Monday, May 02, 2011

Charedim and Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. And once again it is filled with controversy. The reason is the same every time: Charedi rejection of the day. The stated reason it is rejected is the fact that the date on the Hebrew calendar is Nissan which forbids eulogies. The reason that day was chosen by the Israeli establishment is also problematic for Charedi Jews. It was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Charedim don’t like to celebrate pushback. Unless it is they who are doing the pushback against the secular Israeli government. But Jews rising up against Nazis? How dare we celebrate that?! Kochi V’ Otzem Yodi?! Feh!

They argue that the secular government fails to see the hand of God in anything they do. In fact they say – the secular government rejects the notion of religion altogether. After all was it not the secular Zionist government that took children out of the homes of Frum parents from countries like Yemen and Iran back in the fifties and put them in atheist/communist Kibbutzim? How, they ask, can a religious Jew celebrate anything established by an anti Torah government?

Here is the way Charedi author Meir Wikler (pictured above) put it in a Jewish Week interview:

Haredi Jews do not observe Yom HaShoah because it was never accepted or sanctioned by haredi rabbinic leaders. Yom HaShoah is completely antithetical to the religious significance of Nisan, the Hebrew month chosen for its observance by the Knesset, even though Nisan is the month of Passover and, thus, of celebration. And the establishment of Yom HaShoah denigrates the significance of Tisha b’Av, the traditional commemoration of Jewish suffering throughout the ages.

Haredi Jews, however, choose to express their remembrance of the Holocaust in ways more meaningful to them: observing the yahrtzeits of martyrs, dedicating sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls] in honor of martyrs, donating tzedakah in the memory of martyrs, reciting Tehillim [Psalms] and studying Mishnayos [sections of Mishna] for the merit of martyrs, naming their children after martyrs, sending their children to yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs [girls schools] that include Holocaust history in the curriculum, telling and retelling their children and grandchildren inspirational stories of spiritual heroism and personal miracles experienced during the Holocaust

OK. Charedim have a right to memorialize the Holocaust in any way they choose. I see no problem with the various projects they have in this regard. In fact I also prefer Tisha B’Av as the day for my own perosnal reflection on the Holocaust. The problem I have – and have always had - is that there are surviviors and their children who do celebrate Yom HaShoah on this day. In fact some of them are even religious. To so thoroughly reject it out of hand is an insult to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

How dare anyone insult a Holocaust survivor? Don’t Charedim understand that this is all they really accomplishment by denigrating the day chosen for this observance? I understand their objections. But those objections should pale in the face of those surviviors who are hurt by that kind of rhetoric.

No eulogies in Nissan? How many funerals have I attended in Nissan where the eulogizing Charedi Rav prefaces his eulogy by saying we don’t give eulogies in Nissan and then proceeds to give one – calling it Divrei Shvach for the Nifter or some other euphemism! Why do they do it? Because they understand the pain of the Aveilim.

Well what about the pain of the Holocaust survivors? That doesn’t matter to them? Do they think that denigrating Yom HaShoah while offering alternative days and ways of observing it makes them feel any better?

I have complained about this before. It comes up every year at this time. The attitude expressed by Meir Wikler is responsible for some pretty reprehensible behavior on the part of some Charedim who take these negative attitudes about Yom HaShoah to their logical conclusion and pupsosely show disrespect on that day – just to make their point. I know that Charedi leaders object strongly to such public displays when they happen. They suggest an attitude of quite respect on Yom HaShoah while not actively participating in any of the day’s events. But don’t they realize that strongly worded protests like those described by Meir Wikler can and still do lead to the kind of disgusting behavior one sometime sees displayed on that day?

And another thing. Once and for all it’s time to put this Charedi anti- Israel attitude to bed. The idea that Israeli leaders are just a bunch of Godless socialists is truly getting old. This is no longer the case – even if it once was. Everything changed with Menachem Begin.

While there are still some pockets of it in the Israeli government - for the most part the government reflects the majority of Israelis who are not Socialists; do believe in God; and actually observe many of the Mitzvos if not all of them. Like fasting on Yom Kippur and eating Matzah on Pesach and putting up Sukkos on Sukkos… and even keeping Kosher at some minimum level. They are not anti religious.

Charedi leaders ought to capitalize on this and reach out to the larger society instead of constantly alienating them with archaic attitudes like this. Imagine all the people sharing in our world if they did. A little sacrifice and common sense can go a long way.