Yom Ha-Shoah began yesterday evening and runs through this evening. I’m not going to brief you on what Yom Ha-Shoah is. You can get that, among other places, here.
Of more concern to me is how we talk about it now. Continue reading
Yehuda Bauer and others have observed that genocide, while inhumane, is not foreign to humanity at large. Humans are remarkably good at ignoring the prospect of punishment for their misdeeds–they were long before Hitler, and they have continued to be so–assuming, of course, that they viewed their murders as misdeeds. The field of genocide studies suggests some perpetrators did not view their actions as moral wrongs. And humans are remarkably able through cognitive dissonance to ameliorate or obliterate their own personal senses of guilt.
Specific genocides are special. But genocide, no matter where it occurs, though evil, is also thoroughly human. It is up to us to prevent and stop it, though we may never see its end.
Thoughts this Yom Ha-Shoah, the 70th anniversary year of the end of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust.
I’m tempted to do no more than link to an article, because it’s almost a case of res ipsa loquitur–the thing speaking for itself. But I think it’s important to talk about this issue a little more: making your own Haggadah.
The prompt for this post? This article at Tablet Magazine. (The link will open in a new window.)
Take a close look at that Haggadah. What do you see in its language?
I’ve chosen the picture for this post carefully, because it shows the train tracks leading away from the main station at Auschwitz-Birkenau II.
It’s been some time since I really wandered around in the philosophical mire on the blog. But, sure enough, that time has come again. It’s also been a while since I nudged at any of the high-voltage lines that mark the boundaries of acceptable Jewish discourse. I’m doing that today, too.
And so I lead with this warning: if you don’t want to have your notions challenged concerning how American Jews should integrate Israel and the Holocaust into their identities, or if you’re likely to be offended if I do challenge them, you won’t want to read this.
You’ve been warned. Because for many years, I have thought that liberal Jewish life in the United States has been rendered pathological in its centering on the Holocaust and Israel. (If that sentence gets you mad, maybe you want to take a breather before continuing to read.)
Prof. Shaul Magid (hail to old IU!) published a book review at the Tablet Magazine website titled, “American Jews Must Stop Obsessing Over the Holocaust.” Seth Mandel gives a not-too-coherent response at Commentary to what he characterizes as Magid’s not-too-coherent essay. Mandel relies upon Paul Johnson’s history of the Jews and the idea of historical reflection to argue that survival is its own rationale.
And, of course, all of this comes on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
We’ve come into the month of Elul, the lead-up to the High Holidays in the traditional Jewish cycle of the year. Elul is traditionally viewed as a time for repentance, which Jewish tradition understands as not only seeking absolution but for making changes to avoid ever again committing the sins of the past.
A podcast I listened to recently tied in nicely to one of the ideas that comes with Elul: thinking about the value of what we do.
One of the nice things about being essentially skeptical is that I don’t take a prooftext as a definitive answer. One of the bad things about being essentially skeptical is that when a prooftext is adduced as a definitive answer, I sometimes want to hit my head on a desk.
Unfortunately, prooftexts on Yom HaShoah turn out to be no exception.
I’ve recently finished reading Avrom Bendavid-Vol’s The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town to Trochenbrod. If you haven’t seen this book about, it’s a non-fiction account of the history of the town that Jonathan Safran-Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated centers on.
So, what are my impressions?