Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 29 April 2012

How To Commemorate

Every year the same fight happens.  Many people turn out to observe Yom HaShoah and notice that most of their frum friends either aren't at the ceremony or leave early.  This year, while talking with some non-religious friends, the subject once again came up.  Why can't the Orthodox rabbi stay for the entire ceremony, they wanted to know.  He always speaks first and then runs out.  Why don't Orthodoxy people observe Yom HaShoah?  Don't they know how disrespectful they're being?  Don't they care about "the six million"?
Every year we try the same tired answers.  We talk about Tisha B'Av, we talk about how remembering the Holocaust on that day puts it into a historical context with our other sufferings and gives us something to learn about it and we assure people we don't disrespect the martyrs of Churban Europa.
And this year I got tired of doing that.  I don't like being on the defensive, especially when I'm sure I'm in the right.  As a result, when the subject came up I tried a different tactic.
I started by pointing out, much to the shock of the non-religious folks in the room, that I thought observing Yom HaShoah was disrespectful to the victims of the Holocaust and that I was avoiding the community ceremony as a way of honouring them.
And then after the shouting quieted down I explained what I meant.  What kind of commemoration is the contemporary Yom HaShoah service?  I mean, when you really think about it, exactly how seriously should one who defends it be taken?
(I will note at this point that I am referring to diaspora services, not those in Israel)
Think about it.  Yom HaShoah may mean "Holocaust Day" but other than for the planning committee of the program, it's really "Holocaust Hour".  The programs generally start in the evenings after dinner.  They last 1-2 hours and consist of speeches from community leaders and local municipal and provincial officials.  We hear over and over about how valued we are as a community and, of course, "never again".  Cambodians, Rwandans, Tibetans and South Sudanese are never invited to point out that "never again" has happened again and again.  Then a children's choir sings "Ani maamin", a couple of survivors are trotted out (as a child I recall one year no survivors could be recruited so a woman who had been born in Canada but could speak fluent Yiddish gave the speech because she sounded like a survivor and knew lots of them) and their stories are told. Someone plays the violin and then Kaddish is recited en masse.  Finally there is Hatikvah and O Canada (the latter may or may not get sung in the US) and everyone goes on.  In a good year, there are snacks on the way out.
That's it.  That's the commemoration for the Six Million.  It's timed so as not to require any actual personal sacrifice on the part of the participants, not even to miss dinner.  It's done with a minimum of prayer and a maximum of platitudes and empty rhetoric.
Now let's contrast this with Tisha B'Av, a day which also recalls events in which large proportions of the Jewish people were slaughtered by our enemies.  After an introductory fast day we prep for the main event by restraining our diet and directing our thoughts for three weeks.  Tisha B'av itself is a 25 hour event with a specific schedule to ensure all the appropriate topics have been covered.  We fast and restrict ourselves in a way that is sometimes stricter than Yom Kippur.  We recite a book of the Bible, Eichah, and what seems like an endless procession of Kinnos.  We struggle to understand the enormity of what happened and our role in it as well as why the final redemption has not yet occurred.
Is there any comparison?  Is it any wonder why so many frum Jews don't take Yom HaShoah seriously?
Perhaps if the people who invented the holiday had picked a different day to show their awareness of Sefirah and its limitations, perhaps if they had declared it as a fast day incumbent on all Jews and developed a liturgy to fill the day with prayer, contemplation and memorials for the Six Millions, perhaps then we would have had more enthusiasm in adopting it.  But a  one-two hour social event?  Please.  That's not the way to remember what happened and honour those who were involved.

6 comments:

Anon1 said...

Years ago I walked into a local JCC on Yom Hashoah. At the observance there, I heard the female reconstructionist rabbi (whose congregation prayed in a church) chanting Ani Maamin to the well-known shoah-era tune. I rather doubted that she truly believed in a single one of the Ani Maaamins, taken from the Rambam, in our Siddur. To convey a true message, a gathering should be conducted in a true fashion free of PC lies, etc.

SJ said...

I'm tired of hearing about holocaustism from libs who aren't hawkish on present day terrorists and their dictator and clergy inciters.

Adam Zur said...

to commemorate the Holocaust i think everyone should take a stroll down to the nearest IDF recruiting office

ahg said...

"Never again" devolved into "Never again to us" after a couple generations. I'm not commenting on the morality of that sentiment, but you observed, even the average left wing liberal Jew whose primary way of relating to Judaism is Tikun Olam doesn't get too bent out of shape over the Cambodians, Rwandans, Tibetans and South Sudanese.

(They're too busy undermining our hope for even "Never again to us" when they criticize Israel for standing up for herself, that they don't have time to attack anyone else.)

Adam Zur said...

any student that would argue that the Torah is about tikun haolam would have to bring some very convincing arguments or he would get a failing mark. there is no evidence that the Torah is about tikun olam. It is about the ultimate goal of having Israel come to live in the land of Canaan and building the temple there and that would result in the revelation of Gods glory in the world.. this is not only the major theme of Torah but also of most of tenach. the words tikun olam came about because reform needed to find a weasel word for socialism that would not offend people.

jrs said...

<<< "Never again" devolved into "Never again to us" after a couple generations. >>>

Quite the opposite: “Never Again” originally meant “to us”---which is perfectly understandable---let the perpetrators & enablers lead the way in seeing to it that they don’t do similar evil to another group. The Jews had their hands full getting themselves together. Later, especially among the Lefties, it became universalized, which is a mixed bag.

The fact that some Jews, straight from the Holocaust, actually did promptly devote themselves to working against universal bigotry is impressive.

But that was not universally the original Jewish repsonse to the Holocaust, nor should it necessarily have been---The initial reaction, to work for the security and defense of Jews---was a perfectly normal, moral, understandable one.

Today’s Leftist Jews---such as you criticized--may not always act on their alleged principles, but they’re the ones who’re always seeing everything in terms of what are Jews doing wrong, and what do we owe everyone else. They do get bent out of shape over this or that Third World cause, until a new one comes along.