Friday, April 29, 2011

Yom Hashoah: Some Ideas and Thoughts

The Shoah and our Psychological Legacy (2010)

The best article I read relating to Yom Hashoah came from Yair Lapid who argued that "The Holocaust dismantled everything human beings knew about themselves, and then taught us two unforgettable lessons"

"The first one is that we must survive at any price, that we can't rely on the world to protect us…that we must always prepare for the worst case scenario, because otherwise it will materialize."

The second one is that we must be moral.

What none of our leaders seem able to discuss is the question Lapid termed the biggest challenge of all - what to do when these two lessons contradict each other, when ensuring our existence at all costs means carrying out morally questionable acts

Yom Hashoah raises more questions than answers.

Is the archetypal 'goy' he who stood by as we were slaughtered, or he who put his family's life on the line to save us? Should we enhance our strength, or curb it? Emphasize security or empathy? Become particularists or universalists? Distrust the world, or open our hearts (and doors) to the stranger? And how can we – with our questionable psychological legacy – authentically and honestly engage with these questions and work out the correct balance between them?

Shiur: Theological Significance of the Shoah 2010

In the Shiur, we looked at traditional and modern sources in order to better understand the theological significance of the Holocaust. Covering Fackenheim, Berkovits, Arthur Cohen, Primo Levi, Kalnymous Kalman Shapira and others, we touched on whether the Shoah can be viewed within the classic framework of why bad things happen to good people, whether each generation has its own 'Auschwitz problem', and to what extent the idea of rejecting God is within the Jewish tradition.

We also began to investigate how post Holocaust theologians attempt to recreate new language (Fackenheim's '614th Commandment', Levi's 'Shema', Wiesel's 'new Bereshit' and Cohen's 'Red Sea of evil parting time and space') in order to try and come to terms with an event they see as unique in Jewish history.

In the Presence of Burning Children (2009)

Part of me feels that in the face of unfathomable evil, the only appropriate response is silence; that written words are unable to capture the enormity of what happened…that as Irving Greenberg says, “no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that is not credible in the presence of burning children."

Yet despite this, I wanted to share an article I wrote in the spring of 2002 regarding different theological responses to the Shoah. It is based on the format of a book called Yosl Rakover Talks to God in which author Zvi Kolitz imagines a moving letter written by Yosl Rakover hours before the Warsaw Ghetto is liquidated by the Nazis. Yet rather than ultimately affirming his faith in his Creator as Yosl does, the article suggests that our understanding of God can not remain the same after such an event.

The article can be accessed here

Remembering Death, Celebrating Life (2008)

The first time I watched 'The Pianist' was in a cinema in Warsaw during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2002. The second time I watched the film was last Wednesday night, in my Tel Aviv flat, as the first Hebrew city in nearly two thousand years marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

There’s a lot that needs fixing in this country. The political culture, the education system, the fact that many find it difficult to articulate a vision of what sort of state we want to build here.

Yet every once in a while, as the siren we hear indicates the past rather than a sometimes frightening present, its worthwhile using the silence to remember a time when we didn’t have the strongest army in the region, or a first world economy, or a place to call our own. And be appreciative and proud of a place those 6 million could only dream of.

Holocaust Memorial: Of Trauma and Trust (2008)

Last Saturday night I saw a documentary called Hiding and Seeking which describes the attempt by Menachem Daum to leave his children an ethical legacy in a Shlomo Carlebach ‘love every human because they were all created in God's image' type of style. Overshadowing everyone's relationship in the film is the spectre of the Shoah, which destroyed much of the Menachem and his wife Rivka's parents' families (although Rivka's father spent 28 months hidden in a pit under a haystack in the farmyard of a non-Jewish Polish family, the Muchas). And while the past (unsurprisingly) causes their parents to be suspicious of 'the goyim', what worries Menachem is how the Holocaust has also reinforced his children's' ambivalence towards the secular non-Jewish world and anything outside the four cubits of Jewish law.

In a moving journey to discover more about their past, Menachem takes his sons on a pilgrimage to Poland, ultimately finding the family who hid their ancestors and discovering that wars not only bring out the worst in people but also the best.

We mark the unimaginable evils of the Holocaust on the 27th January, 10 days after the anniversary of the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved thousands of Jews during the war.

Both days reflect the potential of the humanity. Yet we seem to concentrate more on one than the other.

It’s inevitable that the wounds of the past scar us, and the existential fear of many Israelis (including mine) over our future here is legitimate. But 60 years on, maybe we should harness the memory of Wallenberg and the countless other righteous gentiles like the Muchas to inspire us to become open and confident enough to begin the process of learning to trust again, of believing we can take risks.

Because ultimately, perhaps its this that marks the completion of our ongoing Zionist journey from an exilic past into a genuine independent free and sovereign future

Yom Hashoah (2007)

One abiding memory I have of Yom Hashoah is that of walking to the coastal road between Netanya and Tel Aviv and watching the scenes as dozens of cars stopped for the siren.

The day is always sandwiched between two festivals – Pesach, the time of our Freedom from Slavery and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the time of our Freedom from Exile. On Pesach we celebrate what Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin termed negative liberty - the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. Yom Ha’atzmaut meanwhile reflects our capacity for positive liberty – a platform that gives us the ability to take control of our lives, the idea that after two millennia Jews finally re-entered history to take responsibility for their future

So as Israeli motorists temporarily leave behind their desire to break the ‘how many cars can I overtake in a minute’ record, let’s hope that we can utilize both the negative and positive freedoms that history has presented us with, so that the phrase ‘never again’ will no longer ring hollow in the ears of so many people who deserve better.

Yom Hashoah (2006)

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.

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