Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Slightly Subversive

I was not going to address the issue this. I was hoping the day would pass uneventfully without any negative comments. I was hoping the day would serve its purpose as a national memorial day for the holocaust. But I was wrong.

I am offended by a Cross-Currents post I came across that was written in 2005 by Mrs. Toby Katz. Not so much by her arguments. I am offended by her attitude. The subject is Yom HaShoah – the day in Israel when the Holocaust is remembered. This day – which was observed yesterday - should bring a somber mood about a historical event of catastrophic proportion to the Jewish people. It is a day that memorializes an era in recent Jewish history where the greatest numbers of Jews ever - six million – were brutally murdered only because they were Jews.

Instead of a somber reflection on those who perished and expressions of sympathy and respect to the survivors and their families, Mrs. Katz chooses the occasion primarily to blast the State of Israel.

Why? Because of the tremendous antipathy she has towards Zionism.

She focuses on the fact that Zionists chose that particular date in the Hebrew calendar because it is the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. And she uses that to bash the ‘Evil Zionist’ founders. Mrs. Katz thinks it far more important to do that than to speak about what that day is supposed to represent. Why - after all - give up a juicy opportunity like this? Making Zionism look bad is a Mitzvah! Hakaras HaTov to the founders? Never heard of it!

Oh… she will deny it and claim that she ever intended any such thing. She will say that her post was a Hashkafic one decrying Zionism, labeling it clearly for the anti Torah movement it is. Hakaras HaTov is an entirely separate issue. She will say that she strongly supports Israel against anti Semitic attacks from the ‘outside’! I’m sure she does.

But diatribes like this tell a different story about what she really thinks. She thus will not miss an opportunity to point that out how evil its Zionist founders were. For her Yom HaShoah is an excellent vehicle for that. And she passes on a negative attitude to generations of young impressionable minds.

Here is the lesson she teaches her students - in her own words:

I ask them if they know why this particular date was chosen, and by whom. Only a few do. The answer: this date marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and it was chosen by the Israeli government.

The secular Zionists who founded the modern State of Israel thought that the Holocaust was shameful and embarrassing–to the Jews. Why had weak and pale Jews gone like sheep to the slaughter? The feeling of shame and humiliation was so strong that for decades after the war, survivors in Israel would not talk about the Holocaust.

And later:

Now back to the secular Zionists who founded the modern State of Israel. They were ashamed of the shtetl Jews, the yeshiva bochorim who pored over ancient tomes. They thought it was no wonder there was so much anti-Semitism in the world, given how weak and pathetic and cowardly the Jews were.

The message? Israel’s founders are an arrogant bunch of atheists who degrade the memory of the six million by calling them cowards.

What can these students possibly take away from this? The answser is hatred! Hatred and resentment of a country that has provided a haven for every single Jew alive who chooses to live there. Never again will the doors to every nation be closed to Jews when they are threatened with their very existence.

One can quibble about the improprieties of the date. Granted - Nissan is the Hebrew month where Jews are forbidden to eulogize the dead. A practice honored more in the breach by many Charedi rabbis whom I’ve heard eulogize with the opening, ‘I know we are not supposed to eulogize during the month of Nissan so I will just offer a few words of praise to the deceased’.

No Eulogies... Right!

Then she criticizes the reason that day was chosen. It is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. As if celebrating resistance is a bad thing.

Admittedly this day should not be about resistance. It should be about memorializing the victims – both alive and dead. But that is not enough of a reason to foster hatred of it. Whatever the motivation of the founders was at the time, I doubt that the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is the subject of that day now. It is wrong to continue criticizing it as though it were.

It is an insult to those survivors who are still around to hear such things. Especially to the non religious ones. Nonetheless it Mrs. Katz wants to make certain her students know and remember the reasons for choosing that day. This is far more important to her than the sensitivities of the survivors and their families. Her students will always see the founders of the state and thus the state itself in an evil light.

Her defense of the victims against the charge that they were cowards is a valid one. They were indeed not ‘sheep to the slaughter’. But it is misplaced on this day. Just the reasons the founders chose that day were. What matters now is that is the date and it ought to be honored, not disparaged.

Mrs. Katz points out that fewer and fewer attendees show up at holocaust events. Interest has waned over time.

Mrs. Katz further points out that the founder’s beliefs that if Jews become a nation like all other nations and achieve great things that they will be respected. She then observes that the opposite is true. Israel is seen as oppressors of a helpless minority. They are the most hated and criticized country in the world. I do not entirely agree with that – there are too many Nobel Laureates that refute this - but she does have a point.

She also discusses Tzadik V’Ra Lo -the theodicy of the Holocaust. And the righteous Jews who stayed religious in spite of it.

But all this is obfuscation. The point here is that as long as there is even one survivor and this day has been the one observed for so many decades it ought not to be diminished. All that other stuff is irrelevant! Unless your agenda is to bash Israel.

Mrs. Katz says that the ideal day to memorialize the Holocaust is Tisha B’Av. I actually agree with her. This is the day that the Holocaust is uppermost in my mind. It is the day where all Jewish tragedies are remembered. I believe that is the future of holocaust remembrance.

But the fact is that Yom HaShoah is the day in Israel that has long been established for that purpose. Using it to bash the Zionist founders of Israel is wrong headed and an insult to the holy survivors – religious or otherwise. When survivors hear talk like this it justifiably upsets them.

And all survivors are indeed holy. The man she quotes about retaining faith during the holocaust - Dr. Eliezer Berkovits who was an ardent religious Zionist - also pointed that those survivors who lost faith are holy too. The Satmar Rebbe added that all survivors who went through that period have already paid their dues in hell. They deserve a lot better than Mrs. Katz is giving them. And so do the Zionist founders.