideo-political establishment is well-funded, is part and parcel of the power infrastructure of the misleadership of Israel to the detriment of its inhabitants and to the catastrophic status which has befallen the Palestinians in the land they had inhabited for centuries until with the British empire facilitation Palestine, where Jews and Arabs and Christians had lived in harmony, was literally invaded by European and North American Jews channeled thereto by the Zionist movement in order to nationalize the Judaic religion, using a plethora of pretexts which have absolutely no validity.
    Documentation about this statement is found in an article by John Spritzler titled “The Anti-Semitism of Zionist Leaders : They Even Opposed Rescuing Jews During the Holocaust”
    John Sprizler is an author and editor of and He authored “The People as Enemy: The Leaders’ Hidden Agenda in World War II “, co-authored ” On the Public Agenda”. He was a Senior Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health with many medical journal publications about HIV treatment clinical trials, a veteran of the 1960’s anti-Vietnam War movement, father of three boys and resident of Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
    Other sources of information on the deleterious effects the Zionist ideology has had for the best interests of Jews worldwide as well as for those who live in Israel and aspire genuinely to live in peace with the people of Palestine are as follows :
    “The Transfer Agreement : The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between The Third Reich and Jewish Palestine”, by Edwin Black
    “51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis”, edited by Lenni Brenner
    ” The Hidden History of Zionism “, by Ralph Schoenman.
    ” The Unspoken Alliance : Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa” , by Sasha Polakow-Suransky. ( * )
    ( * ) This book’s author is the son Austrian Jews who took refuge in South Africa. Eventualy due to their anti Apartheid institutionalized racism they were forced to leave South Africa.
    The book details almost two decades of a close collaborative relationship between the Zionist misleaderhip of Israel and the odious white supremacist Apartheid regime of South Africa, a relationship which culminated with the vital involvement of Israel in its proliferation of the nuclear energy weaponization program of said racist Apartheid regime.
    In 1969 by a secret agreement between Israel PM Golda Myer, and President Nixon, Israel started to develop a nuclear weapons of mass destruction program. Israel was instrumental in as siting the Apartheid regime to detonate a nuclear bomb under water off the coast of South Africa in the mid 1980’s. This fact was confirmed to this writer by a 28 year CIA veteran, Carlos Pillar, during a conference at the National Press Club on a topic described as the “National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel “Special” Relationship.
    Israel refused to sign on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
    This conference was covered by CSpan and this writer has reported on it in this Argentum Post and included a video thereof.
    Finally it must not be overlooked that Israel was involved in the shipment of helicopters and armaments to fascist dictatorships in Central and South America, most notoriously in support of Ronald Reagan’s support of dictator Rios Montt of Guatemala where one the worst genocidal massacres in the history of Latin America took place, which took the lives of some 80 thousand member of the indigenous population of that country. Dictator Rios Montt was condemned to life in prison. Investigative journalist prize-winning journalist Jeremy Scayhill reported on this atrocity against the humanity of Guatemala.
    Jewish lives matter as much as Palestinian lives, and the Zionist ideo-political dimension of Israel’s power structure stymies any move in the direction which will make its leadership a sincere part of the solution and therefore it will take a de-Zionized Israeli power structure for a sustainable move in the direction of said solution of the now 67 year old conflict and that means that the U.S. must end its enablement of the festering untenable status quo, and this must happen immediately, since this act alone will usher in the coordinated involvement of the U.N., the E.U. and the International Criminal Court, and thus the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence will finally cease, something which could become an emblematic milestone in the history of the region, a veritable nucleating crystal which will have the potential to spread by inspiration and begin to bring the Middle East back to a sustainable period of recovery.

  2. Beautiful article, Irwin. Helpful and something to ponder.
    And Alfred, wow. What a sobering essay. Troubling, something also to ponder for some time. Filling in a lot of detail I did not know, around a central understanding of the craziness of the whole Israel-Palestine debacle.
    Can we somehow stop painting others as enemies and causing so much harm? Can we dream up a ladder with room for everyone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *