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Monday, March 13, 2006

Schadenfreude - "A Great German Word" - by Si Frumkin

Si Frumkin was born in Lithunia and survived a concentration camp, the only member of his family that did. He now lives in Valley Village(North Hollywood), CA. He is a contributing columnist to the Jewish Observer, Los Angeles, where this article appeared as an editorial in the October 3-9, 2005 edition.

by Si Frumkin

I am not a great fan of German achievement. I believe that a Lexus or a Cadillac is better than a BMW or Mercedes. But I do acknowledge that Germans have a way with words. They created words that other languages simply do not have.

Schadenfreude is such a word. In case you are not familiar with it, it takes 7 English words to define it: "malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others". The dictionary also explains it with a quote from the New York Times about historian Peter Gay -- who felt Schadenfreude as a Jewish child in Nazi-era Berlin, watching the Germans lose coveted gold medals in the 1936 Olympics; he said that it "can be one of the great joys of life."

All this is a prelude to inform you that I felt - and greatly enjoyed - Schadenfreude recently. A friend had recently come back from a trip to Russia. He told us that he saw beautiful flowers at an expensive flower shop in Moscow and asked where these out-of-season flowers had come from. "Holland," he was told. "Most of our flowers come from Holland but the Dutch buy a lot of them from Israel and resell them throughout Europe. We are lucky to get them. They are so beautiful?"

Another friend spent a week in the French countryside where he enjoyed a wonderful tasty fruit, apparently some kind of a cross of a peach and a plum. He asked what it was and was told that it was imported from Israel, the only place where it was cultivated.

I am sure that at least some of the flowers, fruit and vegetables that cater to European sophisticates came from the more than 3000 Gaza greenhouses. They were all built on barren empty land by the Jews who - until a few years ago - employed over 12,000 Palestinians there. Since the start of the last Intifada and several terror attacks by the more demented employees, the number of Arabs working the greenhouses was drastically reduced, and they were replaced by Thais, Africans and Filipinos.

During the months of preparation for the Israeli withdrawal there were many questions on what should be done with the greenhouses. They were state-of-art agricultural marvels with their own sophisticated temperature and humidity control systems, they turned out millions of dollars worth of produce yearly and they were a source of employment for thousands of people in an area where close to 40% were unemployed.

Should these marvelous structures be destroyed? Moved? Abandoned? And then a wonderful and heartwarming solution was found. A small group of wealthy American Jews decided to buy the greenhouses from Israel and donate them to the Palestinian Authority. One of the donors was former World Bank president James Wolfensohn who put up $500,000 of his own money. All in all, $14 million was collected, the deal was done and appreciative Palestinian spokesmen announced that the greenhouses would become the cornerstone of the future Palestinian economy.

So where is the Schadenfreude, you say? Happy ending for all, right? Palestinians get the greenhouses, Israelis get $14 million and the small group of admirable Jews in America get the warm feeling of having made the world a more tolerant and loving place where Arabs appreciate Jewish kindness and are less eager to murder Jews, right?

Well, no, not really. Have you heard the old story about a scorpion that asked a fox to carry him across a river? The fox refused: "You are a scorpion and you might sting me," he said. The scorpion scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. Why would I sting you? We would both drown if I do," he said. The fox thought this made sense and told him to climb on his back. Halfway across the river the scorpion stung the fox. "Why? Why did you do this? We'll both drown," cried the drowning fox. " I know, my friend, but this is the Middle East," said the scorpion before dying.

Just an hour or so after the Jews left Gaza thousands of Palestinians swarmed into the empty settlements. The Palestinian police watched the mob demolish the abandoned synagogues and set them on fire. They also watched with interest as part of the crowd turned on the greenhouses -- breaking windows, taking plates of glass, wiring, computer and electronic parts and irrigati on pipes and timers. It didn't take long -- after a few hours or so the greenhouses that it had taken years to build were just so much junk.

And so I have Schadenfreude. The Palestinians will not export flowers to Holland or fruit to France. The greenhouses will not be rebuilt. The Palestinian economy, such as it is, will continue to be mired in corruption, hatred and violence. They will suffer -- Schadenfreude -- but still, they'll never admit that it was their own fault.

And I have Schadenfreude towards the naïve rich Jews who thought that the Arab reaction to their gift would be based on logic and not on inbred hatred. You silly people, didn't you learn yet that this is the Middle East where scorpions sting even if this means their own destruction? You lost $14 million and, you know, I am glad you did.

I only hope that Israel cashed the $14 million check before it was too late.

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At 4:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is such a sad story on so many levels. That kind of wanton destruction is heartbreaking. I know that there are as many sides to the Middle East conflict(s) as there are people to take part in them, but I think we can all agree what a senseless waste the destruction of the greenhouses was. I wonder if we'll ever learn.

At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am not a great fan of German achievement."

You know what is sad? What is sad is labelling 82,400,996 people with the same brush. Does it make you feel good to say that? To say: "I am not a great fan of German achievement."

Is that your real Schadenfreude? Hey maybe that's your real Schadenfreude. Did you conduct 82,400,996 interviews? Did you check 82,400,996 times to see that all 82,400,996 people you refer to are evil?

So 10,993 despicable morons in 1936 Germany now tar 82,400,996 people in 2008 Germany with the same brush. Hmm, interesting. Consider this--

--what if I had said:
"I am not a great fan of African-American achievement."
"I am not a great fan of Jewish achievement."
"I am not a great fan of Hindu achievement."
"I am not a great fan of Italian achievement."
"I am not a great fan of the achievement of women (a-la Harvard University President, Lawrence Summers)
"I am not a great fan of the achievement of mentally-challenged people."
"I am not a great fan of blind persons' achievement."
"I am not a great fan of Catholic achievement."
"I am not a great fan of blue-eyed blonde achievement."
"I am not a great fan of ...

... well, you get the picture.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Ethan said...

Something tells me that unlike Mr. Frumkin, "Anonymous" was never forced into a GERMAN concentration camp. Maaaaaybe that's why Frumkin is not a fan of German achievement.


At 12:08 AM, Anonymous carolyn rose goyda said...


Si has suffered and thus his words and sentiment

he too has allowed the past to cloud his words and thoughts - almost perhaps subconsciencely

but we have to strive to awaken all people to fight the easy road to division and distration that some religious leaders and too many oppurtunistic politicians encourage - that is us verus them , blatent and often latent racism and bigotries

to think that in decades the Palestinains could have build a nation not refugee camps

this is intereseting if provocative article

this is why it is so hard to not be amazed and so disappointed with the leadership of the Palestianians and the Arab rulers

they replaced Palestinians in Kuwait too when too many cheered Sadam's invasion

and Arafat and others stole so many billions in donations

and refuge camps are deliberately hot beds of hate = for decades

clean water , co-ed good schools, businesses, hospitals etc could all have been built with the billions of donations and the zillions of dollars that the Arab shieks have squandered

its eems revenge is the only goal

conflict is profitable for the PTB while peace would benefit the workers and simple folks

we have to fight the labels and divisive nature of bigotry and the fostering of feuds and long term hatreds

humans are among the only animals who would cut off their nose to spite their face .. as the old phrase goes ..

peace hugs and purrs
carolyn rose goyda


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