Fury as Rabbi calls people in Kaddish recital for Gaza dead 'kapos'

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet said such people were 'selling their brothers and sisters down the river'


An outspoken Orthodox Rabbi has been criticised for “dangerous and divisive” behaviour after he called those who took part in a Kaddish for Palestinians killed on the Gaza border “Kapos”.

In his weekly 'Ask the Rabbi' column, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, the Rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue, described the memorial prayer recital outside Westminster two weeks ago as “Kapo’ism" and branded the attendees "crackpots".

"Kapo" refers to Jewish people who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust.

He described those who took part as being “far from the front lines of Israel, oblivious to the reality on the ground, who have nothing to fear but their own shadows but who have no problem selling their brothers and sisters down the river".

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) strongly condemned Rabbi Schochet's use of the emotive word. 

"The role of ‘Kapos’ in concentration and extermination camps remains an historical and moral challenge for us all to reflect on – not to abuse and misuse to prove our own points today," she said.

"As part of our ongoing efforts not only to learn about what happened during the Holocaust but to try and prevent atrocities and genocide today, we should all think more deeply about our past.

"Using this terminology against Jewish people today borders on antisemitic. If non-Jews described a Jew as a ‘kapo’ it is highly likely it would be interpreted as antisemitic.

"Using the term ‘kapo’ today risks trivialising the Holocaust and minimising the experiences of those caught in unimaginable situations beyond their control.

"As such, we consider Rabbi Schochet’s use of the word ‘kapo’ at best highly inappropriate, and at worst, downright offensive."

Rabbi Schochet was responding to a reader's question which suggested that Yachad, a left-wing Israel advocacy group, had been behind the event, held on May 16 after 62 Palestinians died in clashes on the Gaza border earlier in the week.

Earlier that day, Hamas had claimed that 50 of the people killed were members of the organisation. The Kaddish recital nonetheless went ahead as planned. 

Rabbi Schochet said that he “had heard that it was not in fact Yachad and that may be so.

"But to date Yachad has done absolutely nothing to put out a disclaimer distancing themselves from the antics. As such that could only mean they’re happy to take credit for it.”

But Yachad released a statement last week, saying: “No staff participated and there was no organisational involvement. A staff member shared the event on his Facebook page without making it sufficiently clear that this was not our event.”

A Yachad spokesperson described Rabbi Schochet’s comment in his column, which appeared in The Jewish Weekly, as “completely untrue".

They added: "Yachad was not involved in the Kaddish event he criticises.

"It is also totally unacceptable for Rabbi Schochet to compare members of our community to Kapos who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II.

"Shutting down debates and labeling members of our community who you disagree with as traitors is dangerous and divisive."

In his article, Rabbi Schochet doubles down on his use of "Kapos", saying: “I know there are those who take extreme exception to using the term ‘Kapo’.

"I accept, as a son of one of the 'hidden children' during the Holocaust, that it’s a very harsh term indeed. But let’s park the emotion for a minute.

“There were Jews during the Holocaust that collaborated with the Nazis. They may have been indirectly responsible for the death of other Jews and that is something which evokes all sort of negative feelings.

"But, to be sure, they did what they did in the hope of sparing their own lives and that of their loved ones.

"Obviously it was fundamentally flawed but do any of us know what we might have done had we faced similar circumstances? Do we have the right to play judge and jury over them? I, for one, think not."

Referring those at the Kaddish, he said: “Here we have a group of people, far from the front lines of Israel, oblivious to the reality on the ground, who have nothing to fear but their own shadows, but who have no problem selling their brothers and sisters down the river.

“Reciting Kaddish for terrorists who are committed to the annihilation of Jews? Try to imagine for a minute a Jew reciting Kaddish for a Nazi who was killed by a fellow Jew. How absurd would that be? What would that say about the individual? Is there really any difference? It‘s pretty much as low as one can go as a Jew.”

Rabbi Schochet also criticised “so-called leaders stepping up and condemning those of us who speak out against this loathsomeness.”

Since the Kaddish, representatives of Reform and Liberal Judaism distanced their denominations from the event.

However, there has also been criticism of the abuse the Kaddish attendees had subsequently received.

“The irony is, such supposed leaders are not part of the solution, they are an integral part of the problem,” Rabbi Schochet continued.

Movement workers of LJY-Netzer, the youth movement of the Liberal synagogue, were present at the Kaddish recital, while RSY-Netzer, the youth movement of Reform Judaism, publicised the event on social media.

In a statement on Tuesday, Reform Judaism said: “When RSY-Netzer discovered that most of those killed in Gaza were claimed as Hamas operatives, they acknowledged that had they known, they would not have shared this [event] on Facebook.”

Rabbi Schochet ended his article with “a word of warning to many parents, particularly from within the mainstream United Synagogue movement.

“If you’re sending your kids on Israel tour with some non-United synagogue denominations, be aware that this may be what they will be exposed to out there, especially as apparently some of the their tour leaders were part of these infamous “Kaddish crackpots”.

“If the notion of reciting Kaddish for terrorists repulses you, as it should, you ought to rethink your kid’s exposure.

"There’s plenty of inspired Israel tour programming available through the United Synagogue and Bnei Akiva etc. that will teach them to hate terror and cherish life; differentiate between right and wrong, and be proud to be Jewish rather than a sycophantic appeaser feeding the crocodile, hoping to get eaten last.”

David Collins, United Synagogue Director of Jewish Living, appeared to agree with Rabbi Schochet's point concerning youth movement tour participation, telling the JC: "At Tribe we are very proud of the way our summer programmes provide an amazing experience for our youth built upon our Jewish values. These include our love for the people and State of Israel, something we positively promote.

"It’s important that parents understand the views that lie behind Summer programmes’ content prior to signing up, as these will influence the attitudes of participants.”

Rabbi Schochet has been contacted for comment.   

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