Once again the Jewish Community Council of WA resourced and presented a very relevant and dignified community commemoration for Yom Hashoah. The amount of preparation and thought put into the programme should be appreciated by the community.
However, unlike previous years, the community seems to be somewhere between lacklustre and apathetic on the scale of communal solidarity and remembrance. There were by estimates between 250 and 300 people at the event this evening. Take away the invited dignitaries and community leaders, and the impressive level of attendance from Zionist youth movements, and barely 100 members of the 8,000 strong Jewish community made the effort of their own independent volition to be present for this years commemoration.
What is it that prompts Jewish people to choose to sit at home and watch masterchef and surf facebook ahead of voting with their feet and supporting the unity of the Jewish community? Tonight’s topic was “passing the batton” – about how to communicate and keep the memory of the Shoah alive for the generation that depends on scribed testimony. It was important for the community to turn up in force, and sadly, this was not the case tonight.
In a keynote speech that was salient, if somewhat predictable, Michael Gawenda noted the modern expressions of anti-Semitism, couched in anti-Zionism. No offence to Mr Gawenda, who was on the mark with his comments, but being lectured to by a Victorian academic journalist may well have been a reason why some people chose the comfort of their lounge room over a Holocaust memorial.
Perhaps it is time to consider a new format for Yom Hashoa for our community? I believe the type of commemoration the community presented tonight should still be hosted, but instead of presenting this on Yom Hashoah it should be on 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Instead of hosting it on communal facilities, it should be hosted at a public venue such as parliament or a civic location. Instead of being advertised to the Jewish community it should reach as far and wide as it can to political and community leaders, ethnic and religious community groups, and the general public. It should be broadcast locally to community television. The messages, such as the one contained in Michael Gawenda’s address should be directed to the general public, not to those of us who are not shocked to discover that the world has lost all semblance of perspective when Israel is portrayed as the contemporary Nazi regime.
On Yom Hashoah itself, perhaps a commemorative presentation could be replaced by interactive dialogue. In Israel bringing diverse community groups together to discuss perspectives in small groups has become a favoured way of commemorating tragic events. Being a participant, as opposed to being a spectator, offers more opportunity for internalisation, critical thinking, and involvement.
Education and commemoration of the Holocaust is an unpleasant, but critical part of Jewish education for our youth. It is not the be all and end all of Jewish identity, but it is a component of the Jewish experience that needs to be confronted. Awareness and response mechanisms are necessary and difficult. If we as parents and grandparents ignore Yom Hashoah, then our children observe this. They see where are priorities really are.
Our grandparents and great grandparents lived through an era of horror and genocide of irrational and unimaginable proportion. There is something wrong with our collective community when we cannot turn out in force, to spare an hour of our year to recall the ultimate sacrifice of millions of our people, while at the same time making the statement Am Yisrael Chai.