Monday, April 24, 2006

Yom Hashoah

Today I went to the new Yad Vashem museum - I wasn’t working, am desperately trying to give my empty days some sort of structure, and tonight is Yom Hashoah so it seemed appropriate. Truth is, there's so much to say about the Shoah and none of it is really enough...but I’m kind of glad that all visiting foreign dignitaries get taken there. Because beyond the legitimate questions of whether we are too taken up by our past, and whether by harking on about the Shoah all we do is create negative Jewish identities in our children, the truth is that one can't really understand the way Israel acts without understanding that we lost 6 million of our people so recently - cant appreciate the subconscious fears of Jews that complete genocide by our neighbours is a possibility without visiting a place documenting one of the greatest crimes against humanity carried out by a people that was considered to be one of the most cultured.

And I don’t think one needs to buy into the narrative that it will never happen again cos we have Israel or that we can’t trust the world cos they stood by and did nothing to remember just what type of role this homeland of ours plays. And whilst its not always easy to live here, Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut next week should remind us that life wasn’t always like this, and some of the things we who walk the streets of Jerusalem take for granted were not always so...

And as I walked through the different areas, I remembered this part of Amos Oz's book describing the celebrations of the Partition Plan in 1947 and thought that its really something that Israeli kids nowadays (including those walking around Yad Vashem mucking around or being bored) live a different reality to previous generations...and if for nothing else, this is a reason to give thanks

"And very late, at a time when this child had never been allowed not to be fast asleep in bed, maybe at three of four o clock, I crawled under my blanket fully dressed. And after a while Father’s hand lifted my blanket in the dark, not to be angry with me because I’d got into bed with my clothes on, but to get in and to lie down next to me, and he was in his clothes too, that were drenched in sweat from the crush of the crowds, just like mine (and we had an iron rule; you must never, for any reason whatsoever, get between the sheets in your outdoor clothes). My father lay besides me for a few minutes and said nothing, although normally he detested silence and hurried to banish it. But this time he did not touch the silence that was there between us but shared in it, with his hand just lightly stroking my head. As though in this darkness my father had turned into my mother.

Then he told me in a whisper, without once calling me Your Highness or Your Honour, what some hooligans did to him and his brother David in Odessa and what some gentile boys did to him at his Polish school in Vilna, and the girls joined in too, and the next day, when his father, Grandpa Alexander, came to the school to register a complaint, the bullies refused to return the torn trousers but attacked his father, Grandpa, in front of his eyes, forced him down on the paving stones and removed his trousers too in the middle of the playground, and the girls laughed and made dirty jokes, saying that Jews were all so-and-sos, while the teachers watched and said nothing, or maybe they were laughing too.

And still in a voice of darkness with his hand still losing its way in my hair (because he was not used to stroking my hair) my father told me under my blanket in the early hours of the thirtieth of November 1947, ‘Bullies may well bother you in the street or at school some day. They may do it precisely because you are a bit like me. But from now on, from the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. For ever’ I reached out sleepily to touch his face, just below his high forehead, and all of a sudden instead of his glasses my fingers met tears. Never in my life, before or after that night, not even when my mother died, did I see my father cry. And in fact I didn’t see him cry that night either. Only my left hand saw. "(A Tale of Love and Darkness - Amos Oz p346)

Wishing everyone a meaningful Yom Hashoah

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pesach Thoughts 5766: Pesach time and the living is...

As festivals go, Pesach is a good one - The Matza bry, family time, opportunities to see friends, sunbathe…

But beyond that, it’s a festival about freedom – and what freedom means in our day and age. What freedom means when there are people who were forced out of their homes 9 months ago that are still in hotels; or when families who work full time still can’t afford to feed their children, or when young 18 year old Israeli boys are forced to make thousands of people wait in line at roadblocks.

It’s a story of a liberation movement, of slaves who took on the most powerful empire in the world and won, a revolutionary story claiming God is not on the side of the strong but the weak, a message that people can fight injustice even when the odds are stacked against them, a biblical story that still resonates today with people fighting for their independence.

It’s a festival that reminds us of the need to ask questions, to critique, to not take things at face value, a time for not only asking in what way this night is different to others, but in what way our year has been different, or in what way we are different from last Pesach, what we have accomplished since then, who we have met, where we have traveled, who we have helped, who we have hurt…

It’s a festival about education, how we educate and renew ourselves, how we inspire children and how we can best balance the four different types of children within us. As the shechiyanu bracha is said, it’s a time to remember those who were not spared to celebrate this chag, those that came into the world and those that passed from it, and those things that despite all our scientific knowledge, we are still not privileged to understand.

And finally when we say LeShana HaBaah Biyrushalayim, Next Year in Jerusalem, what do we actually mean – what will the next year bring, what will be in this land of ours, with the new coalition, with the Hamas government, with the increasing poverty and social problems?

And amongst all these issues, where will we be, and what will be doing to help solve them?

Chag Sameach Leculam