Dignified Holocaust Commemoration

As has been the case for a number of years, the Jewish Community Council of WA provided a very dignified and well balanced commemoration to mark Yom Hashoah.  Several hundred people attended, possibly around 100 to 150 less than last year, but it was noticable that there are a large number of youth who identify with the occasion and make an effort to attend. The program was one that enabled those present to reflect and contemplate, and was in a format that was not over the top or heavy on tokenistic content. 

There was only one thing that I felt was missing and that was a presentation from one of the Perth youth who attended the March of the Living last year.  This was done in the past to great effect.  Each year this community extends the opportunity to send members of this community to visit the death camps of Europe, and it is vital that these youth be encouraged to share their experiences and sentiments with the community upon their return – if nothing else, for the purpose of engaging them in the leadership of the community in the area of Holocaust education.

The keynote address by Dr Eyal Gringart was well focussed on his topic, and thought provoking in a number of respects.  Dr Gringart broke down the experiences of post Holocaust generations into three disctinct eras, drawing on predominently Israeli societal attitudes to show how the reactions and responses gradually change.  Whilst he did not draw on the source or cite research that identified each of the three eras, it struck me that the post 1967 era, the one I relate to, is in fact one that transforms guilt into activism and enquiry.  I got a bit tense over some of the political tones surrounding the questions that were mooted at the end of his address, only because he himself had defined his address as non-political.  I would agree with Dr Gringart that the Israeli psyche has the Shoah entrenched within it, and the attitudes towards meeting an existential threat without complacency are strenghted as a result of the Shoah.  However I would not agree that the religious line of enquiry that links into the defence of Israel is as diverse or as troubled by the Shoah as some of his comments alluded to.  However the purpose of the address was to make people think about how the next generation should respond to the Holocaust, and full credit to Dr Gringart for accomplishing this in a very effective manner.

On the way out of Carmel School I was speaking to a few people and somebody passed the comment to me about numbers, and proceeded to name some religious people who were not present and in their view should have been.  This struck a raw nerve with me.  Firstly, the religious community were very well represented, secondly the religious community are not “rent-a-crowd” and thirdly, why stereotype on the basis of the strength of a persons convictions towards observance anyway?  I may have been a bit terse in responding, but I did ask the question “Where are all the non-religious community on Tisha B’Av”.  I got a strange look back, and it wasn’t until I explained that many religious people mark all Jewish historical tragedy, calamity and injustice on Tisha B’Av, the Shoah included, that they understood what I meant.  In fact, if you read the Kinot of Tisha B’Av there are special prayers for the victims of the Holocaust, and there is a religious school of thought that suggests that Yom Hashoah should not be separated out from the realm of Tisha B’Av itself. 

The Shoah can be “dangerous” to Jewish identity when it is used as the basis of Jewish identity itself.  The immediate generation following the Shoah had their whole identity defined by the ashes of the Holocaust, and the associated “victim mentality”.  That is well understandable, but there is a generation gap that I really felt as a result of my conversation tonight.  Today’s Jews have a different way of relating to their tradition, but the memory of the Holocaust is not bereft from this.  I do not feel that it is offensive to the Shoah to integrate the religious significance of this era of Jewish history into my tefillah of Tisha B’Av, and to focus on the historical significance of the Shoah through the modern definitions of Yom Hashoah.  From a personal perspective I try not to mix the two.  However, many elder people I watched tonight would not wish to do this.  For them, Yom Hashoah stands alone as an observance, and it has no religious significance as it was, from first hand account, a moment in time that is simply incomprehensible. 

I respect that and would not wish it for them to be any other way.  However I also know that no matter how hard I try and identify first hand with the Shoah, I will never be able to do so (despite having hundreds of relatives who perished in the death camps).  Tonight I focussed on the fact that there is a next generation, and there will be a next after that, and there will always be future generations.  The Shoah will have historic context for each future generation that may well yet again come to redefine how we commemorate the depravity of humanity at its lowest possible ebb, and how we come to understand the societal lack of decency that permits such atrocities to occur.